Project 2 Developing your marks: Machine Embroidery

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To start off Project 2 I whipped out my sewing machine and started just playing around with different stitches, sticking with working within a square shape like my previous mark making exercises.

I started off using calico and normal black polyester thread with my normal sewing machine foot on. I found it really difficult to work with my fabric in an embroidery hoop, it just seemed to get in the way all the time, although I discovered why it’s necessary after abandoning the hoop. I found that in areas of dense stitching the fabric puckered up and went all wavy, even a really good steam ironing couldn’t flatten it back out again – although it did manage to leave scorch marks on the fabric! The thin polyester thread was good for creating neat separate lines closer and closer together, and lovely clear zig zags, but even lots of rows overlapping didn’t really produce a solidly coloured area.

I then tried winding a thicker perle cotton on to my bobbin, leaving the polyester thread on top, and flipping my fabric over so I was working from the back. This created an interesting couched effect on the front of my work, but with longer threads at any corners. I think I need to experiment further with this using even thicker threads on the bobbin to see what effects this produces, it’s much quicker than couching by hand, but there’s less control over any intricate patterns or lining up any stitching close together but not overlapping.

I then switched to a black cotton machine embroidery thread on the top, with thinner polyester thread on the bobbin. This layered up to produce dense dark areas of stitching very easily, as the thread was thicker and produced thicker lines of stitching. It didn’t show off intricate stitch patterns as clearly, as shown by the little cross stiches, but it worked very well for making bar tacks, and I love the effect created my using lots of them all joined together.

I then switched to working with white polyester thread and black cotton poplin, with no embroidery hoop and my free motion sewing foot. I managed to make a simple flower shape by just spiralling out from a centre point with wavy lines. The fabric within the petals ended up a bit wavy and not completely flat, probably as I hadn’t used a hoop to keep the fabric taut.

So I then found a scrap of green cotton poplin and tried stitching it onto a layer of cotton/poly quilt batting. This made it easier to move through the sewing machine as it was easier to get a good grip on while still keeping the fabric fairly flat, so I managed to make some smaller and more intricate patterns. As this worked so well I tried it again on a larger black cotton poplin square, and although the stitching does create some ‘bubbles’ in the fabric the batting pads it out so it isn’t particularly noticeable and I was able to stitch over and over again in a small areas without the fabric becoming too distorted even without a hoop. In future attempts though I think I would put some fabric on the back of the batting as well as it left fluff everywhere which was very noticeable on my black fabric.

I found I both enjoyed and hated the speed of embroidery on the sewing machine. It is nice to produce a finished piece so quickly, a similar thing would take me days by hand, but also less satisfying. There’s something very calming and therapeutic about hand embroidery, I feel it is some how more personal as I’ve put more of myself into making it. Hand embroidery can also be more planned, whereas on the machine it is much more spontaneous and rushed. The speed of the machine stitching away forces you to keep moving and working, with little time to consider where to go next, there’s also a lot less variety in the stitches. I can see that machine embroidery would be useful for covering a large area and creating a background, but I feel it’s messy and out of control – but maybe that’s just my lack of skills. I prefer the calm and considered nature of hand embroidery, I should probably try combining the two together and see how that works.

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