Having already gotten a taste for the fun of Lab projects, artist Caitlin teamed up with our newest addition to the team, fellow artist Danielle! As the two artists designed the new Steampunk Alphabet together, they wanted to create a special project to show it off in both a traditional and distinctly UT style.
Type specimen posters have long been a way for typography designers to showcase a new font. As we had done just that, it seemed the perfect way to celebrate our newest alphabet collection. Danielle schemed up this amazing poster design, and then Caitlin went Spoonflower crazy and got it printed up as a giant fabric piece she could customize with embroidered letters and hand stitches to really let it shine in a larger than life way.
I’ll let the girls tell you all about what schemes and shenanigans went into this fun project…
“When I first heard we were doing a Steampunk Alphabet, I foamed at the mouth at the thought of doing an embroidered type specimen poster. For those who aren’t giant design and typography dorks like I am, a type specimen poster is usually a type of printed publication that designers and typographers use to see how a typeface functions at different weights and sizes. Essentially, it is a piece of work that showcases a typeface in its purest form.
My background is in printed typography and design, so throwing embroidery into the mix was new and exciting! I knew we were using Spoonflower to print the poster on a fabric we could embroider on, so I naturally wanted to print it on the biggest swath of fabric that was possible. Go big or go home! Which, in this case was 36”x 54”. This meant I could get away with using huge letters that would become dimensional once we embroidered over them. (Huge, dimensional letters are every designer’s secret fantasy.)
As per the nature of a type specimen poster, I wanted to showcase the beauty of the alphabets and how they functioned together in a physical setting. When Caitlin and I were planning the alphabet, we drew inspiration from Victorian design that would fit in a steampunk realm. However, Victorian design is a hodgepodge of drastically different styles, so we had to streamline the look. We decided on a mix of art noveau and woodblock, perhaps giving into my embarrassing love of pointy serifs. Combined with Caitlin’s beautiful gears and wings, it became an elegant steampunk alphabet that made my job of creating an awesome type specimen poster way easier.
When I started creating the poster, I let the shapes and forms of the typefaces inform the design. I drew upon the wings and gears in both uppercase and lowercase to create accents that tied the poster together. I felt like I was still missing the delicate swirls that Victorian design liked to utilize, so I added some simple gold filigree as background detail.
In the end, I’m really happy with how this turned out, and Caitlin seriously pulled through by embroidering the heck out of the giant poster I insisted on. Also, a pangram with a fox jumping over zombies with his motorcycle is WAY cooler than a lazy dog. Just saying.”
“In a previous life, I did a lot of analog artwork creation, also known as painting. I was excited to collaborate with Danielle in a way that could use her awesome type specimen design, and bring it into a multimedia 3-d embroidery extravaganza.
On Spoonflower, there are many different qualities of fabric you can order, from light weight and gauzy, to the heavier cotton twill which we chose for this piece. Danielle sized the letters precisely so I could use the 4, 3, 2, and 1 inch versions of our alphabets. I had to make sure I hooped the fabric just right, or the letters would skew or stretch and the embroidery would line up incorrectly. Luckily I’ve had some practice hooping fabric, so the process was pretty painless.
One slight miscalculation in my measurements, was that we would have a printed piece of fabric that was 54×36 inches, and canvas stretcher bars that were 54×36 inches. Sounds perfect! But that left me no room for stretching and stapling the fabric on the stretcher bars. I ordered some heavy cotton twill of the Steampunk Gears fabric to sew a border that would give me the fabric I needed to stretch the poster properly. It was a little wonky, but that is the beauty of human-made items. Machines are precise, and humans are wonky!
I like to take risks and have happy accidents while creating art, but I also like to prepare. So I did make a smaller test poster, where I did some experiments with embroidery and tea dye to make sure I was going somewhere awesome. Above top: you see the smaller test poster, and bottom left: the raw canvas with the gear border fabric, and bottom right: me applying tea dye with a sponge! It worked great, if you ever find yourself about to tea dye a large piece of fabric and don’t have big brushes lying around.”
It was so much fun to see the girls work together to pull of this giant spectacle of embroidery/typography and printing all in one. The mix of printed and embroidered areas really gives the piece a great dimensional quality when seen in person. You think it’s printed… then you think it’s embroidered. Then you’re just not sure of anything except that it looks really cool.
It’s such a fun mix, and such a fun reminder to have around the office showing off the rad Steampunk Alphabet collection. It’s also a great addition to our other Lab experiments seeing just what fun we can have with stitches when we really push the envelope. You can be sure we have even more experiments in our future!This project is part of The Lab, a UT initiative to experiment, collaborate and innovate to see just what can be done with the art of embroidery. Check out our other projects by searching for the UT Lab tag.
Want to dive into the Steampunk Alphabet in your own way? We have a big glorious set of steampunk upper case letters and spiky, elegant lower case to bring your embroidered type to life in whatever way you choose. You don’t have to go poster crazy like we did, but if you do feel like going big and bold on a project, we have these letters and numbers in sizes from 1 inch to 5 inches tall! That’s sure to suit all occasions where you need to make a big written statement in extra cool letters.
Looking for the perfect fabric to complement your new steampunk project? We have a new collection of Spoonflower fabrics that match! Grab either our new Steampunk Alphabet fabric, or the Steampunk Gears fabric, in either brown or white to make any project extra gear-tastic.
Finally, what if you want to recreate what the girls from the Lab did, but on a slightly more manageable scale? Well, instead of working huge, why not buy this little tea towel sized version of our type specimen poster!
It’s also available through Spoonflower, and is perfect as a towel or as a mini wall hanging itself. You can even do what we did and embroider on top of some of the printed letters to add that extra stitch-y dimension. The fabric comes with a pre-tea stained look so you don’t have to do the extra work. Back it with some matching gear fabric and you have a great little showcase piece!