Creating compelling machine-stitched images — whether through free machine embroidery or digitized stitching — takes the mind of a painter. For Georgia artist Lauren Evatt Finley, it also takes the eye of a poet. From stunning potraits to representations of the natural world, Finley’s work finds beauty and poignancy in the everyday, sometimes “ugly” details that are so easily overlooked. Check out her unique stitching below, and hear how she creates these enchanting images.
How did you get started with free machine embroidery?
About 25 years ago, I tried my hand at quilting and quilted one piece by hand. I put the idea of quilting out of my head for some time until, during a time I was staying home with my school aged kids and discovered quilting shows on TV. Until then, I didn’t know quilts could be anything other than traditional, but I was seeing art in the form of a quilt. These shows introduced me to quilting as an art form and free motion machine stitching. Prior to that, I didn’t even know you could drop your feed dogs! I thought it was such fun to be in control of where my cloth would go under the needle. Then I saw Hollis Chatelain’s beautifully stitched art and how just the thread color could make an impact on the final piece. During this time, I bought an embroidery machine and wanted to do my own designs. My pieces and techniques evolved from there as I discovered ways to do different things.
What materials do you use to make your free machine embroidery pieces?
Some of the pieces I create have the traditional quilt sandwich with a thin batting. I sometimes just stitch only on thick fabric. When the stitching is heavily done, the effect of batting is lost so why bother. A good bit of my work is just thread stitched onto water soluble stabilizer. I will sketch an outline of my design with a permanent pen onto the stabilizer. The heavyweight stabilizer can be maneuvered under the needle with just your hands holding it taut. The thinner stabilizer needs a hoop to keep it taut. When I am finished, I rinse out the stabilizer and it leaves just thread. I use mostly cotton threads but I have introduced some polyester thread because of their wider range of color.
Where do you find inspiration for your embroidered work?
The internet has to be my greatest source of inspiration these days. There are so many wonderfully creative people in this world and we are blessed by having access to so much of their work. Sometimes this can be a curse though by comparison and absorption into looking at art rather than creating it.
You make art in many other media as well — drawing, painting, printing, etc. What’s your artistic background? How is free machine embroidery similar to or different from the other media you work in? When and why do you choose to work with thread?
My mother, Julia Evatt, was an artist and poet. She encouraged rather than discouraged any creative ability in her children. I studied architecture in college just before computer aided drafting (CAD) was introduced so I drafted by hand, which I usually enjoyed. I studied portraiture painting in oils and pastel for several years. I love faces and always come back to them in one medium or another. Observation is key in creating representational art. There is a warm up exercise where you put your pencil/pen on the paper and draw your subject without lifting your pen. When I realized you could draw with a needle and thread, that continuous line exercise was the perfect one to do on a sewing machine. Once you can accurately ‘see’ your subject and are able to commit the subject to paper, cloth or whatever, changing mediums becomes just a matter of learning the properties of the new medium. The basics do not change; color theory remains, as does composition and design. I think that embroidery mostly resembles pastel. In both cases you layer strokes or stitches of color and your eye has to blend them for you. I love seeing how color affects color!
Many thanks to Lauren for talking with us! Wander through her blog to see more of her unique free machine embroidery — and to read her stories and observations on each inspired piece.
Gear Threads is brought to you from the offbeat gals at Urban Threads. Created by illustrator Niamh O’Connor, Urban Threads is revolutionizing machine embroidery one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time. Discover the future of digital stitchery at www.urbanthreads.com.