Saturday, 21 July 2012

Stitched Collage Workshop with Anne Brooke

A couple of weeks ago I began to follow Anne Brooke's Facebook page after being introduced to her work via a friend. Anne is a local teacher and textile artist and I saw that she'd been asking for volunteers to attend her first ever workshop. The day was free of charge, the only condition being we gave her a little feedback afterwards.  Obviously there was a stampede and it was full but I contacted her to express an interest in future workshops. My timing was good as there had just been a cancellation and she invited me to come and sent me the list of items to bring.

When I turned up on a wet Saturday morning, I was rather unorganised having just returned from a couple of days in London.  Rather than bringing the suggested few images for inspiration, and a selection of papers and threads, I pretty much brought my entire collection.  Fortunately I was given a hand lugging them and my sewing machine up to the studio.  The studio was a visual feast - a wonderful bright organised space full of pieces of Anne's beautiful work, her materials and inspiration.  As we had introductions and a cuppa, I was beginning to feel a little envious.  It is becoming my dream to have a dedicated workspace that I don't have to clear away before every meal, like I have to with my current kitchen table work area.

Anne explained how to begin, which was choosing an image, selecting papers, cutting the main shapes, playing with arrangements then sticking them down when happy.  Her own work can be seen on her new website and is inspired by nature, often featuring birds and seed heads in pale blues and ivories. She uses pages from damaged maps or books along with left-over pieces of wallpaper. Many of these have wonderful textures and the blown vinyl stitches beautifully. Florists wrappings are often used. Tear-proof papers give a stable backing and help the work to slide smoothly over the machine bed.  A fine net-like materials (that I think was Deco-web) felt like a cross between paper and fabric, and this or organza used as an overlay blurs the images behind and give cohesion to the design. 

Despite having a vast choice of images with me, I found it more difficult than I expected to select something suitable that could be broken down into simple shapes.  In the end I chose an image of my iron gate with my house wall behind.  Some time ago I'd been playing with the image and produced a stitched sample.  I'd quite liked the interpretation of the simplified iron gate shapes but the textured background of the wall was not right at all.

Once the papers were stuck down, I could start the stitching.  The beauty of machine embroidery on paper is not having to use a hoop.  It's not necessary to bring both threads to the top either.  Long thin designs work particularly well as it's tricky to fit wide designs in the machine without a lot of manipulation.  Anne gave us a demonstration and made it look a lot easier than I know it is!  One thing that is more difficult on paper is unpicking anything, although the holes left can be a nice feature.

I used brown paper for my background which would also end up as the grouting colour.  In my envelope collection I found one from an old phone bill that had an orange criss-cross pattern on the inside and I randomly stuck pieces of crumpled baking parchment over parts of it before selecting areas I liked to cut brick shapes from. The parchment was left over from some previous experiment I'd done with purple and orange dye plus wax. Next I stuck down my shapes and played around with different overlays and finally chose a copper organza. I put some of the the florists paper on the back, sandwiching the bricks as I pinned it in place.

I chose a thread and began to stitch around the outline of the bricks.  By brick three, I was getting a bit bored of fastening off all the threads.  Anne suggested that it wouldn't be noticeable to go from one brick to the next without breaking the thread and this sped things up.  I tried going round the outline a couple more times.  This gave a little more definition to the shape and I liked the effect.  Each layer of stitching wasn't exactly on top of the last and it made the brick edges look rougher and more authentic.  Although my wall is more of a golden stone colour with greyer areas, I was pleased with my choices as the tones and texture really seemed to describe a wall. 

When I'd stitched around all the bricks, I liked it as it was and was a bit afraid of spoiling it by adding the gate and I was unsure what thread to use.  I asked Anne for advice and she suggested some reverse applique.  I'd never tried this before but she explained the technique and I thought I'd give it a go.  I found some black semi-opaque fabric that frayed less and was less transparent than organza but still see through enough for me to roughly trace my design on with an erasable fabric marker. I decided to make the straight lines thicker with a parallel line of stitching to create a contrast with the curves.  I chose a metallic graphite thread to give a hint of the glossy black surface.  My machine had some objections and every now and again the tension went haywire, the thread snapped and the stitching looked messy.  I had a go at wrapping the stitches with the same thread in the hope of disguising the untidy stitching.  This failed but it did slightly raise the stitching and I liked the enhanced effect so continued wrapping all the curved areas.

