Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to go from photo to finished fibre art - tutorial

I’ve found that it’s pretty common for people to get completely excited & inspired… and then not know how to go about translating their inspiration to a completed piece of art. Here are a few simple steps to go from an object, to a finished piece of fiber art.

Before we start the tutorial, just a gentle reminder - this is an original tutorial, designed and written by myself. It's copyright and may not be copied or transferred without my direct permission.

I’m using a small pot of primulas, or primroses as my starting point. I love their rich color and interesting texture. I’ve taken a bunch of photos and decided that this one is my favorite:

But that definitely needs to be cropped! Play around with your photo editing software (there are free ones like The Gimp available if you don’t have any) to find the composition you like the best. This is what I ended up with:
It’s much more interesting now!

I like to create a simple sketch of the composition and layout before I start cutting up fabric or embroidering. It can be tricky to know exactly which lines are important - that’s a pretty detailed photo we’re using after all!

There are a few things that can help - first of all, try blurring the photo:

You can also just squint at the photo - but it’s challenging to try and draw like that :-) Blurring the photo simplifies the image and allows you to see the major shapes in it.

Sometimes it also works to convert the photo to black & white:

Like blurring, removing the color simplifies the photo and can be easier for some people to see the lines, rather than the full, complex photo.

It’s time to start sketching now! The point isn’t to create an exact replica of the photo, but to create a basic outline that you can use to base your fiber art on.

The point of making a basic sketch is to give you a bare-bones idea of the basic shapes you’re using in the piece of fiber art. It doesn’t need to be a “perfect” drawing - but it should give you the composition:Now you’ve got some decisions to make - how is the piece going to be finished? Are you doing a densely-embroidered piece, using machine embroidery? Are you going to create a fibre fusion collage? I’m going to paint onto silk duppioni and then lightly free-motion embroider over the paint as an accent.

You’ll need to transfer the sketch to your base fabric - or, you can just draw it directly onto the fabric:

I’ve used a fine-tipped black permanent marker to draw directly onto my silk (interfaced with a heavy weight fusible interfacing, for stability) If you’re using a light colored fabric, you can use dress-maker’s transfer paper and trace directly from your sketch, onto the fabric . If you’re using a dark colored base fabric, Sulky makes a fantastic white, iron-on transfer pen.

I’m going for a very loose, almost abstract design in this particular piece and I want the pen lines to show through. I’m lightly painting the silk with a very fluid acrylic fabric paint called Dye-Na-Flo, that almost acts like dye when you paint it on (without all the toxic chemicals in dye :-)

I’ve placed the silk on a plastic sheet, so my paint doesn’t seep through and stain anything. The paint has to dry overnight.

Do you know exactly where you want to embroider? Do you want to take the risk of tearing holes in our lovely silk with having to rip stitches out because you’ve decided that you don’t like how it looks?

Photo editing software is our solution!

You can play around with different lines & colors, before you commit to actually embroidering the fabric. I use Photoshop elements a lot to work out different ideas for quilts or fiber art. I don’t have a tablet, so my sketches are pretty rough looking, but they’re enough to get a general idea of how the stitching should work together:

I’ve got an idea of how I want the embroidery to support the composition - it’s time to sew now!

I began with two shades of yellow - both plain old polyester sewing machine thread. I wanted the yellow to be small “pops” of color to make it more interesting - but not so much that it’s overwhelming.

Here’s the first shade of yellow:

I used free-motion embroidery to create short lines radiating out of the flower centers. I filled in the remaining centers with a darker shade - using the same stitching technique.

I threaded my sewing machine with purple next. I wanted the purple to echo the pen lines I drew on first, but I didn’t want to match them exactly. I used quite a loose, fluid line of stitching to give the petals some extra dimension. The dark purple thread blended in a little bit too much with the paint, so I went over some of the lines again with a paler shade of lavender:

I used an olive-toned green to outline the leaves, and to add some depth & volume to the embroidery. It’s getting close, but I still think it needs a little more something…

There was so much green on the piece that it needed to be balanced out. And since red is the complementary color for green - I just needed to add a touch of it. The colors are nicely harmonized now and seem to almost sparkle.

I’m going to display this piece by sewing it onto a stretched canvas (the kind you would paint on) I like to frame smaller art works this way (and have for years now) - it seems to give them more of a “presence”.

tutorial & all images are copyright C Findlay-Harder