Thursday, September 15, 2011

Trying a new technique, bobbin work

There are just so many amazing techniques and materials in threadwork and art quilting that it is hard to decide what to try next. So I've been trying new things as they catch my attention, or as it seems they might be the right technique for a piece I'm working on.

And last weekend, while I was participating in the arts show, the other fiber artist there told me about a class she had taken and that she had learned about bobbin work. And she brought in a small quilt she had bought from the teacher of that class, Ellen Anne Eddy! She is one of the most amazing artists with thread I've seen and I love looking at her work online. But to hold that dragonfly in my hand and see the stitching up close was inspiring.

So I had to try some bobbin work for myself. Bobbinwork is not a new technique. I found a description of  "Gold Thread Embroidery" in the "Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery" book published in 1911. It gives instructions to wind the gold thread on the bobbin and work from the back of the fabric. That book is amazing, and shows just how much you can do with a straight stitch sewing machine. The original issue is available digitally on the Internet Archive, and there is a reprinted edition out there somewhere.

The standard way to do bobbin work is to draw the design on the back and hoop the fabric. Being contrary (and not having a hoop available) I set up the fabric the way I do for all my dimensional applique, fusing a piece of my hand-painted fabric over felt. I had free-hand sketched the outlines on the front, so had to go over them with a washable marker, then use a lightbox to trace onto the back. Next time I'll sketch on paper and trace or outline around the shape.

This was the perfect time to pull out the boxes of embroidery floss I found at a thrift store a while back. I cut about 30-inch lengths of floss and divided them, using three strands at a time, and wound them by hand on a regular bobbin. For the starfish, I used cotton crochet thread I had hand-painted, with a strand of metallic thread wound with it. One note, for heavier thread, adjust your bobbin tension, or use a bobbin case just for bobbin work. I forgot to do that and slightly bent the tension spring on my case. Fortunately, I could borrow one from another machine to get back to regular sewing.

Some other useful things I learned, use a top thread that is similar in value to the bobbin thread, and which contrasts to your backing, so you can see where you are sewing. And sketch out areas for shading on the back. Make the edges of each color irregular so you can blend colors and not leave a sharp edge or bare spot between.

I'll be experimenting some more over the next few days, including trying using a hoop. I did not have a hoop that I could fit easily under the presser foot, but since I realized I really needed one, I started a search. I discovered that most machine embroidery hoops are machine specific, and very expensive. But I found one site, CreateForLess, that had them for a very reasonable price, in a couple of different sizes and shapes. I ordered an 8-inch round hoop late last week and it came in yesterday (fast) and fits comfortably under the darning foot of both machines I use for free motion.

I'll have more on this later.