Category Archives: 2 – Developing your marks

Project 2, Developing your marks – research and reflection

9 July 2014

This is a review of the second Project in the course “building a visual vocabulary, developing your marks”.

My review and reflective commentary:

1. Can you begin to see a relationship between stitching and drawing?

Yes, especially the sample for project 6, which was worked in a very similar fashion to my oil pastel drawing.
2. Were you able to choose stitches which expressed the lines and marks in your drawings?

Yes, but then I chose drawings which I thought would work well in stitch. There are drawings which I would have found more difficult, and where a stitch or way of working a stitches is not obvious to me at this time.

3. Did you choose the right source material to work from?

I worked 2 samples, one in stage 5 and one in stage 6. I was pleased with both choices of source material as they enabled me to explore the creation of both textures with stitch, and textures with threads.

4. Do you think your sample works well irrespective of the drawing, or is your sample merely a good interpretation of your drawing?

I think both samples are visually interesting, but particularly the sample worked for stage 6 because of the composition and colour.

5. Which did you prefer – working with stitch to create textures or working with yarns to make textures? Which worked best for you and why?

At this stage I would say working with stitches, because the effect of layering different stitches was something I hadn’t done before and it was amazing. Also, because of the variation that can be obtained with just a single stitch worked at different direction, density, or in a different way (for example, closed or open chain, long tail or no tail, regular, irregular).

6. Make some comments on individual techniques and sample pieces. Did you experiment enough? Did you feel inhibited in any way?

The technique of layering stitches produced stunning results for me (albeit very time-consuming). I was able to employ this with different stitches in both my sample pieces. I also varied the density of stitching to good effect in my ‘Great Barrier Reef’ sample.

Although I spent many hours exploring the different effects that can be achieved with stitch (stage 5), there were just too many combinations to produce an exhaustive study. Nonetheless, I feel that I have tried enough to get a good appreciation of the main techniques.

When I produced my stitch samples for stage 3, I felt that I was trying to recreate my drawing too closely. I have been drawing or sketching every day as part of this course, and as my drawing has become more relaxed ( and more impressionistic), I have found that my stitching has similarly become more spontaneous.

7. Do you prefer to work from a drawing or by playing with materials and yarns to create effects? Which method produced the most interesting work?

I would say that I prefer to work from a drawing. The act of making a drawing (or drawings)forces me to think about how to interpret the visual material in my own way. Now I have used this approach, I can’t imagine committing to stitch without going through this process first.

8. Are there any other techniques you would like to try? Are there any samples you would like to do in a different way?

I really wanted to try the alternative exercises using a sewing machine as well as the hand stitching. In the event, the hand stitching took me much longer than I anticipated, and I couldn’t have done it justice if I’d tried to do both options. Ideally it would have been great to have interpreted all the samples in machine stitching too.

9. Is there anything you would like to change in your work? If so make notes for future reference.

I am very pleased with my worked samples. However, I think it would have been valuable for me to have chosen source material which would have leant itself to a more adventurous use of media (such a raffia, tights, paper, string). If anything, I feel that I was a little conservative in my choice of threads.


Project 2, stage 6 – using thread and yarns to create texture

9 July 2014

The study text asked me to examine my drawings and sketches for texture, colour effects and proportions, and to choose one that would be interesting to stitch as a sample.

The drawing that I chose was the aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef in oil pastels (below left). I used the viewing frame to select a small section of this drawing to stitch (below right).

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I chose this drawing because of the strong horizontal and diagonal lines and striking colours. The composition is interesting because the sample is ‘sectioned’ into three distinct diagonal elements which draw the eye from foreground to distance. There is also a lot of movement implied, due to it being a ‘snapshot’ of waves crashing onto a rocky reef. There is scope to use interesting threads and stitches from the visual vocabulary I have built up in stages 2 and 5. In particular, to express the frothy, bubbly foam of the breaking waves, and the gnarled, rough coral in green and charcoal. The bright turquoise shades just invite a feeling of warm, tropical waters, which I also tried to convey in the stitching.

Although I included the ultramarine blue of the ocean in the thread and yarn selection, I used plain blue linen in the same shade for my background instead. In hindsight I realised that because some of the background is visible behind the stitches, the proportion of this colour probably should have been larger.

