Embroidering a Child’s Drawing

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Rainbow painting by Lola aged 4 years

Everyone loves children’s art – either drawings or paintings; the pictures always have such energy and capture the spirit of the thing depicted – real or imagined. So when a visitor, Nadia Lanman, came to Heart Space Studios,  to view my exhibition of  ‘Mending Mottoes’ and asked if I would be interested in a commission to stitch one of her daughter’s drawings, I accepted at once – thinking “this is a challenge”

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAI asked to see several paintings and drawings so that we could make a decision which to depict, and really to see howGEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA difficult a challenge it would be. The price was also considered at this initial point as this was a thank-you and leaving present for the nursery school that 4-year-old Lola was leaving to go onto her primary school. Nadia brought in several, some simple line drawings and some full-on paintings. It became clear that Nadia really liked the rainbow painting (at the top of the post), water-colour paint on sugar paper…so typical of all children’s art – this was going to be a real challenge! It is one thing to stitch drawings but poster paint loaded on with energy ?

When we discussed pricing the piece I advised Nadia to go and buy a frame to keep the costs down; framing is really important but can be extremely costly, so I suggested choosing an A4 size as this was roughly the scale of the drawing papers that she had shown me – and an A size frame is easy to access; I promised her I would customise the frame if necessary.

Meanwhile I set about sampling the way to achieve the full-on colour.

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first colour samples on shot pink silk

The first thing to research was the background colour, I found a  yellow and pink shot silk fabric, that was about the same colour but slightly brighter than the sugar paper, this would save me having to dye the fabric – but how to get some background colour onto it first before I stitched it? i tried fabric paints but when dry it was like stitching hard leather. I needed the rainbow coloured in so I would not have to completely cover the ground with hand stitches – too time consuming, too expensive.

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iron-on fabric dyes in pastel form
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selecting thread colours to match paint

The next thing was to choose the threads. I had decided to stitch the whole piece in running stitches, this is the first stitch everyone ever learns to sew and it always looks both simple and innocent, so is a fitting choice for embroidering  children’s art. Also I have used it a lot in my recent work, particularly when embroidering writing. I did think at this stage that machine embroidery would have been quicker to achieve the impression of saturated colour, but I am not a happy machine stitcher and  felt that the mechanical aspect wasn’t in keeping with the subject; simple hand stitching was really the perfect technique to choose

I tried several yarns, silk and cotton and cottons and eventually chose a mixture of both, whatever would suit the paint colours.

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directional stitching sample for rainbow and writing

I had photocopied the drawing and reduced the scale, to fit the frame, and to keep my fee as low as possible. I then drew onto this the direction of the paint brush, actually showing how Lola had swept the paint onto the paper, the lines would become running stitches, but first I had to sort out the message that Nadia wanted to send to the teachers on Lola’s behalf.  “thankyou for my wings love Lola xx”

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cut out photocopy and writing placement for the working drawing.

I had asked Nadia to get Lola to write it on a separate sheet of paper and then I traced it into position onto the photocopy – previously I had cut out the photocopy to gauge where to put the writing – a copy of this became my working drawing…..I have my own arcane ways of getting there!

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dye stick coloured ground running stitched to copy brush stroke directions

I found this stitching really interesting, it had to be kept simple but needed to show the rhythm of the painted bands. Sadly the pastel once that it had been ironed to fix it was a bit too dull – but hey ho – it helped things go smoothly and quickly. What also helped was to draw the directional lines straight onto the dyed areas with a water-soluble pen to keep a track of the flow, they can be seen on the yellow band above. The last thing to do was to stitch the message again in running stitches, then wash and stretch the work and mount it in the frame.

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I so enjoyed this relatively simple stitched commission ( in comparison to the recent Thangka) that I thought it would be a good idea to run a class and now that I have sorted out how to express the rhythms and colours of paintings I think that I can show other people how to embroider their own children’s drawings – they would make great presents for anyone in the family. And when I told Nadia how her commission had inspired me to develop a new class, she immediately signed up for it!

Crazy Stitch Sampler

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Crazy stitching on a Crazy Patchwork by Naomi Clarke from a recent workshop at Heart Space Studios

Crazy Patchwork classes have always been popular at Heart Space Studios and several people asked me to teach them more hand embroidery stitches, so I started a course called Crazy Patchwork Sampler. The course is built around the sampler that I made for my book, Crazy Patchwork, published in 1998 by Collins and Brown – it seems what goes around comes around……

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my book of Crazy Patchwork ideas and designs.

