by an underwater theme, Jennifer Rochester uses
plain fabric and neutral threads to create rocky
surfaces encrusted with growth.
photos by Ian Cole
Calico (known as muslin in the USA) is a good firm cheap fabric for embroidery. It should be washed before use to remove any dressing that may stiffen the fabric. When washed, it becomes softer and easy to manipulate - perfect for experimental three-dimensional embroidery. Choose neutral threads of various thickness and texture, some with shine to contrast with the dull ones. The elimination of colour ensures that texture is the most important element of the work. Chunky texture represents the rocks, smooth areas of fabric become the sand, and the rough texture depicts the growth of plants, corals and weed.
Just as nature has variety of scale of growth, so must the work. For the greatest variety of encrustation think of three layers of embellishment:
To create the raised surface, two layers of fabric are needed. Place the first piece of fabric in an embroidery frame or hoop, ensuring that it is pulled taut. Lay the second piece of fabric loosely on top of the piece in the frame. It is this second piece that is raised by sandwiching things in between it and the framed piece of calico.
Add trapped items gradually, one at a time, securing each item as unobtrusively as possible with small stitches and cream cotton machine thread. Vary the size of the items and the spacing between them to create a 'colony'. Excess fabrics around these items can be disguised by creating rippled areas using small unobtrusive stitches.
It is not necessary to use all of these ideas in one piece. Be selective and create the effect that suits you. The scale of your piece will determine your choice of trapped items. Leave flat areas between the raised surfaces to make room for the embellishment stitches and to allow some flat areas to contrast with the texture. Keep in mind the theme and try to capture the essence of underwater structures.
To secure the ring between the layers of fabric, work four small stitches as indicated. To define the shape, work more small stitches in between the original four. Ease the fabric over the ring and work around the outer edge in the same way.
To hold circles in place, work four small stitches. To define the shape, work more small stitches in between the original four.
Create a raised surface with a colony of trapped items.
Create rippled areas around the trapped items to disguise excess fabric.
A variety of raised stitches including cup stitch, woven picots, needlewoven corals and button hole starfish.
Star stitches and a variety of wheel stitches build up the surface of the pebble.
Use a variety of threads in neutral shades - shiny, dull, twisted, smooth (chopped tights and torn rags for large-scale projects). Colonies of similar stitch make the most interesting textures. Vary the size of the stitches and allow some stitches to overlap and integrate. Work the stitches less densely in some areas. Use a sharp-pointed crewel needle for these stitches, which pierce the fabric.
These stitches are worked with a crewel needle on a framework of threads. Once the basic foundation is laid, all further stitches do not enter the fabric but are worked on it. For ease they should be worked using a tapestry (blunt) needle.
Allow colonies of french knots and seeding stitches to merge.
Refer to diagrams 1 and 2 and to the linked stitch diagrams and instructions as you work.
Straight stitches of unequal size are worked on the surface of the calico in a fan arrangement. The rest of the work is carried out on these stitches. Begin by weaving the stitch group together at the narrow end to make a stem, then gradually make branches by weaving fewer numbers together. Reduce to one thread at the open end of the structure and whip the working thread over this single strand to raise the end.
Work five straight stitches either flat
or over a bead to make a large star formation.
Work buttonhole stitch along each of the
legs (this stitch is often worked over
a pair of laid threads, to create a buttonhole
bar, as shown). Work the legs in different
threads and overlapping.
A selection of smaller 'pebbles' using a number of the techniques.