Making Silk Prints Come to Life

Kathy Shaw © 2010

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Printing images on fabric using a color inkjet printer is common in crazy quilt blocks. We can even purchase “silkies” (which are now in cotton, organza, or silk these days) with images already printed for us. If you have the patience, you can easily transform a one-dimensional silkie of a person to create a more realistic image simply with embroidery stitches.

Selection of an image with a good face is critical...especially if, like me, you can’t draw the simplest straight line! Next, look at the image closely to determine if there are any layers.

Looking at this image of Queen Elizabeth, I decided that the skirt had multiple layers. To reflect this, I would need two identical images. The underskirt would be the first image, and the overskirt and coat would be layered on top. Lace pieces were auditioned, and two were selected for the bottom layer skirt, and stitched into place. An identical silkie was then pinned on top and appliquéd to the first silkie along the center skirt lines.

This “sandwich” become very helpful in allowing a Trapunto technique to be used along the collar and across the coat sleeves. It is necessary to work raised embroidery in a tight hoop. The type of hoop is a matter of personal preference; my frame of choice is a plastic Q-Snap. It has been padded by wrapping a strip of flannel along the bottom bars to improve the “bite” which makes a tight frame to work within. I enjoy the Q-Snap because I can assemble and disassemble it with ease, however, their use is a personal preference. Raised embroidery can also become very heavy, especially when encrusted with beads as the Queen is. For this project, I spray basted the base silkie to a thin layer of flannel. If the silkie had been part of a pieced crazy quilt block; there would have been sufficient solid base fabric to secure the silkie, and the flannel would not be needed.

The next step was to stitch along the obvious outline of the main image sections. This gave the face, hair color and outfit depth. Some areas were further enhanced by stuffing a little cotton into the area before finishing the outline.  Cream Nymo beading thread was used for this stitching, with a thin beading needle to help ensure a tiny stitch length. Once the collar was finished, the sleeves and coat were stitched. My favorite technique is to use the Split Stitch to cover lateral spaces. Silk thread is my choice for most dimensional embroidery because it is super fine and has a beautiful sheen.  Two to three threads can be used at once to fill a space more thoroughly, and realistic colors can be created by mixing different shades of thread.

In this magnified section of coat, you can hopefully see the Split Stitch. The sleeve has three silk threads; two blond and one gold. The coat has three threads, all the same shade of purple. The inner coat was done in Satin Stitch with gold cording; the trim was gold ribbon couched in place.

The Queen’s hair was done in layers. Using three shades of rust/copper silk threads, the entire head area was done in French Knots. The next layer added Bullion Knots to the sides and back of the head area. Lastly, the jewels (2mm Swarvoski crystal bicones and a crystal drop) were stitched in place.

A layer of thin nylon lace was placed over the center of the bodice. The image was printed on paper, and the bodice cut out to produce a pattern for the lace. The edges were turned under slightly or cut exactly to shape in some spots, and dotted with fray check. The lace was appliquéd in place and overstitched with various types of beads.

To further enhance your image, create a surrounding that is realistic to that image. For the Queen of England, I decided to have her walking in her garden. I cut 1/4" around the finished image...yes, after all the stitching ...but before all of the beading. I created a pieced block with different green in the background for bushes or mountains (as the viewer prefers). I used tatting to create a fence line and trees to add some depth to the piece. I lined the walkway with a floral ribbon border, and over stitched all along the path with various flowers in stumpwork, embroidery and silk ribbon. Porcelain roses, charms, and beads were then added to complete the story.

Here is the finished piece, transformed into a tote bag . And, yes, I do carry it sometimes to special quilt events and stitching bees.


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