How to create realistic water using mixed media


Rachel Sumner realistic water scene textiles Rachel Sumner

In the second instalment of our series on embroidering water, textile artist Rachel Sumner takes the helm to explore her use of mixed media in creating coastal scenes in stitch. 

Part one of the series explored how to create realistic water using hand embroidery. Next we look at creating realistic waterscapes using mixed media – another stunning way to create water effects in your embroideries, along with a wealth of top tips to apply to your work! It’s over to Rachel, along with top tips from fellow embroiderers…


My degree was in fine art painting, but this has transitioned to creating bespoke textile art and mixed media assemblages. Living by the coast means watery subject matter comes into my work a lot. Often this is done through narrative pieces, such as my series of Arks and Fish in the Sky pictures. Although I do like to capture local scenes, the bird life and activities that go on around me. 

Embracing the challenge of realistic mixed media waterscapes

Water isn’t an easy subject, but it’s a wonderful subject. Water can be a mirror to the sky and surrounding landscape, or it can be dark, impenetrable, and mysterious. The possibilities are endless. It needs to be approached with a spirit of adventure, as an opportunity to try out ideas and extend your stitching vocabulary.

Top tips! 

  • For a stormy sea Jan Tillett suggests layering organza over grey fabric with angelina highlights. She then free-motion stitches everything onto shrink polyester.
  • Jennifer Jones also uses organza and her machine. She works downwards with silver metallic thread, varying her stitch width from wide to narrow to create the impression of reflections.

Mixed media waterscape with impression of reflections

Impressions of reflections – Jennifer Jones.

Enjoy another mixed media coastal scene – Beyond the Beach – in Stitch issue 132.

Learning the art of interpretation

If ever I’m not sure what to do, I might start a piece of work by gathering a bundle of fabrics together. I then layer some strips of fabric to suggest the sea. To this I might then add in the sky and sand, and my imagination is off! I can start to picture a scene.

Bird Ark mixed media embroidery by Rachel Sumner

Bird Ark by Rachel Sumner.

In a storytelling piece, like Bird Ark, the water sets the mood of the picture. For this I constructed the sea from flat bands of dark coloured fabric, chosen to suggest deep waters at night. What I looked forward to most was creating the dancing waves in the foreground, reflecting the moonlight, and giving a sense of movement to the picture.

In my chosen medium it’s not so much about being realistic. It’s more about making a believable parallel universe! So, the challenge is to translate what I see or imagine by using a sewing machine, threads, and a pile of fabric scraps.

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Variegated flosses

Kreinik threads – Rachel Towers.

Top tip! If you want the WOW factor in your thread art, Rachel Towers recommends variegated flosses from Kreinik threads to stop your work from becoming too regimented. She also suggests using ribbons to create ripples and waves.

holographic thread

Holographic thread – Monika Kinner-Whalen.

Top tip! Artist Monika Kinner-Whalen reckons the best thread for sparkly realistic water is a pale blue holographic thread. It’s like a flat polypropylene/polyester ribbon. You have to stitch a little slow with it, but the results are perfect!

Embroidered water scene by Rachel Sumner

Rachel Sumner.

Final tips for creating a realistic waterscape

  • Don't try to reproduce every last detail – look at the highlights and the low lights and make sure to feature them in your piece.
  • Play and experiment with different arrangements.
  • Pull together a good stock of not just blue fabrics and threads but collect blue/greens and silvery greys and whites – these will be really useful.

Find out more

Instagram: @rachelsumnerartist


Next, don't miss our introduction to mixed media delving deeper into the world of textiles – complete with full creative licence!