Sometime in January, I heard about the Handmade Valentine Swap that Lyndsey organises annually over at The Stationery Place, and I figured I'd give it a go. I'm a firm believer that these little swap projects can be a great catalyst for creative results, and there's always the added bonus of something interesting arriving for you in the mailbox, if you're lucky.
Initially I had planned to do an embroidered "sampler" style design, inspired by this stitched piece:
But when I discovered that I needed to create not one but four valentines, one for each person in my swap group, I then decided to simplify the design, and go with a single monogram design (like the M below) but using a heart motif rather than a letter of the alphabet:
A separate spark of inspiration came from this beautiful cross-stitch project I stumbled across quite a while ago, where the artist had used rusty old farm equipment as the canvas for her embroidery by simply perforating it with a grid of holes:
I've always been intrigued and excited about the potential of using unusual materials as a creative canvas, so it was a natural progression for me to consider a different base material for my embroidered hearts...
These pinned pics had me really excited about the idea of embroidering onto cardboard or paper, especially the thought of using found book pages as the base canvas. And again, it was simply a matter of perforating the paper/card with holes for sewing through.
Initially, I'd thought I would attempt to cross-stitch a heart motif, but this pic of a geometric design embroidered on a book page led me to think more along the lines of long stitch lengths, symmetry, and geometry:
It was about this point in time that I had a brainstorm and remembered the timber veneer sheets I had sitting in my studio. Early last year during a visit to Reverse Garbage, I came across a whole stack of square- and A4-sized sheets of timber veneers and eagerly I snapped them up and added them to my stash of crafty supplies.
Looking at them once again, I had a vision of a single embroidered heart perfectly centred on a square-shaped sheet. I'd recently bought a handful of skeins of variegated-colour embroidery thread (for a different project I'm sewing) and I really wanted to try mixing the veneers with the multi-coloured threads to see what effect it would produce.
Graph paper came in handy for trying out a few different design ideas, as well as then being useful for transferring the holes to the timber. I played with a variety of patterns, some much more effective (and practical) than others:
I tried sewing my first heart with variegated orange thread on a small scrap piece of veneer, and after overcoming a few immediate obstacles (i.e. I found that puncturing the holes into the fragile timber veneer sheet was fraught with difficulty. My solution = using stickytape on the reverse side to reinforce the holes, protect the timbergrain from splitting, and reduce wear on the thread as it passed through the holes. Easy!), the design turned out as such:
Feeling very excited about the result of this first trial-run, I happily started trying more variations - different timbers and coloured threads, and a couple of different designs.
So I really got into the swing of making these embroidered hearts, and even tried a cross-stitched heart on a scrap of leather I had sitting nearby (which prompted ideas for embroidered covers for future bookbinding/journal projects!). I think I ended up sewing about a dozen different heart combinations over the course of a week, some worked really well, others not so well.
In the end, these were the four embroidered hearts that I chose to make into 'valentines' for the swap. I finished them off by backing them with paper which wrapped around slightly to the front edge (to protect the veneer edges and to 'frame' the heart), and then teaming each with a brown-paper square envelope:
This variegated brown stitched heart was one of my favourites, and this geometric grid design and the cross-over string-art-style design were probably the most effective outcomes, I think.
The cross-stitch style was far more practical on the leather, which could handle all those extra perforations, whereas the more-delicate timber veneer worked better with designs requiring less holes.
For a quick-turnaround, minimal design-brief, swap project, I was happily surprised with the fun results! And that's why I love these little creative challenges so much - they push and prompt me into new creative territory and open up the opportunity to discover something a little bit great :)
Now to sit back and wait for my reply Valentines to arrive in the mailbox...
Happy Valentines Day everyone!