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Free Motion Embroidered Portraits

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you'll know that I love free motion embroidery.  I love doing it, and I love teaching it.  For me, it's sewing in its most relaxing and freeing form.  It's perfect if you've just got an hour or so to spare, not enough time to make a garment (maybe a very simple jersey top), but plenty of time to make a little picture.


I find it very calming as well, perfect for those days you're feeling a bit anxious and stressed and think that the precision and accuracy needed for dressmaking will add to that anxiety and stress.  With free motion embroidery it doesn't have to be perfect, in fact imperfections add to the charm as far as I'm concerned.  But you do have to concentrate, so those racing thoughts have to stay in the background.

Recently I've become slightly addicted to doing free motion embroidered portraits and I thought it would be good to share with you what I think makes a good subject and some tips that might help should you want to try your own portrait.

I've stuck to celebrity portraits - I find something weird about sewing (or drawing when I used to draw) people I know for some reason - but of course you can do anyone you choose.

Bearing that in mind, tip one would be choose a recognisable subject.

This probably sounds obvious, but choose someone that you - or the recipient if it's a gift - will recognise.   Of course if you're doing the portrait, you'll know who it is, but choose a good, clear picture of them.   I like to do full face portraits, but profile ones would work too.

This one was the first one I did.  If you don't recognise him, it's Ricky Wilson from Kaiser Chiefs in his guise as a coach on The Voice.



At the time I was quite pleased with it, but now I think it could be much better.  The main reason I don't like it is there's no definition in the face, it's too flat and one dimensional.  Also I stretched it a bit when I mounted it which hasn't helped!

Contrast that one with this one of David Bowie - my favourite portrait to date.


I think this one works much better for several reasons.  Firstly, it's an instantly recognisable image - I doubt there are many people who wouldn't know who this is, or at least recognise the image even if they didn't know who it was.

Secondly, the shapes and angles are very well defined; sharp cheekbones, angular chin, the distinctive lightening flash makeup.  It also lends itself well to using patterned fabrics and non realistic colours.  The fabrics I've used here are all Liberty of London scraps.

My second tip is angular faces work best (for me at any rate), as do images with a good contrast of highlights and shadows.

Sometimes if the angles and shadows within the image aren't clear, using a filter such as 'Find Edges' in Photoshop can help.  With this image it didn't really make much difference, as the shapes are so well defined anyway:


Adam Ant was another good choice as he's got such a distinctive look.  This one was a birthday present for a friend.


The fabrics you use can be as realistic and as close to the original image as you like, or something far away from the original image. 

The black and gold quilting cotton I chose for the jacket echoes the gold braid in the photo meaning it was simpler to stitch.  I could have chosen a plain black fabric and overlaid gold braid or fabric strips for a different look.

Tip three is therefore, bear in mind the less you match the fabrics / colours to the original photo the less recognisable your finished image is likely to be. 

Imagine my first portrait of Ricky Wilson in Liberty Print fabrics, you'd have even less of an idea who it was!

Tip four: use a skin toned fabric or similar for your backing if you can.  It means you don't have to worry about cutting the face from fabric. 

Of course, you don't have to do this!  Here's Debbie Harry on a denim background (actually a bag).  I used some cream calico for the skin toned parts of the image. 


I like this one, but I think it would have worked better if I'd added some shadows or shading to shape the face more.  She has quite an angular face, and amazing cheekbones, that you don't see in this portrait.

My final tip is to allow plenty of time.  Although I said at the start of this post free motion embroidery is a great way to fill an hour, don't expect to achieve a detailed portrait in that time.  The David Bowie one took about 5 hours from start to finish.

I hope you've found the above useful or at least interesting.  For those of you who aren't into this type of sewing, I apologise for not writing that much about dressmaking recently.  I hope to get back to blogging about that too, but for various reasons I've probably mentioned here before I'm finding it much harder to write about and photograph.

