Machine Sewing or Stitching with Paper: Tips, Ideas, and Projects

Updated on August 3, 2016
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

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When I picked up my interest of making greeting cards again a few years back, I started browsing card ideas both for personal inspiration and for articles. During this browsing, I found a number of great cards that had sewn elements. My sewing skills are pretty basic, but I'm also pretty fearless when it comes to tackling new projects. I was intrigued and started researching this concept. Like most things in life, sewing with paper does take practice and a fair amount of patience, particularly in the beginning. Don't let this deter you. The effect is very satisfying and can be applied to a wide variety of craft projects. Happy crafting!

I've broken this article down into three sections:

  • Tips. These are general tips about sewing with paper that you will get you started. If you've never sewn with paper before, please read through this before attempting a project.
  • Project Ideas and Tutorials: Now that you've set with the basics and have some practice under your belt, I'm sure that you're itching to try a project. I've included a wide variety of project ideas as well as a handful of tutorials.
  • Elements for Any Project: There are a number of paper sewing techniques that you can add to just about any project. Mix and match the ones that appeal to you the most to create one of a kind, personalized pieces of art.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
When you practice different stitches, try switching from one to the other.Experiment with the tension on your machine to find the proper settings for different paper projects.Check out the link under "turning corners" for some helping tips with this technique.Check out the link below for Michelle's explanation for finishing your threads.Julie uses two different colors of thread for this project and then ties the threads together on the back side of her work.
When you practice different stitches, try switching from one to the other.
When you practice different stitches, try switching from one to the other. | Source
Experiment with the tension on your machine to find the proper settings for different paper projects.
Experiment with the tension on your machine to find the proper settings for different paper projects. | Source
Check out the link under "turning corners" for some helping tips with this technique.
Check out the link under "turning corners" for some helping tips with this technique. | Source
Check out the link below for Michelle's explanation for finishing your threads.
Check out the link below for Michelle's explanation for finishing your threads. | Source
Julie uses two different colors of thread for this project and then ties the threads together on the back side of her work.
Julie uses two different colors of thread for this project and then ties the threads together on the back side of her work. | Source

Tips

If you're like me and have limited machine sewing experience, I know that you want all of the tips that you can get before getting started. Even if you are very familiar with your machine, keep in mind that sewing with paper is not the same as sewing with fabric. Taking the proper steps initially will save you a lot of frustration. Don't get overwhelmed by the amount of information here. As you begin practicing, many of these tips will become second hand.

  • Dedicated sewing space. I know that this is simply not possible for everyone, but you are much more likely to sew more often if you have a permanent set up for your machine. Carving out a small space in a living room or bedroom is all that you need.
  • Paper only needle. Like scissors, paper will dull a needle much more quickly than fabric will. If you will be switching back and forth from paper and fabric frequently, you may want to have dedicated paper needle. Brenda at blog.authentiquepaper.com recommends using a size 16 denim-grade needle. If you will be sewing lots of heavier paper layers (i.e. several layers of cardstock), you may want to opt for a more heavy duty needle.
  • Setting the tension. Many people find that the auto tension setting is just fine for paper projects. If this doesn't work for you or your machine doesn't have an auto setting, you'll have to experiment a little bit. I usually set it at 1 or 2. Some projects may require different settings than others.
  • Practice. Experiment on spare scraps of card stock with straight, zig zag, and decorative stitch settings. Get a feel for sewing with paper before you start a project.
  • Prepare your page. You don't want to have any adhesives close to your sewing or they may gum up the needle. If you want to adher components before sewing, use a minimal amount of adhesive away from the sewing area.
  • Lightly draw designs first. If you will be stitching any type of more intricate design, you may want to sketch it first with a light pencil.
  • Go slow. One of the biggest issues that many people have with sewing is that they simply work too quickly. Take your time and work carefully.
  • Don't watch the needle. It can be easy to get caught up watching the needle instead of the paper.
  • Don't guide the paper too much. Your machine will do most of the work guiding your paper.
  • Keep your projects to three card stock layers or less. Most sewing machines cannot handle more than three layers of card stock at a time.
  • Turning corners. If you are using a technique that requires corners, check out Lisa's tips at the Fiskars Craft blog. Consider printing out directions or pulling them up on your phone or tablet device so you can have them right in front of you at the machine.
  • Finish your stitching properly. Michelle at debbiehodge.com gives a great explanation for finishing your sewing work. Please note that this is a different technique than the one used for finishing fabric sewing. Make sure that you don't have any loose threads on the front of your work. Some people choose to glue or tape their loose threads while others choose to cut the threads long enough that they can tie knots.

