Posts Tagged ‘UT Lab’

The Steampunk Type Specimen

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.”


The two crafty and creative UT artists that made it happen, Caitlin on the left and Danielle on the right!

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.

Check out the whole fabric collection over on our Spoonflower page!


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!


So have fun exploring all the projects ideas you can dream up using the new Steampunk Alphabet embroidery collection, and the new fabric designs.

The Celestial Quilt – Sleeping Under the Stars

Today we bring you a very special Lab project from a member of our team, artist Caitlin! This is Caitlin’s first Lab project and she jumped in with gusto. She helped design the new Ecliptic Constellations pack and wanted to take the use of these designs to a whole new level. Here she is to talk about her experiences with this fun and ambitious project…

Here at Urban Threads, we are always searching to explore new frontiers, and this Celestial Quilt is no exception. I wanted to explore the final frontier, in fact … space! When we first started scheming about space designs, I was drawn to the idea of making a quilt. Quilts are many tiny pieces joined together to make a whole, just as billions and gazillions of tiny stars and planets and asteroids and space debris and comets and satellites and UFOs come together to make the whole night sky.

Celestial Quilt

As I began to plan out the quilt, I used the circle of the ecliptic as a starting point. The ecliptic is the apparent path of the sun on the celestial sphere as seen from the earth’s center. These constellations are based on all the constellations that appear on that line (which is why there are 13 constellations instead of the 12 from astrology), and so it was a natural place to start.

My mom is an avid quilter, and I grilled her with questions about the space quilt scheme. Could I applique the embroidery on after I pieced? Could I stop and start quilting as many times as I needed? Do you trim batting before or after you start quilting? She was an invaluable resource in getting this project completed. I researched star charts and celestial maps, and found they showed stars in various sizes to describe their brightness. I realized, with the availability of various individual star sizes, I could build any constellation, from any corner of space I desired! No hoop was standing in my way, I was free to add as many twinkly stars to my design as I could handle. Since I was building a quilt, I hooped up each square one at a time and began stitch stars, one by one. This process was nice, because if I had any fabric tearing, or some crazy thing happened with my embroidery, I was only risking a little piece at time.

Celestial Quilt

I worked with a fabulous new UT artist, Danielle, and we began by illustrating the 13 constellations that fall on the ecliptic. This is path of the sun from our viewpoint on earth, as it travels across the sky throughout the year. These are also known as the signs of the zodiac, along with the addition of the Ophiuchus, the 13th constellation on the ecliptic line. We wanted to keep the actual stars prominent, since they have inspired stargazers throughout time. Then we added the zodiac imagery with a dreamy, celestial quality that stayed light and airy. Each sign of the zodiac has such a fantastic story and feeling, it was fun to try and capture it with embroidery thread.

Celestial Quilt Celestial Quilt

Since I had such beautiful embroidery to feature, I decided I would keep the actual quilting stitches to a minimum, and use the imaginary lines between stars to quilt the top and bottom together. Here I faced an interesting learning curve. I was doing free motion quilting for the first time on our UT embroidery/sewing machine, and didn’t realize I could move my fabric backwards, forwards and sideways, without turning the entire piece! I was slowly rolling up, and pushing parts of the quilt though the machine over and over before I realized it was unnecessary.

Celestial Quilt

Quilt stitches are similar to embroidery running stitches, and the can be decorative and complicated, while also functioning to hold the quilt together. The effervescent swirls behind each zodiac design could easily be used to quilt with, and I tried to replicate the swirls and loops with my free motion quilting.

Celestial Quilt

Since it’s too cold in January to sleep out under the stars, I am super excited to have brought the stars inside, to a much warmer and snuggly place: my bed.

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.

The Giving Bunny Project

 For new readers: Are you visiting here because you found a bunny? Read on about The Giving Bunny Project, maybe even join in! Then we would love it if you left a comment telling us the name of the bunny you found and a little bit about your experience. We hope your bunny brightened your day!

This is a project that has long been in my head, and I’m so excited to be able to finally share it with the crafty community and see where it goes. The idea, you see, is called The Giving Bunny, and this time of year seemed the perfect time to introduce this giant collaborative project where YOU take part.

The giving bunny is just what he sounds like. He is a little bunny who is made for the sole purpose of giving away! He is a plush design that you can download totally free, for machine embroiderers, hand embroiders and other crafty enthusiasts. The idea behind him is that you stitch up as many little adorable bunnies as your heart desires (they’re really easy to make) and then you leave them in public spaces with a little tag as a gift for a stranger to discover.

