How to Create a Quilting Shadow Effect

Use this discharge process to transfer shapes to fabric for a dramatic effect.

Leaves are used in two steps in the pictured project, first as templates for fused-fabric leaves and then in the discharge process to create a shadow effect on the background fabric. The process will work for any shape, though.  


Note: The materials list is for a 24-by-24-inch quilt.

Materials and Tools:

1 fat quarter of dark solid background fabric (pretested*)
½-yard of border fabric
5 bright fabric scraps for leaves
5 simple leaves (oaks, maples, etc.)
½-yard of paper-backed fusible web
rubber gloves
2 buckets of clear water
respirator with an acid-gas cartridge
1 yard of backing
28-by-28-inch batting
½-yard of binding
sewing machine
sewing needle (optional)

* To pretest fabric to ensure that it will discharge (discharging removes the color from fabrics and is the opposite of dyeing), fill an eyedropper with a 50-50 mixture of bleach and water. Saturate a half-piece of a fabric sample and let it set for one to two minutes. Let dry. Store the discharged swatch with the original fabric.


1.  Pre-wash all fabrics.

2.  Flatten five to seven simple leaves in a phone book for a few days.

3.  Trace each leaf on paper-backed fusible web, with leaves right side down.

4. Roughly cut each fusible leaf apart.

5. Iron the fusible web leaves to the wrong side of bright fabrics. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for fusible web.

6. Cut out the fused fabric leaves carefully along your marked pencil lines.

7. Wearing a respirator and rubber gloves and working on a surface covered with newspaper, prepare a bleach discharge solution by mixing a 50-50 solution of bleach and water and pouring it into a spray bottle.

8. Prepare a stop bath solution by mixing one teaspoon of antichlor into 2½ gallons of warm water in a tub.

9. Place the background fabric flat on newspapers.

10. Arrange the flattened leaves (not fabric-fused leaves) in a circle or wreath pattern on the background fabric. To prevent movement, anchor the background fabric and leaves with small stones. Position the anchors so that they won't cast an unwanted shadow on the fabric. Note: Leaves should be right side up for discharging.

11. Spray the bleach solution from one direction onto the fabric.

12. Remove the leaves carefully.

13 Monitor the leaves as they develop, as they will discharge quickly.

14. When the fabric is discharged, rinse it carefully in clear water.

15. Place the fabric in the stop bath and allow it to soak for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

16. Wash the fabric with mild detergent, dry and iron as usual.

17. Remove the paper backing from the fused-fabric leaves.

18. Place leaves on background fabric with their corresponding shadows. Move each leaf up and to the right of its shadow. Try to maintain a consistent angle and distance. Use a reducing lens or step back from your work while arranging to attain the desired shadow appearance.

19. Press each fused leaf to the background fabric according to the fusible-web manufacturer's instructions.

20. Trim the background fat quarter to about 18 by 18 inches and center the fused wreath motif, not the shadows. The actual size of the background piece is not critical.

21. Cut four border strips 4 inches long and the width of the fabric. Measure the quilt through the center vertically to calculate the length of the side borders. Cut two border strips to this measurement and sew to the sides of the quilt. Press the seams toward the border.

22. Measure the quilt, including the side borders, through the center horizontally to calculate the top and bottom borders. Cut two border strips to this measurement and sew to the top and bottom of quilt. Press the seams toward the border.

23. Layer and baste the quilt top, batting and backing together.

24. Quilt by hand or machine and bind.

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