Today I've been doing some machine embroidery sampling. When I last took embroidery seriously, about twenty years ago, I became very interested in achieving a flat, tapestry-like, pictorial effect. For some time I was convinced I was in the wrong discipline and wished I had studied woven textiles instead, like Lynne Curran, whose work I deeply admired. I even got into trouble for producing my first year project on the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, because it wasn't a 'proper' embroidery technique.

In the end I adopted needlepoint as my chosen method of working, and the piece in the photo above is from that era, one of the few pieces I still like. Much of the work I produced at that time seems to me now very stilted in design and lacking subtlety of colour.

However beautiful needlepoint is, though, like all hand embroidery techniques, it's slooooowww. I found that my ideas were developing and moving faster than I could implement them with needle and thread, and several never got finished at all, like this piece for an ecclesiastical embroidery competition.

The obvious solution of course was machine embroidery, and this was the eventual direction I took for my degree show (no photos of this period to show you as they are all on slides and I don't have a scanner). At this time, that is, the late 1980s, people like Alice Kettle and Jane Poulton were producing wonderful flat textile pieces using the machine in different ways, but despite churning out quite a volume of work, I was never really happy with it.

I have always struggled with the process of using machinery in my work other than as a practical necessity. As I have documented many times before, I love handstitch. I love the rhythm, the way your thoughts get sewn into the piece, the way time passes. When I decided to start embroidering again a couple of years ago, it was to handstitch that I turned.

But there is still the problem of how to produce enough work so that the creative energy can continue to flow. Handstitch doesn't allow this to happen for me, but painting and drawing doesn't satisfy my need for fabric and thread. So I have decided to begin again with machine embroidery, to see what it can do for me and whether I can get it to do what I want. I'm following the guidelines I set myself in this post earlier in the year.

All I'm doing at the moment is working with simple shapes and blocks of colour, looking at textures and tensions, embellishments and edges. Documenting what I'm doing and pushing through some of my misconceptions and prejudices. Beginning again. It's been an enjoyable afternoon.


Gilly said...

I've still got your magpie needlepoint picture that you gave us after your degree show. I'm looking at it now! I think it shows a lovely subtlety of colours, and reminds me of the fields at the back of the village we used to live in!

But what you are doing and experimenting with now looks very exciting!

Lorenza said...

I love it, I love it, I love it!!.... did I say that I love it? :) machine embroidery is enchanting... I am only able to do simple single lines (hope that makes sense) I'd love to learn more, but first I need to practice on the small techniques that I know ;) so beautiful to see your work! L xxx

Anonymous said...

I am fascinated by your sampling and notes; something I try to do, but sadly rarely put my experiments into something finished. I look forward to seeing where your machine work leas you.

Gigibird said...

The great thing is you can do whatever you want now. Personally I like a bit of both Рmachine and hand and of course appliqu̩.

Frances said...

This machine embroidery is a foreign land for me. I very much like seeing your samples, and hope that you'll be showing me more about what machine embroidery is all about.

I like needlepoint as a form of forced relaxation. That needle in and out, trying to keep the tension right, watching the pattern, design, or picture sloooowly appear.

I once mastered the art of silk screen printing, hand painting each of my screens, and getting up to and beyond thirty colors per picture. After a while, it became a sort of engineering feat, rather than a creative achievement. Still, I so liked the layering of those flat colors. Always like colors in combination.

Sue, think that you are off on a new adventure. Keep us posted! xo

acornmoon said...


I am very pleased to have found your blog,

I love your machine embroidery, it takes me back to my college days.

Poshyarns said...

I really love the work you are producing and read your thoughts with great interest.

Jackie said...

I was a big fan of Lynne Curran in the eighties . I wonder what happened to her.
I think I know what you mean about machine can sometimes feel a bit flat and characterless but these pieces of yours are very subtle.

Sue said...

Thank you so much for all your encouragement :-) it is such fun to be doing this again.

anastasia said...

it's neat to see your notes on the work! you're getting such lovely texture with the machine, and a very plush depth.