Friday, 17 August 2012

Elephant No. 319: Appliqué

I received a beautiful book on floral embroidery last Christmas in a fibre-guild gift exchange, and it contained some very pretty appliqué embroidery. Today I seem to have a bit more time on my hands, so I thought I'd try appliqué for today's elephant.

Appliqué—from the French appliquer, "to apply"—is simple in concept: create a design with cut-out fabric shapes, then stitch the shapes to a backing fabric. Appliqué can consist of elaborate scenes, or be as simple as a heart shape stitched to an apron. Today, appliqué is most commonly used on quilts and similar forms of fabric art.

Appliqué on hand-painted silk by Barbara Harms.

Although I did some basic appliqué as a child, the technique I planned to use today was completely new to me. In the past, I'd just cut out fabric in the shape I wanted, then stitched the edges with a buttonhole or blanket stitch, or folded the edges over and top-stitched the edges. Today's technique involved ironing fusible interfacing to the back of the coloured fabric, cutting it out, then stitching it down. It sounded like a lot of work, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

For today's elephant, I thought I'd use scraps of silk left over from various sewing projects. For the background, I decided to use black dupioni silk.

For the design, I thought I'd make something fanciful rather than try to copy a photograph. I had a feeling this was going to be a fairly time-consuming activity, so a fanciful design with fewer blocks of fabric might make my life easier. I started by making a sketch in black.

Next, I made templates to use for each colour of fabric. Because some of these shapes layer over one another, I obviously couldn't just cut apart my original sketch.

I was disappointed to discover that my stash of silk scraps didn't include anything even remotely approaching grey or brown. So I decided on a pink elephant. I placed each piece of the template on the requisite colour of silk, and loosely cut around it. I then ironed the piece of silk onto a lightweight fusible woven interfacing.

Once I had all the loose shapes bonded, I cut them out more precisely. I now had all the building blocks for my design.

I had originally thought I was going to sew all of this on the sewing machine. The pieces were all rather small, however, which made me think I'd spend a frustrating amount of time unstitching and restitching things that had moved around under the sewing machine's presser foot. So I opted to stitch everything by hand.

I stretched the black background in an embroidery hoop, then thought about how the pieces needed to be layered. I started with the body of the elephant, then added the head. I used a lock stitch to top-stitch everything, which allowed the edges to fray a bit. I was hoping the slight fraying would add character.

I outlined the elephant, and added a few wrinkles and lines in the ear and trunk. I decided to leave the eyes and tusks until last, since I was going to stitch them rather than apply silk. I did, however, add a small tail using the same pink thread I'd used to stitch the elephant itself.

Next, I added the crown. The fabric I'd chosen for the crown showed a decided tendency to shred, so I used an edge stitch to make sure it held together.

Next I added the two balloons and the blades of grass.

The final appliqué elements were the flowers.

To finish the elephant, I added eyes, tusks, and strings for the balloons. I also trimmed away a few tiny frayed edges to tidy it up a bit.

This took me absolutely forever. I honestly had no idea it would take me all day, and I don't even think a sewing machine would have made it go faster. A few tips if you decide to try something like this:

1. Make sure your fabric doesn't shred easily. Even if you stitch it by machine, some fabrics just aren't up to top-stitched appliqué.

2. Think carefully about the order in which you'll stitch the pieces to your backing. I almost forgot that the crown had to go under the elephant's head to give it the outline I wanted.

3. Don't worry about uneven stitching and slightly frayed edges. In my opinion, both add a bit of character to a piece like this.

4. You don't need to use embroidery thread for details, unless you want to. I decided from the outset that I would only use sewing thread so that it looked stitched rather than embroidered.

I really like the final piece—probably because I like the jewel tones of silk, and because I used lots of colour. In the end, however, it was a bit too fiddly and time-consuming for me, and I doubt very much that something like this could ever become my main art or craft practice.

In fact, the idea of doing an entire quilt using this technique is something that I think might make my head explode.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Despite an ability to drill their own wells in the desert, elephants are certainly not averse to easier sources of fresh, clean water.

At the rather exclusive Etali Safari Lodge in South Africa, staff were certain that one of their open-air whirlpool baths had sprung a leak. Each morning the bath was filled, and each night it was bone dry. A massive leak seemed the only possibility, but plumbers could find no leak at all.

One afternoon in May 2010, a guest at one of the private lodges heard a loud slurping noise. Going outside to investigate, the guest discovered the aptly named Troublesome sucking all the water out of the whirlpool. Although this particular elephant is known to rangers on the reserve for her interest in all things human, no one had any idea that she was behind the disappearing water.

Troublesome was caught in the act, but even after seeing the photographic evidence, the owners couldn't quite believe it. Remembering, however, that elephants can drink more than 200 litres (40 gallons) of water a day, it made sense that an entire whirlpool could be drained by a single elephant.

Lodge owners have since provided Troublesome with an alternate source of water; Troublesome, however, remains more interested in the whirlpool. According to staff, Troublesome is always welcome at the Lodge—although they suggest that visitors check to see if the elephant is around before taking a dip.

Troublesome taking a drink at Etali Safari Lodge in South Africa. By the look of her
skin, she probably gives herself a shower as well.
Photo: © Caters News Agency Ltd.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)

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