Designing Stitched Cushions

the very elegant cover of the new Ehrman Tapestry catalogue,

Another commission has just been published, yippee! I have something new to write about. I first started the designs for this catalogue last year when Hugh Ehrman asked me to make some new designs using affirmative sayings. The mottoes and sayings come directly from the handkerchiefs in my ongoing if intermittent work ‘Make it Though the Night’ https://janethaighherwork.com/gallery/gallery/heart-mending-mottoes/. I have a great stock of them in my research folders. I offered several different mottoes, Hugh wanted 4 cushion designs, but asked me to make 2 to start with, he chose ” Always be Kinder than is Necessary “ and I chose my old favourite ” Choose Your Attitude”.

I looked at a copy of one of my go-to magazines for current graphic ideas, FLOW, it is clean, colourful, fresh and very of the moment. I really liked this hot pastel colour mix on the cover and the sense of energy in the design. I started with Hugh’s choice and started to chart several alphabets from various sources. I already had a layout in mind inspired by the strips of words with the abstract shapes as background…

The first scribbled designs were dependant on the different types of lettering I could find to stitch to the right scale (I have tried to find the wonderful curly alphabet, above, that I downloaded, but sadly now can’t locate , and I snipped out the necessary contact information along with the letters I cut out for charting. As it is used in both the designs – a big thank you if anyone out there recognises it and can give me a source).

Slowly through sample stitching various letter forms and different gauges of canvas, the design emerged and the colour developed into something softer and kinder. When designing for this company I am directed to use particular range of wools Appletons they come in 2 versions, Crewels ( 2 ply yarns) and Tapestry( 4 ply yarns). I keep a separate section of my studio cupboards just for them.

the studio drawers full of colour co-ordinated Appletons’ Yarns.

When I have sorted the basic graphic layout I develop the designs using colour, co-ordinating the yarns to my drawings. This is always tricky getting the colour balance and many designers sensibly just stitch the entire design – but I don’t work like this as I am more used to envisioning the designs by painting them full scale so that the original art work can be printed on the canvas for the cushion to be stitched. the art work has to be the same scale as the eventual embroidery.

I make many drawn and coloured versions of the idea and finally choose one to work up as the final piece but even so things can change at this point as well. Having chosen the design I then put it aside, partly to leave a few days to see it afresh, but usually to start on any other designs before committing myself to the task of painting them both – together.

choice of letters echoes the choice of attitude – the beginning of the next cushion

The next cushion was an easier design to construct and I had already sorted out lots of different alphabets to use, I wanted to express different ‘attitudes ‘ by using various typefaces – now all I had to do was choose and re-size them to fit together…ha ha! here you see cut and paste in it’s literal sense.

above are several versions of different letters words and colours and the stitching sampler for the 2 cushions with the start of the third one ……I always love the energy contained in the stitching samplers…so much enquiry, curiosity and abandoned ideas – all ready for future use if my ideas run dry.

looking at a beautiful source of overall colour, what better than these spring flowers – I brought them up to my studio and selected the yarns to match them.

so far so good – but now having decided the brilliant colours of the letters I wanted to make a very strong overall design, I liked the striped ground ..but it was difficult for the dancing letters of ATTITUDE to be read against it – I tried many many stripes – here are just a few.

Whatever I did, the stripes just dominated and were inspiring migraine in me. Whilst there was no major deadline for this work, as the Ehrman website is the major source for publishing now and things can be uploaded at any given time, I needed to get on and finish the first half of this commission.

the 2 final designs (more or less) on my studio wall ready to be painted for the art work that I eventually send to the company

I decided to just start to paint. Painting art work is a slow and precise process, mixing the Gouache to the colour of each yarn is fascinating work, and takes time and I have to make enough paint for a whole design, it takes a lot of paint to cover the ground evenly – I do not want to run out of a colour before I finish .

when I eventually start painting , I have pans of each colour mixed for each yarn used and I keep them fresh for a few days by wrapping them up in polythene to keep the gouache from drying out.

When I had finished painting the letters I now had to decide on the stripes to use…but it looked so fresh and spring like that I decided, much against my designer instinct, as I love pattern on pattern, to keep it neutral. Part of this decision was the thought of the customer who may eventually buy this design – they will surely buy it for the message – so keeping the letters clear was the most important aspect.

the 2 finished art works with accompanying colour notations and threads. And below the finished pieces ( which I never get to see!) taken from the latest paper based catalogue.

the next 2 designs will hopefully appear in time for the new on- line website that Ehrman have been developing and I will post them as a celebration of its birth next month – or whenever they are published – so watch this space……

4 thoughts on “Designing Stitched Cushions

  1. This is fascinating!!!! Thank you for explaining all the design work that goes into making a new cushion design. I love Ehrman cushions and have made one myself. I often browse their online catalogue to see what I’d like to make next. Congratulations on these two beauties.

    1. Hi Wendy thanks,
      I see from your blog that you also give good and very clear accounts of your processes, I sometimes wonder if I should adopt a more hands-on, step x step approach, I tend to just take lots of images through the making process – even though this can take years – store them then get a post together when I have the time between commissioned work.

      I really enjoyed seeing your ‘golden rod’ cushion – this quilting looks just like the Indian Kantha quilting. I have been working several large panels of Kantha – for my own peace of mind – over the last few years (yet to be posted ) it takes forever as I am drawing as well as quilting, but it is compelling and I think meditative stitching.

      I got fascinatingly lost by going from your blog to the many others that you feature, I have been all over the world this last half hour – thanks for the trip!
      Janet

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