Can you imagine the unexpected delight of going about your day, maybe even not a very good day, and discovering this little gift left just for you? A tiny plushy bunny with a tag asking you to take him home. Maybe even a few of these people will follow the link on the bunny’s tag back here, and make one of their own to share with someone else. And thus the bunnies can spread … well, like bunnies!

It’s a small thing, but a little bit of vigilante embroidery mixed with street art, and you can spread a tiny bit of bunny-shaped joy to someone you’ve never met, and maybe make what was a grey day a little brighter. Plus, with your help, this project can spread from one free design to hundreds, maybe even thousands of bunnies all across the world!

Want to make one? Of course you do! Grab your FREE machine embroidery bunny file here, or your hand embroidery bunny file here. Then follow these step-by-step instructions to make your bunny. It’s simple, and it’s tons of fun to give each one its own unique look…

Once you’ve made a bunny (or twenty) you can personalize them, dress them up, and make them your own. I made a couple of tiny scarves for a few of mine, since it is winter after all. Bunnies get cold too. You can go really crazy, stitch them in wild colors, add mustaches, hats, tattoos or bow ties. The simplicity of the bunny design leaves lots of room to make him your own. Go nuts!

Once you’re ready to share your bunnies, print out a bunch of tags on cardstock (they’re available as a PDF in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Hungarian and Dutch — thanks, Urban Threadsters who’ve generously helped to translate!), cut them out, and attach them to your bunnies before you leave them somewhere so folks know that the bunny is theirs to take home. Be sure to name your bunny too! It gives him a personality, and it also lets people share which bunny they found if they come and leave a comment.

The army of bunnies assembled and ready for deployment

So, where can you leave your bunnies? Well, I went on an adventure this weekend, and here’s where some of my bunnies ventured off to…

Yes, a bunny really did make it into the Tornado Intercept Vehicle. He fancies himself a tornado chaser.

I had such fun running around and leaving little bunnies around to hopefully bring joy to their unsuspecting new owners. They hid in museums, bookstores, theaters, and cafes. I gave one to a friend to hide in the library where she teaches, and I had one lovely moment when a hostess at a sushi restaurant spotted a bunny even before he was hidden, and asked about where it came from. Since it seemed to be as legitimate a way of finding a bunny as any other, little bunny Neil got a new home right away! It was such fun to see what joy the little bunny could bring, and she assured me Neil will be well looked after. I also already got word that the two bunnies at the science museum were found! All the rest of the bunnies are scattered about Minneapolis, waiting for their new homes.

I had such fun that I’m thinking I should keep a stash of bunnies in my purse at any given time, just so I can keep leaving them places! The little ones are so easy to throw in a purse or tuck in a pocket that I can take my bunny minions anywhere to spread a little bit of random joy.

If you’d like to share your bunny’s adventures, you can upload your photos to the Urban Embroidery flickr group with the tag givingbunny or email them into and maybe leave a note about where he started his adventure, or,  if you found a bunny, feel free to add a photo of him in his new home! That way we can share in the delight of our growing bunny army. See? I told you I was into world domination. Through random acts of tiny bunnies.

It might work…

The best part? Unlike the regular freebies, this little bunny is going to stay free FOREVER! So the bunny project can keep going and going, and new people can always come and discover the fun of embroidery. All we do ask is that if you make this bunny, please keep him in the spirit of giving. Give him to friends, leave him for strangers, or maybe even use them for fundraising for a cause, but try and keep the giving side of the giving bunny a part of how you use him.

A note: please do not put a bunny anywhere he might cause alarm, like airports or government buildings. Not that many folks would find a tiny bunny very threatening, but you never know. Also, it’s best not to put him somewhere he might be confused with actual merchandise.

So, what are you waiting for? Spread a little joy this season, and give the gift of a charming little handmade bunny, direct from you to someone you may never even meet. With your help, these little bunnies can multiply far and wide, across cities and states, countries and continents, and you can join in a giant group craft project with stitchers all over the world. No matter where you are, it might just make someone’s day a little bit more magical.

