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Embroidery on Unusual Materials; wood, paper, metal

Embroidery doesn't just have to be on fabric, there are many unusual and interesting materials that can be used instead such as sewing on paper, balsa wood, metal and using found items too.

Materials are central to my work; I use them to further the narrative and to explain the emotion and feeling behind the work. For me, the materials must have a purpose in being there rather than just as something to hold the embroidery. This has led to using some unusual materials to embroider on to - and when I first began working in this way I was surprised what materials I could directly embroider into rather than using them to display the embroidery.

Balsa wood, shown above, is so lovely to use and the grain can really add something to the stitches. Balsa wood is ideal for both free machine and hand embroidery, with the needle moving freely through the wood. However, the wood will blunt the needle rapidly - especially on a sewing machine. It's important not to embroider too much along the grain of the wood to avoid it splitting and falling apart. Balsa wood can be coloured and dyed in many different ways.

Likewise a range of thin metals, or shims, can be used. There are a range of thicknesses and metal types to choose from. The thinner the metal the easier it is to hand embroider on to. It's very possible to add free machine embroidery on to thicker metals such as the tomato puree tubes. Again, it will blunt your needle quickly. Sometimes the metal can scratch the sewing machine bed, though you can add felt under the metal to prevent this.

Paper stitching is very versatile and much more can be done than is often thought. Paper is stronger than it looks and will hold a lot of embroidery - both hand and free machine embroidery look fabulous on different papers. Here I've used Cathedral Windows - a type of quilting technique to show what's hidden inside.

For my latest body of work, exploring layers of personality and identity, I've explored using different types of paper - with the one above being tea bag paper. The way it is slightly sheer and what is behind it can be seen is really interesting to me and works well for this subject.

Found items can also be added to textile artwork - sometimes they can be directly embroidered through or in the case of the shells in the artwork above they are held in place with embroidery stitches.

It is much easier to embroider directly through unusual materials than is first thought and I'd love to hear in the comments if this is something you've done.

If you'd like to know more about using these materials I am holding an in person workshop in Saltburn by the Sea - details can be found here.

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