Obsessed with Embellishment

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Embellish Without Fear - Part I

I love all types of embellishment - embroidery (hand and machine - yes I like machine embroidery), beading, lace, trim, ribbons, tassels, buttons - you name it. But I must be honest, when it comes to embellishment, I have pretty strong opinions about what works and what doesn't. For the most part 99.9% of what I see as embellishment and/or "art-to-wear" is absolute dreck, and with the exception of a few well-documented historical needlework forms, such as samplers and stumpwork, nothing makes me cringe more than kitschy hand embroidery framed and hung on a wall as Art with a capital "A".

For me, embellishment and needlework is meant for clothing and useful household objects. Coco Chanel once said that the garment always comes first, then the embellishment, and I agree.

So I'll show you how I approach embellishment from this perspective. Over the years, I've seen plenty of bad embellishment on sewing blogs and web sites, but I'll use two of my own projects as examples because we can can rip them to shreds and no feelings will be hurt. Both of these projects used exactly the same embellishment technique, and virtually the same color palette, beads and materials, but I think you'll agree that one works, and one doesn't. Here's why:

Rule 1: The Pattern Comes First

Plopping an embellishment technique onto a project, that is, just using the garment as a blank canvas, really never works, and that's the main problem with this jacket:

This is a Kenneth King technique that had I wanted to try for quite some time, and I actually made that decision prior to deciding what pattern to use. Big mistake. Consequently, this Marcy Tilton pattern (Vogue 7907) is totally unsuitable because I discovered the beading is so heavy that it weighs more than the very unstructured jacket, and the quasi-Asian design of the style has no relationship to the organic, elaborate beading. The overall effect? Weird.

However, on the second attempt at this technique, I used a pattern that, by design, has a built in "canvas" - a front placket. This is Simplicity 4142 and even though the knit I used is very lightweight, the centered aspect of the placket could still accept the heavy wool felt backing needed for all of this beading and rattail cord.

Also, from a design perspective, this embellishment makes sense because the design of the pattern provides a proper showcase for the technique. This is exactly the problem with the beading on the lapels of the Vogue jacket - the embellishment just sits there, on it's own, and it has no design relationship to any feature of the jacket, even though the color palette is in the correct range.

So the lesson here is to really look at your intended embellishment, and see if it relates in a logical way to the rest of the garment, as opposed to just "sitting there." I posted a tutorial on the making of this placket a while back, and you go here for Part I, and here for Part II.

In a future post I'll cover machine embroidery designs, which have been getting a bad rap lately, and I'll share with you how I evaluate a design before I use it.


Blogger Gigi said...

Thank you, Phyllis, I need all the help I can get! I just never know where to begin with embellishment. I think part of my problem is that, in my line of work, the embroidery is supposed to take center stage so it is just plopped on wherever it will be most visible. Consequently, I'm a bit scared about adding embellishment (especially embroidery) to a garment.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Els said...

I totally agree with you although I am not into embellishing. I am looking forward to read and see more of your knowledge about embellishing.Thanks Phyllis.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want *desperately* to embellish, but I'm quite afraid -- for the reason you show on this page. All that work and you don't like the result.

Since I'm neither talented nor prolific, I'm afraid that what I do will be both an aesthetic disaster and a waste of time & materials. I've had some great successes, but also some bitterly disappointing failures.

I've been collecting cool stuff for some time now (beads, "stuff", antique handwork like embroidery & crocheted lace, buttons, etc.) but I'm letting this fear paralyze me. How to jump start this adventure?

Anyone ever faced this?

11:24 AM  
Blogger Mary Beth said...

Phyllis, I don't embellish as much as I could. I usually sew with the aim having the clothes to wear and don't allow myself the time to dream up the embellishment. Love peeping into your world!

12:50 PM  
Blogger Lisette said...

Phyllis, I agree totally with what you've said but... I saw that jacket in person and the embellishment is stunning! More akin to jewelry. I actually like the design of the embellishment on the jacket better than the one on the top though I agree that the design on the top is more integrated.
San't wait to see what else you have to say!

9:07 AM  
Anonymous ClareInStitches said...

You have just given me a light "bulb moment", Phyllis. So _that's_ why I've been so hesitant to add machine embroidery: it just didn't fit into the overall picture.
Many thanks for this. In future I'm going to think "Integration" .
And look forward to reading more from you.

3:48 AM  
Blogger rupalijadhav said...

Hello Phyllis
You have actually given a "Bulb moment" to many who have read this and pointed out!! Kudos to you. The beauty of it is.... likewise when "correct" as seen in John galliano's Lobster Jacket for DIOR

I am majorlly in to hand embroidery/embellishment in India. We produce beautiful, poetic artworks in embroidery for the likes of a few leading international top notch designers and you must believe that all the embroidery n embellishment is done here in India.
SO when we work on designs keeping the fabric very much in view.

In fact while executing a design and selecting materials for it many a times, we at this end do not have an idea of whether it is going on a jacket or a gown. Sometimes it hels if this is known in advance. Will post a few embroidery samples whenever I have some time for all of you all to see.

3:13 AM  

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