Practice Sewing on Paper: Straight and Curvy Lines—Learn to Sew Series

Project Ideas and Tutorials

Now that you've reviewed the basics of sewing with paper and have practiced a little, jump right into a project. Don't get discouraged by the mistakes that you will inevitably make with some of your first projects. Small inconsistencies often add character to your homemade work. There is no limit to the possibilities for sewing with paper. Here are just a few of the ideas out there. Click on the photo source links below to check out the tutorials.

 
Sewing With Paper Projects
 
Greeting Cards
Invitations/Save the Dates
Scrapbook Pages
Journals
Gift Tags
Placecards
Envelopes
Garlands
Mobiles
Business Cards
Treat/Favor Boxes
 
Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is not a tutorial, but the concept is pretty self-explanatory.
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This is not a tutorial, but the concept is pretty self-explanatory.
This is not a tutorial, but the concept is pretty self-explanatory. | Source
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Click thumbnail to view full-size
Brenda outlined the sun and its rays.Julie combines different types of paper and different color threads.Gluing a single heart and then sewing a second heart down the center on top of the first one creates a 3D effect.Ashley sewed fabric scraps on greeting cards.You can simply sew the bunting on without using any adhesive.
Brenda outlined the sun and its rays.
Brenda outlined the sun and its rays. | Source
Julie combines different types of paper and different color threads.
Julie combines different types of paper and different color threads. | Source
Gluing a single heart and then sewing a second heart down the center on top of the first one creates a 3D effect.
Gluing a single heart and then sewing a second heart down the center on top of the first one creates a 3D effect. | Source
Ashley sewed fabric scraps on greeting cards.
Ashley sewed fabric scraps on greeting cards. | Source
You can simply sew the bunting on without using any adhesive.
You can simply sew the bunting on without using any adhesive. | Source

There are numerous design elements that you can add to many different types of paper projects. They include the following:

  • Borders/outlines
  • Stitching on embellishments (i.e. felt or paper flowers)
  • Stitching words
  • Adding ribbons, trims, and ruffles
  • Creating pockets
  • Purely decorative details
  • Create journaling lines
  • Adding fabric elements
  • Creating 3D
  • Use stitching in place of adhesive
  • Freestyle/free motion stitching
  • Attaching transparencies and vellum
  • Using multiple thread colors for a single project

Additionally, consider using your sewing machine without the needle threaded to punch decorative holes or perforations.

Freestyle Sewing for Paper Crafters

Use your sewing machine to punch holes that you fill in with hand sewing.

Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Rose Clearfield

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      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        7 months ago from the short journey

        Love the projects you've posted and so appreciate the tips as I definitely want to create some of these cards, and maybe the mobiles and wrappings.

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        7 months ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        No, if you use designated paper needles, it should be fine. Make sure to adjust the tension properly and avoid sewing through multiple layers of thick cardstock.

      • profile image

        Rebecca Merz 

        7 months ago

        I use my sewing machine for quilting and craft projects with fabric. If I use a designated paper needles, will sewing on paper cause harm to my sewing machine??

      • profile image

        scanflaxmi 

        2 years ago

        Unique idea with creative art. I really like this type of art. Well done! I am waiting for your next post.

