Tag Archive | sketch

Twisting Tree demo/tutorial

This one of my favourite teaching things.  The sewing is really straight forward but the effects can be amazing.

It begins with these drawings – with and without foliage.twisted tree drawing

Drawing up is simple – trace through your fabric (lean up against a window for an instant light box)  Fancy pen required? Nope – it will all be sewn over. Lots of detail ?- nah – wriggly lollipop with a bad hair day.



First stitches set the twisting movement throughP1060987 the trunk so no worries about sewing straight – don’t even try. Layers of stitch are built up as the tree’s framework is established. A spot of stabiliser underneath if the fabric pulls may help.





P1060988The canopy starts with organised scribble in a strongly contrasting colour (purple), and extended in a glorious sludge colour.


The stitch pattern is fairly consistent – cross hatched blocks- but varies in scale and density. Top dress with greens of mixed hues, add in sharp colour to lift if needed,  finish off the trunk with contrast tones – I used navy  and a quick twiddly bit of grass to anchor it and it is done!

A good press and…..   ta da……

machine embroidery.freehand machine embroidery sample

This is quite a simple do, yet can be so effective. It is a good learning curve  and can be adapted to all skill levels. I love that the equipment list is basically machine, foot, hoop, pencil. Materials list is also slim,  fabric (  I used a scrap of rust dyed cotton), threads – what ever you want/what ever you have got, and possibly a bit of stitch and tear.


I have been watching craft TV again –  this is available  in four easy instalments of oodles of money,  10% discount for people I like or who have daft cats. Just quote discount code DUNKINGBISCUITS.


Perhaps I should offer it as a kit? Hmm. Need a new packet of biscuits to consider that one.

Self promotion spot-  Last week or so  of the Ripon Great North Art Show

Last but one week of the Knaresborough  exhibition in Art in the Mill.

First week of the Micklegate Art in the Window Trail-  You MUST go into Spelmans bookshop. I had forgotten just how fabulous it is ( think Edwardian woody splendour)


Sketching for stitching

This isn’t about making pretty pics but about reducing the landscape into a manageable form and language ready to take to the sewing machine. I work in pen for these- it gives an even line, more like a sewn line than pencil does.

And just for fun I’ll put the process in reverse.


Spot the differences. OK some are sloppy draughtsmanship, but others are intentional modifications.  The foreground hedge is sharper to give more umph to the composition,  the spaces between the horizontal hedges are greater – I’ve given the Vale of York a new hill!  but I want these hedges to be seen separately so something had to give. The heavy dark of the foreground  is reduced – it shifts focus to the middle ground. The foreground shadows are omitted as clutter but some may make come back as colour. Some areas I don’t like (trees to the left) so they will be edited further when stitching. Doing the sketch highlights problem areas, lets me work out, or at least work towards, solutions. Beats taking photos.

Five minutes earlier –


All the main areas are there but the image is unbalanced. The background is more solid and clearer than it should be, where the hatching is lighter, has fewer directional changes, it is more successful.  Will add lines last to give definition and emphasis where needed.




5 minutes before


Established the middle ground. Using smaller marks to help sense of distance – just the major lines at the present, no outlines (they would  fix the shapes too soon) Mixing areas of diagonal hatching with the vertical to create shadings of tone and texture.



After the first 5 minutes.

P1060713I like strong bone structure  for my landscapes – single point perspectives,  bold masses and spaces  contrasting with lines.  Tiny detail will get lost in stitch, so I don’t bother. Let areas fade in and out, it isn’t a tracing.  The mark making is important, it is experimenting with creating the different textures and tone. Most are variations of cross hatching, tight, scribbly short blocks  on the tree in the foreground, looser and smoother in the middle distance or directional hatching, such as the vertical lines starting to describe the front face of the hedge.  These first layers set the  shape and form of the image so I  leave them incomplete. As the image builds more density and definition can be added. This is how the sewing will start, working onto a very loose frame and working lightly until the whole is established and then getting more intensive. I have already  filtered out fussy bits or annoying things. I don’t want the image to get congested,   as the image is built I will see where to simplify.

Preparation. – Clear the head. You can not go out worrying about the washing. This can be helped by the acquisition of jelly babies or fruit pastilles. I also like to walk or cycle even a little way, I guess it is part of that separation process. Take time to stand and stare, we are not cameras, it takes a time to absorb detail, understand  relationships, to get beyond mere recognition. ‘Ooo it’s a tree’ just won’t do.  Move about, see how slight shifts in angle or eye level give different emphasis. You have control, exaggerate or edit at will.

