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Niamh O’Connor, Art Director for the offbeat embroidery website Urban Threads, paired up with the design duo from KMKostumes to create a one-of-a-kind dress project to help facilitate the revitalization of machine embroidery. No longer relegated to quilts and crafty wall hangings, Urban Threads aims to push traditional machine embroidery out from it’s dusty past and bring it to a new generation of fashion savvy designers and crafters (sounds a little like the beginnings of BurdaStyle, huh?).

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Left: photo by Fairshadow Photography. Top right: fitting the dress. Bottom right: the Minnesota-based mother/daughter team behind KMKostumes.

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The piece in progress: "I wanted the designs to be functional and useful for any kind of application, but also to tie in beautifully with the theme and design of the dress. In the end we combined a gothic look with some steampunk. The dress itself is a play on Autumn and the symbolism of the decline of nature when juxtaposed with industry. We used a “clockwork” theme to play on the idea of the passage of time, as in nature, and of the rise of industry over the years. Autumn colors and motifs were a great way to work with dark imagery and decay without going too classically gothic," says Niamh.


Challenging the traditional conventions of the medium, they chose to create a steampunk themed dress that would show just how seamlessly you can apply machine embroidery to modern and alternative fashion while hopefully inspiring others to incorporate it to their own designs and creations.

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Photos by FairShadow Photography, makeup and hair by Sara Capers.

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Top: embroidered piece soaking to remove stabilizer. " We decided a fun way to showcase a lot of the embroidery on this dress was to “float” it on organza pieces, to keep everything light but still let the dress show beautifully," says Niamh. Bottom: a design being stitched by one of Urban Thread’s industrial machines.


Embroidery has been a part of fashion since the beginning of fashion itself, but machine embroidery has lagged behind the modernization of sewing, remaining a sort of conservative and outdated craft. And while machines are expensive, Urban Threads is working to connect designers with embroiders and sellers around the country who are willing to let them test out machine embroidery and how they can apply it to their craft before they lay down the big bucks to purchase their own.

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Photos by FairShadow Photography, makeup and hair by Sara Capers

Urban Threads has loads of amazing patterns and projects on their site, including this fantastic Raven Lace Mask that reminds me a little bit of what The Knife wear when they perform. And if you don’t have a machine but you still want to add some fresh embroidery to your sewing projects, Urban Threads offers loads of their machine embroidery patterns in versions for hand embroidery as well.

Inspired yet? Good because Urban Threads is offering one lucky BurdaStyle member the chance to score a $50 gift certificate to give their fun and whimsical patterns a try! Simply tell us how you would (or already do) incorporate machine embroidery into your garment projects by 9:30 am EST on Friday, October 21st and you’ll be in the running to grab this awesome prize! Don’t have a machine? Don’t worry! The Urban Threads gift certificate is good for hand embroidery and stock art files too!

Thanks to Niamh, KMKostumes, Sara Capers and FairShadow Photography for letting us get a sneak peek at this fantastic collaboration! For more information and to get your hands on the brand new Clockwork Natura embroidery patterns and kits (which are available for both machine and hand embroidery), check out urbanthreads.com.

54 Comments

  • August_08_baby_quilt_large

    Oct 14, 2011, 11.08 PMby Karen Alexander

    Let me count the ways… I discovered Naimi’s fabulous art as a longtime (dusty?!) hand and machine embroiderer quilter and sewist. I make much of my own clothing, and think nothing of adding machine embellishment in the form of embroidery any time. My favorite Urban Threads pattern use was to put her “dragon wings” pattern on the back of last year’s Halloween “reconstructed T”…I don’t pass a week without checking her always cool site! Thanks for the nice feature!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 10.14 PMby Caitlin Leyden

    I like adding embriodery as a center piece to liven up a simple outfit. Like on the bust of an apron, or a stomach or onto the pockets of a dress. It’s also fun to hid in on skirts or underskirts were people have to look to see it. Or just as more texture on something.