Want to see the spread of bunnies? We created a custom Google map where you can mark the location of where you put your bunnies! If you have a Google account, you can sign in, edit the map (you can use this bunny icon if you want), and leave a mark and maybe a note about how many bunnies you left (for example, one marker might say “Two bunnies in a bookstore!”). That way we can have at least one way of watching the bunnies take over the world…


*EDIT – It appears with a recent google update, all the markers shifted drastically north. The map above is a more accurate representation of what the map should look like. If you still wish to add your bunny, Click here to open the larger map and then click edit to add your bunny*

So, start your bunny adventure here, leave a note on the map, and join in this worldwide collaborative project!

Updates! What have the Bunnies been up to since their launch? Well…

They’ve been made by the hundreds, then thousands.

They’ve been spotted on every continent, even Antarctica!

They’ve been in magazines.

And they even made it to the edge of space. Seriously.

And the bunnies go ever on…

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.

Evenfall Lace – Making Machine Embroidery Magic

I know I’m always excited to share new series with you, but this one is one we’ve been working on for awhile, and it’s something very special to us. Today we’re introducing our exquisite new series Evenfall Lace.

Usually as part of our Lab projects, I collaborate with a fellow designer to bring machine embroidery to life by combining it with something else… gothic gowns, blazers, even chairs. With this series, I wanted to show that machine embroidery is something totally magical all on its own. We know that it can be impressive when used with couture creations, but its beauty and potential really shine when stunning creations can be achieved by all kinds of machine stitchers and without the assistance of anything else at all. The magic of downloading a digital file and bringing a delicate lace creation to life straight from your machine is what reminds me that machine embroidery really is amazing.

And pure magic…

karrah kobus

This new Evenfall Lace series is a collection of seven freestanding lace designs, all carefully designed to work in all size hoops. These pieces range from simple things like butterflies and feathers to more complex designs that make full chokers and masks.

The word “evenfall” is another word for twilight, and represents that moment in the day when things hang in a beautiful balance of transition, even just for a moment. The themes of the lace are all natural motifs mixed with that hint of darkness that twilight brings. As it can be stitched in cotton, the lace itself can also be dyed to mimic that beautiful transition of dusk, and the results are absolutely enchanting.

karrah kobus

Simpler designs like feathers and butterflies are designed with a fusion of traditional and Battenburg lace styles, so they have both the weight and structure of traditional lace with some of the more delicate qualities of Battenburg.

Even better, we worked hard to design all these pieces so that some version of each designs works for all hoop sizes. Larger pieces, like the Evenfall mask, come in parts that are easily assembled after stitching. This way all designs can be stitched even with a 4″x4″ hoop, and you still get the stunning results of a larger piece of lace.

This flexibility also allows for some creativity in the construction. Don’t want an asymmetrical mask? Pick your favorite side and stitch its mirrored version for your second half. Basically, it’s three masks in one.

karrah kobus

karrah kobus

Chains and charms bring simple pieces like our choker and cuff to life with just simple embellishment. All it took were some jewelry pliers and some supplies from our local craft store. Other pieces like our cuff, above, just need the simple addition of ribbons or chains to  make it ready to wear.

karrah kobus

karrah kobus

Other pieces can have have life as multiple creations. This piece functions beautifully as a hair barrette with just the addition of a hair stick, but also makes a delicate lace cuff if you lace a bit of leather or ribbon through the sides and wear it on your wrist.

karrah kobus

Feathers become a multitude of things, from the simplicity of a single earring to a full size set of beautiful lace and feather wings. Wear them as charms on a necklace or use them to build elegant creations of your own.

karrah kobus

karrah kobus

Just because there are seven lace pieces doesn’t mean there are only seven things you can make. Scraps of fabric and multiples of our lace edging brought a chandelier to life, and we used a combination of our cuff design and parts of the choker to construct these delicate lace heels. A little glue and some stitches and you have a pair of one-of-a-kind shoes that could have walked straight off the runway. That is perhaps the real magic of this series… its potential to be all kinds of amazing things.

With this series, we hope to show that machine embroidery needs no other accessories, gowns or beautiful surfaces to live. It’s enchanting all on its own, with the right designs and a creative imagination.

With all the wizardry of modern technology, downloading a digital file that lets you create an endless collection of stunning and delicate lace accessories right out of your embroidery machine really feels a bit like magic.

karrah kobus

And when it ends up looking like this, it’s not hard to believe a little magic is possible.