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        That's great, truthfornow! Best of luck with it. This is a great project to get your feet wet with machine sewing.

      • truthfornow profile image

        truthfornow 

        6 years ago from New Orleans, LA

        I have never seen these kinds of cards before, but I love them. I have always wanted to learn to sew. This is just some more inspiration for me to get started. Thanks.

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        That's awesome, That Grrl! I love hand sewing, too, but I've trying to start slowly learning a few machine skills. Good luck with yours!

      • That Grrl profile image

        Laura Brown 

        6 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

        I've been hand sewing for years. I have a sewing machine but most of the stuff I do is a small seam, for something like a patch or mending. Buttons too. So getting the machine out and set up would take too long to be worthwhile. But, this winter I want to set it up and start machine sewing to make dolls and maybe even start crazy quilting again. I'm so far out of practice using the machine I will be very slow. I hope I kept the instructions cause I don't even remember the process to thread it right now. :)

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks, Natasha! If you switch back and forth between paper and fabric on a regular basis, it will definitely help.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        I like your suggestion to have a paper only needle. As soon as I saw the title, I immediately thought "but that will dull the needle!" You've thought of everything!

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks, Cyndi! That's neat about the machine. I hope that it still works.

      • cclitgirl profile image

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Sooo pretty! I love all these pictures. I once found a Morse sewing machine for $5 at an auction. I still don't know if it works, but one of these days I'll take it out and try my hand at sewing - these paper projects look fun!

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks Kathy! You should give it a try sometime.

      • profile image

        Kathy 

        6 years ago

        Very fun! I have done lots of machine embroidery, but never sewing on paper. Thanks for the information =)

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks! It definitely is.

      • photosbecomearts profile image

        photosbecomearts 

        6 years ago from Tampa, Florida, USA

        These are creative stuff! It looks like it's really fun doing it!

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks Jacquie! I agree. :) I really appreciate that.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        6 years ago from The Beautiful South

        I always loved crafts like this, I wish there were more hours in a day!

        This is great, very attractive and well done, voted up.

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks Suzie! Have fun with it.

      • Suzie ONeill profile image

        Suzie ONeill 

        6 years ago from Lost in La La Land

        What a fun idea! I'm going to have to try this. Thanks for sharing!

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        A lot of people choose to use sewing techniques for crafting instead of adhesives simply for the aesthetic. Usually it's not an attempt to duplicate an excellent adhesive.

      • profile image

        nounjb 

        6 years ago from Minnesota, USA

        This is very clever and can only be trumped by some kind of device that will be able to lay a very narrow and uniform coating of adhesive exactly where needed to duplicate the concentrated stitching capability of the machine. But, not even then, if cloth is added to cloth in the execution of the artistry.

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks Shampa! That's awesome. You're right that this technique can be very colorful and attractive.

        Sherry, that sounds neat! I'll check it out.

      • SherryDigital profile image

        Sherry Duffy 

        6 years ago from Here. There. Everywhere. Currently: Portland, OR

        My friend Paul Nosa actually started a little business where he travels around with a solar powered sewing machine and makes little stitch pieces of artwork on the fly. http://www.docpop.org/2010/04/paul-nosa-and-his-so...

      • shampa sadhya profile image

        Shampa Sadhya 

        6 years ago from NEW DELHI, INDIA

        Voted up and useful!

        It is a very creative idea. Though I am a novice in sewing but various craft ideas interest me a lot. I will share this idea with my dear ones who love to sew. It looks very colourful and attractive.

      • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks Kelley! I'm definitely getting faster with the process. Sewing is really not my forte either, but with some practice, I've made some simple paper sewing techniques come together nicely. Thanks for sharing this!

      • profile image

        kelleyward 

        6 years ago

        Wow Randomcreative you amaze me with the amount of material you can put out so quickly! I am horrible at sewing but I could potentially create some of these greeting cards. Thanks for sharing. I'll share this with my mom and others! Take care, Kelley

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