Embroidered Vest 2016-2017

20170810_163445I’d been paging through one of our coffee table books called “Art to Wear” by Julie Schafler Dale and was drawn to a pair of shorts that were completely covered with free form crewel embroidery.  I’d been wanting to ‘do something’ with an old black denim jacket hanging in my closet- it had ’80’s style sleeves but I love the black denim.  I realized I’d also been ‘pinning’ pics of embellished denim jackets for some time so I took all of this as a sign to get started!

Design: I wanted the design on the jacket to convey something about our responsibility to protect the worlds water supply.  Water is already a commodity that is being ‘bought up’ and of course we see the news about the extended impact of water supply on countries, landscapes and people.

I originally thought of embroidering a ‘broken’ globe (like an ornament with a broken hole) with water gushing out into emptiness. But I wanted more color options and to learn multiple embroidery stitches. I decided it would in some way represent the dependance of flowers, trees, fruits, animals and people on water, and the design would ‘come to me’ and grow organically as the project continued.

Process:  This vest took me 1-1/2 years to complete – a little at a time during my spare time.  It was an intentional meditative project that would end whenever it was done and there were periods of weeks that it didn’t get touched. I especially enjoyed the summer nights sitting in my living room with just my one light, the windows open, listening to the crickets and letting my mind wander.

The Embroidery:

1. I started with the big flower in the lower left:

Flowers. Satin stitch outlined with stem stitch or back stitch; outer petals are back stitch using 2 colors and middle are basketweave, also with 2 colors; inner are satin stitch with one color. I topped with orange with a light orange ‘x’ pattern.

2. The feathers came next. 3. Then the eyes (2nd favorite part of the vest!):

Eyes and bottom of feather – representing animals, birds and people. Eye iris is satin stitch; eyelids are split stitch outline and filled with back stitches; basketweave stitch in the whites of the eyes. The feathers are statin stitch outlined in back stitch.

4. Next, the big green leaf on upper left with just an outline of the smaller leaf at it’s tip.

Original ’empty’ leaf at the end of the big one. Split stitch filler at bottom, basketweave on top.
Closeup of the large green leaf. This has multiple shades of green to create dimension. I originally was going to have just the greens but the leaf looked flat. I added the filler in bright orange and the one strand of orange through the weave. LOVE IT!

5. Next, the fruit/berries/leaves at upper right.

Fruit and berries. Satin stitch and back stitch. The dark berries are outlined with navy and pink to add dimension. The stems are made with 4 shades of pink. The leaves are back stitch filler and outlines. Note the stitching in different directions to help delineate the adjacent leaves.

6. Then I started the waterfall – my favorite part of the vest!!

This was created completely free form with stem and split stitch – adding colors and shapes as I progressed to resemble water flow, froth, reflections.

7. Brown branch/stem with seeds at middle right.

A little artistic leeway here to represent trees and plants with seeds. Split stitch and stars using back stitch. 3 shades of brown and a gold.

8. At this point I decided the outline of the leaf at the tip of the big leaf didn’t have enough ‘weight’ so I filled it in with ‘spots’ and added a 3rd element with the leaf peeking under the big one.

Work in progress …filling in the little leaf with ‘spots’ to give it more ‘weight’ and I’m adding the 3rd partial leaf under the big guy.

9. Almost done with the embroidery…but it still felt out of balance with too much space at the upper left. I decided to add a ‘title’. One of the definitions of organic is “happening or developing in a natural or continuous process” – and that is a perfect description ofhow this design progressed.

Near the end  – added a ‘title in split stitch’: “Made with stitches, organically grown”.


That is the completion of the embroidery. Please see the subpage called “Finishing the Vest” to see the steps for fitting and finishing.