An Interview with Ann Leachman of Club Chainstitch!
We're back today with something I think is super cool, an interview with my friend Ann Leachman of Club Chainstitch! On Tuesday we posted my Loon Watch Thayer Jacket, which is now one of my prized possessions, and none of that could have come to life without Ann's incredible chainstitch talent! Did you know that she guides all of her designs by hand, with one hand, while her other arm is under the machine cranking a handle for power? Boggles the mind!
All of us here were so interested in the process that we thought you might be too so we asked Ann some of the questions we wanted to know and got to learn all about her craft. So without further ado let me introduce you to Club Chainstitch!
We're super interested in your chainstitch machine, where do you find something like that? How do you get it serviced?
I use a Singer114w103 chainstitch machine. My particular machine was made in the 1920's! Singer no longer makes these machines, so they can be quite hard to find, and often in less than working condition. Luckily, I found mine fully restored on Ebay. Since this machine is so old, there's not a ton of information out there about how to use these machines or troubleshoot issues, so it's taken a lot of trial and error to figure it out. It also requires a ton of oil after each use - I often feel like Dorothy hanging out with the Tin Man with my little oil spout.
How long have you been working as a chain stitch embroidery?
I've been doing chainstitch embroidery for about 1.5 years. Before that, my focus was on intricate hand embroidery. I studied Fiber Art at the Kansas City Art Institute in college, so my love of ALL things textiles runs deep!
What drew you to this type of embroidery?
Before I got my own machine, I became obsessed with the work of other chainstitch artists. I would stay up late watching videos of other artists work - these machines are super hypnotic and totally sucked me right in! I will always love hand embroidery, but it's a very time-consuming medium. The chainstitch machine seemed to be the perfect solution. The stitching is all done freehand, but the process happens much quicker. The chainstitch machine makes only 2 types of stitches: a flat chain stitch, and a loopy chenille, or moss, stitch. I really like this limitation, and I find it really fun to discover news ways to use these simple stitches to create something amazing.
How did you learn to operate the machine?
Lots and lots (and lots!) of practice. On this machine, the needle is guided by turning a handle below the machine. At first, this feels totally nuts! It has taken a lot of practice to build up that hand-eye coordination. Also, there are no buttons or automated settings on this machine, so changing things like stitch length and width requires making teeny tiny adjustments here and there: loosening a screw ever so slightly, adding extra oil in just the right place, or raising the needle a fraction of a millimeter. All of these things take a lot of trial and error (and practice!) to figure out. Luckily, there's a small but mighty chainstitch community out there that is generous with their knowledge.
Are all of your pieces your own original artwork or are you able to recreate illustrations if they're sent to you?
I really love recreating other people's designs! It's so much fun getting to work on a wide variety of different projects, from simple script lettering to more intricate, complex designs. It forces me to work with colors and images I would never normally work with, and it never gets boring!
Do you prefer to do freehand style pieces or patches or something else?
Patches are a lot of fun to make, and it's really satisfying to crank out multiples of something. I also really like diving into more complex projects and seeing the design come to life little by little.
Do you have a favorite piece you've worked on recently?
I just finished a bunch of really cool personalized denim jackets for a bride and her bridal party. It was very cool to play a small part in such a special day for them.
Is chain stitch embroidery your main art focus?
Chainstitch embroidery is my main focus and my job, but in my free time I LOVE to knit and sew clothing. I just bought fabric to make a Thayer Jacket of my own!!
Since we interviewed Ann she finished her amazing Thayer Jacket (center), she calls it her version of the car decal, haha! She also chainstitched the patches on Laura (right) and Paula's (left) jackets.
I love learning about other crafts, its such a fun window into a persons creativity. For more beautiful projects and hypnotizing videos of chainstitching, you can follow Club Chainstitch on Instagram or YouTube and definitely check out the Club Chainstitch site for more awesome videos!