Embellish a Quilt with Fabric Yoyos | Madam Sew

Make Fabric Yoyos to Embellish Clothes and Quilts

Guest blog by Libby Christensen

Fabric yoyos are so much fun! People have been using them to decorate for over a century. In this blog post, you’ll learn how to make fabric yoyos that you can use to embellish your homemade quilts or clothes. Making yoyos is very easy, even for beginners, and it is an inexpensive way to upcycle and enhance different items by using fabric scraps and leftovers from other sewing and quilting projects. Given all of the yoyo ideas and inspiration in this post, I’m sure you will want to lock yourself up in your sewing room and get crafty!

What is a Fabric Yoyo?

A “yoyo” is a small circle of fabric (usually 2”- 4”), gathered around the outer edge. As it gathers, it folds over and ends up leaving a little hole in the middle (like a miniature yoyo).  

Different sizes of yoyos

In the past, small circles were cut from scraps or old clothes, then attached together at top, bottom, and sides. It took hundreds of them to form a coverlet for a bed.

Yoyos attached together

You may not want to hand-sew an entire coverlet, but the yoyos can be used in creative ways to embellish clothing or quilt blocks.  

Yoyo embellishment on a jacket
Pocket Full of Posies” embellishment

How to Make a Fabric Yoyo

What you'll need

Gather the following fabrics, notions and tools:

    • Fabric scraps

    • Scissors

    • Small hand-sewing needle
    • Thread

    • Round “template” like a glass or lid, 2”- 4” in diameter

    • Optional—buttons

For appliquéed stems and leaves, you’ll also need:

Step 1: Cut the Circles

Step 1a

Cut a small circle, 2”- 4” in diameter.
(NOTE: The finished yoyo’s diameter will be approximately half that size.)  

Find a convenient circle template, such as a glass or small lid. Using a heat erasable pen, draw on the fabric right around the edge.

Cut circles for yoyos

Step 1b Wait!  

Don’t cut out the circles one by one. Save time by layering the fabric, whether using one fabric, folded repeatedly, or multiple pieces of fabric. Pin the layers together and cut around the circle.

Step 2: Gather the Circles

Each yoyo is hand-gathered, using a simple running stitch. Turn the raw edge under a scant 1/4” (about one thread less than a ¼”) then sew the gathering line very close to the folded edge. (NOTE: If you prefer to press down the edge first, Madam Sew’s wool pressing mat is helpful.)

Folded edge, scant 1/4” with running stitch along edge

Diagram A: Folded edge, scant 1/4” with running stitch along edge

Try the quilter’s method of using a sharp small needle (size 8-9 are good) to “load” up multiple stitches and pull through all at once (and if desired, use a thimble to help push the needle through). Use a polyester-based thread, doubled and knotted on the end, because cotton is more likely to break. To begin, hide the knot under the fold. Sew all the way around, then pull the thread taut. (NOTE: You can stop and pull to gather every 1/4 or 1/3 of the way around and make a little knot; it’s easier to pull taut and knot several times than all at once.)

Diagram of folded edge of yoyo

Load needle

Load needle with multiple stitches to sew yoyo

Pull taut and knot

Pull taut and knot yoyo

Finish, knot and hide thread tail

Pull tightly at the end, leaving a nice little hole in the center of the yoyo. Knot off the end neatly and hide the thread tail. Another quilter’s tip is to hide the thread tail by pointing the needle just beside the knot to the INSIDE of the fold and bring it back out 1/2” away. Pull the thread a little taut and snip; the tail will snap back and be buried inside the yoyo.    

Step 3: Combine the Yoyos

To combine yoyos, as for a coverlet, attach them to each other with a few little stitches at top, sides, and bottom (think positions at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock). Put the needle through the yoyo hole to the inside to hide the knot, coming out the edge of the fold at the desired position. Take a few tiny stitches from the back side (NOTE: Take a stitch, knot, stitch, stitch, knot).  

Finish yoyo and hide thread tail
Finish yoyo and hide thread tail

Diagram B:   3-4 stitches holding yoyos together

What Can You Do With Fabric Yoyos?

Now that you know how to make fabric yoyos, it’s time to start decorating with them. This is the really fun and creative part.

Make Flowers Out of Fabric Yoyos

Just slip-stitch the yoyo in place on your background fabric and add a button to the middle for a folksy look.  

Diagram shows where to attach yoyos

For fancier flowers, combine a small yoyo with a larger one.

Yoyos attached side-by-side
Yoyos with button centers

Line yoyos up vertically from large to small to make a gladiolus. You can even take some extra stitches to close the hole to make fluffier “petals” and add a pearl bead to the center.

Normal yoyo

Normal Yoyo

Puffy Yoyo

Puffy Yoyo

Make Stems and Add Leaves

Layered yoyos with bead center
Yoyos lined up, large to small, for gladiolus

To make stems use Madam Sew’s narrowest bias binding tool to fold and press a “stem,” (which does not have to be a bias cut if it’s a straight stem). However, for a curved stem, simply cut the fabric on the bias and steam press the ”stem” to coax it into a curve (See photos above.). Pin the stem in place or fuse it in place with a narrow fusible tape, then edge-stitch to hold.

Diagram of a normal yoyo
Diagram of a yoyo made puffy with extra stitches

Add leaves: It’s easy to appliqué some leaves. Iron paper-backed fusible web to the back of some green fabric. Cut out leaf shapes. Remove the paper and fuse a leaf in place. Stitch around the leaf, using a satin stitch (close-together zigzag), with a stabilizer under the fabric.

(NOTE: Use a Madam Sew open-toe foot to see as you sew.)    

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More Ways to Use Fabric Yoyos

If you don’t want to make flowers, make tires! YES, TIRES! OR monster eyes, maybe a sun—you name it!  

Make bias binding

The black tires are yoyos with a colorful button on top.

If you want to try a vest or jacket, lay out the circles to match a pattern shape. There are many possibilities, so go create!  

Press bias binding into curves

Jacket front in process

Study the photos for ideas; for more detailed patterns, the Christensen Creations patterns below are available as digital downloads at SewGoCreate.

Fuse fusible web onto fabric back

Simple Platter Pad (large hot pad)
Happy to Gladiolus Platter Pad #CC2012 – SewGoCreate

Cut leaves for appliqué
Jacket front of yoyos in process

Decorated Sweatshirt Jacket
Glad Jacket #CC2202 – SewGoCreate

“Happy to Gladiolus” Platter Pad with yoyos

Bundle of several patterns, including the Gladiola ones
GLAD Bundle #CC3000 – SewGoCreate

Racecar appliqué with yoyos and buttons as tires

Libby Christensen,
Designer/Owner at SewGoCreate 

Guest Blogger for Madam Sew

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