The original technique was developed by the author of the book, 'Machine Embroidery' by Gail Harker. To quote from the book, 'The aim is to incorporate a preponderance of machine applied threads with a minimum of background fabric. It is also a way of working free machine embroidery without using a frame'. I LOVE that word, preponderance, gotta store that one in the brain! For more information and many, many other stitches and skills as well as invaluable tips and tricks of the trade that will suit beginners and skilled machine embroiderers alike, I recommend buying the book (link above). Thanks Lynne Bennett for lending me the book :)
I really didn't know what to expect of the workshop and had no prior knowledge of Jan's work. I must admit that images of planets and astronauts paraphernalia did enter my mind!
The image of my tree opposite quite clearly demonstrates that the day was absolutely nothing to do with the final frontier! It was a day spent stitching, quite literally though 'space'! In a way I'm pleased that I hadn't looked at her work as it was a very pleasant surprise to be welcomed with! Jan's work is beautiful, please do have a look at her page.
My sewing machine, a Janome Memory Craft 5900, is probably the best item that I've ever owned - although my Apple phone, iPad and computers come very close (am a bit of a gadget girl!).After using a Toyota machine that I'd had for about 18 years, but never used until last year, this Janome is the equivalent of driving a mercedes after a clapped out old banger. The Toyota came close (very) to being launched out of the nearest window, it was so temperamental - although perhaps making a kingsized quilt on it as a first project, was a tad over ambitious… The quilt does however, look lovely and it would have taken me years to sew by hand!
Firstly, cut a piece of calico or other strong fabric. The success of the technique relies on finding a fabric that will support the tensions created when stitching across the space made in the fabric. Place the fabric within the 9" embroidery hoop and ensure that the fabric is taught (so that it sounds 'hollow' when tapped like a drum skin). Use a screwdriver to tighten the hoop - thanks Dee for showing me this, I have previously tightened by hand, (which hurts and it soon becomes loose) despite the very obvious 'screwdriver slot' on the frame, doh!
Draw a rectangle on the centre of the fabric, mine was 4" x 5", then cut it out. Try not to be too heavy handed at this stage as you don't want the fabric to become loose and the rectangle needs to keep its shape. If it does at any time become loose, simply pull the edges up towards you, with the hoop flat on a surface, then re-tighten the screw.
Free running stitch (also called straight stitch) is the basis for most free motion embroidery, and the most effective method is to maintain a fair high machine running speed - too low can result in needles breaking, drag on the fabric or stitches being missed/too closely spaced. It is also important that you keep the fabric moving so that too much thread doesn't build up underneath, as this can cause jamming of the thread/fabric. have a free-motion embroidery darning foot (see opposite), but you can also try this technique with no foot attached - just be very careful that you don't put your fingers too close!
Before you begin, you need to drop the feed dogs (the little teeth that sit just just behind the needle plate). Their purpose is to pull ("feed") the fabric through the machine, in discrete steps, in-between stitches. You don't want these to pull the fabric as you will be controlling the movement. On my machine I have to turn the machine off and on again after sliding the switch to put the feed dogs down, then they are out of action. All machines vary, so check your manual to see what works for your machine. If you can't drop the feed dogs then you can simply cover them with a piece of cardboard - preferably smooth so that the fabric glides easily. The select straight stitch on your machine and set the length to 0. Start to sew at one end of the 4" sides of the rectangle and sew through the space until your get to the opposite side, then sew back to where you started.
Continue to sew in this way so that you create a 'fan' shape as shown opposite. Take your time and try to include at least ten lines (I have thirteen in this example), as these will form your branches. Now select a zig zag stitch on your machine and change the width and stitch length so that the width isn't too wide and the stitch length is quite close together - try it out on the edge of your fabric to get the feel of it. You are now going to stitch up the 'branches'. Starting at the bottom of the fan, slowly stitch upwards, so that your stitch 'grabs' another stitch together and continue up the branch, using a kebab stitch (or similar pointy item) to separate the branches to create the tree look. Don't worry if you accidentally 'grab' too many branches together, you can simply add more by returning to straight stitch and repeating the process, or wait until the end and stitch some additional branches before mounting into a frame.
Once you have finished working on the branches, return to the trunk of the tree. Set your zig zag stitch at a wider width, keeping the stitch length the same, and add more thickness to the trunk by layering the stitches and gradually working up the trunk, until the trunk is of the thickness that is aesthetically pleasing to you.
To finish the tree, zig zag stitch around the edge, ensuring that you are catching the edge of the fabric, so that the tree keeps it's tension. If you don't do this, once the tree is cut away from the fabric, it will become limp and all of your hard work will have been wasted! I went around the edge twice, so that I was sure that there was a firm grip between the stitched tree and the surrounding fabric.
You can then cut around the outside of the stitched border.
Ta da! You have created a tree!