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    Oct 14, 2011, 10.03 PMby Melissa Haren

    Urban Threads is definitely my favorite source for machine embroidery patterns for myself. I love to add them to the legs of slacks, pockets, and back of any top or jacket!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 09.44 PMby Inde

    I like to use embroidery on those plain old run-of-the-mill every day items – hoodies, jeans, pillows, hand towels, etc. – to turn them into personalized one-of-a-kind treasures. UT is currently to be my go-to for most of my embroidery needs; it just fits my personality best!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 09.39 PMby Jeni Montzka

    Ever since a friend of mine encouraged me to check out Urban Threads last summer, I’ve been addicted! Finally, embroidery designs that I want to use (not that there’s anything wrong with teddy bears holding flowers, they’re very cute and all, but I’d rather have a teddy bear with steampunk goggles!). I love to put designs on thrifted restyle clothing pieces and bags. And let me tell you, a baby hoodie with an “In Training” design on the back = Instant winner at any baby shower!

  • Missing

    Oct 14, 2011, 09.19 PMby Erica Anthony

    I love using machine embroidery on purses, jackets, scarves, shirts and jeans! I’m the “weird one” in the family since I’m not afraid of putting anything on any kind of fabric and then wearing it out and even to work! I have the skully and knitting needles on my favorite purse, and the star on a hooded scarf with pockets. I also use the hand embroidery patterns for longer, hand-made projects to keep my hands busy!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 09.16 PMby sbergeron00

    Wow! I popped over here after getting my Friday newsletter fro Urban Threads. What an awesome write up and amazing designs and dress. I’ve been a fan of all things Urban Threads for a few years now and I love making all kinds of cool gifts to give friends ans family.

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    Oct 14, 2011, 09.08 PMby madsquirrel

    I love UT stuff, have been using them for a while. My favorite thing ive done is an ebook cover using the pentangle of venus pattern.

  • Missing

    Oct 14, 2011, 08.35 PMby wodnesdaeg

    I love UT they do some wonderful stuff. I have used machine embroidery on housewares, clothing, jackets and shoes. NowI am thinking about a garment with all-over embroidery that coordinates with motifs. I’m afraid I’m really going to have to learn to digitize. Because what I have in my head couldn’t be done with stock designes

  • Missing

    Oct 14, 2011, 08.17 PMby annabee711

    I would LOVE to incorporate some machine embroidery into my Renaissance festival outfits. I’d also really like to have some on a coat. I’m sure I could come up with a lot of neat ways to use it on clothing and accessories =)

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.43 PMby greenman1168

    I made a very elaborate dress to wear to Renaissance Fair years ago. This article and the designs have inspired me to update it…beats having to recreate a new gown from scratch. Even though steampunk is not period correct, I think these designs would add a whimsical touch and liven up a costume that I’ve gotten tired of wearing year after year. I started using UT designs last year for with their sugar skull designs on Tshirts, dog shirts and aprons for Day of the Dead . Have been buying UT designs ever since on jeans and shirts because I love their unusual and refreshing departure from the cutesy designs so common in the home embroidery industry.

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.37 PMby vintagegal

    I think this dress is just gorgeous! Wonderful use of the embroidery machine. But, for me, these machines are just too far out of reach, financially, for the amount of use I would get out of it. I would love to collaborate with someone who could do custom embroidery work for me, but that too has it’s own issues. Who wouldn’t want to be able to embellish their work like that? It is rather fantstic! But, until they can make these machines more affordable, I don’t think any amount of showcasing the product will help sales.

  • Missing

    Oct 14, 2011, 07.35 PMby wordsmith

    I already love the designs at Urban Threads and have a backlog of them waiting to be stitched out—but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like even more! Latest project—a t-shirt for my pharmacist hubby with the UT “Apothecary” design. He hasn’t seen it yet, but he’s going to love it! And my steampunk costume for Halloween…let’s just say it’s going to have some very nice UT stitchery on it as well. No shortage of ideas on my end!

