Thursday, September 20, 2012

Environmental patterns

Susan Brubaker Knapp here. In August, I did a tutorial for the Free-Motion Quilting Challenge. SewCalGal, the creator of the challenge, asked people to sign up to participate and pledge to try to improve their free-motion quilting skills in 2012.

I am a fiber artist, and love doing thread sketching (using free-motion machine stitching as a surface design technique) and free-motion quilting. Pattern is an integral part of both. Here is some of the information in my August tutorial for the Free-Motion Quilting Challenge. I hope you have fun creating patterns, whether you sketch with ink or thread!

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Unique patterns are as nearby as your environment. A few weeks ago, I challenged myself to find interesting motifs around my house. Armed with my digital camera, I snapped away at both man-made and natural things others might find boring, mundane, or downright unattractive. My air conditioner. The roof of my car port. Rusty old antique tools. I used these images to create the patterns and quilting designs … and surprise! I like some of them a lot. 

This motif is based on bark patterns from my dogwood tree. 

This is the top of my air-conditioning unit. (And let me pause right here and say a prayer of gratitude for my beloved air conditioner. How I love you, especially in summer in North Carolina!) Straight lines can offer a challenge. Don’t worry if yours wobble a bit; it just adds to the charm.

I know you are now dying to see the other cool old wooden and rusty metal stuff I have on my back porch, so here’s a photo:

This is one of those plastic drainage pipes you install underground. Except ours has worked its way up to the surface. 

I like this one a lot, but think I would like it better if it included the pointy tip of the fern. 

Ready to try it yourself? 

What you’ll need:
A digital camera
Tracing paper
Black permanent pen

1. Get your digital camera ready to roll. It doesn’t have to be a fancy or really expensive camera. Mine cost about $100. You might even be able to use the camera feature on your smart phone, if you have one.

2. Acquaint yourself with the macro feature on your camera. Almost all cameras have them nowadays. (It’s the little button that looks like a tulip, and allows you to shoot very close up – about five inches away from your subject.) After you push the tulip button to turn on this feature, the most important thing to do is make sure you don’t zoom in at all, or it will be out of focus.

3. Set a timer for five or ten minutes.

4. Go outside, or inside your house and shoot everything you see with a strong, obvious texture or pattern. Try to disengage your brain; don’t think about what would be pretty or interesting. Don’t overthink. Just shoot, shoot, shoot. The timer will help you move along.
5. On your computer, pull up your digital images, and print them out at whatever size you want on plain paper. (My images were about 4" x 7".) Or have 4x6" prints done at the place you usually go to have photographic prints made. 

6. Place a piece of tracing paper on top of your photos. Use a black permanent marker to draw the primary lines in the image. Don’t be overly fussy or trace every line. Focus on the main lines or outlines. 

7. Transfer your images to your medium of choice, and flesh them out using fabric and thread, or ink, paint, marker, paper…


  1. Lovely Susan. Could you write about about how you would transfer these sketches to fabric?

  2. Thanks, Deborah. To transfer to fabric, I simply put the line drawings on a light box, placed fabric on top, and traced them onto the fabric.

    You could trace them onto a page in your sketchbook and work with them there, too.

  3. Realy great work - love it :-)

  4. What a terrific idea. Thanks for sharing your images.

  5. Gorgeous. I thought for sure that one was "hot dog stack" though.


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