Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Sewn Artist Trading Cards

I've been making another ATC - this time a very personal one for a really special friend.

I shall have to give you some background. This card is for my friend, Michele. She is a lovely person and an amazing Mum to two gorgeous boys. She is one of the most loving, gentle, calm, patient and encouraging people I've ever known (all amazing qualities to possess as a parent!). And her family, particularly her husband and their two boys, mean the world to her. The other week Michele made a comment, to me and another friend, about how she frequently gets to the end of the day and feels that she just hasn't done a good job that day as a parent. Obviously we reassured her as best we could at the time - which was really not difficult given how amazing Michele is! Basically, if she's not doing a good enough job, then the rest of us are right up the creek! But her words left me wanting to do more in some way. And I decided that I wanted to make her an ATC that somehow tried to tell her not to feel inadequate and that she is doing a good job. Something that she could just pick up at the end of the day that might give her a bit of distant reassurance. 

Since, after my last ATC making, there were a couple of requests for more detail on how I make them, I took photos along the way this time around and will take you through my process. 

First up though, it might be helpful to talk about what an ATC actually is. It wasn't a term with which I was familiar until very recently, so in case you're in a similar boat, here's a bit of information on them, taken from Wikipedia:

Artist trading cards (or ATCs) are miniature works of art about the same size as modern trading cards, 2 1⁄2 by 3 1⁄2 inches (64 mm × 89 mm),small enough to fit inside standard card-collector pockets, sleeves or sheets. The ATC movement developed out of the mail art movement and has its origins in Switzerland. Cards are produced in various media, including dry media (pencils, pens, markers, etc.), wet media (watercolor, acrylic paints, etc.), paper media (in the form of collage, papercuts, found objects, etc.) or even metals or fiber. The cards are usually traded or exchanged.

So now back to the making. Obviously the first step is to come up with a plan of what you want to put on your ATC, and the reasons behind your making will be the key here. For my card I decided to use this gorgeous photo of Michele and her youngest son as my inspiration.

Then I took a scrap of neutral linen, a little larger than the 2.5 by 3.5 inches I was ultimately aiming for, and drew on my image. Water soluble pens are great for this. I added a scrap of wool behind my fabric to give it a bit more weight and stability.

When I was happy with it I sewed over my drawing as best I could. I often like to use a dark grey for this kind of machine embroidery - I like the way it gives a feel of being a pencil drawing. And if you'd love to have a go at recreating a picture in machine embroidery then please don't be put off by thinking it's too hard. Depending on the picture you're using it's often possible to trace at least an outline of your image, rather than having to draw it completely free hand. And the embroidery itself is easier than you might think - it's mostly a matter of going slowly but steadily and not beating yourself up too much when it doesn't turn out completely perfectly! Practice is also a massive help with machine embroidery, you'd be amazed how much you can improve in a very short space of time. So, please don't be daunted, give it a go!

Once I had my embroidered image, I was quite tempted to leave it just as it was. Or obviously another option, that I often like, is to combine it with applique. But something else which I've been trying more recently is to combine it with paint. This is particularly suitable if you're making something, like an ATC, which is not designed to need washing. (If you are making something that will need to be washed at times, for instance a cushion cover, you could still use paints - for example acrylic based paints which are then ironed are relatively colour fast I find - but you do just need to be a bit more cautious.) 

If you've used a water soluble pen to create your original drawing, and you're now planning on adding detail and colour with paint then please remember to wash off your pen marks first and let it dry thoroughly!

I used some 'proper' water colours for my paints, once ironed I do find these reasonably colour fast, but I would definitely be wary of using them in other projects.

When I was happy with my work, I trimmed it down to the 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. And I also wanted to add some words to the picture (I like words!). It was really hard to decide on the words I wanted, there were so many ways in which I wanted to try and reassure Michele. In the end, some words from Kim, over at Mothering with Mindfulness, felt like the perfect choice. Kim had written about how she reassures herself if she is having a moment of self doubt...

 "I am enough"

'A phrase I often use for myself, it is simple, but often allows me to get past my moments of self doubt, and negative self talk. 
We all struggle, we all have moments when we wonder if we are doing this mothering thing right ... 'I am enough' often reminds me that I am what my little one needs, my love for him, the time I spend with him, the choices we have made, all of it is enough.'

This phrase felt perfect with the picture of Michele, in which I think her love shines through. I printed the words up on fabric (see back here for more information on that). I use bondaweb to help with this, so then it's an easy matter of ironing on the words and securing them with more sewing.

With previous ATCs I've machine embroidered words, or alternatively you could hand embroider or carefully write them in with a fabric pen or permanent marker. I just liked the printed effect with this one. And of course, ATCs don't have to include any words, it's entirely down to what you want to make, they don't even have to be 'pictures' of any sort, they could just be a beautiful, tiny, piece of abstract art.

But for this one, on to the back. Same kind of process. I cut a scrap of fabric slightly bigger than required, with another piece of wool to back it again.

My back was going to be purely words this time, and since I'd decided on a quote with quite a few words in it, I went down the printed fabric route again to help me to fit it all into such a small space. I think that's the biggest challenge I've found with the ATCs I've made so far - you really are working on a miniature scale and it can be difficult to do that and get the effect you want.

Once these words were ironed and then sewn on to just the back of my card, I trimmed this up too, making sure it matched my front piece. Then put the 2 pieces together (wrong sides together) and simply sewed around the card several times. You probably know by now that I'm very comfortable with raw edges, so this method works for me - and is incredibly simple!

And here's the finished card...


I'm sure lots of people out there would go about sewing ATCs in a very different way. This is just my preferred method at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if I experiment with other methods and tweak my approach in the future. 

I was introduced to ATCs through a swap which Ali organises on a regular basis on her blog - Very Berry Handmade. And in fact there's another swap just coming up (to be completed by around the 24th August) which Ali has recently organised. I'm taking part again, and the theme this time around is 'My favourite...' , I haven't decided on any particular interpretation of this as yet, so watch this space! And Ali is planning on having several posts devoted to ATC making on her blog over the next few weeks so it's worth keeping an eye out there for more ideas on making them. Another great source of ATC inspiration is her Flickr group which has photos of many of the cards from previous swaps - find it here.

So hopefully that might help if you are interested in ATCs. I have to say I'm a little bit hooked on them now, and I also have hopes of getting the children involved in making some (not necessarily sewn ones) and swapping them in the not too distant future.

And if you do make any, I'd really love to see photos of them.



  1. What a lovely gift for a good friend. I really resonate with "I am Enough" and I hope it is powerful and a wonderful reminder for her.

  2. oh that is so very beautiful :-) and perfect

  3. Oh Sally, this is just perfect, and it looks amazing! It has all come together so beautifully. You are an amazing friend, and I know Michele will love it.

  4. Sally what an amazingly personal, and beautiful gift! X

  5. Oh what a wonderful present for your friend and such wise words on both sides. Kim has such a lovely way of nailing a concept in just one sentence doesn't she ��

  6. That is just beautiful. I can't imagine how special it must be to receive such a gorgeous present with such a meaningful message. Once more, your love shines through.

  7. Such a beautiful and thoughtful gift for your friend, Sally. Thanks for sharing how you made the ATC card.

  8. Amazing work, Sally, amazing. No words really.


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