Niamh O’Connor is a stitch artist and designer working at Urban Threads, where they are revolutionizing machine embroidery one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time.
When I first started designing for embroidery as a freshly graduated illustrator, I was often frustrated by what did and did not translate into thread. Stuff that would look fantastic on paper would just not work out the same in embroidery. Small details, print effects like halftone and offset printing, large designs… it was all limited by thread detail, trims, and hoop size. I would sometimes find myself wishing that embroidery could do more.
Over time, I’ve learned that you can pull out some truly gorgeous stuff if you just learn to design to its strengths, instead of fighting against its weaknesses. With this series, Baroque Punk, I wanted to focus on the one thing embroidery does better than anything: stitch dimension.
Beautiful, textural satin stitches can catch the light and make embroidery look like a sculptural relief when done right. It’s a technique that was common in the regal days of old, but oft forgotten in today’s modern machine designs. When researching embroidery through the ages, I was taken by the ornate qualities of the Baroque period. I thought it the perfect example of a “tapestry” of stitches and depth, and I wanted to bring that back.
This Baroque Punk series juxtaposes those ornate sculptural qualities of Baroque art with tattoo design. While still honoring embroidery’s roots, I wanted to make it fresh and modern by changing up the subject matter. Besides, we can’t seem to miss the chance to throw a skull into things now and then.
To leave the usual “kitsch” association with machine embroidery behind as far as possible, we at Urban threads decided to pair these designs with something you don’t often see machine embroidery on: modern couture fashion — proving that these kinds of designs would hold up to that kind of application, and to show that machine embroidery can be a lot more elegant than its often thought to be. To bring the project to life, we collaborated with celebrated fashion designer Laura Fulk, whose modern and edgy line has appeared on countless catwalks in the Midwest and to rave reviews at local fashion shows. Her classic yet slightly offbeat aesthetic was the perfect style to match the paradoxical Baroque Punk designs.
Together we hit upon the idea of a sharply tailored and asymmetrical jacket mixed with raw edges and patchwork. We wanted to offset the classic look and give it a grunge feel. The layers of fabric would also help to emphasize the overall deep texture we were going for, in both the jacket and the designs.
The blazer came to life in pieces. Laura hand-dyed and marked out her patterns on large swatches of fabric, and then mailed it to me for the embroidery. Using mostly templates, I experimented with placement, size and mirroring effects to get the overall tapestry look I was going for, and embroidered everything over the course of two late nights. Once back in Laura’s hands, it was crafted into the finished jacket and then given a second dye bath, to give the colors a richer, grungier hue.
The whole project took about three weeks from the first sketch to the final shot. This collaboration, along with a few others we have done over the past year, are all part of a larger project we call The Lab, an initiative to experiment, collaborate, and innovate to see just what can be done with the art of embroidery. We’ve had great fun working with other talented people and love finding out just what this medium can do. We plan for many other projects in the future!
If you want to grab the designs yourself, you can get them all right here. See more about this project over on our blog Stitchpunk, or take a peek at a behind the scenes look of the making of the jacket and the embroidery.
Credits: Model: Lucie Mulligan || Photography: Burt Edwards || Hair/Makeup: Sara Capers