CARING IS COOL - so says Ellie Kime & this decorated piece of tulle.
Caring is cool
I’m E-J-K-ing she’s not always but she did send me an absolute belter of an email this one time - and it changed my life. Please see wholly accurate representation of said email below.
Well okay that’s a slight under-exxag. But it was basically that, and the word YES was the ever-present undercurrent running throughout all of the more detailed email-to-email chats & voice notes of enthusiasm (so take THAT herbal essences).
My brief; painterly, floral, artistic, fun, freehand, JB-esque - and a whole lotta EK trust.
EK wanted a sheer veil fabric, something which would drape like a dream. SO off I trotted & bought me some tulle.
Let me tell ya some things about hand embroidering tulle; it’s very fiddly & initially a bit panic inducing (but in the wholly satisfying I’m salivating over this design challenge way & not nervous disposition). Here’s some things to bear in mind;
I't’s extremely fragile. We love tulle because its delicate, wispy, flowing, draping, ethereal. Embroidery hoops (those mostly wooden hoops that tighten fabric to aid embroidering) are tough beasts who love to make fabric as taut and stretched as possible to help you. Combining very very easily tearable fabrics with hardcore embroidery hoops - pretty scary. But - doable. Just take your time, and go gently around & around & around the hoop pulling the tulle tighter as you go. By no means yank on it like you would with sturdy cottons.
It’s got ruddy big holes in it doesn’t it? When I'm selecting fabrics for embroidery my first judgements concern the type of weave & the thread count. Tulle is a type of Leno Weave which is extremely lightweight, with the weaves criss-crossing over one another in loops - this makes it easy for air & light to pass through and give us that dreamy floaty vibe. But this floaty hole-iness does challenge you to be more considered about where you are putting your stitches for two reasons; 1) Avoiding putting your thread through the same holes & making the whole embroidery look less cohesive 2) It’s see-through so keeping the ‘tying’ off process minimal & hidden and not being able to ‘move’ to the next part of the design (as you’d be able to see the thread trail).
Fragile + Floaty = Stabiliser. When embroidering most cotton, denim, linen etc I do not require any stabiliser, but for tulle this was a must. The stabiliser I use is a solvent stabiliser, which feels like a big weird dried glue sheet but it’s my new weird best friend. When hand embroidering you pop this stabiliser sheet underneath the tulle and keep it in place with the hoop (this will help with the somewhat nervy tightening of the material in the hoop by giving you more stability). When you’re embroidery is finished you just soak the tulle in a little clean water bath and say goodbye to your weird stable glue friend - they disappear! It is possible that with finer silk tulles (tiny tiny holes) you could get away without using a stabiliser but definitely practise first!
Want to draw out the design? Good luck bro. Apparently you’re able to draw onto the stabiliser so you know where to embroider - LOL. That gluey old bud did not allow for this, and drawing onto tulle is 1) impossibly hard & futile 2) panic over leaving marks behind? No thank you. Luckily for me I have a very visual eye & treated the tulle like painting a blank canvas. I just let the needle, thread, colours, & design unfold as I went. If you are more embroiderer over designer, I’d suggest keeping to more basic designs that you can replicate without the use of drawn template. Please if anyone has any more ideas on this one I’d love to know.
The Mini Toadstool Triumph of 2019
I started with some of the tiniest details I could to test the tulle & see what I could get away with. The first tiny thing I embroidered was a toadstool approximately the size of a 5 pence piece - and BY GUM it looked beautiful. After The Mini Toadstool Triumph of a January afternoon, I moved onto floral & illustrative celestial details - again keeping these super small to test the weave. Guys. Tiny Planet. You can freak out now.
Once I knew this tulle and I were going to get on well, I got to work on the bigger pieces starting with the lettering.
It was important for me to keep the painterly vibes going even with the lettering so I chose 2 different shades of a peach hue, & began freehand-filling in the letters. Once I was finished, I was somewhat disappointed with the readability of the lettering due to the see-through & not contrasting nature of the fabric so I added a shadow detail in cadmium red. Because cadmium red for life. Much happier.
After this I don’t remember what happened. I lose myself completely in freehand painterly work and tbh I had no major plan or design. I can only imagine this happened in my head ‘Oooh yes this can go here’ ‘Yup & BAM there’s another star - looks great’ ‘Surely a ladybug by the flowers?? Yeah!’ ‘Where did this painterly planet come from & why am I freaking out with joy about how amazing it is?’ - Sorry for the lack of ‘design planning’ help & advice here but it’s just not my organic process. Crazy creative frenzy is much more my remit.
Ahhhhh…it’s complete. HOLD UP! I need, as a matter of creative life or death, to embroider EK’s spectacular tattoo into this because she’s a complete babe & her tattoo crept into my brain & asked me to do it. So I did. As aforementioned, a massive LOL happened when attempting to draw this out first, so I had to just ‘draw’ out the tattoo onto blank tulle as I embroidered. On a stretched piece of tulle the tattoo was 2D in appearance, like a flat drawing. However, I wanted to continue the painterly celestial motif used elsewhere to extend EK’s tattoo (replicating the wedding sparkle & wizardry she conjures on a daily basis) but also make it more 3D, floaty, and less rigid than the others. SO I embroidered a looser stitch which meant the swirly loops of heaven appearing out of the wand appear more like fluff & powder & smoke. Cue the inner YAAAASSSS.
Also a huge BEE-TEE-DUBS; When EK received the veil she sent me a picture of the embroidered tattoo laid over her tattoo - AND IT WAS THE SAME SIZE! How is that even possible? I didn’t even draw it out with any perspective or size reference. This means this whole thing was written in the embroidery loopy stars SURELY.
SO - When I first began working with the tulle I was scared by the fact you could see through it & didn’t know how I’d make the front ‘clean’ side of the embroidery cover the ‘messy’ back bit that’s usually hidden. I became very aware of exactly how I embroider because the whole process is quite literally see-through. How did I get over it? I remembered THIS IS THE BEST BIT, & in attempt to merge those two sides I created these loops. By embroidering this way you can follow the little threads journey & see exactly where I’ve sewn. You can see through it, look at the links, look at where I’ve stopped, spot the crossovers. I didn’t even tell Ellie this & in fact I didn’t show her the finished piece until it was packed and posted. When she opened it, she sent me the best voice note ever (no you can’t hear it) saying way too many nice things but, most gloriously, she mentioned these little loops. Heart, brain, gone.
The loops are my process. They are a reminder that this was handmade by a human being. They are perfectly imperfect.
Okay ramble town is over - sorry if this has been insanely all over the place but that’s how my brain works when I really care about things. Because guess what; Caring is cool. Thanks EK.
Special mentions to;
Credit to Joanna Bongard Photography for the picture of Ellie’s tattoo. You can find her incredible work here.