Machine Embroidery Designs: No Perfection Required

13 Dec 2011

machine embroidery stitches
Strategically placed embellishments can
cover machine embroidery imperfections.
Art by Terry White.
pokey boltonWe often advise artists to practice, practice, practice if they want to improve their machine embroidery skills. But practice doesn't have to make perfect.  In fact, I recently spent time with two artists who embrace imperfections in their machine embroidery designs.

Fiber artists Candy Glendening and Terry White have very different styles and use machine embroidery techniques in different ways. But they both agree that perfection in their embroidery designs is overrated and unrealistic.

As Terry put it during an episode we taped together for "Quilting Arts TV" Season 9, "Of course it's not perfect. That's because it's art," she said.

Terry showed how she uses the programmable decorative stitches on her sewing machine to create interesting lines that frame her focal point (in this case a whimsical bunny), stitching directly on the fabric or on top of a strip of contrasting fabric that has been fused onto the background.

She used free-motion machine embroidery to trace the lines around the rabbit, adding curlicues and other details. Then she took a fine-tip permanent marker in a color matching her thread and went over the stitching to make it stand out even more. Terry kept close to the stitch lines, but didn't worry if her marker strayed off course, because that showed the hand of the artist.

When I asked about her technique for turning the corners with her machine embroidery stitches, her answer made me laugh. "If the stitching looks good, I put the button [embellishment] here," she said, moving the button away from the corner. "If it doesn't, I put the button here," she said, placing the button on top of the not-so-perfectly turned corner.

machine embroidery olive branch
Extend an olive branch to imperfection, as
Candy Glendening does in her free machine embroidery designs.
Candy expressed a similar sentiment while demonstrating her machine embroidery sketching technique in the same "QATV" episode. Unlike most people who draw designs with their free-motion embroidery, Candy does not draw her out her design in her sketchbook or practice first before stitching her botanical images.

"I know I'm unusual, but I have an idea of a plant in my head and I just sit down and stitch it," she says.

Candy points out that the picture you embroider your thread doesn't have to be perfect, especially if it's from nature.

"If you look at the leaves of a plant, each one is a little bit different, so it's OK if yours aren't all the same," she says. "Besides, even though I'm using a machine, I want my artwork to show that a real person did it."

That makes sense to me. After all, do you want to spend your time experiencing the joy of stitching creatively or striving for perfection? Take a look at "QATV" Series 900, and discover how imperfection makes perfect sense.

P.S. Do you fret over imperfect stitches or embrace flaws? Where does perfection have its place in your studio? Leave a comment below.


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Comments

Fiddler2 wrote
on 13 Dec 2011 10:27 AM

I always add an imperfection to my quilts. I prefer gifts that say: "I thought about you as I made this." Baby quilts are a favorits and I follow the theme of the baby's room. Most of my imperfections on baby quilts have been items that I've fussy cut out of fabrics and hand tacked onto the face of the quilt, sometimes in locations where only I know they are there and my friends know to look for them. Like a small brown coconut tacked onto a jungle themed quilt, or a  seahorse on a quilt with a boating theme.For adult quilts I do my imperfections with my stitches. I consider these to be part of my uniqueness and signature for the quilts.

cdlcruz wrote
on 13 Dec 2011 10:39 AM

If I want "perfect" stitching, I send the quilt out for computer-guided long-arm quilting. For most of my work, my enjoyment comes as much from choosing the free-motion stitching at the end as it does choosing the fabrics at the beginning.  My pencil sketches aren't photographs; I don't expect my "needle sketches" to be so either. In this time of "machine-built" everything, the individuality of my stitching expresses the love and thought I put into every quilt

terri2009 wrote
on 13 Dec 2011 10:40 AM

I agree with Fiddler2 - if I haven't made an unintentional mistake in my work, I make an intentional one (that hopefully only I know is there!), just to remind myself that nothing and no one is perfect.

lagunaVy wrote
on 13 Dec 2011 2:19 PM

What keeps me away from quilting is thinking It has to perfect!!! I am glad to read these posting and know it doesn't have to be perfect!!!!  

on 13 Dec 2011 6:23 PM

I love the individual creativity quilting arts provides.  I don't strive for perfection - I create individual pieces of work that are so much appreciated by the recipients by utilizing free motion, embroidery, embellishment - and a variety of other techniques I create or find online.  Imperfections are all part of the works of art.  As someone else mentioned, If I want perfection, I will pay to have it long arm quilted but then it's not my own.  I prefer to wing it and just go with my inspirations of the moment.  Everything becomes a one-of-a-kind-design.

on 13 Dec 2011 6:24 PM

I love the individual creativity quilting arts provides.  I don't strive for perfection - I create individual pieces of work that are so much appreciated by the recipients by utilizing free motion, embroidery, embellishment - and a variety of other techniques I create or find online.  Imperfections are all part of the works of art.  As someone else mentioned, If I want perfection, I will pay to have it long arm quilted but then it's not my own.  I prefer to wing it and just go with my inspirations of the moment.  Everything becomes a one-of-a-kind-design.

Honeylioness wrote
on 13 Dec 2011 8:12 PM

Like LagunaVY the looming spector of "Perfection" has kept me from finishing some quilts or entering them into shows. I am trying to get to the point where if I like how it looks and it makes me happy - then that is all that really matters.

However when I have had big errors and had to come up with a fix - those have turned out to be my favorites. I was once making a raffle quilt and in snipping off quilting threads I accidently cut through the top of the design. With only two days until the event I had no chance to redo the top. So I cut out some flower motifs from one of the fabrics and appliqued them over the hole. I liked how it looked against the gridded pattern so much I added another motif on the other side of the top to balance the design.

on 17 Dec 2011 3:24 PM

I have looked close at high end machine embroidery projects and found them to be..less than beautiful.  Looking at some of the exquisite hand embroideries on custom couture garments..what a difference!   The old original machine embroidery (when the sewing machine came out and offered that option)  is better too!

I am going to incorporate both hand and machine (using vintage directions) to get the look and quality I want!  Just a subtle change in stitch here and there, as well as color can mean all the difference!