ATC Guest Post: The Creative Process

This week we welcome Catherine of Knotted Cotton, to talk about the way she put her Artist Trading Cards together. Catherine is another long term swapper, and I am a huge fan of her lovely free motion embroidery and her use of beautiful colours and contrasts. I am so glad that I am not the only one who covers furniture with sewing equipment and fabric…   

I’ve really enjoyed reading the other guest posts here about other swappers’ process for making their ATC cards and hearing how they organise their thoughts, and getting some practical tips too.

For me it starts with the thing I really love about taking part which is lying in bed in the middle of the night thinking about the theme for the current swap. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t also think about it obsessively during the day!) It’s not only fun thinking about what images the theme conjures up, but there’s also the challenge of making it work in such a small space.

I think about it a lot and always leave making my card until the last minute before I commit to an idea (panic! panic!) but by the time I get down to it an image has crystallized fairly clearly in my mind.

My own process is not very organised, or consistent. Sometimes I do a detailed sketch with notes, and pull fabric to go with it.


Once I found the perfect excuse to buy myself a bunch of flowers and staged the idea!


Sometimes it’s helpful just to have a rough sketch for size and proportion. I’m planning on making at least two cards this time as I’ve volunteered as potential swap angel, and for one card I have made a very basic drawing (cosy armchair, a cat, a cup of tea and an open book) and started getting together some materials.


In that plastic bag I keep any little pieces of Bondaweb left over from other projects. The tub is full of tiny scraps of fabric, mostly too small for anything else. Both are perfect for ATCs.

Making a card is a great opportunity to try something new but I seem to have settled into a preference for applique with a bit of free-motion machine embroidery which fits the kind of pictures I like to make and means I can fuss with the image and the layout of pieces, adding and removing things before sewing them down. They start to take on a life of their own.Here I’ve started to build up the picture making changes as I go along, using a scrap of calico at the back to stablilise it a bit when I sew pieces down. I hadn’t thought about the floor but felt it needed one…I’m playing about with where the cat should go…Then I saw a tiny frayed scrap of silk in a pile of trimmings I hadn’t swept off my table into the bin. A lucky accident – an antimacassar! There is a point at which I start worrying that it’s not any good but you have to power on through!

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Quite often I just start working on the card without any other preparation and that’s what I did for my first card for this swap – I was thinking about Winter Comforts for a bird, rather than a human being, and I just cut and sewed and added bits until it looked okay. Sometimes I think the card is finished and then worry about it – maybe this one could do with some blue in the sky, I don’t know!


Whatever I do, it always involves an amount of mess that is disproportionate to the size of the card, and quite often results in the family having to eat a strange dinner made of whatever is lurking in the fridge because I’ve been so preoccupied that I have forgotten to shop. That’s if they can find room on the dining table….


Once the front of the card is done, I use various methods to finish it off. One is to sew it face to face with the backing and turn it right way out before inserting whatever I’m using to stiffen it. In my case this tends to result in rounded corners and the gap where I have sewn up the turning hole is never as tidy as it should be. The neatest way by far I’ve found is to place the finished front on a piece of card/stiff interfacing, pull the edges to the back and glue them down as per Ali’s tutorial.

The most difficult part of the process is saying goodbye to the card and sending it off to its recipient because by that point I’ve usually got quite attached to it… but the fun then is waiting for another card to arrive.

It wont be long now until everyone is having to say goodbye to their cards! Don’t forget to let me know when you have sent and received… Thanks all and thanks Catherine for this lovely post. 

7 thoughts on “ATC Guest Post: The Creative Process

  1. Oh so sweet! And good to see the process of evolution. I like the two colours on the bird with just the highlight of red berries, I wonder if adding blue to the white sky would have been distracting? But I’m sure you’d have managed it perfectly…

  2. What a lovely post, Catherine! I am so happy to see your disproportionate mess, I tend to do the same and I also forget to shop and leave cooking dinner till the very last minute. 🙂 I love your bird card and see it as JAN – ISISJEM, as a winter comfort to me, it’s perfect as it is. Your cards are always so beautiful!

  3. I am glad I’m not the only one leaving it to the last minute as I try and sift through the ideas. Actually it’s probably a good thing as most of the stuff I’ve had ideas about has started to appear in other people’s cards in the flickr group so just today I’ve hit upon a totally new idea and it’s a bit outside the box.

    I love the bird one above and I didn’t even read it as berries being a comfort to the bird. I read it as seeing birds in winters bleak landscape is always a comfort to me!

  4. I really enjoyed reading about this process. I adore ATC’s and have always wanted to find a group to participate with, but worry so much about not making the deadlines. So interesting to see how you plan it out and the kitty looks perfect placed on the little rug. 🙂

  5. Your trading cards are always so cute. I like the simplicity of the birdie one, I don’t think it needs anything else added. And I love the picture of the disproportionate mess – it always seems to be that way with crafty projects.

  6. The first atc card i saw was in Catherine’s blog and I fell in love instantly . I emailed her to ask about these .The next swap I watched and then plucked up courage to join in. I’m glad I jumped in . I missed this time but hope to dive again next time

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