Grab the whole pack and get stitching for an amazing fall season, and check out our tutorial page to see how to create these magical pieces.

Want to see this collection in action? Watch our lookbook video of the Evenfall Lace series, and see how some of these pieces came together.

As with all these projects, none of it would have come together without some amazing help. All photos where marked were shot by the amazing Karrah Kobus, styling done by our usual style guru Sara Capers, and the video was shot and edited by Mike Ross.


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.

Needlework & Skirts – Guys in the Handmade World

First, let’s get one thing straight. I know that’s not a skirt, and I know that Alt.Kilt, the creators and purveyors of the fine and fashionable kilt in this feature, will probably flay me for saying so. But my deliberately provocative title is there for a reason, and that reason is one we probably all know too well. That despite the Scots’ fierce tradition and the general badass-edness of kilts these days, some people will never see them as anything but a man-skirt.

That, I think, is why needlework and skirts, or a highly accomplished art form and a celebrated outfit of Scottish clansmen, go so well together. Because despite the DIY community’s best efforts to encourage and include guys into the fold, it is inevitably with the caveat of it being with extra manly crafts. Carve yourself a new chair! Metalsmith yourself a new planter. Cut up leather and make rugged, testosterone filled wallet things!  Crafts and guys can’t seem to exist without some included excuse as to how this handmade craft is worthy of manly pursuits, and is even more rarely put into the context of traditionally feminine crafts. A man? Knitting? Making something with a needle? Still unfortunately a rarity. Even more unfortunately, a crafty guy is oft celebrated for his boldness of being a guy instead of his actual amazing quality of craft.

What about combining traditionally male things with this perceived feminine craft? Well, also a rarity depending on the context, but that’s why we were so honored when Alt.Kilt asked to collaborate with us on embroidering their hardcore kilts with designs that would suit guys’ tastes. So we thought we’d bring these two sides together: men doing needlework, and needlework for men. We just needed a guy who could take on both. Luckily for us, there is that guy. The guy who loves needlework for the sake of it, and the pure impressive quality of that craft. A guy man enough to wear an embroidered kilt and do needlework simultaneously, and look pretty rad doing it.

That man is none other than the revolutionary Mr X Stitch, aka Jamie Chalmers, and he’s been working hard through his wildley popular blog of the same name to show that stitching is a pretty wicked medium, no matter who is doing it. Still, despite embroidery’s advances in culture in the last decade, stitching as a guy still has its expectations and associations. We talked with Mr X about his similarly ironic introduction to stitching, and the wider world it led to. Jamie says…

I started for fun as I wanted something to do on a vacation and thought it would be funny to be a big guy doing cross stitch. Turns out cross stitch is a really pleasant craft and I was quickly hooked. I didn’t necessarily intend for things to evolve in the way that they did, but as my interest in contemporary embroidery grew, I decided to get out and make connections over here in the UK.

Through a growing love and by visiting events like the Knitting & Stitching Show, Jaime got to know magazine editors and other members of the UK craft scene, and things started to grow. Still, it’s not easy being a guy with a needle and thread.

Things are still evolving, but these are exciting times. I’ve gone through a fair few personal journeys in coming to terms with the socio-political paradigm that says that cross stitch is for grannies. I made myself do things like cross stitching on trains and in public, and some of my stitcheries have explored these feelings as well.

The biggest challenge for me was joining my local Embroiderers’ Guild branch – being a manbroiderer is easy online, but in the real world, in my home town, it’s a whole ‘nother matter.

Facing up to the stereotypes of stitching is difficult enough for embroidery in any context. The current world of embroidery started, like many revolutions, with a backlash statement that it was something that could be alternative, grungy, snarky, and counter-culture. That was perhaps easy to embrace from a woman’s point of view. “See!?” we said with our defiant needles, “We can reinvent this traditionally feminine craft and make it something new for ourselves!”

That was a great start for women, but it made it a slightly more difficult take for guys, who are still trying to deal with both the traditions and the new social associations of a reinvented feminine craft. This is especially hard when faced with a real, social craft world that the DIY culture has become. Where do they stand in this art, if it’s not for an assumed social statement?

It’s great to meet other men who stitch, as we’ve all gone through the same experience. The paradigm I mentioned before is very pervasive and I think all male stitchers have had to process the social responses to their craft. And I don’t think that’s going to change just yet.

