17th August 2018

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Let's cut to the chase...

I promised you a glimpse into what it means to be a textile artist and I hope this 2nd post (I’m officially a serial blogger now) won’t disappoint. All my words and opinions are all from my personal point of view from the knowledge I’ve gained while working as a designer/maker over the last decade.

So this is a biggie, as the title suggests let’s cut to the chase...

A lot of makers are very protective over their techniques which is completely understandable if you’ve spent years honing your craftmanship just to then be simply asked ‘But how do you actually create your masterpieces?’ So I am going to share with you a brief explanation of how I do. I simply use a sewing machine needle as a stylus, much like a pencil and I create continuous line drawings with fabric, thread and stitch, no frills, no computer programs but with a whole lot of practice! 

I create preliminary sketches from research I’ve gathered either recorded in my sketchbook or on my camera. Once back in the studio I produce final drawings based on ideas about composition and size. At this point, I have a clear vision, a kind of mental image of how I think certain imagery will translate into stitch. Sometimes I produce the perfect rendition, but I mainly strive to do better next time, that’s what I believe makes me an artist and not just a craftsman, machine embroidery is just my chosen medium that’s why I’m happy to share my techniques.

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I use a heavy weight cotton base fabric, it can withstand all my stitch work without puckering or the need for working with a hoop. And I then transfer my sketches onto the back of the fabric (this leaves the front of the work clean and free from my pencil marks). Think of all those times you’ve stitched a beautifully neat line on your sewing machine just to look at the underside and see a tangled mass of threads where you haven’t had the tension on your machine correct, well that’s the front of my work and at that point I find biscuits very therapeutic. I then methodically build up layers with coloured fabric, applying, stitching and snipping. I like to work with a limited palette of colour, highlighting key areas of interest and then fill in all the gaps so to speak with linear stitching following my pencil line until all areas are complete.

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This is my top tip, and unfortunately it’s an expensive one....Sewing machines, any machine you can drop the feed dog (the little teeth on the plate of your machine, this allows you to move where you want the fabric to be stitched and not fed through as it would with ‘normal’ sewing.) Theorectically all these machines should allow you to freehand machine embroider but I’ve tried various brands of machines over the years and you really can’t beat a Bernina, they’re known to be the Rolls Royce of sewing machines (you can pick up a reasonably priced secondhand machine on auction sites) I just fell in love, with the technique, the purring of the machine, the instant results and most of all the reliability of a trusted Bernina.

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I originally purchased a 1950s secondhand model while studying for my textiles degree, it served me well in my early career and I upgraded to a new Bernina 1008 once 8hr days sewing finally took its toll.

Of course there’s thousands of videos and tutorials out there about learning how to machine embroider, please if you have a chance have a go, but be warned it’s very addictive! 

Well before I give away any more secrets I’ll sneak back behind my studio door, until next time...

Gillian Bates2 Comments