Sketchbook to Stitch: Eye of the Beholder

Hi everyone,

Laura here. I’ve been working on digitising some designs that have evolved in my sketchbook and I hoped you might enjoy seeing how they have taken shape in stitch:

I’ve made this cushion (which is just waiting for it’s inner) which uses a digitally stitched design in combination with some freehand machine quilting. Let’s start from the beginning and I’ll explain how I’ve made it…the fabric is cotton and was an indigo dyed piece that I had drawn on using a product called Lithocoal. I’m not even sure if you can still get that, it was basically a charcoal-like stick which you could heat fix to fabric. You can see I used it to make the sketchy black marks in the lower half of the cushion. I then freehand machine quilted those parallel lines.

All of that was done literally years ago and formed part of a quilt. Well, you know me, that quilt had served its purpose so I’ve since cut it up to make other things, like this cushion cover!

In this photo you can see the stitching a bit closer up.

I like to use a quilted base fabric for digital embroidery because it makes for a very stable ground to work on. There’s very little chance for the fabric to become distorted even with the addition of lots of dense stitch like I’ve done here.

It ends up being perfect for a cushion because it’s so firm and stable, the cushion ‘sits’ up well and doesn’t slump when you use it.

Here’s the cushion cover with my sketchbook popped open on top so you can see the reference image I’m working with. In my book I’d drawn the eye using a pen and you can see there’s other bits of collage and marks of paint on the page.

In terms of digitising an image for stitch, you have to think about how much of that background you want. If you simply scan a page like that and digitise it, the software will try to digitise everything, every crease in the paper, every smudge mark and splash of paint. That’s not always what you want.

It’s better to start with a cleaner image so I made a traced copy of this drawing on my iPad working in Procreate. I make sure this version is pure black and white and it’s this that I take through the embroidery digitising software.

I use the Embroidery digitising software MySewnet. This is kindly provided to me for use as part of my ambassador role for Husqvarna Viking. I’ve always used their software and found it to be easy to use and actually more capable and powerful than I need for my own work. There are lots of features I have never played with! MySewnet is available as a monthly subscription so you can at least try it for a month without making the big commitment to a one-off software purchase. If you’d like to find out more please visit the website for MySewnet here.

So, with the software there is basically a wizard that allows you to open an image, in my case it was the black and white eye drawing, and then the software will automatically convert your image into stitches. There are various settings you can tweak, but I find if you start with a good, clean image, there is very little that you need to adjust.

In the software you can adjust the number of thread colours you want to use, mine was just back and white of course. You can also adjust the size before exporting it as an embroidery file to your machine.

I combined the eye embroidery with some lettering. Embroidered lettering is something that the software and embroidery machine does so well. I just love the satin stitch! There are many fonts built in to the software and you can also design your own.

To create the lettering it’s simply a case of typing the words that you want, selecting the size and font and the software will generate the stitch file. In my cushion you can see that I’ve mixed and matched different fonts and sizes. I think that works quite nicely to create a decorative effect.

Sometimes when I’m digitising, I digitise all of the elements separately and then layer them as I stitch them out. So for instance, I might digitise the lettering as one file and the eye as another. But for this I actually combined them together in the software. The reason for doing this is that the software is smart enough to remove the overlap where one area of stitches goes over another. This massively reduces bulk and the potential problems that come about because of that.

You can see it in practise in the photo – where those letters disappear under the eye embroidery, there is no letter stitching there so there’s a much more even density of stitch. Now on the project like this, it probably wouldn’t matter too much to layer one embroidery on top of another, but if you were embroidering on a lighter weight fabric it’s going to cause distortion and clunky stitching.

I digitised the eye as a two-colour design, just black and white, but of course as you stitch it out, you don’t have to be a slave to the machine. You can change the thread colours whenever you want. I recommend this as it can give a really painterly and much more interesting result. Although there will be no programmed ‘stop’ in the design, you can pause the machine at any point to change the thread.

You can see I’ve done it here, swapping what should have been a white thread for a pale grey, neon yellow and hot pink.

I never like the back of a cushion to be boring and plain. For this one I’ve stitched out a simpler version of the front design, this time just using the eye, no lettering. I’ve also stuck to the original colours for the eye, no neon pink!

The cushion itself is sewn together with a zip along the bottom edge so it’s easy to remove from the pad if that needs changing, and I’ve added a pompom trim for a bit of extra decorative flourish!

Hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about this project.

Thanks for reading, Laura x

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