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Stitching the piece (above) was very similar to working my picture in oil pastels. The stitches covered the background completely in places, and let it show through in others, to make an interesting effect and add depth and movement. I particularly like this aspect of the sample.

I used white ribbon in long-tail chain stitch over white crewel wool to depict the breakwater. I was really surprised how effective it was, as I’d never thought of stitching with ribbon before. It was highly reflective and raised, and the stitch also helped convey bubbling and rolling water. Other stitches I used were layered diagonal herringbone in shades of green crewel wool, and a new stitch I learnt in stage 4 – Bokhara couching, for the turquoise areas.

There isn’t really anything that I would choose to change about this sample. The effect of the stitches is what I’d envisaged, and I felt that the thread choice (matt in some areas shiny in others) also worked well.

Project 2, Stage 5 – Stitches which create texture

5 July 2014

As instructed, I started by working a simple satin stitch in different directions and densities. I then introduced other textured threads and worked stitches in different shapes, such as chevrons. Finally, I expanded into different stitches, and spent a few days exploring different textural effects. Indeed there are so many variations, that this exercise has taken much longer than I anticipated, and I still feel that I have only just touched the surface of all the combinations possible.

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I consulted many different books for this project (1-7). In particular I found Stitch Magic (4) extremely inspirational. I followed Jan Beaney’s “Stitch Challenge 2” on p. 16, the idea being that you pick 3 numbers from 1-8 at random. The first number determines the stitch type, the second, the way it is worked (i.e. regular or irregular), the third governs the direction and/or shape (i.e. diagonal, square, vertical, triangular, circular, haphazard, horizontal, meandering).

The idea is that element of surprise and the unexpected leads for more innovative samples, and to try combinations which I would not otherwise have considered. This approach certainly helped me. I became much freer and more inventive with my stitching as a result.

The following examples of some of the combinations I tried:

– Detached chain – regular – horizontal

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– Herringbone – regular – diagonal

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– Fly stitch – regular – horizontal

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– Bokham couching – irregular – square

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– Cretan stitch – regular – circular

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– Cretan stitch – regular – horizontal

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– Cretan stitch – regular – triangular

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– Buttonhole – irregular – vertical

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– Buttonhole – regular – circular

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Before now, I have only worked very basic stitches (satin stich, seed stitch, cross stitch, French knots) adjacent, or with spaces in between. I had never worked overlapping textural layers, instead relying on the effect of beads, sequins and padded applique to instil textural quality. Learning to layer stitches has been a revelation, analogous to discovering a new painting medium. It has given me a whole new stitched vocabulary, and a much richer more varied way of describing textures.

Learning points

Different textural effects can be obtained by:

1. Working stitches in different directions (particularly with smooth threads). It is apparent that threads worked vertically reflect more light than those worked horizontally, which can be used to give a 3-D effect. Stitches can also be worked diagonally, in a square, round or triangle.

Satin stitch small

2. Varying the density of stitches. Those worked close together seem darker, and give the appearance of being in the foreground. Layers of overlapping stitches give the appearance of depth and texture, as well as the physical texture produced by overlaying several layers of threads.

3. Working raised or 3-dimensional stitches (e.g. woven web, raised chain, French knots), vs. smooth or flat stitches (e.g. satin stitch, seed stitch, back stitch).

4. Varying the thickness of the threads.  The same thread (e.g. stranded cotton worked in a different number of strands) can produce very different effects depending on the thickness. Thinner threads show more of the backing fabric and so appear less dense. The converse is true for thicker threads.

5. Using threads which themselves exhibit textural qualities. e.g. hairy, smooth, shiny vs matt, boucle, different fibre-types. The different light reflective properties and texture provided by the yarns themselves will influence the finished stitching.

6. How the stitches are worked – e.g. Fly stitch can be worked with a long tail or small tail. Chain stitch made long and stretched, or small and round.

7. Stitches can be worked in a regular or irregular fashion.

8. The order in which layers of stitches are worked. This will effect the textural qualities of the finished sample.

The examples below use the same threads and stitch and illustrate the difference between working thick threads first, then progressively thinner threads on top, and conversely, thin threads overlayed with thick threads. Working the thick threads last (left) gives the impression of more depth and a heavier, more solid sample. With the thin threads on top (right), the stitch definition is less pronounced and the texture looks more delicate and with less depth.

