When creating or editing designs in machine embroidery it is important to remember that what we are engaging in an artistic process. Even those of you that embroider as an occasional hobby can benefit from thinking about your designs as a whole and not just the thread or applique that is going on your project. This is where the concept of positive and negative space come into your design, with positive space being the subject and negative space being the area that surrounds.
You have most likely already seen the vase/faces example of positive and negative space, in which both positive and negative are interchangeable based on your perspective. This shows that the term positive merely represents the subject or point of interest of the piece, and negative represents the space around it.These kinds of designs can be seen most frequently in modern company logos, and at their most complex in modern art. There are a number of designs available that are similar to the faces/vase example that will change depending on your perception These can make interesting pieces for your embroidery designs. Those of you with abundant artistic talent may even be able to make your own reversible image designs to use.
Framing the Image
Reversible images are the most obvious example of the use of negative and positive space, however these are also the least common form of negative space use. Negative space does not need to create its own separate image to add to the appeal of the design. Many artists use negative space to frame their paintings, photographs or designs for aesthetic value. A common practice is to use a similar volume of both positive and negative space to give the effect of symmetry. In other designs use of mostly negative space can give the desired impression of emptiness, openness or width, while mostly positive can give the impression of claustrophobia, lushness or familiarity.
In Machine Embroidery
For use in your machine embroidery designs, a lot of the time the positive space in the design will be created by sewing it onto the material. This makes sense as it is easiest to think of positive space as the act of putting something down that wasn’t there before, creating images on top of space that was previously blank. But using the blank spaces in between our designs to create images can be just as striking. Here is an example of two designs which are both essentially the same flower shape, in which the flower is the key focus. However in one of the designs the flower has been embroidered on, where as in the other the negative space around the flower has been filled with a pattern leaving the flower portion of the design blank.
So next time you are creating your own design or even thinking about altering an existing design, remember how important it is to take positive and negative space into account. Particularly remember that negative space doesn’t have to be blank and dull.