To begin this stage I started out using a simple running stitch to see what effects I could produce, very much inspired by stitch samplers I found here. I decided to use contrasting and brightly coloured threads to really show off the patterns created. Running stitch must be the most simple stitch to use, but by making small stitches far apart or big chunky stitches close together it makes very different marks. I experimented with using cotton perles, embroidery floss and yarn as well as bamboo yarn, viscose floss, a metallic twist and a thin silk thread. The thick yarns and green metallic twist thread were very difficult to get through the calico fabric even with a much bigger needle, I think it would really hurt my hands to use these a lot when sewing, they are much more suited to something like couching, but they did work beautifully threaded through the running stitches. I also tried out a few different types of embroidery floss, normal cotton solid coloured and varied, satin effect, and viscose. I’m quite used to working with normal cotton embroidery floss so just experimented by using different numbers of strands, for most things I think 2 strands is enough as it shows up well but isn’t too bulky to get through the fabric easily. The satin and viscose thread felt the same, and both appeared very shiny, I found it best to work with short lengths though as the action of pulling it through the fabric seemed to weaken it until it became fluffy and pulled apart. The silk thread I found to have a beautiful lustrous quality to the colour, even one strand showed up very well against the background fabric and it seemed very strong and smooth as it was pulled through the fabric.
I then switched to a selection of neutral coloured perle cottons and silk threads to work on another piece of calico. Here I tried working lines of running stitch, in different thicknesses of perle cotton, very close together and even overlapping in places, this resulted in a beautifully textured area which would make a fantastic background for further work. I also experimented with using back stitch to create straight lines, triangles, sqiggles and spirals. My favorite has to be the spirals, I could easily see myself covering a whole piece of fabric just like Alabama Chanin does on her clothing. Small straight stitches were used to make little stars, crosses, rectangles and H-shaped marks, and longer straight stitches were overlapped in a haphazard way or lined up neatly to see the effects this created. Lastly I used stem and chain stitches, the stem-stitched spiral feels beautifully raised and neat but I’m not really sure how it could be worked in a free and haphazard manner without losing the appearance that makes it a stem stitch. Chain-stitches I feel would be brilliant for working in a more relaxed manner, they work well in lines or as a single stitch and layer up and overlap nicely, I think they work very nicely in wavy overlapping lines.
While I was playing around with simple stitches I decided to try them out on cotton fabrics with different colours and patterns. For the first piece I sewed together strips of cotton fabric, then layered them up with cotton batting and a piece of cotton poplin (as I still wasn’t getting on with using an embroidery frame on my sewing machine), then machined lines of stitches in polyester thread close together and further apart. In some places where the fabric and thread are very similar in colour the stitches almost seem to disappear in to the background just leaving a textured feel, in other places where they stand out they obscure the pattern of the fabric and make it hard to discern. I then went back and added rows of running stitch in a thicker perle cotton which I found had a similar effect of blending in or standing out. The stitches are much more noticeable from the back of the piece as they stand out from the plain solid colour of the fabric. I liked this sample so much I made a few more and bound then to make mats for my kitchen table.
For my final piece of playing around with stitches I roughly hand sitched down some fabric scraps to a calico background and once more braved trying the embroidery hoop on my machine – but this time I used a bigger hoop. It worked a little better this time, although I feel I used the wrong colour thread as as the white is very difficult to see. The fabric stayed much flatter in densely stitched areas with the hoop, but still wrinkled up a bit where I machined circles. I then reverted back to hand stitching to try out a few spirals and straight stitches. I love the contrast of the red stitches on the yellow background, they look like they are floating over the fabric.