For the FIRST WORKSHOP I started off with the absolute basics, first we chose the colour scheme – I supplied various ribbons and fabrics for people to choose a small group of their favourite colours: this takes longer than anyone imagines it can and causes a lot of negative ideas to flow as people are usually very nervous about using colour, but I have learnt  that this choosing is really important as eventually by using the same set of colours in various patterns and proportions the finished piece can be made harmonious.

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strips of ribbon ironed on to backing fabric
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first chosen coloured ribbons

Most people, to their own surprise, choose colours similar to what they are wearing. The next choice to be made is the threads – I ask them to choose similar colours  to the fabrics but to stitch  in complementary coloured threads – so that the stitching will show up.

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choosing complementary coloured threads

The first sampled stitches are the straight ones – running, back and all the variations, easy does it….but it also includes writing a name…very simple but very effective for the first workshop. There are various methods of writing onto fabric so that it can be embroidered and we start with the simplest by using a water-soluble pen or the old-fashioned transfer paper still used by dressmakers.

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the maker’s name worked in back-stitch over water-soluble pen.

The SECOND WORKSHOPsession was cross stitch, counted and herringbone – which is the main stitch I use for joining the patches together. The group was still concerned about colours, but I assured everyone that we had a long way to go and plenty of opportunity to make the whole sampler work in harmony –  I was delighted that they had all done ‘homework’ and had finished the first workshop’s ‘patch’ and found  more variations to add to the straight stitches.

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finished patch from first week being decorated with herringbone stitch

Counted cross stitch is another way of embroidering letters and numerals……

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my working chart of cross stitch motifs for the accompanying sampler

There is a whole world of cross stitch motifs and I like using the traditional ones – to illustrate the technique of  charting for cross stitch I showed them some old work of mine that was designed from vintage needlework manuals. I still work as a freelance designer for a canvas embroidery company, Ehrman Tapestry, where I sometimes use similar charting for some of my designs, even though the stitch for tapestry is tent or half crass stitch. So I have lots of reference material and the group spent an hour of the 3 hour session looking at all my  books and notes before they began charting their own designs.

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Jo and Helen choosing cross stitch motifs and alphabets from my reference book

The task for this second session was to chart a name and date as well as a small multi-coloured motif and to stitch it onto the counted thread fabrics.

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Jo decides to chart and stitch HOPE – she s going for an aspirational crazy sampler.

choosing the colours from a limited range of counted thread fabrics involves creative use of colour

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Helen uses a shaded red thread creatively to harmonise her cross stitch samples with her first straight stitch patch

it is interesting how the maker’s character soon emerges from their choice of colour and letter forms, above Helen’s looks strong and directional while Sophie has chosen elegant letter forms and motifs ; the colour combinations are similar but the proportions are very different

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cross stitched bands being cross stitched together

By the THIRD WORKSHOP the patchworks are starting to look very rich and there is less uncertainty about colour choices, everyone seems to be enthralled by this process and are bringing in finished pieces that they have developed at home alone….everyone comments on how good it is to just stop for a time and concentrate on their stitching.

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2 finished ribbon patches with 3rd ready to be embroidered

The third week is supposed to be looped stitches – chains and lazy daisies and feather, but we have to spend some time catching up on herringbone as the counted cross stitch took up most of the last class at the studio.

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looped stitch patch of chain, lazy – daisies with feather variation being worked in beads

The patches are now starting to harmonise together by careful use of colour; everyone really enjoys the frivolity of stitching with multi-coloured threads to make up the herringbone variations

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herringbone stitch variations plus feather stitch rows that are beaded

By the LAST WORKSHOP we have got a small range of patches ready to be worked into a whole square.

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Anne’s collection of patches ready to stitch together.

The piecing together of the patches for the last class was easier because of the colour co-ordination of the embroideries, but the strict oblong patches made for geometric patterns for the final piece. Maybe for the next session of this class I will give each person a triangle as well as oblongs and squares of fabrics to apply the embroidered ribbons on.

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geometric patterned patchwork for final piecing

I just didn’t have the heart to ask them to cut up their embroideries to look like a more authentic crazy, even so each person had completely different patchworks –

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the inspirational crazy patchwork sampler is pinned together

This group of students want to learn more stitches and techniques so I am running an advanced course for them – and other more experienced embroiderers can drop in for single sessions. Considering that this group had only 5 classes for 3 hours each they have really advanced their practice in many ways  and not just by learning how to stitch. I think that they have caught my bug – the embroidery bug – and are now developing their own libraries and stashes of materials ready to try out new techniques and new ways of expressing themselves.

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vintage DMC book of counted cross stitches bought by Jo after seeing my old battered version with her almost completed Crazy Sampler