As Urban Threads grows, now and again we get to add to our talented team of digitizers and artists. Our most recent addition is our pink-haired digitizing queen Bonnie. She came into this with a lot of artistic talent to begin with, so her experience of diving into the strange and technical world of digitizing as an art is a fascinating one. The rare peeks into the world of digitizing often come from those who have worked in the industry for awhile, but what’s it like facing this unique technology as a total newcomer?
Bonnie gives us that peek by sharing a fun personal experiment she embarked on when she first started, and shares her insights as to what it was like to work through the weirdness of how machine embroidery really works when you’re totally new to the medium…
When I first started digitizing I felt overwhelmed and amazed by the beautiful designs that were on the Urban Threads site. How was it even possible to paint with stitches? I was learning the science of the process, but I wanted to experiment with the art of embroidery. My dogs Hopscotch and Possum were my first choices to work with as inspiration, but the design needed to be as unique as they are…
It was obvious that embroidered dogs in space suits were the only possible thing I could do.
I found some great photography references for space stuff and started looking through the painterly designs on the Urban Threads site to see how the light-stitching effect was created. I wanted to plan how I was going to create shading, and I studied how the filled areas were layered to create subtle regions of color while keeping the stitch count low. The trick seemed to be finding the right density so that there were enough stitches to visually fill the space, but few enough to leave the fabric and layers of color beneath peeking through.
This really is an artistic process and it felt like learning a new medium. Technically, I was not officially doing this advanced type of work at the time, so this was all about fun experimentation!
I created a few loose sketches of how I wanted the cockpit of the spaceship to look. I decided I was going to flip the first design and just change some details to save time and make them look symmetrical. Then it was time to turn them into stitches…
I had to first choose a few shades of gray to work with so that I could blend them from dark to light, just like painting. It became quickly apparent how difficult this is to manage while keeping the number of color changes low. When you are painting, it doesn’t matter how many times you go back and forth between colors to add more shading. When embroidering, the progression from one color to the next needs to be planned out so that as much of each thread color is stitched out at once as possible before moving on to the next. The freedom of moving from place to place within the embroidery design as you would with a painting is also lost, because each time you move from one area to another it creates a trim. This requires planning as you move throughout the piece, making sure each area of color has a way to connect to the next. This was difficult for me because my artistic style is extremely spontaneous. Creating the painterly style of embroidery was more like building a complex puzzle than pushing color around with a paintbrush.
After digitizing a few layers of open fills (the same technique used to create the painterly designs), I added touches of lighter colored satins to add shine, and imply a light source outside of the window. That is usually my favorite part of working on any piece of art — making things look shiny! In addition, by choosing a dark fabric to act as part of the design, I was able to leave the stitching light, and work mostly on the highlights.
Not everything worked exactly as planned, but it was amazing to use my traditional art skills to blend colors and layers of embroidery. It felt awkward and challenging, but the excitement of the potential outweighed any problems I ran into.
During the sewing out process I witnessed firsthand why we work so hard to limit the number of color changes and trims and why we make sure that there are not more stitches in a design than necessary. The best part was learning why people enjoy embroidery so much — it’s incredible to hold the finished product in your hands and love it!
I learned so much more than I was expecting to during the creation of these designs. Drawing and digitizing them gave me a whole new respect for our artists and digitizers here.
Plus, the little astronaut approved!
If you want to see more about how we experiment with the medium of machine embroidery in often totally weird ways, you can also check out another project that our head digitizer Danielle and art director Niamh teamed up to make happen, called the Crane Wife. You’d be surprised how many techniques and new art styles we’ve discovered with off-the-wall experimentation like this!