Using Decorative Machine Stitching in Art Quilts

Decorative Machine Stitching 1Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

While I usually do most of the work on my art quilts with hand beading and quilting, there are times that I like to use the programmed stitches on my Bernina 1630 sewing machine to fill in areas with relatively quick textures. The two striped ribbons in the middle of the picture that were part of the foundation design had such a strong image, that I decided to mimic some of the designs with a pattern of alternating squares in pink thread that can be seen on the aqua background in this shot.

Decorative Machine Stitching 2Here’s another close-up shot of another part of the same quilt. In this section, at the top of the photo, is a horizontal stripe of fabric with piano keys. Beneath it, I put some black and white fabric in wider stripes to mimic the piano keys. The same stripe of squares that I used in machine stitching can also be seen here in red and pink thread. I also added some red and pink buttons that can be seen on either side to play off the thread colors in the patterned stitches.

Decorative Machine Stitching 3In this shot, you can see where I added translucent beads interspersed down the length of the same pink square machine embroidery pattern. I wanted them to add sparkle to emphasize the stripes made by the sewing machine stitches. You can also see where I did some hand quilting on the aqua background fabric, so that there is subtle difference in height with the machine embroidery stitches rising up further from the surface in this section of this art quilt.

Decorative Machine Stitching 4In this final photo of this same piece, you can see where the machine embroidered stitches go over the surface of some gold mesh fabric. I had to be very careful and stitch slowly in this area, so that the machine’s needle didn’t catch on the mesh, pull it, and distort it. I also added some bronze colored seed beads stitched in vertical rows that can be seen near the top of the photo. Another detail I added was some bronze colored chain that can be seen on the right of this shot that has squares in alternating directions to play off the theme of squares in the machine embroidery.

This art quilt is probably the most covered with machine embroidery that I’ve done. It really made for a richly textured surface treatment to have that many rows of stitching. However, I wish that I had made faint pencil lines to use as guidelines for the sewing so that the lines would have been straighter. I ended up having to make several lines on top of each other to try and make the crooked ones appear even. I certainly learned a lot of lessons doing this quilt.

 What are some of your experiences using machine stitching? What are some of the favorite ways you use embroidery or a similar technique in your own medium?

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