Different thickeness worked first

The examples below are fly stitch worked regularly in a square. They illustrate the difference between working light coloured threads first with progressively layering darker threads on top (left), compared with the opposite way round (right). The same thickness and type of thread is used throughout.

Dark colour last Light colour last

When working the darker threads last (left), the pattern is more pronounced compared with working the lightest thread first.

9. The number of layers of stitch used will give a different textural effect, as illustrated in the examples below, where layers are progressively built up.

Build-up 1 Build-up 2 Build-up 3 Build-up 4 Build-up 5

Stitched sample

I chose to work my sample from a picture of some moss growing on a church wall. It was feathery in texture, mostly soft and green. In some areas it was brittle white in areas where it had become dry, died and bleached in the sun.

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I used my oil pastel drawing (above left) as a reference, as I wanted to get away from trying to create a direct copy. I concentrated on the textures, and a small part of the picture, using irregular horizontal herringbone stiches for the rock texture, and fly stitch for the moss. I worked the fly stitch first in small regular groups, in a ‘wheat sheaf’ configuration. I then overlaid with larger fly stitches in different directions to get depth and movement into the sample (above right). It was surprisingly difficult to recreate the texture, which only started to appear once the background had been covered and the stitches were overlaid.

I used the following references for this project:

(1) Anon. (1979) Good Housekeeping Sewing Crafts. s.l. Dorling Kindersley Ltd.  An excellent reference book for hand embroidery stitches with a whole section dedicated to couching.

(2) Beaney, J., Van Zandt, E (Ed) (1991) The art of the needle. London, Random Century Group Ltd. Explains different ways of working the same stitch to create varied textural effects (stitches covered: buttonhole stitch, chain stitch, couching, cretan stitch, cross stitch, fly stitch, french knots, straight stitch and seeding)

(3) Caprara, J (2008) Exploring colour: experimental approaches to colour and stitch. s.l. d4daisy Books Ltd. Ideas on how to use stitches expressively, including bringing contrast and expression through the use of texture and colour.

(4) Beaney, J., Littlejohn, J (1998) Stitch magic: ideas and interpretation. London. Batsford. A really useful approach to bringing texture into stitching by working in different directions, regularly or irregularly.

(5) Brown, P. (2002) Decoration on fabric: A sourcebook of ideas. Lewes, East Sussex. Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd. An excellent section detailing how to work raised and three-dimensional stitches such as: woven wheels, spiders webs, woven picots, raised cup stitch, raised fishbone stitch, raised herringbone stitch, Raised leaf stitch, raised chain and buttonhole bars.

(6) Elder, K. (1998) The country living needlework collection: embroidery. London Quadrille. A useful stitch directory.

(7) Anon. n.d. Home chat stitch-book. s.l. s.n. A source book of stitches. Origin unknown, but probably a magazine supplement c1950s.

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Project 2, Stage 4 – Preparing to create textures

30 June 2014

In this preparation exercise I was asked to select six drawings that I feel I would be able to develop further, and make to selections of fabrics, yarns and other materials from my colour bags for each. I hope that I have interpreted this exercise correctly, in that I have seen it a study of material selection and textures, rather than actually stitching.

I have used this exercise to comment on textures, my selection and how I might create tension, rich or subtle effects with the yarns, fabric and braid/beads/materials.

1. Flaking paint wall

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The wall exhibits curves with thorn-like points where the paint is flaking. The shape of the cracks remind me of holly leaves. I would use the following words to describe this wall: flaky, dry, delicate, points, textured.

My yarn selection reflects a richer palette than the actual wall, because I think there is potential for more richness and depth in the study. I am considering making 5 small textile studies using different fabrics/media and threads from the selection. In the centre of the fabric selection is a small piece of pink “wavy mink velvet”. This already exhibits some the characteristics of the surface, and could be used in the centre of the work with four different stitched studies around the edge. To the right (behind) is some textured paper, and I have also included crewel tapestry wool and various shades of cotton mercerised embroidery thread.

Before embarking on the final piece, I feel that I would want to spend some more time with  mark-making development and/or stitched samples.

2. Seaweed at low tide

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The important part of this picture is the light and the movement, which infers the smooth slippery texture of the seaweed and the gelatinous, bulbous roundness of the float bladders.

