Updated: Oct 20
Fascinated by embroidery
Since I was little, I have been drawn to all kinds of crafts. Maybe because I grew up watching my aunt sewing many of my clothes and my mother having a thousand ideas for making things by hand. But from all the crafts I've seen, embroidery is the most fascinating for me. Maybe because I always saw my mother use her embroidered bedding and tablecloths on important occasions, which made me associate embroidery with something special.
However, I only thought of using embroidery pattern ephemera in my art projects in 2020 when I enrolled in Wendy Brightbill's Poetry of Stitches course. Curiously, it was not the use of embroidery that sparked the idea of exploring it in my art but the use of printed embroidery patterns as collage fodder in the background of her floral compositions. I thought it was so interesting that wanted to replicate it immediately.
It turns out I didn't have any embroidery pattern ephemera available at the time, and to top it off we were in the middle of the second lockdown here in Portugal, and I couldn’t access thrifty stores. So, I had the idea of creating my own embroidery pattern-inspired ephemera by simply replicating the patterns I saw in Wendy's lessons. In my first attempt, I used tracing paper and a gel pen, and the result was great. I was very pleased with my hack solution and couldn't wait to create more
Exploring patterns, materials, and techniques
From then on, I kept exploring new ways of creating more ephemera for use in my journals and art projects. I first searched for pattern inspiration on Pinterest and quickly realized that there is a world of different patterns out there that vary based on techniques such as crewel work and cross stitch as well as on their origins such as the Japanese sashiko and the Hungarian embroidery to name a few.
After identifying the ones that attracted me most, I began to explore them by experimenting with different types of paper and pens. I explored simple and repetitive floral patterns, small bouquet compositions, and cross-stitch designs. For the first two, I tried tracing paper, deli paper, vellum, and old notebook pages. For the latter, luckily I had a stash of gridded notebooks that worked perfectly for drawing the patterns. My favorites ended up being tracing paper for the repeating pattern and old notebook pages for the bouquet patterns and cross-stitch patterns.
I also tested different pens, including gel-based and ink-based ones. It turns out that no matter the type of pens you prefer (mine are gel-based pens), they must be waterproof. This is very important in case you want to use the pieces for layering, especially if you use a gel medium for gluing the pieces down. Otherwise, you may end up activating the pen ink and making a mess.
Using embroidery pattern-inspired ephemera in my journals
After building my first stash of embroidery pattern-inspired ephemera, I started to use them in my journals, and for the past three years, I have been using pieces in my art projects all the time.
You will see them mainly in the expressive layered backgrounds I create for my Floral Boho Pages. The pieces on tracing paper are perfect for these pages, as I can add watercolor strokes or big ink drops and draw over them while still seeing the pattern underneath. I also like to incorporate floral composition pieces into my backgrounds, especially cross-stitch ones as they give a “modern” vintage touch to my pages.
Another way I have been using these ephemera is as flips and flaps in my handmade journals. In my colored-themed journals, they appear constantly because I can easily insert them within the signatures. I have also used them to decorate tags and zines, but the possibilities are endless as these pieces are versatile and can be used in many ways.
Going beyond and exploring other techniques
Although I was happy with the results of my drawn pieces, I started thinking about making them three-dimensional as real embroidery. So, I came up with the idea of using relief liner to draw the patterns and give them this dimensional effect. Oh, eureka again! It worked nicely, and I was happy with the results, even with the wonkyness of the drawings. Two things to consider are that this kind of paint takes some time to dry (one hour or so, depending on the weather conditions), and you should be aware that papers that do not accept wet mediums well, such as vellum, will warp a little. Alternatively, you can use tracing paper or even repurpose plastic packaging for a transparent look.
More recently, I also tried using needle-tip applicators, and the results were very good. The drawings turned out to be more delicate than with relief liners, and I could draw just the outline of the flowers instead of filling them in completely. Comparing the two techniques, I don't have a favorite. It depends on the look I'm aiming for. If it is something bolder and expressive, such as the pages on my junk journals, I go for the pieces made with relief liner. If I go for a more refined look then the delicate outlined pieces made with applicators would be my choice. But I don't consider these as strict rules, I love setting them just so I can have the pleasure of not following them at all, lol.
Making the process easier
The main issue with creating this kind of ephemera is that it is a time-consuming task. I particularly am not bothered by this, as I enjoy "watching TV" while drawing the patterns. But to speed up the process and, most importantly, to create an ephemera library, I came up with two simple solutions. One of them was creating stamps from the patterns. This sped up the process, but the designs I achieved by carving stamps were not as delicate as the ones I got by drawing. They got a bit crooked, probably because I didn't have much practice at carving, but this was not a problem for me. I see it as another way of incorporating embroidery patterns into my work.
The other solution was to scan the drawings and print them whenever my stash was running out. This may seem easy to say, but it took me some time to figure out the best way of scanning and vectorizing the images. However, as soon as this was overcome, I was able not only to replicate the same pattern in different colors but I was also able to play with the patterns by combining them and creating new pieces. It was game-changing because it allowed me to start building an embroidery pattern digital library, which I can turn to whenever I want to add a boho touch to my art projects.
Sharing ideas and resources
A while ago, I started to build a resource library where I share free tutorials and digital printables. The first addition to this library was a set of two digital embroidery pattern sheets, which many of you have also been using in your work. Now, the library is updated with some floral compositions and cross-stitched pieces. I also have a video on my channel where I share more details about the ideas and techniques included in this post.
I intend to keep adding new patterns to the library, so stay tuned. If you have already subscribed to my newsletter, you will be notified about that firsthand, including if I decide to open a digital printable store. But for now, I want to know what you think about creating your ephemera. Can it still be considered as ephemera if it was made by ourselves? What is your favorite pattern design/technique among the ones I have been exploring? Do you have any other ideas for creating embroidery pattern-inspired ephemera? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I would love to know all about it.