Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Stitchery for Mixed Media Artists – Part I, Couching By Judi Kauffman for The Queen’s Ink

A lot of mixed media artists add fibers and stitching to their projects. Have you tried it yet? I thought it would be fun to include some stitches here on the blog now and then. 

I decided to do something a little different from what you might usually see: Instead of using a piece of canvas I chose soft, recycled felt. And instead of layering on paints, collage and stenciling, I used only a single stitch – couching – and two little clusters of embellishments – polymer beads and vintage buttons, ensuring that the embroidery takes center stage. 

My goal was to keep it SUPER easy for beginners. I picked a felt envelope, a clutch-style bag with a snap closure that would be simple to sew and is available as a readymade product. 

I’m going to use it as a cover for my tablet device, but it could be a purse for a minimalist (someone who doesn’t carry everything but the kitchen sink, the way I do).

Couching is an incredibly versatile stitch. It’s one of my favorite ways to DRAW with fibers. A long thread that remains on the surface is held in place by short stitches that cross it, one at a time. The short stitches go up and down through the fabric layer (in this case the flap of the felt envelope) at intervals. These couching stitches can be perpendicular, or at an angle, evenly-spaced or randomly-spaced. It can get quite elaborate – each stitch can be studded with a bead or a more decorative stitch (not just a plain one), but that’s for down the road at some point.

I chose metallic braids for the surface threads and 6-strand cotton embroidery floss for the short stitches, using all 6 strands.

You can use much heavier fibers or much finer ones, depending on the line weight and the look you want to achieve. For example, I could have used clothesline instead of metallic braid, and held it in place with sewing thread – very heavy lines with almost invisible couching stitches to hold them in place. Or I could have held hand spun wool (knitting) yarn in place with metallic braid. The short stitches can be prominent or subtle. It’s endless!

As you will see from the close-up photos, my long (surface) threads are either single or double, sometimes the two held together for a thicker line weight and other times separated so they are thinner. Wherever they converge after forming an open shape I changed the color of the embroidery floss and put several stitches close together so that the color change resembles ‘wrapped’ threads.

When you scroll down to the final photo right before the supply list, you’ll see an unsaturated image, showing the project in black and white. It shows how the lines meander and overlap and how the main elements within the design (the LIGHTEST lines that are accented with beads and buttons) move from left to right, all the way across the flap.

The little tassels? Glad you asked! Those are knots, strategically placed at the edges of the flap to draw the eye and add a visual treat. Each piece of metallic braid is cut to about 5/8” beyond the knot and unraveled with a corsage pin! (It’s fun and fast, not at all tedious…) Metallic braid is a true ‘braid’ made with many strands. If you’re using embroidery floss, you’ll automatically have lots of strands beyond the knots.

Feel free to print out and trace the lines if you want to use my design as a pattern.

Experiment with whatever threads and fibers you have on hand. Plan the design or let it evolve. Add more knots, more embellishments – or fewer. If you don’t like what you see, use fine point embroidery scissors to trim away the parts you don’t want to keep. Felt is very forgiving. (And if you accidentally cut into the felt, not to worry – you can hide the hole with buttons, beads, a leather patch, or embroider around the hole and make it look intentional!)

Don’t want to stitch on felt? No problem. A piece of heavy muslin is a good fabric on which to practice and you could die it, paint it, stencil it, or spray it with inks if you want a colorful base layer instead of a plain neutral. Just be sure that you allow the fabric to remain relatively soft. It can be challenging (sometimes impossible...) to hand stitch through fabric that has been made stiff with layers of paint.

If there is enough interest, I’d love to teach a 'Stitchery for Mixed Media Artists' class at The Queen’s Ink! Please leave a comment here on the blog, send an email or call the store if this is something you’d like us to schedule.

  • Purchased or homemade gray felt clutch-style envelope (Feltables)
  • Polymer beads, buttons, or other embellishments
  • Chenille needle for embroidery floss (easy to thread long eye, sharp point)
  • Bead needle and gray sewing thread (to sew on the beads and buttons)
  • Fibers (shown: DMC 6-strand cotton embroidery floss; Kreinik #16 Medium metallic braid)


  1. Beautiful colors!! Beautiful stitching!!

  2. I love stitchery - haven't done any in years. Your project may get me to try it again. I like the neutral background with the bright stitches.

  3. Absolutely beautiful. It was in the 1970' s that I last did any of this work. Hope it will mske a resurgence. I know felting designs has come back

  4. Absolutely beautiful. It was in the 1970' s that I last did any of this work. Hope it will mske a resurgence. I know felting designs has come back

  5. Oh-lalah! This is so pretty and cool! Love how you desrcibe it as "drawing with fiber" - it really is! Your comment about you being one who carries everything in her purse but the kitchen sink made me chuckle. I must be the minimalist of minimalists, as this purse would be at least twice the size I'd need. I wouldn't know how to fill it, honestly! Other than - like you said - as a cover for my tablet device. Anyway - your ideas here can be used for "fiber drawing" on any sized purse, of course, or on the flap of a pocket on a jacket - I see endless possibilities! - Just like the teacher in you wanted us to :-)

  6. I like this project. I would be interested in something like this. I don't see, but I can do simple stitches and always like adding dddrent materials to my mixed media.