And yes, it did take 20 minutes. Didn’t even have time to open the pastilles.


The textile piece will happen next week. Will be interesting to see how alike they end up. Usually the same reduction and simplification process will happen again during stitching, especially in the distance,  but the basic ideas will remain true. Wonder how many trees will magically disappear?



Thinking time



Still pondering about the layered landscape on muslin. Have added more stitching but  can’t get it to be the thing I want it to be – if that makes sense.  It is with in range but the way forward is  a tad fraught, along the lines of no going back.

Spent the morning wrestling with hanging layouts. It is in a heap on the floor so I guess it did not go well.

Options  – straight parallel panels-  classic but safe



3 out 5?

Parallelish panels but pulled together on a centre line – ummm but complex for the sake of it?


Should like this but still 3/5

In a square or circle or cruciform.– looked like a demented nappy hanger, jumbled, incoherent. 1/5 or less. I like the idea of seeing this the round but……


Problem – too much separation between the layers and they become more opaque and lose any connection between the imagery.  The scale feels wrong. The fabric doesn’t really work at 3 layers, unless I really do go into attack mode and deconstruct it.

As you can tell I haven’t started pulling threads to thin the fabric out yet, until I decide how to hang it I don’t know how much more stitching is required. It is enough of a pain to sew on even now, it has a desire to gather or distort and when that is thwarted  it tries to  disappear down through the needle plate. At least the machine is cleaned out regularly .

Solution – Stop dithering. Have found the frame from an old stunt kite is  ideal lightweight frame material- much better than broom handle and old shower curtain pole anyway.  So must do what feels right at that moment and suffer later if need be. The stitching can always be recycled onro the big landscape piece that is still draped over the bannister rail!

Major plus is time spent on distractions – day on the coast fossiling  proto Salt Aire submission piece, even hoovered.




Just tone

Over the last few weeks time and location have not been mine. Sewing machines are not known for their discretion and portability, so I have indulged in a hand stitched study of a tree.  I did not want to lug collections of threads around so it is done entirely in charcoal grey.  The aim was to try to mirror the  sketching  style.


5 minute biro sketch of fir tree, postcard size.

The current sketches  are very quick pen work, layers of rough crosshatching with the odd descriptive line twitching away.   I find this satisfactorily  active  and informal, allowing for variation and  modification, but tidy it isn’t. The sewing machine is too definite and organised, the lines are even and without  gaps and sudden aberrations, would the  hand stitching be any different?

The whole is worked in a small running stitch, quite uneven and even rather wobbly in places. The trunk has a layer of a diagonal stitch over the top to give greater density but this is not an exercise in perfection or is intended to excite  admiration for the technical expertise. This is about making the very simple work very hard.


And the over all effect?

There are one or areas are asking for another layer but in essence it is done.  Successful?p1050961

Wheldrake Woods

A Tale of Adventure, Monsters, Thunderbird Hand and a Little Sewing.

Well, went to explore some localish woodland, bit by a horsefly on the back of the right hand and boy, did it swell. Nearly back to normal now but for a few days it really did look like it belonged to a giant plastic puppet – reminded me of when they did hand close ups in the original Thunderbird series. Made the doctor laugh, and the nurse, and the receptionists and the pharmacist!

Purpose of exploring new woodland – sketching. Limited myself to one of each primary plus white.  Also helps if don’t lose paintbrush, so broke up my old RAC membership card and painted with that – makes a blocky, printed look with layers of transparent colour.


Chose this to work from. Part of a little series looking at the layering where a section had been cleared, so looking through one line of trees, across a space to the next belt of trees. Nothing earth shattering, but liked the patterns made by the trunks, against the contrasts of tone and spaces.


Rough plan – horizontal bands of colour and texture,  strong verticals all but travelling top to toe.


The backing is very roughly dyed –  a heavy white cotton from an elderly pillowcase. I have chopped this up  and pinned onto water soluble fabric.  I will stitch across this  and then wash it away to leave open areas, or at least that is the thought. The initial blocks of fabric are in place – it just needs some wool hand stitched on  before machining.  Does not look pretty at present.  I have random dyed offcuts from the pillowcase to add in some surface texture – these are the most promising parts of the project so far ( did like making the sketchbook too) P1050669, and they are dangling to drip into the sink!

