Primary Tools & Materials:

Additional Tools & Materials: light table, tape, inkjet printer, Adobe Photoshop, camera 

Today's assigned combination is paint and sewing machine. I wanted to see how I could enhance or change the shape of a painted letter by adding texture and depth with my sewing machine. At first, I played with free hand brush lettering on fabric canvas, but I couldn't get the scale large enough (about 4") for the size I wanted to work with. It also occurred to me that I was going to have a bit of trouble controlling the curve of my stitching on some parts of these letters, and that could look a bit messy. So in order for at least one part of this study to be controlled and clean, I printed some 4" tall letters from various typefaces, taped them onto my light table, then used it as a stencil to recreate the letter in paint (see image 2).  

Painting on thick cotton canvas felt surprisingly comfortable. It's the same material they use for stretched canvases, just without the coating - so it made sense that it would feel very natural, just a little more course and more absorbent of paint. The tight weave of the fabric made for a great grid to be sure my letters were straight on the canvas, and then later, provided guidelines as I sewed onto it. The yellow paint covered the canvas more evenly than the purple, which dried a bit more splotchy, calling attention to any overlapping strokes. I'd love to say I made an extra letter to practice on first, but really - the first letter I painted was accidentally placed on top of the watercolor bot prints from the other day, and somehow reactivated the blue paint, which bled through to the front. So I had to redo that one, and the blue spotted letter became my test square, to try out different patterns on my sewing machine. Oops.

I was glad of the opportunity to try out a few pre-programmed patterns that my sewing machine offers. I bought my little Singer sewing machine a few years ago just for craft projects and clothing alterations, so I'd never really gone through the catalog to see what all the decorative stitches look like on fabric. Turns out there are 73 to choose from (see image 3), and each can be modified to adjust the width or length of the stitches that make it. I first used my test swatch to try out as many different stitches as I could, in both of the colored threads I planned to use. After that, I used various strokes to outline, fill, decorate, overlay, or shadow the six painted letters. 

I was right in my prediction that some stitches would be difficult to control - especially when rounding the curve of the letter U. So I tried my best to work within that constraint. In image 1 (in the typeface Museo) I used a crosshatching pattern right next to the painted letterform to suggest dimensionality and a shadow. In image 6 (Georgia Bold Italic) I used various styles of overlapping stitches to try and create a dipped gradient. In number 7 (Gravitas One), I first tried to outline the boundary of the letter with a fine single stitch, but found that it was extremely difficult to trace the seam around the bottom curve. So instead I used this chunky almond shaped embroidery stitch, which allowed me to stop after completing one "almond," rotate the canvas so the next one would be more or less centered over the line, then sew again. This modular pattern made it easier to slowly wrap around the letterform to create a truer curve. Number 8 (Ultra Regular) was an example of how I came to the solution I used for the previous letter. This thick zigzag looked great on the straights but was very difficult to control around the curve, and ended up looking a bit messy. In number 9 (Gill Sans Ultrabold) I combined two patterns and both colors to ornament only one stroke of the letter - the result looks a bit like Scandinavian folk art. For number 10 (Interstate Thin), I used a fine but wide decorative stitch to sew directly over the thin shape of the letter, which created a delicate vine-like look, especially with the green thread, almost as though ivy were growing over this letterform.

To me the most successful letter was the first example with the drop shadow. To me, it's the only study that altered the read of the letter, rather than just adding decoration. It would be interesting to create a modular system in which overlapping patterns could create the shadow - and layering them would create a more complex pattern while also making a thicker shadow.