  • Missing

    Oct 14, 2011, 07.33 PMby Sonya Calef

    I know exactly what I’d do. I’d reinvent the American-style Dirndl embroidery of big roses on polyester dirndls to designs that are more fun and retro-mod. More Lola Paltinger than Bierstube Waitress. There are so many fun and interesting designs yearning to be released onto bodices, spencers, aprons, and skirts! Not to mention the fun one could have with blouses, kerchiefs, and purses!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.22 PMby scavengerannie

    Urban Threads has been an absolute crafting lifeline for me! I’ve been a fan of their hand embroidery designs for some time but when I was forced to cut down my day job hours as a new mum I found myself venturing into business with a lovely embroidery machine. Being the stubborn soul that I am, I was determined not to be like every other embroidery company stitching up cutsie teddies, florals & chintz. That’s just not me! Their alternative designs are amazing & I love crafting anything that I can think of & rockin’ it up with their awesome threads! Bandanna bibs are great fun with the duckies collection but my favourite is the zombie kitty, you’ll find her on cushions, blankets, bags & t-shirts all around my house. I guess you could say that I’ve turned into the Crazy Lady with the cats before I’ve even reached 30 haha!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.22 PMby Nancy Gallagher

    I use embroidery in ballet costuming. i design and stitch out my own appliques for my business sewballet.com. I also love to embroider up one leg on my jeans.

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.16 PMby qsogirl

    I am lucky to have an embroidery machine, but I haven’t gotten to use it much yet! However, I’m having a baby girl in December, and I plan on making use of it for little clothes for her! I’d also like to make more home-decor type things (table linens, decorative towels, etc.). I’d not heard of Urban Threads until this post, and now I’m really excited to get to know them better!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.06 PMby MrsBStitcher

    I am new to machine embroidery and was on the fence about purchasing an embroidery machine until I found Urban Threads, and then that clenched it. I check Urban Threads every day for the design of the day, and read the blogs religiously. Clockwork Natura is so inspiring, and really throws the towels and tote bags mentality out the window. My dream is to become one of those Entrepreneur features on the Urban Threads blog….hopefully someday!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 07.06 PMby Sarah Tanner

    I’ve already seen it done (boo for being slow!) but I’m planning to use the Alice in Wonderland designs on a dress skirt. There’s also the wings on the back of a velvet jacket, some spats with cats….basically, UT is my drug of choice so I have to justify the purchases somehow!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 06.08 PMby flutefish

    I tend to embellish skirts and t-shirts—but this dress is super inspiring! I need to get more adventurous, I think!

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    Oct 14, 2011, 06.05 PMby GuidingDuck

    I don’t have an embroidery machine (yet), but I do do it by hand. I have a skirt with the UT Marie Antoinette design at the top of my project list. If I had a machine, I would be doing all sorts of stuff for my young daughters… t-shirts, coats, jeans, you name it! For myself I’d be making bags, wallets, and other accessories to add personality and flair to my everyday “mommy” wardrobe. I love the Urban Threads website and wish I could stitch fast enough to create as many garments as I wanted with all of their designs!

  • Missing

    Oct 14, 2011, 05.51 PMby Anne Voss

    i add lots of machine embroidery to various re-purposed thrift store finds. It updates the item, as well as occasionally hiding a stain or repair. I have embroidered on Tulle and Netting, and added that as another layer to a garment or wearable art piece.

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    Oct 14, 2011, 05.42 PMby smishy

    I have used machine embroidery on my jeans to spice them up; also on various costume ideas (on corsets, bracers, blouses, shirts). I no longer have an embroidery machine, so I’m working on a corset incorporating hand embroidery and will probably have some on the skirt as well

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    Oct 14, 2011, 05.41 PMby Moxfox Monogramming Shop

    I haven’t had the chance too often to use embroidery on clothing, but I do love the idea. One of the things I have done with UT designs is that last year for Christmas I gave my nephew an embroidered shirt for Christmas. I used the design that said “Ninja in Training” along with a picture of a baby ninja. it was too cute for me to pass up and it really fit with my personality and hopefully his once he grows into his full fledged Ninja-ness!

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