The Making of a Free Motion Embroidery

I've wanted to stitch this David Bowie image from the cover of the his Earthling album for some time, mainly because it combines two of my heroes - Bowie himself, and Alexander McQueen who designed the coat Bowie is wearing.



I recently had a sewing day planned with some lovely friends and thought that it would be the ideal opportunity to work on this, as I knew it would take some time.

I also decided to photograph the process as I went along, so you could see how I built the image up. 

I started by tracing the photo I was using as I wasn't sure whether I would need to use my tracing as a guide to stitch through for some parts.  As it turned out, I didn't, but this is where I started. 




Normally I cut each piece within an image separately but due to the complexity of the coat I decided to cut the whole thing out in the fabric I was using for the white portions and layer up on top of that.

I used Liberty print fabrics for everything with the exception of the hair, and for the coat I used the reverse side of the fabric for a more muted effect.


I then started the painstaking task of cutting the red and blue parts of the coat out of the corresponding fabrics.  I normally cut my fabric pieces out and then apply Bondaweb to the reverse afterwards, but as these pieces were so small and fiddly I started by applying Bondaweb to the back of a whole piece of fabric, then cut the pieces out afterwards.





I did a few pieces at a time, protected them with a piece of tissue paper and then ironed them down before doing a few more.   It took quite a bit of time but was worth taking it slowly.


The sewing was actually the easy part, in most places all I had to do was follow the edges of the fabric pieces.


I had to stitch my signature!  I thought up the inside of his leg was a good, not too obvious place for it.


The last photo is courtesy of my lovely friend Angela, who's shop Crafty Angel Sewing Studio we spent the day at.

Great British Sewing Bee Live

Hello!  Long time, no see (again!).  Let's just gloss over the fact that I'm currently averaging around one blog post a month shall we, and I'll show you the goodies I picked up yesterday.

Yesterday I took the day off work and went to the very first Great British Sewing Bee live with two of my lovely sewing friends.  After picking them up and driving down to Excel - where the car park was spookily quiet - we arrived just after it opened at 10am.  It was so quiet, which was nice in a way because it made it easy to look at the stands, but also kind of strange.  I'm used to the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, which is normally all kinds of crazy. 

The GBSB is a very small show compared to the K&S, I would think due to the fact that this is it's first year.  It was nicely laid out with plenty of space between the stands.  I saw a few people I knew and met a couple of others I'd previously only spoken to online, which was lovely.

The stands were mainly devoted to dressmaking - either fabric or (mainly independent) pattern companies - but there was also a bit of embroidery and quilting dotted around, which suited me down to the ground as I am primarily a dressmaker, as you know. 

I bought some very pretty buttons within minutes of arriving, from the lovely Mrs Maven at Maven Patterns


After that we made our way to the Community Clothing stand as Patrick Grant had Tweeted a couple of days earlier that they would be selling off Saville Row remnants.  They had a selection on bolts behind the counter, which you couldn't really look at without asking to see each one, but there was also a big rummage bin where each piece was £5.  And some of them were big!

I got two pieces of teal fabric which will hopefully be enough for a jacket.  I'm not really sure what it is; I think maybe some sort of wool with an almost velvet pile on the front and a bonded rubber backing. 



I also got a large piece of striped cotton shirting which is so soft.  I'm hoping I've got enough for the new asymmetric shirt pattern by Dressy Talk Patterns.  



Our next stop was for coffee and a pain au chocolat, then it was time to head for the workshop we'd booked.  There were quite a number of different workshops set in classrooms around the edges of the main hall.  Here we are waiting to start ours.  We looked decidedly less happy during the workshop!


I'm not going to tell you which one we did because it was truly dreadful.  Poorly organised with an awful choice of fabrics for the project (okay if you like pink chintzy florals - which none of the three of us did!), incorrect pattern instructions and a tutor that spent half her time trying to sell us various notions that we may or may not need/want to use.  We were all really disappointed and I didn't even bother to finish my project. 

