Design Source

Hello Everyone

This week as promised we are going to make a start on the article How To Design An Embroidery Project.  We will begin with:

STAGE ONE – Choosing A Project Picture & Gaining Permission.

The first thing I do is find a picture – this could be from a book, greeting card, painting or online.  Unless I have something specific in mind I generally look online as this gives me the widest choice available so in other words GOOGLE IT!  So lets say I am looking for a bird, I normally have an idea of the type of bird I want to embroider – lets say I am looking for a common kingfisher:  once I have googled this I will scroll through the hundreds of options looking for something that appeals.  When I say appeals – I mean the bird has to have that “someting”, i.e. a bit of character, it should be telling a story and not just sitting stiffly on a branch, maybe some fluffed out feathers or a comical look in its eye, here are some of the things I look for:

  • Form – the bird should have an interesting stance –  perhaps looking out at something in the distance or down at a fish in the water.  The form should also be suitable for stitching – the front feathers are always easier to stitch than back and side feathers and we always want a few fluffy feathers, or at least see an option to add them!  The photo on left includes all these qualities
  • Colour – the picture of the bird should include good colour detail, and contrast – I need to see the shading in there not dull, smudgy colours.  If I cant find the colour in the form picture I will look for another picture – the photo top right has good colour so I can refer to this when stitching.
  • Detail –  I need to be able to see details in order to reproduce them – the eye and beak are particularly important.  Again I will source another picture to refer to for details such as the one bottom right.
  • Character – we all like a bit of character perhaps some cuteness or fluffing its feathers out.
Sourcing a good picture
Sourcing a good picture

Some of the things we need to be careful of when choosing a picture are:

  • Bad Form – a bird that has no character, is sitting stiffly on a branch or the angle is wrong making it look skinny or elongated.  Fat birds are good!
  • Too much background foliage or detail – which detracts from the bird and makes it hard to copy.

kingfisher 1


Quite often my pictures are made up of a combination of elements from different images – such as a bird from one, a branch from another and a flower from another.  As you know the kingfisher I chose is the one top left and here is the finished embroidery so you can see what it looks like.

Common kingfisher
Common kingfisher


As you are aware whenever we use someone’s work be it a painting, illustration or photo we are obliged to gain permission to use it.  The only exception is if the work is approx 70 – 100 years old and in the Public Domain.  I made the mistake of using a diagram from someone’s book once without gaining permission which  resulted in a lengthy and costly court case – so please get permission! Most artists and photographers are very accomodating and will give permission as long as you acknowledge them as the source others will charge a licence /copyright fee.  So how do you go about gaining permission:

  • Click on the image which will take you to the source website.  Sometimes other websites or blogs have used someone elses picture so it may take a bit of research to find the original owner.  If you are using a pic from a book, greeting card or painting get in contact with the person who’s signature is on the painting or contact the publishers.
  • Find the owners contact details from the website and send them an email – asking if you can use their picture, what it is for and also some examples of your work so they can see how it might turn out.  If you are using it for your own personal use and not re-selling it, then mention this and if you are using it for commercial purposes such as sharing in kit form for a class/workshop, in a book or kit form you should also mention this.
  • Do not think that you can photocopy a page from an embroidery book and share it with your friends – this is highly illegal!  Please consider the amount of work and effort the author has put into the book and buy your own copy.
  • Once you have gained permisson you are ready to go to the next stage which is tracing the outline and preparing the design to go onto fabric.  More on this next week.


Since I am working on miniatures at the moment I have decided to use this little pansy basket as a sample project.  Why was I drawn to this picture in particular?

  • The colours are sublime – autumn pansy shades with an almost irridescent quality.
  • I felt that stitching flowers in different colours would prevent me from getting bored with too many repeats.
  • I have never stitched a basket of flowers before and was keen to try the basket bit.
  • I felt that a basket of flowers would be a nice addition to the birds and children that are already in the range of miniatures, and add variation.
  • In the Victorian Era there was a plethora of pansy paintings and illustrations – they were a very popular flower and one is naturally drawn to them.
  • This little picture lends itself well to miniature embroidery – there is enough detail to hold one’s interest but simple enough to reproduce in miniature form.

Below is a picture which is from a vintage postcard by artist Catherine Klein.

Catherine Klein was a German artist born in 1861.   She attended the Art School in Berlin and painted flower pictures, eventually in “gouche” (opaque watercolor).   Although there were thousands of painters in the art centers of Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Dusseldorf and Nurenberg in the 1890’s, Catherine Klein became the best known flower painter because her work appeared in print.  Art teachers then began using Catherine  Klein pictures for models and her vintage postcards and prints have rapidly gained in popularity today for both collectors and artists.  I like to know a bit about the artist’s work I am reproducing it helps me to empathise with the era and style of art.

I originally found the picture on Pinterest on the board of Dorothee Muller , which led me to Vintage Images Blogspot and made contact with the owner, Dorothy who kindly granted permission.  The first thing I did was to print out a project board like the one below with the original picture and some enlarged details of the basket, pansies etc to help me follow whilst stitching.  I use Corel Photo Paint for editing my images, which allows me to touch up the pictures and enlarge aspects of it.

Pansy Basket details.
Pansy Basket details.

Next week we will talk about how to trace the outline, what materials to use and how to go about getting it onto your fabric.  Meantime wherever you are in the world, be it winter, summer or spring have a wonderful week and happy stitching.  Trish




13 thoughts on “Design Source”

  1. Oh merci magnifique broderies je suis fane de vous libres et broderies j avite a monte carlo et je suis membre de un club de broderie et la prinses caroline est la présidente et derniment ont a fait une exposition et je suis heureuse de avoir brode un little bee tres belle broderie j vou adore !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Trish, It took me a while to get to read your blog, but when I did I loved it. Thank you so much for giving me this enjoyment and I look forward to the next one. It is a nice calming end to a busy workweek. Gratefully, Belle Gallay


  3. Thank you Trish! This is the sort of information that most of us never have access to, i.e., the artist’s process. I can hardly wait for the next one.

  4. I am so glad I am on your blog so that I can learn this. I want to do some original things, but it never gets “off the ground,” so to speak. Maybe this will help me.

  5. I am lucky in this regard, My dad, uncle, brother and granpa all have photography as thier hobby, and they all live in different parts of the continent. I also do not do thread painting, just embroidery and it is just my hobby, so for me, perfection is less important.

    I do love the fluffed flapper though. 🙂

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