Notes About Sewing {Paper}

❝Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth. We walk through it, yell into it, rake leaves, wash the dog, and drive cars in it. We breathe it deep within us. With every breath, we inhale millions of molecules of sky, heat them briefly, and then exhale them back into the world.❞
Diane Ackerman

Originally published 2014, updated August 2016.

Sewing is not something I expected to love. But I was entranced with the idea of machine stitching my art journal pages, of adding texture with thread, that I bought a sewing machine [in 2010] and have been sewing paper ever since. I cannot imagine "not" sewing paper at this point; I make travel journals, collages on index cards, stitch paper that I've painted... and paint paper that I've stitched. 

I find the act of sewing paper quite magical. I get a lot of questions about sewing paper so I thought I would share info about the tools that I use and my sewing process. 

stitched collages and mail art postcards

stitched collages and mail art postcards

sewing a grid. from my painted paper paradise workshop.

sewing a grid. from my painted paper paradise workshop.

Sewing Machine. I sew paper on a Janome 7330 Magnolia. Also, I make small art quilts, drapes, school play costumes {a Little Red Riding Hood cape, a gypsy, a green monster...} all on the same machine. It's a great sewing machine for beginners like me! [editor's note: no problems in 6 years of use].

 Sewing machine needles. I use a standard sewing machine needle to sew paper. You'll break needles from time to time, so get spares. One day I broke three, but sometimes I go months without breaking a needle, so you never know. 

Thread. For paper stitching, use good quality thread because it's what holds your stuff together! Get some fun colors, while you are at it. If you are going to stitch pages where you will see both sides, like mail art or a journal tip-in, spice it up by using a different color in the bobbin and the top thread. 

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The sewing machine brings together two discrete objects using thread.

The base for my paper collages is usually manila folder paper, heavy card stock, bristol paper, watercolor paper or index cards.

To cut paper, I use the same tools as sewists and quilters. A plastic cutting guide {this is the Shape Cut Plus 12x18" Slotted Ruler}, plus a rotary cutting tool {this is the Fiskars 45mm Stick Rotary Cutter plus a self-healing cutting mat {this is an Olfa Cutting Mat}. Get a mat larger than the ruler you plan to use.

Fiskars Scissors. After having hand/elbow surgery, cutting with scissors is difficult. These are only scissors that don't make my hand pain worse, but your mileage may vary.

Presser foot. I usually sew paper with a standard presser foot attached to my machine. A presser foot is the thing that keeps the paper/fabric flat while sewing. There are different feet made for different sewing tasks and they can be switched in a minute even with clumsy hands. To do free-motion stitching, for example, you would use a darning foot. Tip: Go to the manufacturer website for your sewing machine brand to find a list of the attachments that will fit your particular machine. The darning foot for my Janome looks like this.

Feed dogs. Feed dogs are grippy pieces of metal that "pull" your fabric/paper through under the needle. They can be up or down. If they are up, they move the fabric/paper along like a conveyor belt. Usually the feed dogs are up.

Free-style sewing. Aka free-motion. This is sewing with the feed dogs down and usually a darning foot. You move the paper with your hands. The results are completely different and it's more challenging! And I'm quite spatially challenged, so it's tricky but I keep practicing. You can also find special gloves to grip the fabric more easily.

Free-motion stitching on fabric, 2013

Free-motion stitching on fabric, 2013

Watercolor, stitching, ink, 2014

Watercolor, stitching, ink, 2014