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    Layering as a technique provides strategies for designs to be developed

by a wide range of freehand machine embroidery techniques.

In one type of layering, two or more fabrics with different characteristics or

qualities are placed over each other, then  stitched and cut back to reveal parts

of the contrasting fabrics underneath. Opaque and sheer fabrics are combined.

Some layers may be partial. Some may be made up of thread ends or cut fabric

shapes - or both.

    All layers can be stitched together before cutting away areas to reveal

the layers beneath. After stitching, you may also cut right through all layers and

reverse-appliqué further layers behind the opening thus created. Then the design is

developed with freehand machine embroidery.

    Layering can also mean layering stitches. For example, the same stitch  may be

put - in different colours and/or threads - in layers, whole or partial, one over the

other for depth and richness of effect.


It can also mean layering the same type of stitch two or more times and then, for

the last layer, choosing a thread, colour and type of stitch which will contrast clearly

with what is underneath.


    Below are featured some pieces which began life as demonstrations in a

workshop of mine entitled Layering, Optical Colour-mixing and Texture. © I have

taught this across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, always with very

pleasing - and often exciting - student results.

    Really a course on controlled improvisation in design, it focuses on the three

aspects  in the title. I eventually finish the demonstration pieces, always naming

them after the city or place in which they began life.


         1.            2.            3.     


            1. Canberra (1999)  (Private collection, Winnipeg) - freehand machine embroidery on lamé

            and hand-painted silks, including georgette; tulle; hand-painted silk yarn

            2. Phillip Island (1999) (Private collection, Toronto) - lamé, hand-painted silks, including

            georgette; freehand machine embroidery

            3. Winnipeg (2000/2001) -(Private collection, Winnipeg) - lamé, hand-painted silks, silver

            and gold nylon crystal organza; hand-painted silk yarn; freehand machine embroidery,

            including off-the edge freehand finish.


           4.             5.           6. 

  4. Toronto (2000/2001) (Private collection, Seattle, WA) - lamé, hand-painted silks, black

               and gold synthetic organza; freehand machine embroidery

             5. Hobart (2000) (Private collection, Hobart) - lamé, gold, black and hologram synthetic

          organza; thread ends and snippets; hand-painted silk yarn; freehand machine embroidery

             6. Wellington (2001) (Private collection, Boulder, CO) - lamé, hand-painted silks, black and gold 

           synthetic organza; thread ends and snippets; hand-painted silk yarn; freehand machine embroidery

    The exercise begins with layered opaque and sheer fabrics to establish a

basis for developing the design, perhaps a rhythm or a sense of movement or 

flow. There can be up to half a dozen layers. Some are whole, some may be

"cut and spread" to form the channels which create the flow and reveal layer/s

beneath. The top layer is always whole, as this keeps the cut edges beneath it

from fraying. It can also give a unifying colour cast to the whole - rather like

unifying a selection of patchwork fabrics by over-dyeing them all with one tint or


    The next stage, after all layers are carefully pinned together, is to stitch all

layers together on the established design lines and to develop and reinforce the

rhythm created in Stage 1by further stitching and cutting back My advice is always

to apply the KISS principle at this stage (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart). If the design

becomes too complex too early, then design options for further development have

been closed off, rather than being left open. Remember: you are reinforcing what

is already there, not adding entirely new elements.

    The next stage is to select, place and bond on the focal motifs. All further

developments are intended to draw the eye to them. The main motifs - the primary

motifs - may require the support of secondary ones, as in Canberra, where there is

only one primary motif - the Matisse-type shape.  It therefore requires the support

of the three secondary ones, the green circles. On these, smaller orange shapes are

placed so as to "point" towards the "Matisse"shape  In Toronto, there are three

primary motifs, again Matisse-type shapes. In Phillip Island, the whole flowers are the

primary motifs, the half-flowers the secondary ones.

    Hobart and Wellington both use spirals, which are supported by triangles

beneath and around them, on the line of the horizontal counter-flow established

in the first stage. However, they have been arranged differently. If you click to

enlarge these images, you will see that the treatment of the motifs differs in

each. Only some of the triangles in both have been given identical treatment, by

stitching close straight lines to bring them to the top of the work.

    The approach to Winnipeg is altogether different and more organic. The

original rectangle has been broken down at the edges. These are all finished with

off-the-edge stitching, usually in the colour/colours of the embroidery. The

emphasis is on the more "organic" look. This is sympathetic to the organic character

of the shapes. Areas are progressively embroidered and padded, and the extra

piece with the vertical shapes (at the bottom) is placed behind for contrast.

    The last stage in all pieces is to enrich the embroidery over the whole, the aim

being to direct the viewer's eye to the focal area or to follow the flow. If desired,

the piece can then be mounted. My preference is for an embroidered fabric mount

which in part extends the design on to it.

    While Canberra and Wellington do not have mounts, I have extended Toronto

and Hobart with one, taking a similar approach, extending design lines and

motifs outside the original boundaries. These have been finished off so as to lift the

piece forward visually from the mount.

    Toronto features  a few design lines or channels extended onto the  mount,

but with a change of colour and treatment. The same kind of Matisse-type motifs

appear in the mount, but only parts are visible, as if they are emerging from

under the inner, bound, border.

    In Hobart, the horizontal counter-rhythm (established in the first stage) has

been extended onto the mount with the same thread ends and triangles of silk

laid under the top sheer layer. They are then brought visually to the top with

stitching. With Winnipeg, for a further contrast, the whole piece is mounted on a

formal black rectangle on which the main (roughly horizontal) lines in the piece

have been extended in black onto the mount. The heavy-thread border in

space-dyed silk yarn links the mount to the  piece - but the organic shapes at the

bottom refuse to be confined and extend beyond the rectangle.

    In all of these pieces, the lowest layer of fabric (over the Pellon and the

stabiliser) is lamé. Though I have exposed narrow channels of it in Toronto and

 Hobart, I usually prefer to leave it covered by at least one layer of sheer in

order to tame it both visually and technically. Naked lamé can be too dominant.

Though I have exposed larger areas in Canberra, I have tried to subdue the

sheen with FME.

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