I thought the recent email from Quilting Arts gave very good advice. Since I can’t link to it I’m posting the text here for those of you who don’t get the emails. The advice is from Frances Holliday Alford.
Embellishment should be used in the same way we garnish food. It is important to consider scale. If there is too much, it will overpower the dish. The right amount will add zest, interest, and excitement. Embellishment in quilting needs the same careful consideration. Think of embellishment as a punctuation mark: it is not the whole paragraph, but simply a place of emphasis.
Embellishments come in as many forms as our imagination will allow. A small amount of foil, a couching of yarn, French knots, or a sprinkle of tiny seed beads can be a subtle accent on a smaller, more delicate piece of art. This is the same slight of hand that allows a dash of paprika to give the deviled egg a little oomph. Like the parmesan cheese on the pasta, it adds interest and flavor, but is not the centerpiece of the dish.
A larger, bolder work of art – or gourmet delight – can handle larger scale embellishments. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, think of the French pastries studded with whole, glazed strawberries, large slices of pineapple, or long chocolate curls. When a large pizza is presented, it is more attractive with toppings like artfully placed cross-sliced peppers, slices of sausage, or whole olives, rather than a smattering of tiny, chopped pieces.
Comparable embellishments of this sort are large beads, recycled jewelry components, small toys, or other larger objects sewed firmly to a heavier surface. The point of this type of embellishment is that it is the dominant subject. It speaks loudly and asserts itself.
The most important thing to consider is what your design needs to communicate, how it relates to the theme, how the structure will hold a certain item and how the objects will enhance the design as intended.
I do think that a good story to illustrate something you are trying to get across helps enormously. The comparison with garnishing food is an excellent example of this.