Machine embroidery in many ways is going through a similar cycle, albeit a few years later than the traditional hand craft. The industry was slow to respond to an alternative idea of embroidery, which was in fact the very catalyst for the creation of Urban Threads. Things were more attainable for those who could just pick up a needle and thread and make things for themselves, but for machine embroidery, it meant waiting for a whole industry to turn around and notice. Its application can also be its biggest barrier to new audiences. If all you see of machine embroidery as a guy is logos on golf shirts and trucker hats, what is your expectation of the medium as an art form? This is a thought shared by Mr X:

One of the biggest issues with embroidery is that it is often just an aesthetic product. I think that men often like crafts that are more practical, so the current expansion in digitized embroidery, as championed by your good selves and our man Erich Campbell, is a great sign as it shows that men can pimp their clothes, as well as their cars. Hand embroidery is a great craft for soothing the soul, as it is both meditative and creative. However, it’s still quite a way from being cool in the mainstream and so we (the stitchers who want to change this world view) must use all the directions possible to overcome the paradigm that we face.

So where does that leave digitizing, and machine embroidery as an art form for guys? Well, as Mr X puts it optimistically,

I think there are some technological barriers with digitizing, but men like gadgets.

Well, he’s not wrong about that.

Sadly, he’s also not incorrect about it’s barriers. While machine embroidery might in some ways have the wizard-tech appeal to perhaps lure in tool-minded guys, it is still a relatively unknown and cost-prohibitive medium to dive into with abandon. Couple that with expectations of what kinds of designs are out there to even interest guys, and it’s still a large hurdle to overcome as a medium with artistic merit.

So, what’s the biggest barrier was to getting guys into craft, hand or machine alike? What can we do to get more guys into the fold, so to speak? Jamie has a couple of ideas of where there can be room for improvement.

The embroidery industry has a part to play in the reason why men don’t stitch. There’s not a lot out there for them to enjoy – a simple visit to any major craft store validates that statement. However, the changes in technology that we’ve seen in pattern design software and digital printing will go some way to changing these perspectives as it allows more creativity to come from the individual at home.

Perhaps embroidery’s biggest problem then is its assumed use and audience. If we can get past the “who” and the “what for,” maybe we can just look at it as pure design, out of context of what we think it should be. That, luckily, is exactly what Mr X Stitch and many other contemporary craft blogs and communities are working hard to do.  For example, the Mr X Stitch blog has a section where you can read specifically about contemporary male embroiderers in their eMbroidery feature. A vast wealth of artists are using the internet to bring a voice to their craft, and it’s hard to think that with enough exposure people will only ever associate “craft” with doilies, wooden ducks and grannies. Handmade has come back in a big way, and men have never shied away from making things with their hands. It’s just that we need to change our ideas as to what those things they might make are.

It’s good to see that the internet is enabling artists from around the world to discover one another and be inspired by each other. I think the prevailing schools of thought about gender and embroidery will remain for a while, however if the mainstream craft industry shifts to accommodate these changing views, and if the profile of embroidery as a valid art form and a craft that men can enjoy continues to rise, then we’re in with a shot.

Perhaps the most optimistic way of looking forward, then, is through the experience of sharing and collaborating on what embroidery is, and what it can be used for. We were absolutely thrilled to get a chance to work with Alt.Kiltand custom embroider one of their awesome creations to showcase on one of the manliest dudes in the embroidery world (we love you Mr X!). Their interest in utilizing embroidery and even machine embroidery as part of their traditionally guy-friendly offerings (though I wouldn’t mind one myself) is a good sign of things to come. Hopefully, the more we show that putting needle to thread results in cool things no matter what your gender, the more we’ll see people take it up in new ways. Reassuringly, the guy with arguably the most accurate finger on the pulse of the embroidery world seems equally optimistic about the medium.

I know that the stuff we do with needle and thread is really powerful on a spiritual level as well as a practical and political one, so I remain absolutely optimistic that we can turn the tide and get more people to share the love of the stitch.  We’ve barely gotten started, and I think people had better watch out!

Many thanks to the folks who worked to pull this feature together spanning two states, two continents, and many months. To Alt Kilt for providing such an awesome creation to display embroidery on, Mr X for being such a good sport about modeling, and Emma Beckett for the photography. Love those Celtic designs on the kilt? Grab em’ right here.


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.