Next stage – block in trunks and areas of strong colour with wool. Then to machine!


new starts

I am wanting to make a new series of work, I feel the old colours, styles and choices are becoming prescriptive. The expectations are  too far forward, I want to get back to  the experimental, problem solving  attitude.  I have been walking around sketching for a couple of months with very little to show for it. The tree is still centre stage, but as a thing that changes the world around it. Went to draw around the Minster – draw the pools of shade created by the trees in Deans Park, went to Rowntree Park, drew the contrasts of bands of light and shade caused by the … trees!


I am playing with soluble oil pastels – they have a bluntness and  require mixing on the page. In contrast with the watercolour, on the right, there is greater  separation – you can still see the  different layers building up to the tone and colour of the surface. The individual marks are still evident – this is closer to the stitching I want to try out. I could of course paint in a similar way but lack the patience to let each layer dry so end up with blobby soggy  brownness. The pastels could be smoothed out with water but  I’ve limited that for thinning  and reducing colour and texture n the distances .

I am  hoping to start stitching this week but haven’t yet sorted out how.  Did experiment with some dying, (the microwave did not survive!)  trying to work with more intense  colour but got worried by the bright sunshine yellow so ended up with drabs again. At least it will give me more to respond to than the naked calico. I will redye once the stitching has begun, promise.

The scale of the sketches is small so there is crude quality, almost  brutal simplicity in places in the use of the pastels, so how do I work these qualities in fabric with out it becoming a slavish copy? I don’t want that at all, the textile processes must bring their own nature to the mix too. Do I  continue with the scrap fabric? Is this where the colour comes in or  will the stitching do the work? Do I limit the thread palette? and try visual mixing? Or try all of it?  Well, I have new threads on order- viciously bright and shiny- they don’t arrive until Thursday, so we will have to wait!


Drawing time 2

Part 2 of the tree  drawing exercise Hope you are drawing too…..

Creative Scribbling  or how scruffy can be best.


This is how we left it,  a very stringy spider with an amazing hair do.


Now it needs to be more than an outline. The methods I use tend to be scruffy, adaptable and without anxiety. They also can translate directly into machine stitching which is where I go  after drawing.

First – the solid bits. Trunk and major branches. Do not try to be too careful – get the feel of the tree rather than try to count the branches. (no one will ever know). Handy hint and tip – don’t draw solid lines all the way along the edges.

P1160762I ‘ve just zigzagged along the lines, leaving the edges open and uneven. On the main trunks a bit more of an outline is added, but not heavily. Leave it rough and tidy up later if need be.P1160763

This will look bad close to, so set it at least twice arm’s length away from you before crying ‘Disaster!’


And then the canopy – I use  a rough cross hatching technique, sometimes with  scribbling or washes.  What is cross hatching ?  This is……

cross hatching

Layers of parallel(ish) lines set across each other. Scribble hatching at the end.

Benefits – simple idea, versatile, can be rough or very  controlled.

Second stage – Don’t bother being worried – you can add to it at any time. P1160764 Single layer done in blocks and not sticking within the outlines either!

Third stage –  Just keep going. Look for  denser and darker areas on your tree. All you do is put in more layers of hatching. Let the blocks overlap and merge.

You will end up with a  convincing tree – no outlines to make it look static and stuffy.  If it is too regular then add on more, or  if working in pencil then rub some away.



And here is my  finished beastie. Can you see that  the top has grown a bit to give a bit more height and some rough  grass has grown to suggest the ground level.  I’ve worked in pen  so that you can see clearly so the frame lines are still there. Usually I would just put dots at the key points, or  of course do the frame-work  in pencil and rub it out.


P1160766 P1160767

Easy?  A quick sketch that could be tidied up to make a more polished study,  scribbled over to change the textures, or left exactly as it is.. Most time is usually taken up by looking and worrying, just practice not worrying and practice looking more instead.

Handy hints and tips.

Work from real whenever possible – don’t rely on photos.

Relax about things –  don’t fret at things,  stages look really bad as you build them,  sort the whole image not focus on single bits.

Something like a tree is a mass not an outline. Get away from lines round things.

Do this for fun. Don’t torture yourself over minor errors. Every time the wind blows the tree will change.

In extreme cases, just blame the squirrels…..