In my material selection, I can see two parts of the picture – the dark green background ‘fronds’ of the weed (materials right) and the yellowish float bladders (materials left). I am imagining a collage, made from ribbons of fabric (especially the pre-creased polyester), embellished with layers of stitch, and the heavy chenille yarn. As well as mercerised embroidery cotton, I have selected pure silk thread and Anchor cotton pearl (variegated) to lustre and shine. To create more of a sense of light I have included some highly reflective white beads.

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Above: The pre-creased polyester is green, shot gold and has wonderful reflective properties.

If I was actually going to make this textile piece I would probably buy some Angelina or Firestar fibre, which I could incorporate into some handspun yarn and use as one of the heavier threads.

3. Citta Di San Gimignano

The third selection that I made was a sketch from a postcard of a town in Tuscany.

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I love the perpendicular lines in this picture, made by the tall towers against the roof-tops of the smaller buildings lower down the hill. The textures of the fields and Italian Cyprus trees offer much potential for characterisation in thread and stitch. I can imagine Van Gogh inspired lines. For this piece, I envisage bold strong lines, in bright vibrant colours reflecting the strong lines and textures in the image. There is a lot of scope for creating tension by placing soft, next to stiff materials shiny next to matt, small (i.e. tiny beads) next to large (i.e. big wooden beads). This project excites me very much.

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I had no problem selecting the green materials – vibrant, shaggy sari silk (for the Cyprus trees), big wooden beads to represent the formality of topiary, ribbon to make small, textured loops pipe-cleaners and see-though ribbon to couch and use to describe the rows of crops in the fields. Green crewel wool, silk embroidery thread and small shiny vibrant bobbly beads.

The other colours were more problematic. The turquoise blue was the only light blue fabric that I had, but I think it would work well. I have a lovely 2-ply Wensleydale kettle-dyed wool which is just right for the roof tops (the variegated nature of the colour being perfect for the tiles). I would probably buy some additional cotton embroidery thread in rust and greys to complete the piece. I would also need some grey fabric for the towers.

4. Granite mortar

This study offers tremendous potential for contrasting matt and shiny, thick and thin, and especially for using collage.

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I love the silver and grey fabrics that I have in my colour bag, which would be perfect for this project. The words I would choose to describe this surface are “Grainy, rough course” and at the same time “shiny, reflective and jewel-like”! I have matt dark-grey twill-weave denim, silver lurex, silver ribbon and bright silver thread. Imitation snake-skin PVC, silver-grey brocade, silver mesh and imitation silver-grey suede. I would probably concentrate on fabric collage for this study with a small amount of stitching to bring harmony and continuity to the piece.

5. Granite mountain face

I love the strong vertical linear cracks in rock and the soft subtle nuances of the rock surface with is rougher in some places than others. The rock changes in colour across it’s surface and an interesting colour injection is provided by remnants of lemon, red and white climbers’ chalk, which leave their mark on this natural surface.

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I imagine using a fairly neutral background fabric such as taupe linen and using many small stitches to build up the subtle grey and brown granular surface texture. The texture would also be achieved by the different thicknesses of threads used – from crewel tapestry wool to stranded cotton. By working the rock surface as two or more pieces of padded applique, over a solid black background a 3-D effect could be achieved to represent the large vertical cracks. I would also use the yarns from my Texture Yarn black thread “variety bag” for the smaller cracks and fissures.

6.Coral Reef

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This aerial drawing of a coral reef has a lot of potential for angular stitching to create movement and layers of water in the different colour shades. Starting with a dark blue background, I would concentrate on stitching bands of straight parallel stitches in turquoise, blue and dark green threads. I would make ribbon loops in the narrow white ribbon to emulate the break-water.

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Key to the success of this project would be the lustrous qualities of the fabric and thread to emulate the light catching, and reflection off the waters surface. Silk thread, Anchor Lame, and shot chiffon could be used to simulate the depth and movement of the water.


This has been a time-consuming exercise, and I’m not sure why I was asked to make 6 colour-bag selections, when in exercise 6 we only need to stitch one. Exercise 6 also seems to suggest making a new colour selection – why not use one from this exercise?

Despite my comments it has been a useful study. Just by thinking about the textures and selecting materials and threads, my thought process has been stimulated and new ideas have been generated. As a result of doing this work, I feel that I am further along the development process of making a textile piece from each of these drawings.






