Embellishing Techniques Part 1: Hot Fix Crystals

My close friends and competitors…sometimes one in the same…know that I love embellishing my art quilts.  Some quilts simply call for embellishments and, when this is true, I use them generously.  This subject recently came up in a Facebook conversation and so I thought I would run a series of three or so blog posts, not necessarily one right after the other, on my embellishment techniques.  You may have others or your techniques may vary, but these are mine.  I’m always looking for new ideas though, so comment freely please.

My love for embelishments started decades ago when I had my own fashion design and tailoring business when I designed and my shop made formals, wedding dresses, and costumes for operas, dancers, and skaters.  Back at the beginning of that business, I hand sewed or glued most of my embellishments on.  Today I will hand sew some things still, but I use a lot of hot fix crystals and machine techniques that I will talk about in future posts.

When I first started using hot fix crystals  years ago I bought one of those wand style irons.  I still use it by the way, but I’m thinking of replacing it and maybe I can get one that doesn’t flip off the table and land on the carpet and I have to race to pick it up before it burns it…hoping not to burn myself in the process.  It’s supposed to pick up the crystal and you can then place it down, but it never really worked well that way.  Sometimes it would pick it up and hold on to it, so I had to get a straight pin and pry it out.

So I started placing the crystal down where I wanted it and placing the wand iron on top of it. If I was lucky, the crystal would end up in the right place (though I found I could move it slightly if I worked quickly enough).  Sometimes the wand would flip the crystal out of place like a tiddly wink and it would go spinning through the air landing who knows where.  Sometimes I ended up slightly burning the area around the crystal.  And sometimes I ended up burning myself trying to prevent all these things.

And THEN, a friend of mine directed me to hot fix transfer tape! What a great invention and what a wonderful improvement to my crystal placements!!! I think it was invented for people who make those crystal designs for people to put on their clothes.  But anyway, here are the steps I use with it:

  1. Put on your music or audiobook.
  2. Cut a piece of the transfer tape (I use both a smaller cut of around a six inch square and a larger cut of about a 10 inch square. It’s reusable about four or more times.
  3. Place the item you are embellishing  flat on the table or ironing board,
  4. Working in sections, place your hot fix crystals (or other hot fix embellishments) where you want them
  5. Remove the backing from the transfer tape.
  6. Gently and carefully lower your transfer tape piece down over the section of crystals trying not to disturb the pattern and press it down around the crystals and more or less attaching to your project.
  7. Now here you have a choice.  You can either use your regular iron set hot and without steam or the wand iron.  I found the wand iron makes the crystals more secure for the most part but takes longer.
  8. So with the wand iron heat each crystal with the tape still in place for as long as it needs
    • tiny ones require about 12 toe taps or slow counts.
    • medium ones require about 20 counts
    • larger ones require more…30 seconds to 40 counts to be really secure.

Heat setting individual crystals with the wand with the tape still in place.

The transfer tape acts as a pressing cloth, protecting the fabric to which you are attaching the crystal from burns by the wand.  It also holds the crystals in place so they don’t go flipping off into never never land.  If it gets just a little out of alignment, you just move the tape…the crystal stays on the tape until it is fully glued down and then releases with no problem.  This means you can pick up your tape slowly to check if you’ve missed one or if it needs more time.

Another way to approach it is to place lots of crystals on the tape upside down to the sticky side and just move the tape around and place the crystals on one by one.  This is a particularly good method for clothing and other shaped pieces when you are having a hard time getting them flat for crystal placement.

Now if I can only stop my hot wand from falling off the table that would be good.  Maybe I can find a new one at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival that I am going to this year with my good friend Mei Ling…I’m so excited.  I’ll let you know if my quilt gets in.  Will I see you there?

Sew happy everyone!  Help each other out, encourage other quilt artists…both the beginners and the very advanced.  Even the big winners sometimes need encouragement.

By the way, I have many of my quilts for sale on my website.  You can see them here.  I really want to go to Houston and keep on writing this blog and that is where the money would go.  If you are interested in one of my quilts, contact me at BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com  Or, if you just want to help support the continuance of the blog, see the donate button.  But please keep reading my blog even if you don’t…I understand.