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Folded shapes

Single shapes, folded then applied in patterns and tessellations, are endlessly fascinating. This section covers lots of possible designs, but no doubt there are many more for you to discover.

Material and Design Notes

  • Changing fabrics will create radically different effects, as will cutting on the bias or straight grain. In many cases raw edges will show, so non-fraying fabrics or tight weaves are useful.
  • All the samples shown use squares or circles. Other shapes could be used although the techniques given here are based on shapes that have two-way symmetry, so rectangles for instance, will not work in the same way.


Overlap squares : adjust each square by eye rather than by measuring. Apply in tessellating patterns to a base fabric sewing along the points and through the centres.

Overlap squares

Cut as many squares as desired from bias-cut or non-fraying fabric – the sample is made in felt. Take one square and place on point (with a corner pointing up, like a diamond). Fold the side corners to the centre and overlap. Stitch by hand through all layers or directly onto the base fabric.



Stitched square

1). Cut squares from bias-cut strips. Take a square and fold it so the opposite corners meet. (Fold along the grain if you wish to press the finished shape flat, or against the grain if you want it to retain some 3D shape.)


2). Measure across the folded triangle and divide this measurement by three, then sew the folded triangle together one-third of the way from its point. So if the total width is 6cm (23⁄₈in), sew together 2cm (¾in) from the point.


3). Open out and press flat if required. Sew the finished shapes directly onto the background fabric in patterns of your choosing.


Stitched square, unpressed.


Stitched square, pressed.


Stitched square, appliqué.

Shawl fold square

Cut squares on the straight grain. Take one square and fold diagonally. Bring the two corners to meet the bottom point. Stitch in place by hand. For the neatest effect, prepare all of the squares before sewing them onto the background fabric.


Appliqué tips

Start with the top row; sew in place around the bottom (raw) edge. Position the next row to hide the raw edges and continue. At the end, you may need to stitch through from the back and catch the points down with tiny stitches to stop them flapping around.


Shawl fold square.


Fold variations for shawl fold


Overlap the edges when you fold for a more 3D effect. Do not press.


Stitch the point down, then fold back the openings and hold with a single stitch.

Contrast shawl fold

Cut two triangles from contrasting fabrics of similar weight, 2cm (¾in) larger than you need. Sew together along the bias edge, and press the seam open. Trim off the points and cut down to the correct size. Fold and press along the sewn line and use to fold Shawl Fold Square.



Contrast shawl fold.

Square or circle quarter fold

Cut squares or circles from non-fraying fabric or bias-cut strips. Fold in half diagonally and then in half again. Sew close to the point so as not to flatten the shape.



The square quarter fold.

Square or circle quarter fold: contrast inner

Cut a smaller square to place inside a larger square. Fold and stitch together as one piece, ensuring the inner fabric is definitely caught by the stitching.


A square quarter fold with contrast inner.


A circle quarter fold with three contrast layers.


The circle quarter fold.

Project Idea : Ripple Brooch

This felt brooch has been my best seller for years. It is ideally made in recycled wool felt which has a lovely thickness to it. Wool felt is also suitable but cheap craft felt does not work so well at all. Polyester fleece can also be used.


Technique : Circle Quarter Fold
Material : Recycled wool felt or wool felt

  • Fold and stitch seven pieces of wool felt using the Circle Quarter Fold technique.
  • Cut two extra circles slightly smaller for the backing. • Apply four of the quarter circles to one of the backing circles, points to centre, and stitch down at points only.
  • Stitch the remaining three quarter circles on top, again only stitching the points so they stand up. Trim the edges to make a smooth dome-shape.
  • Sew a brooch pin onto the remaining backing circle, then attach to the back of the folded piece, sewing all around the edges, so hiding all the stitching.


Square quarter fold: pinwheel grouping

Make four Square Quarter Folds using wool felt. Cut a backing square the same size, also from felt. Arrange the four quarter squares to make a square so that the folds and the open folds point the same way. Stitch to the backing felt just at the points, and allow the folds to open out.



