machine embroidery

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


We would like to welcome advertiser Niamh O’Connor of Urban Threads to today, to feature her business and to offer a fantastic giveaway to our readers.

Urban Threads was created for those looking for embroidery designs they couldn’t find anywhere else – everything from tattoos and steampunk to pagan designs and all-out geekery. Our goal is to not only reach that audience of stitchers who previously couldn’t find things they wanted, but to introduce it to a whole new audience of people who might not have even looked at machine embroidery before because of their assumptions of what it was, or what it could do. Also, we one day hope to achieve world domination through embroidery. Not sure how yet, but we’re working on it.

Where to find Urban Threads online: Shop :: Stitch Punk Blog

Tell us what led you to the work you do today?

I went to school for illustration, and through college got an internship at a machine embroidery company. I loved drawing stuff every day, but I wasn’t drawing the kind of things I was really in to. I figured there had to be a whole audience of crafters like me who wanted different kinds of designs than those that were typically offered by the industry. As it turns out, there are a whole bunch of embroiderers out there who prefer skulls to floral samplers. It’s been so much fun to discover a whole new audience for the medium.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

Our customers! It’s so great to see what is inspiring them and the DIY community. We get requests all the time for all kinds of crazy cool ideas. It’s a great way to see just what your audience wants. For instance, we started doing steampunk designs once in awhile, and through customer requests and ideas it’s expanded into one of our best selling themes! They always seem to have a new idea of what to add gears to.

 What are you doing to be a more eco friendly business?

The nice thing about being an entirely digital business is that you don’t have any of the waste of printing, storing, packaging, shipping… any of it! Our product is entirley digital and thus doesn’t create any excess material. We stitch each product once for quality and scanning, and after that it just lives in cyberspace! It also means more time for us to draw and design and create when we’re not messing with the physical side of producing and distributing a product.

Also, one of our favorite things to do in tutorials is up-cycling! Embroidery is a great way of bringing new life to an old garment, so we show people how to cut things apart and put them back together as something new and fun.

Today Urban Threads  are offering a prize of a $50 gift certificate to one lucky reader. So please leave a comment here to be in the running to win. You have 72 hours to enter. Winner will be chosen at random, announced here and contacted via email. Good luck!  Congratulations to Margi!

Urban Threads has just this week released Dark Fairytale embroidery designs, and these will be on sale until the 5th of September.

If you would like your business to be featured in a future Giveaway Post, visit our advertising page or email us at advertising[at]whipup[dot]net.

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Great little visual tutorial. Link.


Liking this! I wondered how it was done. Link.