Painting with Thread
I had a lot of fun stitching up my animal totem embroideries, and I was really pleased with how they turned out. As I was stitching, I realized that there are a lot of different techniques I use to achieve this look, so I thought I'd make a tutorial so you can try it too! You can find my totem patterns in PDF form at my etsy shop, or use these tips for any of your embroidery projects.
When you start out with a line art embroidery pattern, the possibilities are endless. I purposefully don't specify which stitches or colors to use where on my patterns, I want to leave that up to your creativity! But, I do realize that can be a bit daunting, especially with a large, detailed pattern like these are. Here are some tips and techniques that will help you create a unique, visually interesting art piece.
This is the first thing I think about when starting a new embroidery project. I've done lots of embroidery on white, and I knew I wanted these to be on colored fabric. If you stitch on colored fabric, it's best to choose one that is a flat color, or with just a minimal, tone on tone pattern. Each of the fabrics I used for these patterns has a simple textural pattern, so the fabric pattern won't interfere with the embroidery and make it look too busy. Also keep in mind that the color of the fabric will show as negative space. If you're stitching a human face you might not want to use blue fabric. ;)
You might want to pick out a thread color palette before you start as well. I decided to use aqua blue, green, brown, and orangey pinks for these pieces, but I used several different shades of each throughout. I find sticking with a few colors rather than an unlimited palette keeps my designs looking neat and cohesive. I didn't decide beforehand where to put each color, but I did try to balance the colors well. For instance, if you find yourself using a lot of blue at the bottom of your design, be sure and add some at the top as well.
Embroidery is all about stitches, and there are hundreds to choose from! If you need some good stitch diagrams, either of my Doodle Stitching books is perfect! ;) Or, you can find lots online. My favorite stitch library website is www.inaminuteago.com
It is easy to stitch an entire pattern with all one stitch, and that does have it's place. But, you will add lots of dynamic interest by using a variety of different stitches. You can see in this picture how many different stitches I used in a small space. Some are good for line work, others are more decorative.
Shapes and Texture
Besides varying your stitches, think about using various line thicknesses, solid shapes, and textures. Look at your pattern and decide which lines should stand out the most. I wanted the head outlines of these patterns to be the thickest lines, so I used dark colors and heavy lines. You can vary your line width by dividing your floss and using fewer threads for thinner lines, or you can stitch multiple lines side by side for thicker ones. You can see here how I added additional lines along the jaw and in the eyes in a darker or lighter color to add dimension.
Another way to add dimension is by using texture. Scattered straight stitches make great fur. A group of French Knots stitched close together also makes an interesting texture. You can see here how I used Straight Stitches along the top of the head and bottom of the ear to make a texture and shading effect.
Areas of solid color stitching, like the Satin Stitch, help add interest as well as focal points to your work. You can also outline Satin Stitched areas with a line, such as the Back Stitch, to help them stand out.
Another technique I like to use is a gradient color line. This works best using the Back Stitch. Stitch a few Back Stitches, and then a few Running Stitches (stitch: space: stitch: space, etc.) Then go back with a lighter or darker color, fill in the spaces between your Running Stitches and then a few more Back Stitches in the new color. Continue this with 3-4 colors until you have a gradient line. You can see the brown lines here were stitched using this technique.
You can also buy gradient dyed floss which will do this for you, but I'm a bit of a color control freak, so I like doing it this way. ;)
This is definitely one of my wordiest blog posts but I hope it helps you out! Feel free to comment if you have any questions.
Thanks for reading and have fun stitching!