I have been working on some small samples which I can layer together in different combinations to see how they look and how they would work in different contexts. I make them individually and keep them fairly neutral as a way of giving me various permutations, its an easy way of visualizing the 'what if' concept without actually tying it to a specific piece of work.
Tacked folded triangle edging layered into a seam, ric rac and felt balls with embroidery.
Buttons, decorative stitch and paper.
Additions of patchwork and knots.
Making samples and trials in this way generates ideas about how they can be used in a piece of work. By changing the colours, layout , textures and stitch, the additions can be delicate, bold, folksy or contemporary dependant on your need. Mixing and matching techniques is fun and interesting.
Using this method have a go and see what you can come up with, all of these images are made up using the same set of small samples, I think they all have a different feel to them and that's without changing the fabrics!