The Mendhika Chair – Going Big and Bold with Embroidery

I’m very excited today that I get to share with you our latest project from The Laba UT initiative to experiment, collaborate and innovate to see just what can be done with the art of embroidery. These projects are usually collaborative adventures we take to see what crazy thing we can do with embroidery next.

If you follow our facebook or twitter, you’ll have seen that we were very honored to have this featured on Design*Sponge yesterday as part of their before and after series, and already gotten a peek at the project.  Today we’re here to talk about all the fun details and techniques that went into this bold and beautiful piece of furniture, and to share our leap into the world of embroidered furniture.

This project was extra special because it was our first dive into the furniture and upholstery world. We’ve done art, clothing, and fashion, but never this. I had seen beautiful fabrics that brought pieces to life, and even furniture reupholstered using found needlework… but how cool would it be to custom embroider a chair using special designs? Very cool. We thought at least.

For that we needed a little help, so for this Lab project Urban Threads teamed up with local upholsterer Jessica from Nouvelle Vie Furniture. Jessica worked with us to help us along with the one thing we pretty much knew nothing about: upholstering. Embroidery, we got it covered. Upholstery? Not so much. That’s why collaborations are so great!

So, after scouring our local Craigslist, we found this big ol’ medieval throne…

Not bad bones on it, and beautiful woodwork, but it needed an update and a little bit of love. We wanted to take this dark and broody chair and completely reinvent it into something modern and bright. So Jessica got to stripping, stuffing and painting, and we got to work on the embroidery.

With our new Mendhika collection, we knew we had the chance with these designs to do something extra special on our big industrial machines. You see, this chair is pretty big. Like throne big, and if you used just regular thread and our 10 inch size designs, you wouldn’t cover a lot of real estate or make as much of an impact. Luckily, these designs were both light enough and ornate enough to pull of a neat little trick using special thread called Burmilana.

Burmilana is a very thick, almost yarn-like thread that offers beautiful raised textured effects that give the embroidery a wonderful, old world folk feel.

The catch is that Burmilana is so thick it usually has to be used with specially digitized designs to keep the density low. Luckily, by enlarging these designs to take up more room on the chair, it reduced the density enough to use this special thread to wonderful effect. We didn’t need to do anything to the design at all!

If we had enlarged it and stitched it with regular thread, the designs would have looked far too light and thin, but with this beautiful thread, it came out perfectly. OK, so it’s still a bit of a pain to work with. You would not believe the amount of fuzz this stuff produces while stitching! But it worked its magic in the end, so the beautiful Mendhika designs could flow thick and true over a large expanse of the chair. I spent about 7 hours embroidering all the pieces for the chair (there are 6 designs in all), and then handed it back off to Jessica, who carefully upholstered it onto the newly painted chair.

The result is our darkly and slightly worse for wear chair has brightened up into the new bold and modern piece. It keeps the old world bones of the ornately carved wood and the thick beautiful embroidery, but mixes it with bright and modern colors and contemporary embroidery techniques. It’s a throne fit for both worlds and one that I think was a very successful experiment combining large scale embroidery with the world of upholstery. Machine embroidery can be pretty darn neat!

Many many thanks to Jessica for her amazing work on this chair and her fantastic sense of style. She took extra time to make sure all the designs were laid out right and everything came out smooth and beautiful. Also many thanks to my friend and amazing photographer Patrick Kelley for the lovely after shots of the chair that he pulled together in a single afternoon.

Want to give your own piece of furniture a shot? You can grab the Mendhika designs right here. Unless you have a giant hoop and the ability to enlarge designs, I would probably leave the Burmilana thread by the wayside, but these designs still have more than enough punch to bring any piece to life. Don’t be afraid to experiment and think out of the box when you’re trying to decide what to put these on. A chair can be as much a canvas for your stitches as a wall hanging could be.  Stitch something different, ON something different, and see what kind of impact you can make!


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.

Before & After Design*Sponge Feature

We’re so excited to share our latest Lab collaboration as an exclusive Before & After on one of our favorite blogs, Design*Sponge! For this project, we worked with local upholsterer Jessica of Nouvelle Vie Furniture to create this one of a kind embroidered chair using designs from our Mendhika series.

We used all kinds of special tricks on this one, which you can read a little about on the before and after. We’ll be sharing a full report on the project tomorrow, including how we made those giant versions of the designs! In the meantime, enjoy the post on Design*Sponge here, and raise a little glass in celebration for us.