Cultivating a drawing habit
Hand stitching is one of my favourite ways to relax and those of you who know my work will have seen my stitch drawing and doodle designs. However, all of my work (knitting and stitching) starts life in my sketchbook. Most days, the first thing I do on waking after making a coffee and sorting out the dogs is to grab any sketchbook I have to hand and whatever drawing materials are easy to find on my Desk of Doom (usually my super chunky variegated pencils). Like Picasso (see previous post) I have learnt not to worry about what subject matter goes into which sketchbook as that is the route to procrastination and, ultimately, inactivity for me. And sometimes those strange juxtapositions can lead to all kinds of interesting developments!
This hour to myself at the start of my day is about play and experimentation with no pressure on further development. However, often an idea that has been gestating in my subconscious will start to take form on the page and some of those ideas will start begging to be stitched.
Quality of Line
While knitting is perhaps more of a painting tool as it is all about shape (a single stitch being a rectangle), embroidery is so good for drawing lines. There are five basic embroidery stitches that I go to for drawing purposes that I am going to share with you here.
Probably the first stitch you learnt as a child is running stitch. Like many of the things we are introduced to as beginners, the temptation is often to move on and not look back. However, this simple stitch is oh so versatile. We were probably taught to do it on an even weave fabric with our teacher placing emphasis on even length and straightness of stitch. Personally I am always striving to create interest in quality of line and I love a bit of inconsistency in all of these stitches. I particularly like the broken effect of running stitch and the space it creates between the stitches. Not only is there the potential to play with stitch length but also with gap length. And what about weaving another thread in and out of the stitches. So much potential from such a simple stitch.
The next stitch you probably learnt (for hand seaming purposes if nothing else) was back stitch. It creates a closed line and therefore comes across as more pronounced than running stitch. It has its own charm but I often find the back of work done in backstitch more interesting as it is less precise and even.
I use stem stitch quite a lot for outlining my stitched doodle designs. It creates a lovely textural, twisted effect and provides a bit of three dimensional interest and encloses an area containing other stitches very well. It can be a bit tricky going around corners but that can add a bit of loopy charm to the design.
This is another great stitch for outlining and drawing purposes. It is credited as the stitch that set English embroidery apart from other countries during the Middle Ages and helped to make it one of the most desired and costly art forms in Europe at that time. It has a variety of appearances depending on how many threads are in the needle. On a single thread it looks like a bit like couching (see next section) whereas on an even number of threads it looks like a flatter version of chain stitch. Unlike stem stitch, corners are a doddle with split stitch.
The final basic linear embroidery stitch that I wanted to talk about is couching. This is such a versatile way of creating lines. Anything string like can be couched and some wonderful textures and colour combinations can be achieved. It is especially useful when the thread that you want to use is not suitable for pulling through fabric e.g. due to thickness, texture or fragility, as the stitching is done using a different thread. Lots of fun can be had with placement of the stitches too. Do you keep them even, group them or apply them randomly?
My Latest Stitched Drawing
These five basic stitches (or just one of them!) can be put to great effect in creating quite sophisticated line drawings. The picture above is a Self Portrait inspired by one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. It uses back stitch as the main drawing tool, with a few straight stitches and bit of satin stitch, used sparingly, for colouring in purposes. Simple but effective?