Then it was back to shopping!  I bought 2.5m of this bee print cotton lawn from Doughty's.  I'm sure it'll be a dress of some sort, not sure what kind yet, although I'm currently on a shirt dress binge. 



After lunch we set off for round 2, revisiting some of the stands we'd seen things we'd liked on our first trip round.  We went back to see lovely Saira at Olive and Flo Handcraft who I met a few weeks ago on a handquilting workshop, and I ended up buying a pattern for a needle turn applique quilt!  I must be mad, but it's beautiful and I'm hoping it will be something lovely to do on winter evenings in front of the television and fire. 


We had a look at the display of projects made for the Sewing Bee challenges by various former participants.  It was really interesting to see them close up and I was impressed by just how gorgeous some of them were in real life.  The evening dress that Lauren Guthrie made in the final of the first series was stunning.

By now we were getting tired and it was coming up to closing time.  I managed one final purchase, 2.5m of viscose - again for a dress! - from Fabrics Galore.  It was an instant "I love it" as soon as I saw it.


Not long before the show ended I had the pleasure of bumping into gorgeous Marie of A Stitching Odyssey.  Actually I jumped out and accosted her and her friend, but they didn't seem to mind.

We actually spent so much of our day shopping and chatting that we didn't get time to visit the Super Theatre and see what was going on there.  We did manage to catch sight of Patrick as we were walking round near the end of the show, but none of us were brave enough to speak to him or ask to have our photo taken with him.  Kind of wish I had now!







Inspiration by Hand

Last week I was lucky enough to go along to a workshop organised by the Oxfordfordshire Modern Quilters Guild.  Now quilting isn't really my thing, but handsewing and embroidery are so I decided to give it a whirl.  I've been having a really horrible, stressful time at work recently and when someone tagged me in an Instagram post about the day I decided it was just what I needed.  And it was.

It was lovely; very, very relaxing and just what I needed. 

The day was entitled "Inspiration by Hand" and was tutored by the lovely Anna Maria Horner.  If you're a quilter you'll almost certainly have heard of Anna Maria as her fabric designs are very popular.

Anna Maria started by telling us a bit about herself - she's the mother of seven children, how she finds the time for anything other than that I've no idea - and showing us some of her quilts.  They appealed to me as they tend to feature large blocks of fabric with applique and hand embroidery embellishment, rather than lots and lots of smaller squares or triangles of fabric making up the design.

This was one of my favourites - the colour scheme is possibly not my ideal but I loved the design and would love to make something like this myself.

Anna Maria Horner Travelling Blooms Quilt
I love this one as well, but sadly didn't get to see it "in the flesh".

Anna Maria Horner Safe Passage Quilt
After a chat and coffee we set about learning some hand quilting.  Many of the other attendees knew this skill already, but it was completely new to me.  I didn't even have the right thread, but luckily I sat between two lovely ladies who shared theirs with me. 

I started simply, using the design of my fabric as inspiration.  It was hard to know what fabric to bring, as I didn't really know what I would be doing with it.  With hindsight I'd have chosen something different, but I quite like it and it's only a sample anyway.


I'd built the design up a bit more by the time we stopped for lunch.  Sadly I don't have any more of the same colour thread, as I was borrowing it, so I'll need to track some down if I want to do any more to this. 



After a lovely lunch it was time to switch to hand embroidery, something I already knew that I love doing.

Again Anna Maria passed round some samples for us to admire, as you can see from the few photos below they really were lovely.  I particularly like the tufty section on the flower in the last photo.  I'm definitely going to try that myself.






We were then able to choose from some of Anna Maria's embroidery designs to use for our own pieces, which came as transfers to be ironed onto our fabric.   I chose a letter S, which actually made Anna Maria's Insta-stories.



I've added more to it since I got home from the workshop and am finding it quite addictive.



I'm now thinking of ways that I could combine hand quilting, hand embroidery and free motion embroidery.  I've got a lot of other commitments at the moment, but watch this space!