Friday, February 02, 2018

Using the Embellisher for Unique Background Fabric

 (Above:  The Key to All the World.  Inventory # 4217. 11 3/4" x 9 3/4". $70.)

Yesterday I uploaded all the photos of the recently finished, tagged keys.  They are fun to make and I wrote about my approach ... using frames made from leftover and scrap picture moulding and old keys salvaged from one of my earliest art-making attempts.   Because there are about fifty pieces, I didn't really need a longer blog post.  So, I promised to blog about how some of the backgrounds were made using my Babylock Embellisher, a dry felting machine.  This is that post.

 (Above:  The blond wood frame and a scrap of silk fabric rusted with antique nails.)

This is how I started!  I grabbed the blond wood frame and selected a tagged key.  I found a scrap of silk on which I'd rusted antique nails.  I did the rusting over a decade ago and blogged about it HERE.  At the time, I intended to use the fabric in an altered book called Nails in a Coffin.  I made the book. My younger son created a video. We posted the video on this blog but Blogger's system doesn't seem to support it any longer.  I just reposted it on You Tube ... HERE.  I more than enough pieces.  Later, several were used for a 2015 collaboration with poet Al Black for an exhibition called Art from the Ashes.   Amazingly, I still had one piece of rusted silk left.

I cut the silk into three jagged-edged pieces and overlapped them on a piece of white acrylic felt.

Over the top, I added ethereal wisps of wool rovings, scraps of off-white fabric from an antique blouse, and some tan netting.  I worked from both the front of these scraps and the back, punching the machine's barbed needles through all the layers.  The wool rovings became totally embedded in the lower layers, revealing the lacy detail of the blouse.  Finally, I added three mother-of-pearl leaf shaped buttons, beads, and the tagged key.

 (Above:  The Key to the Future. Inventory # 4194. 10" x 8". $60.)

This is The Key to the Future.  It started with ...

... a really old, stained piece of wool cross stitch which came out of  frame I bought at auction.  The frame was used for my Anonymous Ancestors installation.  I washed the cross stitch, half expecting it to dissolve but it didn't.  At first, the water was totally brown.  I kept washing.  Why?  Well, I loved the distressed look of this scrap and knew its open weave would be excellent under the dry felting machine.  Lots of the keys I recently finished have this antique material in their backgrounds.

I cut strips of the pulled thread divisions to create a loose border for the flower design.  A piece of red synthetic felt went under it.  A little bit of tan colored wool rovings went over the top.  This background took all of five minutes to make (if that long).  It is wonderful to see unique combinations of fibers come so quickly to life.  A few sequins and beads later, the tagged key was added.

Another piece in my stash of odd materials was this really early cross stitch.  I made it for my mother-in-law after I first started stitching in 1983.  Even then, I was making up my own patterns.  I got it back when she died over a decade ago.  It isn't very well done but it served to remind me just how far I'd come in stitching and creativity.  No one else would recognize anything of quality in this tiny embroidery ... unless I turned it into something else.

So ... I took my scissors to it!  I put it on a piece of yellow felt ...

... put some olive green wool rovings and a few other scraps of random material on top ... and a scrap of ocher-colored ultra suede underneath ... and ran over it from both sides using the dry felting machine.

  (Above:  The Key to Kindness.  Inventory # 4212. 8 1/4" x 5 3/4". $50.)

I added a few straight stitches using orange colored perle cotton thread.  It became the Key to Kindness.

The rest of the cross stitch became the background for The Key to The Best ... in a genuine burl veneered frame.  (I just love burl picture frame moulding!  It really is "the best" in wood!)

I used a lot of olive green wool rovings on the reverse ... punching from the back ... allowing some of the green fibers to mingle onto the front.

This is how it looked under the machine's dozen barbed needles.

Next, I punched rusty-brown dyed scrim/gauze onto the back. A few loops of the gauze worked their way to the surface adding texture.  I trimmed the gauze nearly to the jagged edges but allowing the color to peek out around the perimeter.

To alter the front and obscure the strong linear design, I applied two patches of antique wool paisley.

This is how the scrap looked before I added the tagged key and a few star-shaped sequins and beads.

 (Above:  The Key to The Best II.  Inventory # 4208. 10 3/4" x 8 3/4". $70.)

This is how the finished piece looks ... the best!  I've very happy that an early piece was transformed into something someone can appreciate.  Using the dry felting machine is so much fun.  All the keys can be seen HERE and are available for purchase.  Just email me at

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts. 


Norma Schlager said...

Simply fabulous! Thanks for sharing your journey.

hula-la said...

Wow...this is great! Thank you for sharing!

Els said...

Lovely pieces Susan !!!
(oh YES the embellisher is great to work with !)

Margaret said...

I admire your seemingly endless ideas for new key 'themes'! And the embellisher is the perfect way to add a new dimension to those backgrounds. :-)

Studio 508-Nancy's Place said...

You have inspired me to chop into some early learning pieces and create a new fabric! Thank you for being so generous with your ideas.

nebodama said...

Thank you for sharing. I have an embellisher that is way underutilised. You've inspired me to drag it out .