Archive for October 23rd, 2011

Machine stitching

A few years ago I did a full week class “Optical Colour Mixing” tutored by Ken Smith. It was my very first Orange Textile Fibre Forum, close to my first free machine stitching, and I remember working very hard! Just before my recent holiday I went to look through some old journals – the very first one I picked up opened at my class notes (23 April 2006).

I haven’t done much since then, so have been trying to refresh my mind and hands and reproduce some of the effects Ken taught. So there was lots of play with both top and bobbin tension, and bits of moss and granite stitch, feather stitch, whip stitch and near the bottom just a little cable with a boucle silk in the bobbin.

My sewing machine behaved beautifully – zero broken threads and needles, little if any tangling or malformed stitches. Mostly I used rayon threads and the result is overall flat and uninteresting – I was very jerky in my movements and possibly that means the threads aren’t lying as smoothly as they could. In particular the ribbon effect on the left doesn’t have the gloss of my 2006 sample.

I think the most interesting parts are where I had 2 threads in the needle (red and orange), blue in the bobbin, all the colours showing and stitches overlapping to give some texture. The feather stitch between 11 and 12 o’clock is the clearest example. The cable stitch (6 to 7 o’clock) using the heavy silk is also effective.

The first sample doesn’t fit neatly into the Project Stages, given I was more interested in reviewing my old notes. There’s some general preparation and familiarisation (stage 1), some mark-making and lines (stage 2) and some texture (stage 5). So I started a second sample, following more closely the Stage 2 suggestions. I used a lime green rayon thread, and in the photo the back of the work is showing because when I came back from holiday I accidentally started working on the other side! Oops.

However that’s the work I find most interesting. A parcel was waiting when I got back from holiday – the complete Tubular Spectrum Plus kit from Lunatic Fringe Yarns. This is 20 colours plus white, black and 5 shades of grey in 10/2 mercerized cotton. Lunatic Fringe focus on weavers and I don’t know how to translate that into stitching terms – it looks to me about half the width of #5 perle cotton.

On the top and right of the sample is the machine stitched 10/2 cotton – used through the needle and the thread coming directly from the cone. I took it fairly slowly and used a 130N needle which has a nice big eye. The needle threader couldn’t cope and the fancy stitch pattern about 2 o’clock was challenging, but apart from that the machine continued to work smoothly. At the top I experimented with stitch length, then lines different widths apart, crossing, and some rayon lines for contrast. The solid area at the right is the 7 tubular spectrum colours from yellow to blue-green. Top and bottom tension is pretty much balanced and just tiny flecks of the lime green rayon in the bobbin show through. Tiny flecks of the 10/2 cotton show on the back too, and there is definite potential there. There is some distortion of the cotton fabric – a heavier cotton could help.

Emboldened by this success at the bottom of the sample I tried Bendigo Mills 2 ply wool in the needle, direct from the cone. Threading was tricky, but achieved with some Thread Heaven. There was some looping at the back, but raising the top tension helped – at the price of losing some of the loft of the yarn. Zigzag was tricky tension-wise, but I think has potential for some interesting effects playing with bobbin colour. I went very slowly to let the stitches form, but there were no actual breaks. I think it has definite potential to provide cover and contrast of texture in the right situation.

This second sample also sits somewhere between stages 1, 2 and 5. I would need to practise a lot if I want to use these techniques in actual work. I found using the hoop very annoying. In Ken Smith’s class we layered up fabrics with interfacing so didn’t need that support. Maybe I could explore some alternatives to escape the hoop without introducing stiffness from a permanent interfacing.

I’m now looking at my weaving yarns with changed eyes. They were already fair game for hand stitching and couching or cabling on the machine, but it opens up a lot of possibilities, flexibility and ease of use if they can also be machine stitched through the needle.


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