elizabethmadethis.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for websites to earn advertising revenues by advertising and linking toSome of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.
Sew on embellishment ideas
Here’s a category of embellishment ideas that involve you stitching various things into place on top of your project. Unlike the trims, they can be big patches or tiny little beads. Some can be really quick, or being more slow sewing projects. The nice thing about this category is that almost all of these embellishment ideas can be added after the fact. If you have a plain t-shirt you want to spice up, these are your jam!
21. Applique: this is a category unto itself really. Cut a bit of any cool print fabric and zigzag around it onto your sewing project. This vintage Vera applique coat with the big flower appliques cut from napkins of all things is one of my all-time favorite pieces!
22. Hand embroidery: embroidery you do by hand can really simple or incredibly elaborate. Anything from X’s or running stitches added anywhere on your project to big beautiful flowers you make with embroidery transfers. Embroidering by hand can be a great take-anywhere kind of project.
23. Decorative stitches: If you use a modern sewing machine, it probably has some decorative stitches on it. You probably forget about them 99.9% of the time, but they can be a simple add to any project. I like this one to help keeping thick sweatshirt knit seam allowances flat.
24. Reverse applique: Alabama Chanin has really made this technique popular. Basically, you stitch through two layers of fabric with a running stitch or backstitch and cut away the top layer to expose the inside fabric. This is not a fast process, but it’s worth it for the big impact it makes.
25. Lace appliques: Adding a lace applique can be SO incredibly easy. Literally put it in place and stitch around it. That’s it! You can make it a little fancier by cutting away some of the backing fabric like I did on this lace applique shirt.
26. Beads: Sewing on beads can add some nice sparkle and shine. Beading can be as simple as adding a few statement beads or as complicated as adding thousands of tiny beads to a dress.
27. Buttons: buttons can be a real focal point in a garment. Sew on a few for decoration only or make them functional.
28. Sequins: sequins are like beads but with more shiny. Sew them on as sequin trims or applique patches, or stitch them on 1 by 1.
29. Fabric flowers: you can make fabric flowers from scraps like I did with this ice dyed denim, or buy ready made fabric flower embellishments. Fabric flowers look great along necklines or as shoulder pieces.
30. Contrast fabric: You can always add a little bit of contrast as a panel or as an applique. This can be a great way to use up scraps from another project.
31. Yoyos: I’m yoyo obsessed having made 8 twin-size yoyo quilts. They would be great on a sweater or scarf or even a yoyo wristlet bag like this one.
32. Faux fur: Think detachable faux fur collars. Faux fur can add a lot of warmth to a sweater or a coat. I’ve even added faux fur as cuffs before on sweaters. So cozy!!!
33. Sew-on rhinestones: You can use sew-on rhinestones in place of decorative buttons. I like the sew-on kind better than the hot-fix variety as they tend to be more secure.
34. Beaded appliques: beaded appliques are like lace appliques with an extra dash of fancy. They’re pretty much an instant gratification way to add some class to a project. Just stitch around them and go.
35. Couching: This is another slow sewing project, but wow, can it make a showstopper of a garment. Loop yarn over the surface of your fabric and either zigzag across it or affix it with hand stitches. There’s some beautiful examples of hand embroidery with this technique. You can try this in one section of a garment like a shoulder or go for a whole piece like I did on this yarn embroidered coat.
36. Doilies: like lace appliques, but the ones that sit on tables. I’ve seen cool things from people stitching a series of doilies to the hems of their jeans hems.
37. Silk scarves: you can cut appliques from silk scarves. They’re so colorful and you can often find them in thrift stores for a dollar or two.
38. Sashiko: This beautiful Japanese traditional embroidery is not a quick sew, but it’s one that is really stunning. There’s some great sashiko embroidery transfers out there which will make all those intricate geometric shapes a little easier to plan out.
39. Patches: got a hole, patch it. Patches are like appliques with function. You can always add patches after the fact. When I can, I like to sew them as I’m making a project like I did with these knee patches for kids.
40. Collar appliques: Collar appliques are another variation like lace appliques. They’re especially shaped to sit on the edge of a neckline. They can be made from lace or beading or sequins or fringe. Sometimes all you need to to stitch them to a project is to sew them to the shoulders of your dress, top, or sweater.
41. Snaps: just like buttons, snaps can add an extra decorative touch that’s also functional. The extra large snaps in particular really add a high end look. And covered snaps are a beautiful couture finish.
42. Machine embroidery: I don’t have an embroidery machine, but if you do, there’s pretty much no end to the kinds of extra bits you can add to a sewing project. You can also embroider on a regular sewing machine too.
43. Fabric triangles and other origami: Have you ever seen prairie points on the edge of a quilt? I remember I had a quilt that someone had made me as a baby. I was always fascinated by those folded triangles used in place of a binding. Indygo Junction wrote a denim book (*affiliate) that has some really cool origami type trims that you can add to a project too.
44. Pockets!: Of course pockets had to make it here. Adding any kind of pocket is always going to be a winning embellishment because they’re focal point and function built into one. Patch pockets can always be added to old projects or to garments sitting in your closet.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.