Text to Textiles by Maria Walker

The sharing of skills is an important part of the Phoenix ethos, so our members often give demonstrations or workshops at our monthly meetings.

Phoenix member Maria Walker uses stitched text on fabric in her narrative based work, so she offered to demonstrate some of the techniques she uses and brought along some examples of her previous work.

Maria owns an old Pfaff sewing machine which can be programmed to create text. She very occasionally uses it to create text but generally finds the process of programming the text  is quite time-consuming and the choice of fonts is limited.

Free machine embroidery is Maria’s preferred method for creating text onto fabric as the style of text reflects her own handwriting and the technique is fairly quick to achieve once the vagaries of free machine embroidery have been mastered.

Maria prefers not to use a hoop as she finds the lack of manouevrability restricts her writing style. To overcome the problem of the fabric puckering she either uses a thick fabric such as boiled wool or uses a stabilizer such as “Stitch and Tear” or a dissolvable fabric as a backing.

She usually stitches directly onto the fabric but if a more accurate placement of the text is required she writes the words onto the fabric first with a vanishing pen.

Other effects can be achieved by layering a few fabrics together before stitching and then carefully cutting away the top layer or even burning away with a heat gun if a fine synthetic chiffon is used.

Creating text using a sewing machine does not necessarily mean that only fine threads can be used. Text-effects can be created using a thicker thread wound by hand onto the bobbin. This method involves stitching the text on the reverse of the fabric so when it is turned over the text created using the thicker bobbin thread will be on the right side of the fabric.  A modicum of skill is required when attempting this technique as it is important to stitch the words backwards onto the fabric so the text is legible when the fabric has been turned over. It is best to first write out the words in reverse first on a piece of paper and check for accuracy using a mirror. The effect is worth the effort as text created this way can often look as if it had been stitched by hand.

If you want something bolder then cutwork text is the technique for you. To create this you stitch the outlines of your letters onto a single layer of a non-fraying fabric such as woollen felt and then cut away the background fabric leaving the letters in tact.

You need to plan this very carefully because, as with stencilling, if you cut away too much background you will just be left with a big hole. It is a good idea to stitch horizontal lines of running stitch across the fabric first , thus creating a line paper effect. The letters can then be stitched within the lines making sure the top and bottom of the letters are attached to the line to hold it in place once the background is cut away. Maria found that looking at the cut paper work of artist Rob Ryan proved to be very useful to her when she embarked on this way of working.

Maria runs in person one-day workshops for embroidery groups in which attendees are shown how to do all these techniques. You can find more details on her website www.mariawalker.co.uk.

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