An Anniversary of Sorts

Yesterday Facebook reminded me that it was exactly 8 years ago that I first tried free motion embroidery.  I celebrated by cutting up lots of little scraps of Liberty fabric for some new kits I will be listing in my Etsy shop hopefully later this week.

Whilst doing so I got thinking about all the different things I've created with free motion embroidery since that workshop and the different opportunities it's given me. 

I don't think I imagined then that I'd still be doing as much free motion embroidery as I am, or still loving it as much as I did that very first time.  If possible, I love it even more now, getting the seed of an idea for a new piece, searching out exactly the right fabrics to use, cutting and preparing everything, then finally sitting down to stitch.  There isn't a part of the process I don't enjoy, I even love cutting out the sometimes very fiddly bits of fabric I use. 

The two pieces below were the very first ones I created during the workshop.  Piles or stacks of things seemed to catch my eye!

You can see in both these images I've used watercolour paint to add shading; something I tend not to do in my work now, although I have recently added acrylic paint to create backgrounds in a couple of pieces. 

Since then I've experimented with all kinds of images, from bicycles and motorbikes to robins and Christmas wreaths through to a selection of portraits. 

I've also taught lots of classes and workshops, including one at the Knitting and Stitching Show last year.  

I designed and stitched the cover of a book and was interviewed by it's author for her blog, and have given a talk to an Embroiderers Guild group, all things I could never have imagined doing.  The photo above shows the book on sale in my local Waterstones. (No, I didn't tell anyone in there I was responsible for the cover). 

Here's to the next 8 years!

Wheal Coates Mine, Cornwall

One of my and my husbands favourite places to visit is St Agnes in Cornwall.  When I saw this photograph recently on one of the several Cornwall / St Agnes Instagram accounts I follow I knew I had to try and recreate it in free motion embroidery. 

I raided my stash of fabric and found a furnishing fabric sample book that had the perfect fabrics for the heather covered coastline and the sea.  I love using furnishing fabrics as they give such a wonderful variety of textures to the piece. 

I wanted quite a large picture so I printed the photo out at around A3 size and started playing about with my fabrics.  I used the photo as a guide for composition but was limited slightly by my fabric pieces, so the coastline looks a little different.  The building - which is a disused tin mine, one of many that stud the coast of Cornwall - was traced directly from the photograph to ensure it was accurate. 

I chose a cream coloured background fabric as I thought that would work well for the sandy areas of the coastline.  I started my stitching by just going around the edge of each applique piece with a dark thread (confession time - I thought I'd used black thread and only realised when I was almost finished that it was actually navy!) and then added some additional white stitching into the blues of the sea. 

I added more detail in varying shades of green and brown to pick out tuffy clumps of grass and the mine's brickwork.  At this stage I had no idea what I was going to do to finish the sky, as I didn't have any suitable fabrics for it. 

After talking it through with my husband I decided to try painting a sky, which sounded slightly nerve-wracking as it had the potential to ruin a piece that I was otherwise very happy with. 

I pulled out the few tubes of acrylic paint I bought ages ago and discovered a bottle of fabric medium among them that I didn't remember buying but was pleased I had.  I also cut myself a scrap piece of the fabric I'd used as the background to practice on. 

I found that the fabric medium didn't really seem to help but that I needed to add a lot - and I mean a LOT - of water to the paint.   I started off quite delicately and lightly, but in the end just went for it, reasoning I could always cut the painted fabric off and remount the rest on some other fabric if it all went wrong. 

The paint changed shade several times while it was drying and at one stage was quite a dreary greyish blue, but thankfully ended up quite vibrant.  I just have to get a frame for it now, I'm planning on mounting it so that the raw edges of the applique fabrics are exposed rather than hidden by the mount. 

I can't wait to get it framed and on the wall and then one day go and walk along that cliff path again!

Three ways to stitch writing

One of my favourite things to stitch with free motion embroidery is writing and there are several ways you can do this.

  • Completely free hand
  • Handwritten onto fabric and stitched
  • Written on paper and stitched through

I like to use each method for different things.  

Completely free hand stitching is useful for just a couple of words, maybe you want to sign a finished piece of work or add a number plate to a car you've embroidered.  

Free hand writing with a sewing machine isn't as hard as you think, I often get beginners in my classes to try writing their name as part of a warm up.  I find it easier to write quite small this way, but I have always enjoyed working quite small.  

This is what my freehand stitched writing looks like, my husband says it's neater than my handwriting!

And here's a video of me stitching part of it, courtesy of my husband.  As you can see, I have gone over the word twice, once forwards and then backwards to the starting point. 

The second method is to handwrite your wording onto your fabric and then stitch over what you've written.  This method is good for slightly longer amounts of text, or if you want something positioned accurately.  You can either write free hand onto your fabric or if you have a lightbox and your fabric is thin enough you can write or type onto paper and then use the lightbox to trace the writing onto you fabric.  

I use a Frixion pen and then remove the remaining ink with a hairdryer once I've finished, but please do make sure that you can completely remove the ink before you start writing all over your precious work!

This is a little hard to see, but you should just be able to make out my writing on the fabric.  You can see it better in the photo below, of the wording half stitched. 

And here it is finished, with the remaining ink blasted away with a hot hairdryer. 

The final method is to write your wording onto tissue paper, stitch through it and then remove the paper after you've finished.  This is good to use on dark fabrics (although I've used a light one here) or if you don't want to write onto your fabric. 

I use Burda pattern tracing tissue paper because it's something I always have to hand, but normal white gift wrapping tissue paper will work just as well. 

First write or print your text out and trace it onto a piece of tissue.  I've used a fancy font, it's one of my favourites. 

Pin your tracing in place on your fabric. 

Stitch over your traced writing, going over each area twice.  I start at the top of each letter, and then go back over in reverse back to my starting point. 

For letters such as t and the e in this font where you have a horizontal crossing a vertical, I stitch from top to bottom and then on the way back I do the horizontal part, so that the whole letter is sewn without stopping and repositioning the fabric.   Sometimes you can also stitch several letters without having to stop and reposition - it depends on the font you are using.  In this example I've stitched the L and O of love together and the E and W of sew. 

Once your stitching is complete, carefully peel away your tissue paper. 

Because the needle has perforated the tissue paper most of it should come away quite easily, but a pair of micro tweezers can help to remove stubborn bits trapped in the middle of letters. 

I got mine in the papercraft section of my local craft shop. 

Here's the finished piece. 

And finally, a comparison of each method:

As you can see there's not a huge difference between the completely freehand writing and the one that I wrote onto the fabric, although the written one is a little neater.  You could hand draw (or handwrite!) some really fancy writing, but if I'm doing that I prefer to trace it as in the third method. 

I hope you've found this useful.  Let me know if there's anything else you'd especially like me to cover and if you'd like to see any more videos.