Project 2, Stage 3 – A sample

28 June 2014

The picture that I selected for this exercise was my charcoal and Conte pencil oyster shell study. I chose it for it’s linear qualities, simplicity and the variety of lines which I could stitch (i.e. thick and thin, continuous and broken).

I chose white linen as a backing fabric, and various threads of different muted shades and weights. Some were matt, some were lustrous. I thought about the shiny parts of the shell and the matt rough parts of the shell and wanted to capture and reflect them in the variety of threads which I used.

Oyster shells P1050173

The following list of threads is included for my future reference: Madeira stranded mercerised embroidery cotton shade1803 0415, dark grey stranded embroidery thread (colourway and brand unknown), DMC stranded embroidery cotton in dull pink shade 452, Anchor pearl cotton, multicolour shade 1302DMC crewel tapestry wool in beige/oyster shade 7510, Madeira Rayon machine embroidery thread shade 1060, machine thread 100% polyester in grey.

I tried to keep to simple stitches – stem stitch, couching, satin stitch, seed stitch. I didn’t directly reference my drawing, but tried to work spontaneously, as directed, without making a direct copy of the picture.

At this point I have to own up to disliking the first sample which I made (below).

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I was actually really pleased with my stitched marks. What I didn’t like, was that the proportions of the curves, which I felt were wrong and did not represent a real shell. Comments from my family about it “not looking very shell-like” didn’t help. Am I being too critical? Probably – the brief did say not to worry if the sample turns out very different from the original.

Anyway….. in haste I started to work a second ‘sample’ , this time referring to a cropped part of my original drawing, and cutting out an applique piece of white linen and mounting it on a grey-pink poly-cotton backing (below)

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Most of the threads and stitches I used were the same as in the first. However, towards the end of the work, I started to use flat stitch/satin stitch in bold thick lines (above). This really made the work come alive, and in an analogy to my drawn exercises, was a much freer and more expressive way of working.

Although initially, I was very pleased with my second sample, over time I have realised that it probably does not fulfil the brief as well as my first attempt. The reason for this is that it is much more of a ‘finished piece’ and much less of a ‘sample’. Imagining that I was trying out stitch techniques, colours and textures before starting to make a piece of textile work, my first sample would be much more useful.



Project 2, Stage 2 – Exploring marks and lines through stitch

27 June 2014

The exercise was to explore how surfaces can be built up and areas intensified through using different stitches, different threads, and by organising stitches differently (i.e. by varying spacing, crossing over etc).

I decided to use hand embroidery, as I generally find it more expressive than the sewing machine. If I have time, I am planning to also do some experimentation with the machine, as I would like to be practiced in both techniques, and to have both in my visual vocabulary.

I kept the background fabric plain white linen and I used black threads: crewel wool, stranded embroidery cotton (matt), DMC “light effects (antique metal)” thread and 100% polyester machine thread in both thick and standard weights.


So far, this exercise, has taken me the longest to complete. Even restricting myself to basic stitches, there are just so many combinations of lines, thread weights, and spacings possible. I explored as many variations as I could (although the sample is by no means exhaustive).

I was pleased (and in some cases surprised) by the effect of many of the stitches, particularly those where I graduated the closeness of the stich to give the impression of a change in tone. The single chain was very effective when worked in a random manner (like ‘seed stich’), and looked like bacteria on a petri-dish. I loved working the spirals, and there were so many more variations that could be tried – maybe the subject of a textile work in it’s own right?

The only sample that I really didn’t like was the buttonhole stitch (bottom row, second from left). I think this was because I had worked rows in random of thick/thin thread and close/open stitching, and there was no transition of tone. I felt like undoing this part of the work, but had to remind myself ‘unsuccessful’ stitching is just as important for reference as the ‘successful’ stitching.


Project 2, Stage 1 – Preparation

24 June 2014

I started to prepare for Project 2 by sorting out my fabrics, trim, beads and threads into colour families. I hadn’t realised just how much wonderful material I had. Sorting it this way was an eye-opener! I now know what I have, and just presenting it this way is so much more inspiring.

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As directed, I worked a small sample to try out the embroidery stitches.


Most of them I had worked before, with the exception of Cretan stitch. I was glad that I had an opportunity to practice them again.