Easy Multi-Media Technique with Redwork Embroidery Designs
Use open redwork or running stitch designs to quilt and add a little dimension to your project, throw in some specialty thread, and add additional color with colored pencils!
Sometimes the simplest designs offer the most opportunity for creativity. Take this design from Retro Kitties. It's mostly running stitches with filled in eyes.
Because of the retro-styled cartoon look, you can stitch these in a wide range of colors and still have a cute design. Compare that to a realistic cat—vary the colors and it might look downright ugly or weird.
Another thing with open designs like this is that you can get a relatively large design with fewer stitches. Fewer stitches means faster sewing. Another advantage is that it's a light weight, or what i like to call low impact, design, meaning that it won't stress a fabric as much as a fully filled design.
Experimenting with Thread
Due to the details in these kitties, the two smaller sizes have fairly short stitches. The largest version has longer stitches and is more suitable to experimenting with some heavier threads on the fur and bows.
The eyes, however, are filled and are digitized with densities suitable for 40wt thread. Heavier threads will give a bolder look to the running stitches.
I used a two-color twist thread on the fur of the kitty shown here. In this case, the effect is very subtle but it does give a little highlight to the design, Do be careful when choosing and using twist threads.
Most are heavier, usually 30 wt. Wonderfil has twisted two 40 wt threads together resulting in a 20 wt thread. I used Superior's on this sample because it is a 40 wt.
Most designs are digitized for 40 wt thread so if you start swapping in a twist that is heavier, your design may feel stiff and thick. Superior's won't do this to your design.
Keep in mind that if you use a significantly thicker thread, you may need to change your needle when you switch thread weights. Why not use a larger needle for the entire design?
The smaller the needle, the more accurate the stitch. The needle size needs to be the right one for your thread for an optimal result.
The rest of the color is from colored pencils! I love combining other media with embroidery. Colored pencils are easy to use, inexpensive, and aren't messy or smelly. And they don't require any clean up!
You don't need any expensive colored pencils either. I use Crayola and RoseArt brands.
I used a very light touch on the brown and a heavier one on the pink in the ears, nose, and paw pad. I've found that using a light touch and building up layers works best. Also, I tend to color in small circles rather than zig-zaggy lines. I've found this method gives a more even coverage.
Sometimes when using this technique, I'll color heavier/darker near the edges fading to lighter or even no color in the center. This gives more dimension to the design. This one was colored relatively evenly.
If you've ever been fearful of using paint or inks with your embroidery, do give colored pencils a try. It's like coloring in a color book that has raised lines to keep you from coloring outside the lines!
If you plan to launder your project, you'll want to use a fixative or fabric medium to prevent any fading.
Quilting with Your Embroidery Machine
Another fun thing you can do with redwork or running stitch designs is to use them to quilt. If you look at the back of the kitty, you'll see only the fur stitching. Where are the eyes? I'll get to that in a moment.
First, notice that the back is not very clean or pretty. Embroidery has a back or "wrong" side. A machine with auto-trimmers will pull the thread tails to the back and leave a short tail that shouldn't be trimmed any shorter. Notice too that although I used white bobbin thread, you barely see it.
Thread tensions are intentionally not evenly balanced during embroidery as it is during regular sewing. To have a prettier backside, the best approach is camouflage. Using a busy print can hide a lot but you will still have thread tails. Don't expect to win any awards at quilt show!
Where Are the Eyes?
Because the eyes are filled, they aren't suitable for quilting. Only the eyes are fill stitched on these designs and they sew last on every design. The eyes include both the small white highlights and the black area, so those are the last two colors on every design (colors 2 and 3 on the boy kitties, colors 3 and 4 on the girls).
What I did was to resequence these two colors to the beginning of the design. Don't freak out on me here, this is actually very easy on these designs and there are two ways to do it:
- In software
- At your machine
The Software Way
This is my method of choice. Our home machines are becoming more and more powerful and the top--of-the-line models can do amazing things. i almost never use them. I feel much more comfortable working on my computer where I can see what's going on and have full control.
You can resequence designs in quite basic software, such as Embrilliance Essentials by reordering design parts on the Objects Pane, the small window in the upper right hand window.
In the photos below, the first one shows the initial order. In the second one, I've moved the fur to the end by right-clicking on the area to access the context sensitive menu and choosing Move Last.
This moves the fur stitching to the end of the design and puts it at the bottom of the list. Save the file for your machine and you're good to go.
Resequencing this design works because the eyes don't stitch on top of other areas. Why didn't I digitize the eyes first? Because I didn't think of this idea until after the designs were complete! When I first started digitizing them, I planned the eyes last so they could be easily skipped and buttons could be sewn on instead.
It's really not possible to think of every possible way a design might be used and even it was possible, it's highly unlikely that it could be digitized to work optimally in every case. Having some basic utility programs and knowing how to use them can make your embroidery even more creative!
Embrilliance Essentials is great for this because you can start out with the basics—the essentials!–and then add on other features and capabilities as you want them. You can download a working demo here.
At Your Machine
Technically you don't need any software for this simple reordering, you can resequence a design at your machine and with a design like this cat, it's not difficult.
Simply advance one color change, sew colors 2 & 3), then add the batting and backing and sew color one. I really prefer doing these kinds of things in software because I have more control and can see if it will affect the rest of the design.
While easy, this can be kind of scary on a more basic machine that doesn't have color screen. My 12-needle machine displays only text on it's tiny ugly screen, which is another reason I do everything on my computer.
About Retro Kitties
Retro Kitties is a collection of 30 designs. There are 5 "girl" kitties and 5 "boy" kitties, each in 3 sizes. I used the medium size for this sample. All of the smallest ones will work on most any machine.
The medium size has some that will fit a 4x4 hoop but most require a larger sewing field. See the product page for details on sizes and stitch counts. The designs are also available individually.
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Where to Get Products Mentioned in this Article
- Embrilliance software is often available in our shop as a physical product that will be shipped (U.S. only) or as digital download from Embrilliance
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Looking for a full scale project using colored pencils and quilting? Check out the the related articles below.
To learn more about quilting in the hoop and choosing a better back fabric, see this YouTube video:
- Winter Friends Colored & Quilted Wall Hanging
- Multimedia with Embroidery: Colored Pencils
- Halloween Mini Quilt Project
- Coloring Your Embroidery
About the Author
Lindee Goodall is a veteran master digitizer who's won awards for her beautiful designs, been a guest on numerous PBS sewing shows, written articles for a variety of home and industry related magazines, and is a Craftsy instructor.
Lindee G Embroidery is her second company, following Cactus Punch, which was founded in 1994.