Reverse applique - starting to snip away the excess fabric to reveal the design

Next was the exciting part as I used a small pair of sharp scissors to snip away the excess fabric and reveal the design.  I really had to concentrate as it would be so easy to cut away the wrong area!  The workshop was coming to an end by now and we got together to have a look at what everyone had been up to.  It had been a lovely relaxing day and I'd really enjoyed listening to the chatter, seeing how differently everyone's samples had turned out and finding out about everyone's interests.  Anne and a few others were members of the local Embroiderer's Guild and they were telling me about the meetings and speakers they've had.  I've looked up their blog and I hope to go in future as I think I would enjoy this.

Workshop students' samples at the end of the day. Anne has put photos of the finished items, along with more of her own collages on her blog

Back at home I soon finished snipping and previously, I'd have left the sample as it was.  But recently I've been thinking more about presentation.  I liked the height of the wall but the realised that the gate was floating on it so I cut off the bricks underneath.  I trimmed the excess fabric and folded it behind the bricks and blanket stitched around the edges. I was happy with this technique but in hindsight, I should have thought more carefully about where to position the gate on the bricks and if I was doing it again, I'd work out the brick pattern first so that the vertical edges looked better, perhaps trying alternating bricks with half bricks at the edge, or finishing with a full bricks so the sides undulate.  Whatever I tried, I didn't have enough bricks left either side of the gate to make the design look quite right. I'd also spend more time playing with the patterns and proportions of the gate itself.

Overall the day had been really useful for my current assignment as this week I've started the exercise looking for shapes within an image, which is just what we needed to do to start our collages.  Reverse applique and stitching on paper are new techniques I've learnt that I'd definitely try again.  I've decided my poor sewing machine should have it's first service for years and now is a good time as today my girls finished school for the summer today so I know there won't be much time for using it in the holidays.        


  1. Paper & fabric stitching were my absolute favourite techniques once upon a time. Your post brings back my enthusiasm!

    1. Please show me what you do if you have a go, though how you fit so much into your life is a marvel to me. Are you doing anything in Mollie Makes again soon? I was disappointed there was none of you in the latest edition! It's a shame you're not closer. Brighouse is having an arts festival later this month so there'll be some exciting to see and do. Anne is doing a needle felting workshop there so I've booked to go on that.

  2. I really like this piece of work! I think you've captured it so well, it also makes me want to have a go at something like this.



    1. Thanks so much for your comment Amanda. It's really encouraging to know someone, somewhere is reading! I hope you do give it a try and I'll be spotting a stitched collage on your blog soon. I see you're at the same stage as me, though working at a faster rate, so I'll try to keep up with you as it'll be good to compare my thoughts with yours. I've chosen my stained glass window for my looking for shapes exercise.

    2. Hi Lizzy,

      I'm currently working on the printing part of module 1 and I chose the honeycomb images to work from. I thought I'd have a go at lino block cutting and printing - harder than I thought and I'm going to have to buy some more lino blocks LOL! I can see what I'm trying to achieve but it's about improving the skill to transfer it to the block.

      Good luck with yours :)

  3. Hi Lizzy, you left a comment on my blog but you are a no-reply blogger so I couldn't email you back. RE a book for getting into quilting, I would suggest Elizabeth Hartman's book The practical guide to patchwork. It's a really great introduction and will tell you all that you need. It has some great projects in too. Elizabeth blogs at ohfransson so check out her site!

    To start off, you will need to buy a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and ruler. Buy the biggest mat you can reasonably fit and afford, you will thank me later! Omnigrid are a good make of rulers and mats. Olfa are a good make of rotary cutters. You can usually get a starter pack of all these items from thecottonpatch website.

    Send me an email if you need any more help!

    1. Perfect. Thanks for the advice Laura. Already have a huge cutting mat and big metal ruler from other crafty pursuits so will go and order the book and cutter and check out Elizabeth's blog. I've updated my settings as had no idea I was a 'no-reply'. I really enjoy your blog posts so thanks for them too.