How to use a sketchbook in mixed media embroidery design

One of the many misconceptions about sketchbooks is that they should be filled full of beautiful sketches. Now thats OK if you have a talent and are good at drawing, but, if like me, you don’t have much confidence in your drawing, then that can be a really daunting prospect.

Quite early on in my time at University, I discovered that I really didn’t like drawing in the traditional sense of the word, even though I was on a course that required it. The thought of opening a brand new sketchbook with all of those black white pages filled me with dread. So how did I get over it and how would I define how I use a sketchbook today?

Well for me, the sketchbook isn’t just for drawing, it’s for all of those ideas, the research – visual, artists and academic, the testing, exploration and embroidery sampling. Once I understood that I didn’t really need to draw masterpieces then I felt much freer. I like to draw directly onto a piece of fabric, by using a needle and adding thread or embellishments, for me this is how I develop a piece. Using my intuition, I play with materials or colour to build a piece step by step, but this is informed by lots of research that happens in my sketchbooks well before I even start sewing.

The first thing that I do is to complete a mind map of what I want to achieve in a project. At this point I normally only have an idea of the subject matter and there’s never a title as that always comes later. I also have no idea of what I want to create – thinking of the end piece rules out the exciting processes that comes when exploring new ideas. For me the whole process is about play. Playing around with different materials and seeing how I can combine them together often brings unexpected results that can be built upon. I think as adults, we often lose the ability to just play around with things and see where our imagination can take us, time constraints and wanting to produce perfect things to start off with can hamper our experimentation. But think back to what we were like as children, we learnt everything through play.

It really shouldn’t matter what our sketchbooks look like – after all, they are about our own personal journey, the exploration of a new subject matter and as such they should contain anything which helps you to explore the chosen subject. I have collected all sorts of different materials, completed lots of experiments and taken lots of pictures and these are all put into the sketchbook. I go back to them time and time again especially when I can’t remember the formula to a great experiment that I did and want to recreate. I also see how far I have come in my journey.

We never stop learning but most of all it’s important to remember the fun that we have creating things, even when they don’t go to plan.

Published by Claire Edwards

Multi award-winning hand embroidery artist working with non conventional materials

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