Technique Tuesdays: Mixed-Media Stitch

Stitching adds something special to mixed-media art. Whether done by hand or machine, it can be used for mark making, to create patterns and designs, and to add texture and a pop of color. Even if you’ve never picked up needle and thread or operated sewing machine, it’s not difficult to learn. A simple row of running stitches can take a piece from good to great in minutes.

Mixed-media artists love to use stitching in their work, and they’ve got lots of tips and techniques to share with you. Here are 10 that you can start with right now:

1. Beautiful mixed-media garlands come together easily with a bit of stitch. In the March/April 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Danielle Donaldson shows how she starts with narrow strips of paper towel that have been colored with watercolor (try repurposing towels used to clean brushes, or mop up pools of watercolor with the towels and let dry). Set your sewing machine to a straight stitch, and layer two strips of towels on top of each other. Stitch down the center of the strips, randomly crinkling and folding them as you go to create messy ruffles. Connect several to make a long garland. One more idea: Cut scraps of pre-colored watercolor paper into leaf shapes and feed them into the sewing machine the long way, one after another, creating a garland of leaves. Use these garlands together, alone, add flowers or other elements, and display them proudly.

Stitched paper leaves

Danielle Donaldson sews scraps of leaf-shaped watercolor paper into a garland (art by Danielle Donaldson, photo by Sharon White Photography).

2. Start simply with a basic sewing technique. In her book The Art of Whimsical Stitching, Joanne Sharpe outlines this easy process for creating a hand-painted piece or element with mixed-media stitch: Lay a piece of cotton muslin on top of cotton batting. Using fabric paint, thinned acrylics, or Dye-Na-Flow dyes and a paintbrush, paint basic shapes or designs. Use free-motion stitching to highlight the lines and characteristics of the painted design. Never done free-motion stitching? You can still sew basic shapes using any sewing machine by slowly turning the fabric piece as you go. Hand stitching words great for this as well—a simple running stitch with regular or embroidery thread creates a beautiful look.

3. Add some mixed-media stitch to jewelry. In Making Etched Jewelry, authors Kristen Robinson and Ruth Rae show how to create a bracelet by stitching together an 18″ piece of velvet ribbon on top of an 8″ fabric scrap in a contrasting color (you can stitch by machine or by hand). Pull two jump rings onto the velvet ribbon, fold the ribbon in half, and stitch all the layers together. Attach elements such as beads, dangles, and found objects, and attach a closure on the opposite side of the bracelet.

4. Roxanne Evans Stout loves to add stitching to her collages. In her book Storytelling with Collage, she lists a number of ways stitching can be added to collage: to frame an image, create a border, make a symbol or design, divide your paper, add details or texture, add color or contrast, create the feeling of movement, make patterns, and attach objects. In Art Lesson Vol. 9: Adding Stitching to Artwork, see how she adds rows of colorful stitching to a page in her art journal to enhance a collage.

Stitched art journal page by Roxanne Evans Stout

Roxanne Evans Stout adds hand stitching to her art journal pages to add texture and interest (Art and photo by Roxanne Evans Stout).

5. With hand stitching, it’s easy to create a number of different effects just by varying the size of the stitches and the thread weight. In Drawn to Stitch, author Gwen Hedley also suggests that while stitching, before passing the thread back through the substrate, try threading on items such as beads, discs, rolled paper beads, or small scraps of fabric or papers, so they’re included in the finished line of stitches.

6. Building up a dimensional paper stash goes a long way in creating stunning artwork, says Danielle Donaldson in her book Creative Girl. “A stash allows you to experiment and make some brilliant discoveries,” she writes. One fun technique is to cut strips of watercolor paper and sew them together along the long sides. Stop when you have a piece large enough to work with. Then, add layers of watercolor over the stitched paper; the paper and stitches will absorb color differently, giving you a beautiful piece that you can use as a substrate, or cut into smaller pieces to use in other projects.

7. Don’t feel bound by the “rules” of embroidery and mixed-media stitch. In the March/April issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, mixed-media textile artist Rebecca Ringquist talks about not always following set guidelines: “I don’t think there is a correct way to do it,” she says. “There are lots of different ways and it’s perfectly okay to make up a new way to stitch that suits you. Unlike knitting or sewing garments, where you really need a basic level of knowledge in order to experiment, embroidery is really pretty simple. Once you know how to thread a needle, you are on your way to making your own mark on the cloth.”

TITLE by Rebecca Ringquist

Rebecca Ringquist doesn’t follow conventional rules when it comes to her embroidered art, as in this piece, “Tulips in the Dark” (Art and photo by Rebecca Ringquist).

8. Jennifer Coyne Qudeen finds it fascinating that with simple materials and tools—thread, needle, and cloth—anything can be created. In the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors she offers these tips for hand stitching: Find a stitch length that’s comfortable to work with; let a change of thread color signal a change in stitch direction; and vary the length and spacing of the stitches, keeping in mind that small, widely spaced stitches provide a calm area in the artwork, and contrasts nicely next to a densely stitched area.

Mark-making stitching by Jennifer Coyne Qudeen

Jennifer Coyne Qudeen shows how Simple rows of mark-making stitches creates interest on fabric (Art by Jennifer Coyne Qudeen, photo by Sharon White Photography)

9. You can use embroidery stitches to create doodles. In the Summer 2015 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop, Melissa Davison creates colorful doodled letters by first drawing a plain, light freehand outline of a letter onto fabric. Embroider the outline using 3 strands of embroidery thread and a backstitch. With a single strand of thread make doodle patterns in the empty spaces in and around the letters. Use a variety of stitches, such as French knots, chain and satin stitches, and different colors of thread to make the design more interesting

Doodle stitching by Melissa Davison

Melissa Davison uses embroidery stitches to create doodled letters (Art by Melissa Davison, photo by Sharon White Photography)

10. And finally, I leave you with these words from Joanne Sharpe, from her book The Art of Whimsical Stitching: “In our tech-based society, there is still a need to give attention to the work of the hand, to tactile activity, and to the natural crafting impulses we evolved with as humans…Our culture is craving human touch and activity that is not dependent on a keyboard, Wi-Fi signal, or cell tower.” Reason enough to break out needle and thread today, and add a touch of stitched beauty to your artwork.

Here are some not-to-miss resources from the North Light and Interweave shops that will show you even more techniques for using stitching in your artwork:

Mixed media stitch on paper

In this Art Lesson, Roxanne Evans Stout shows how to add stitching to an art journal page.

Cloth Paper Scissors mixed media stitch issue

The March/April 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors is devoted to mixed-media stitch.

Stitch Alchemy by Kelli Perkins

Discover stitching with paper cloth in Stitch Alchemy by Kelli Perkins.

Creative Girl by Danielle Donaldson

Creative Girl by Danielle Donaldson has great idea for adding stitch to paper and collage.

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