Embroidery – artisan craft and precision
Embroidery can make the simplest of fabrics feel unique. You’ll find it on our tablecloths, cushions, clothes and accessories – everywhere, in fact.
Many of Gudrun Sjödén’s creations and accessories feature hand-embroidered details. It’s an age-old traditional craft with heart and soul in every stitch. Machine embroidery produces results in less time. Although this technique does not produce all the unique details handcrafted by an artisan, it still requires deep knowledge and a human touch.
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Embroidery has a central place as a handicraft in Indian culture. Many children in the north of the country are taught hand embroidery at school. We find the most artistic embroideries in the regions around Jaipur, New Delhi and Lucknow. There are shops there that only sell antique textiles – an eldorado of sumptuously embroidered clothes. All crafted by artisans using silk threads, mirrors and beads.
We regularly visit the factory in the capital New Delhi that we have been working with for almost 20 years. One important reason for our visits is to make sure that the factory is complying with our code of conduct. Our code requires those with whom we engage to perform their activities in an ethically, socially and environmentally responsible manner. We also inspect the production operations from a design perspective. Our expert supplier guides us through the many embroidery styles. Every town and every village may specialise in a particular kind of embroidery, such as Chikankari, kantha (a simple running stitch), herringbone stitch, chain stitch, beaded or mirror embroidery. There are photos in Gudrun’s personal image archive from a visit to a village near Jaipur where products are hand-embroidered to order. We met a group of women there, skilfully working with embroidery frames and threads in every colour imaginable. It is here that our New Delhi supplier comes when we place orders for a blouse or tunic with hand embroidery.
The large machines used for embroidery stitching work at speed with great precision and a much higher volume than is possible by hand. Although it is a machine doing the job, human expertise is still required. It takes immense skill to design the technical artwork that tells the equipment how and where to embroider the garment.
The two main types of embroidery machine are Schiffli and multi head machines. Schiffli embroidery machines have single colour capacity. The machine is made up of a long row of needles that embroider several metres at a time. The possibilities and limitations that this entails may determine whether this technique is chosen or not. It all depends on what results you want to achieve.
The more versatile multi head machines offer more options for design creativity. Making this the technique we use most often for machine embroidery. As its name indicates, the machine has multiple heads spaced at varying distances depending on the type of machine. Each head has a number of needles and it also controls how many colours can be used. Considerable expertise is required to be able to program a multi head machine. Start and end points have to be created for all colours and all parts of the embroidery. The path of the needles must be meticulously plotted to minimise the number of jumps (when the needles move from one part of the design to another). Each jump requires the thread to be cut manually afterwards, which is both time-consuming and costly. Placement embroidery on specific areas of a garment must be marked out and adjusted accurately in the machine. This type of work requires a trained eye and skilled hand.
When the embroidery machine has been set up and is ready, the fabric is stretched over a frame that holds it firmly in place. The fabric should not be too delicate as it can easily tear. Best results are usually achieved using smooth, woven fabrics with little stretch.
Do it yourself
It is always satisfying to add a personal touch to a garment or an interior accessory. Embroidery is an ideal way to mend or bring new life to textiles that have become worn. All you need is the fabric, an embroidery needle, embroidery thread, scissors and a pattern – unless you want to embroider free-hand. Choose whatever colours and design you like. We draw our inspiration from the natural world; animals, flowers, birds and meandering foliage.