Square quarter fold: pinwheel grouping.

Trefoil fold

This shape is an interesting variation on a traditional origami fold that works well on fabric.

1). Cut squares on either the straight or bias grain and fold in half diagonally. Fold the sides to the centre as Shawl Fold Square. Press lightly.



Trefoil fold.

2). Unfold the just-folded triangles to lie flat at either side. Holding at the base, put your finger inside the right-hand triangle and lift it up and out so the just-pressed fold line matches up with the fold line underneath to make a kite-shaped fold. Repeat on the left-hand side.


Applied trefoil shapes

Press the trefoils lightly so they retain some 3D shape. Position the shapes as required on the backing fabric, and then stitch down at the points using invisible stitches.


The trefoil shapes are made in crisp organic cotton, a fabric that takes a crease well. These could be applied to a contrasting background too.

Wings and aeroplanes

These folded shapes are a combination of origami folds and folds made for paper aeroplanes. They can be made from bias or straight grain fabric squares, and applied to create dense surface texture.

Wings fold

Fold a square in half diagonally and in half again as for Square Quarter Fold. Sew from the centre of the long side to the point, by hand or machine.


Open the shape out flat, opening the wings to either side. The flap that sticks up can be opened out and pressed flat to create the centre diamond.


Wing fold made in straight-cut shot silk dupion.

Pinched wings

Make the Wings Fold but make sure you use bias grain squares. For pinched wings do not press the flap flat when you have opened it out; instead bring the two sides of the flap (points A and B) together to create the shape. Sew together with tiny stitches through all layers.



Pinched wings fold made in bias cut silk dupion.

Aeroplane fold

1). Fold a square in half diagonally. Fold one side over and hold in place with a sewing clip.



Aeroplane fold.

2). Fold the folded over side back on itself so the fold lies on the centre line – like a paper aeroplane – and clip.



3). Repeat steps 1 and 2 on the other side and clip. Keeping all the layers together, sew through from top to bottom, catching all the layers. Keep the stitches small so the wings can spring back up.




The circle aeroplane fold is made in the same way as the Aeroplane Fold; this sample is left unpressed and not stitched in place.

Circle thirds fold

This technique is tricky to master. You might want to try it with a large paper circle first and mark the lines and letters on.

1). Cut circles from medium-weight fabric, at least 7–8cm (23⁄₄– 31⁄₈in) diameter. Fold in half to create a semi-circle then into quarters and press lightly to create a slight centre crease. Unfold to a semi circle. Follow the diagram and mark each quarter of the semi-circle with a line or a mark on the edge.


2). Work the left side first. Fold point A to point D and finger press or clip in place.



Press the folds in place as you work for a flatter effect.

3). Fold A back so it creases on the centre line and overlaps on the left side.


4). Bring the overlapping point A back to the centre fold but slightly down from the raw edge (see photos of finished samples also).


5). Make the other side folds by folding E so it just overlaps the folds you have already made, roughly to the point marked X. Fold back along the centre line then fold point E to the centre, to match with point A.


Alternatively use only clips and do not press at all, then sew to hold the fold.

Project Idea : Aeroplane Fold Wall Panel

This piece is an exercise in optical illusion. At first look, the pleats appear to be made from the base fabric, whereas they are really sewn onto a matching fabric, merely creating an impression of serious complexity.


Technique : Aeroplane Fold Pressed
Material : Organic or plain weave shirt-weight cotton

  • Make 15 (or as many as desired) folded circles using the Aeroplane Fold technique.
  • Cut matching backing fabric and use a circle template to arrange the folded shapes into a circle, points facing in.
  • You will find that the folded shapes do not butt up to each other completely, so experiment to find an arrangement that works. More folded circles will create a larger circle, and fewer a smaller circle.
  • Sew the folded circles in place just at the points and at the outside raw edge.


Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer