This whole thing is a new adventure. I wanted to explore my creative side in a more structured way and to add more design skills to the needlecrafts I have had fun with since I was a child. I look forward to using Distant Stitch in just that way and for the first time in my life to make this passion a priority, rather than something I do when all the things I consider to be ‘work’ are completed. Sew, here we go…
Sian – I hope you can find and see this.
I’ve been reading Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Here are a couple of quotes that are encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone
“ My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me ( if I am to live artistically ) , and it also must not matter at all ( if I am to live sanely ) . ”
“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable ( food , shelter , medicine , rule of law , social order , community and familial responsibility , sickness , loss , death , taxes , etc . ) . Pure creativity is something better than a necessity ; it’s a gift . It’s the frosting . Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe “.
I hope I can bear these in mind as travel on this new journey.
The first sample is a formal style cross stitch. Beginning from the black:
Thick silky black thread across 3 threads, worked diagonally and vertical/horizontal.
Same thread with simple cross stitch across 2 threads
& 4 – Black twisted thread as 2
5 Different thread, same stitch
6 &7 Same thread as 5, but across 2 threads horizontally and 1 vertically
8 & 9 6 strands DMC crossing one thread in each direction.
I wished I had painted this half of the canvas in black before commencing, but being away this was not an option now. Although technically these few rows give different intensity of black with some white showing through at time, I used it as a sampler before commencing the real shading. The best coverage was given by the tiny crosses with six strands DMC.
I continued to use 6 strands DMC, all over two strands in each direction for the following:
One row black
Two rows with occasional stitches having one white strand (working with two needles threaded for some of these rows and on opposite end too)
Two rows with 5 black and one white strand
The following rows increased the number of white strands until I reached the position of occasional stitches with one black thread.
Then two rows white twisted thread across two threads
Same thread as above, across two horizontally and one vertically
Same thread across one thread in each direction
Two rows across two threads diagonally and horizontally and vertically.
I had two additional white threads I had wanted to use, but both would not work on the canvas – one was too thick and the other not smooth enough – so that the canvas removed the texture from the thread.
I wanted this one to be entirely random in the pattern, so although all the stitches were cross stitches they were not even sizes and were in various directions. I began with the thicker threads as on the previous example and then went on to use stranded thread of 4 thicknesses and below. It was surprisingly difficult to get the coverage of the canvas. It took a lot of thread and a lot of time, but I think it has worked.
Each of these samples took about 5 hours, which surprised me.
The paper samples
I found these quite difficult, not having done traditional blackwork I have perhaps worked these as larger blocks than most blackwork might be. The first I did by adding to each successive line of blocks, but decided it was simpler to design a single block by adding lines, and then repeat that across the column and reduce each element as I worked down the sample
These were fun, though I think I would get bored if I did a lot of this work.
The first two took about 4 hours each, the third was just two hours as the design was simpler and the stitches larger, in order to accommodate the thicker thread. Designs 1 and 2 are adapted from Beginners Guide to Blackwork by Lesley Williams.
Top Row, left to right
In the first I began with the most complex design, but decided this was not dense enough so added the central small cross. Having done the first two rows of the full design I then worked down the left hand side with one single element, to check how it would fit in the space. As a result there is one small mistake in the left hand element of rows 7 & 8. See if you can spot it!
The second sample is done simply by adding additional space vertically, so that the rows become further apart. Towards the end I then reduced some elements in each line.
The third sample begins by using 4 strands thread for 8 rows. I planned to do 8 rows each reducing by one strand each time. However I was surprised how little difference there was between 4 and 3 threads so decided to do 6 rows only of each of the rest and I hope when I get home I can find something even finer for the final 6 rows – perhaps machine thread.
The final three were just worked for fun while we were away and were my own designs.
Herta Puls began to visit the Kuna Indians in the 1960’s and developed a keen interest in their native costumes and embroidery. These autonomous people now live mainly on the San Blas islands around Panama. Previously they had inhabited a much larger area on the mainland. The map gives some idea of the historical geographical position, but now they live mainly on the islands.
Herta was particularly interested in the ‘Mola’. Mola originally meant bird plumage, but has come to relate to a variety of items of clothing, but mostly refers to their blouses which have elaborate panels of embroidery on the front and back. However she not only studied the embroidery techniques but also learnt about the history of the people and the significance of the garments themselves and the patterns they used.
A full traditional Kuna costume usually includes a patterned wrapped skirt (saburet), a red and yellow headscarf (musue), arm and leg beads (wini), a gold nose ring (olasu) and earrings in addition to the mola blouse (dulemor). The concept of the mola originated with the tradition of women painting their bodies with geometric designs, using available natural colours; in later years these same designs were woven in cotton, and later still, sewn using cloth bought from the European settlers of Panama.The patterns too have changed as tourists have leant towards patterns that include stylised animals and other pictures rather than the more traditional geometric designs. However the Kuna Indians have been reluctant to sell complete molas to tourists but have instead produced smaller panels of applique for them to buy. Now it is apparently possible to buy Molas in Panama or Columbia but since they are a cultural heritage the Kuna’s forbid sales beyond that region.
I found an interesting blog by Herta’s grandson, Ken, who talks about her work. He says that most of the patterns were abstract, until white man arrived on the scene and started requesting pictures. In my grandmothers eyes, this transformed the entire work of the people and ruined the style forever.
The embroidery technique the Indians use for the Molas has come to be known as ‘Reverse Applique’. Molas are handmade using a reverse appliquétechnique. Up to seven layers of different cheerful coloured cloth are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting away parts of each layer. The edges of the layers are then turned under and sewn down. Often, the stitches are nearly invisible. This is achieved by using a thread the same color as the layer being sewn, sewing blind stitches, and sewing tiny stitches. The finest molas have extremely fine stitching, made using tiny needles. The largest pattern is typically cut from the top layer, and progressively smaller patterns from each subsequent layer, thus revealing the colours beneath in successive layers. This basic scheme can be varied by cutting through multiple layers at once, hence varying the sequence of colours; some molas also incorporate patches of contrasting colours, included in the design at certain points to introduce additional variations of colour.
Herta Puls went on to produce several books around this theme. One of them more focussed on Ethnography of the Kuna Indians and others detailing more about the textiles themselves. She was keen to pass on what she learnt and continued to teach classes until shortly before she died at age 98.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Kandinsky was a Russian artist whose paintings developed into more abstract ways in the latter half of his life.
Some of his shapes are very mathematical and geometric in form, but others like this one, have softer edges. I like this and could see it being interpreted in fabric using both paint and stitch. It would be quite interesting to develop the stitched parts using a variety of forms of applique and machine stitching.
Black Strokes 1. 1913
I got intrigued by a series of his paintings and began thinking how I might interpret each of the ideas in textiles. Not necessarily a copy of the exact design but using the basic ideas. So on the following pagers are some examples.
Red Oval. 1920
With this one I like the concept of pictures within a picture. It looks to me as if it’s 3D, particularly the moons on the right hand side, and applique would give the opportunity for some of these areas to protrude out of the frame.
Composition VIII. 1923
This could lend itself to applied patchwork, a variety of types of applique and machine and hand stitching on a delicately painted background.
Upward Tension. 1924
The colours in this are much more dramatic and working on the piece would have a very different feel as a result. It would be a fun project to do in fabrics or paper with junior school age children in groups.
Colourful Ensemble. 1938
As my final choice of art for Kandinsky I like the fact that this looks like a heart. Similar patchwork methods could be used for this, but it would look great embellished with buttons and beads for the circles.
So on this journey I have become quite inspired by a form of art that previously I would not have looked at twice. Some interesting ideas to pursue here!
Kaffe Fassett (1937- )
I have become fascinated by Kaffe Fassett’s work since encountering it in an exhibition at Mottisfont earlier this year. At this National Trust property he had refused to exhibit his work unless the Trust were prepared to have each room painted in specific vivid colours to reflect his own use of dramatic colour in the works that would go in that space. In my own struggle to understand colour it seemed that this artist had broken all the ‘rules’ and yet produced such a stunning show that I was awestruck.
Born in 1937 he spent much of his youth in the Big Sur, California where his parents owned a restaurant that became a gathering place for artists. He attended a boarding school run by the disciples of an Indian guru, Krishamurti before studying painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Later he was to travel to England and make it his home.
Kaffe Fassett has led an extraordinary life and is a captivating storyteller with a vivid memory. Born in 1937, he spent much of his youth in Big Sur, California, where his parents bought a cabin from Orson Welles and transformed it into the world-famous Nepenthe restaurant, a gathering place for artists and bohemians. After attending a boarding school run by the disciples of Krishnamurti, an Indian guru, he studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, then travelled to England and made it his home. It was on a trip to Inverness that he began to be interested in wools, knitwear and other forms of textile art.
Having fallen in love with some of the wools he saw and bought in Scotland, he learnt to knit on his train journey home.
He has revolutionized hand knitting with his extravagant use of colour. In addition to knitting he began to work with needlepoint, tapestries, yarn and fabric design and quilting. 1988 he became the first living textile artist to have a one man show at the V&A Museum.
Fassett has continued to produce new work and to travel worldwide to teach and lecture. Now in his Eighties he is still exhibiting
His philosophy is that good designing follows no rules; remaining open to the unexpected is paramount. Sometimes the most unlikely elements spark each other to life. He encourages everyone to join the game – it’s not too difficult.
Wonderful shell painting, translated into weaving oppo
He suggests that good design needs to have ‘life’.In another book he suggests that a sense of colour is not something you automatically know about ; you discover and rediscover its secrets by playing with it and above all by constantly looking. I hope that will happen to me as I ‘play’ on this course. I am aware that some of my samples work really well and others finish up drab and uninteresting, even when I thought they might work quite well
Interesting to see that often he uses relatively few designs, most of them stripes, zigzags, and other simple geometric designs, but then adds different colour combinations, and different garment styles to produce things that at first glance would not seem to be related.
Here are some photos from his exhibition at Mottisfont
Here are some of his other designs showing where some of his inspiration comes from.
I began by thinking through further aspects of disintegration, particularly relating to one of the shapes that I had developed and used in previous chapters of the course. The concept was of a spinning shape which through speed disintegrates as pieces fly off and even as some of those elements change shape as a result of the speed of the spin. The piece was to be called ‘Spin Off’. I chose a variety of fabrics and a background and was set to applique them together. The background was a plain peachy coloured fabric with an assortment of blue plain and pattered fabrics on it. It took quite a while to decide on how to place the pieces, and I was going to applique them on with a variety of stitches and also then create movement in the background by stitching arcs, indicating the spin of the pieces.
Eventually, I abandoned this as the more I looked at it the less I liked it. On the next page you will find the process for the piece I am actually presenting, but while painting and dying callico for that piece I decided to also paint the background for the original idea. I’ve done that and re-pinned the pieces and it is definitely better. So there may come a time when I decide to complete this piece.
2. Final Piece
While all this was going on I got the feedback from Sian on Chapter 11, and the possibility of using some of the water photographs I had included as examples of disintegration. I began to play with a piece of callico that I cut parts of concentric circles on. This gave me inspiration and so the idea emerged of 4 callico rectangles representing 4 different moods of water. These were dyed and stitched in a variety of ways as indicated below. I used Brusho for all the fabric colouring, including a less intense solution on the background fabric. Each piece had its edges slightly frayed too. Thus the concept for ‘Moody Water’ arose.
This piece was gathered from the centre out and tie dyed. I love the way that the inks had not mixed perfectly and so there are different shades of ultramarine and turquoise. Also because the dye did not penetrate perfectly there are some white lines too.
Stitching on this was concentric circles of running stitch with the gaps between the stitches increasing as the distance from the centre increased.
This was the piece that inspired the idea. Concentric circles were drawn on the fabric, then cut most of the way round, but leaving sufficient in each round that the piece stayed as a whole. Then I frayed the edges as much as seemed sensible. At that point I needed to add some colour so simply painted it with Brusho.
Stitching involved tiny running stitches which enabled me to slightly gather the fabric, especially, but not exclusively in a way that would then show a bigger gap between the circles and more of the foundation fabric. I needed to be careful so that the final piece would still rest flat enough on the background to still be a rectangle.
This was dyed in a brighter, lighter shade and used to represent sunlight playing on the water.
On this I used a variety of threads including a heavier gold colour to indicate the sparkle. Again it was tiny running or seed stitches that produced the effect.
Another tie dyed piece. The fabric was pleated and then tied in a single knot. I had no idea what would emerge but this seemed perfect for rippling water.
Some threads on this were couched, others again were running stitches in a variety or threads. In particular on this one I chose to to leave the ends overhanging the edges.
Finally all the pieces were caught onto the background. Then using a darker twisted thread I worked a fairly random style of cross stitch to tie the pieces together. When complete the background fabric was folded over as far as it could be, leaving some frayed edges still showing. As a first piece of this kind I am pleased with the results.
Since I had been warned in advance that I may need to rearrange elements of my sketchbook much of it has been inserted using Blutak rather than glue. As a result it was not too difficult to produce the composite sheet below, though it does include a few images that needed to be printed from the original scan and inserted that way.
I began by thinking through various aspects of disintegration.
I explored using a piece of tissue paper that I had used Brusho on and some simple processes to see what results that brought.
Sketchbook Ch 11 p 1
A chance conversation reminded me of the sliding childhood puzzles that remove one square and then slide the other pieces to disintegrate and then rebuild the picture. I tried this in paper with one of my designs from chapter 4, where I had experimented with folded black shapes . Then I tried again with simply removing an additional piece as I slid it.
Sketchbook Ch 11 p 2 – Second Thoughts – Paper Shapes
Sketchbook Ch 11 p 3
Sketchbook Ch 11 p4
Out and about at a wildlife venue I used my camera to explore disintegration in nature:
water surface disintegrated by light and movement;
mud, by paddling duck feet
tall, dry grass by wind and weather generally
reflection by water movement
bent and broken reeds
a rotting tree trunk
and finely shredded interior of hole
I have explored how I might replicate some of these with paper and fabric.
Sketchbook Ch 11 p 5
Sketchbook Ch 11 p6, 7 & 8
Considering paper shapes I am reminded of these pages from chapter 3 which are amongst my favourites from the course.
On the next 3 pages I have disintegrated some of those designs in a variety of ways.
Sketchbook Ch 11 p9
Here I have taken one shape, 4 colours and disintegrated them by removing parts of the paper: with scissors, with a hole punch, and by tearing larger and smaller pieces.
Sketchbook Ch 11 p10 – Third Thoughts – Fabric Shapes
For this section I have used muslin and explored disintegration by fraying a variety of shapes. Unfortunately I stuck down the samples with Blutak, since I was out when I did these and did not want to lose them. I thought I’d be able to take it off and use glue instead, but it pulls the threads too much – so another lesson learned!
The three shapes on the left show increasing levels of disintegration using cross stitch in the same colour as the background.
The first simply has even cross stitches planted to break up the edge.
The second takes that a stage further by using irregular stitches for most of the border and also takes the disintegration out into the background on the bottom left. Again on the bottom left a few additional stitches escape onto the shape to increase the disintegration.
The third piece has shattered the shape completely and disintegrated the whole background as well, though that is not so obvious, being self coloured.
The fourth uses a different method to indicate disintegration. I wanted to get the effect of ice shattering – as if the central shape has become a hole and then the cracks push outwards with some sides cracking further than others.
Having been a little overwhelmed by concept in the beginning and not having much idea where to start, I have in fact had a great deal of fun and could have got carried away by the photography and the paper based work. I hope I have done sufficient fabric and stitch work to conclude this chapter.
I’ve presented three samples here with their drawings. Initially I found the technique difficult to get my head around. This was not helped by the fact that I did not read the instructions properly! Hence the first sample, which I have chosen still to include, shows some of the technique, but not in the way that Sian intended. In all the samples I have put 5 layers on top of callico, but not slashed the coloured foundation layer. They are stitched with a narrow zigzag apart from the first line round the shape as it proved very difficult to remove the tacking lines when finely zigzagged.
a. Cut inside and out
My biggest mistake here was to cut both inside and outside the shape, though I realised I needed to make some kind of definition to the edge of the shape and so left one line uncut. I also cut different lines to different depths and didn’t leave sufficient space between the lines of stitching for the layers to show.
It is not obvious to me which lines have been cut shallower, but perhaps this relates to the closeness of the stitching so that lower layers cannot show through. I used a firm toothbrush to rough up the edges which seemed to work well.
I’ve taken two photographs of this sample. The first, above, as it appeared after fraying, and the second (below) taken having trimmed some of the long frayed strands down a bit and trimmed the edges.
Sketchbook ch 10 p1
b. Cut outside
This is a replica of the design of ‘a’, but with wider spaced stitching lines, only cutting outside the shape and leaving wider gaps between the stitching.
This one frayed well, giving an unexpected red tinge because one of the fabrics, which appeared to be blue, had a maroon thread in one direction.
Two photographs of this sample too, before and after cutting frays.
Sketchbook ch 10 p2
c. Cut inside.
I changed the design for this sample using a simple asymmetric cross.
Different fabrics have been used here. There is an orange linen type, which gave a different colour to the pale golds I had been using. The only other orange did not fray even with encouragement! I also wanted a darker blue and since there was nothing else in my stash I used a thin layer of blue roving on one of the middle layers.
When I came to stitch the lines I discovered that it was difficult to work lines of sufficient width in some parts of the cross if I put all of the stitching in one direction. Instead I stitched and slashed in two directions.
Sadly the layer below the blue roving does not show much. I think this probably has more to do with the width between the stitch lines not being great enough than the actual use of roving.
Close up image below
Sketchbook ch 10 p3
This technique seems to work best when there is a longer length of slashing enabling the fraying to be more effective. I practise therefore I will probably tend to use it outside of a shape, rather than inside unless it is a large design. Certainly, out of the three I have done here I like ‘b’ the best.
I began by testing a variety of materials to see which would melt, but with only small pieces of each left I did not sew them down in a grid, simply tested a tiny piece of each. Only one of those I thought might be meltable turned out not to be.
The I put the rest into a stack and sewed them together in a grid. There were 6 layers of meltable fabric on top of a piece of calico. The thicker fabrics were various gold pieces, and then I had two different blue chiffons which I put between the gold layers. The chiffon was very difficult to work with. Mostly as I melted the edges it fused with the thicker fabric, though the top gold chiffon worked better because I could pull it away a bit as I melted and let the iron just touch that layer. Probably the blue would work too if it was in a larger area where I could pull each layer apart a little before applying the iron. Interestingly in the scan, the final bright metallic layer looks blue instead of gold, but is not in fact the blue chiffon.
I worked from top right, down the columns, finishing with the bottom left. Even with just the 3 different tones of gold I am quite pleased with what I have managed to do the first time of trying this. The only mistake as such is the one where I have a series of triangles and the final layer went right through to the base calico rather than leaving the bright metallic gold final layer. I am sure I will have more fun with this in future modules.
Final Sketch Book Page. Ch 10 p4
Whilst doing this part of the module I was careful about health and safety, working in a large airy room with a high ceiling. I was also conscious of needing to reduce trip factors with the electrical flex and make sure that I had a safe place to rest the hot iron.
Since this was an optional element of the chapter, I have decided not to develop this further at this stage.
Here I will post the back and front of each of the two samples, with the description of the work following each. Then at the end there is the scan of the sketchbook page.
The only point I struggled with on this one was that for the brown layer I tried using ‘invisible thread’, rather than a self-colour as on all the other layers in this page. I found it very difficult to work with as it has so much spring, and tends to get tangled.
b. Four Point Stars
I struggled with this. I wanted to work in the opposite direction – trying to work from the centre out, but made a couple of failed attempts and gave up. Is it possible? Which edge do you cut? I also discovered that it is almost impossible to use this method where there are very acute angle turns, so the points have not come out well on the small star. Otherwise this exercise was time consuming, but therapeutic in some ways.
Final Sketchbook Page
Page 2 – Contemporary Method
I’ve not scanned the back of these samples. If you want them then let me know. Four Pointed Star
c. Four Pointed Star
Version c.i is sewn from the outside in, with the cutting line on the inside of the sewn line. It’s neat and tidy, but not particularly exciting. With all of these there was some confusion in my head as to which layer of fabric would be the background and so also which pieces could be slightly smaller because they were central motif.
I stuck with the orange thread for the whole of this phase, as it was simpler, and I wanted to concentrate on the process with the fabrics, not be fussing with the thread too – especially now I had got the tension and stitch size working well with this one!
Version c.iiis sewn from the inside out with fabrics that could be frayed and I really like this. I thought that they would only fray in the direction of the warp and weft – ie not on the diagonal, but I discovered otherwise. The pale blue fabric has different coloured threads on the warp and weft and so has frayed in an interesting way. As a result, on the left and the right side you cannot see the frayed edge because the dark blue is lost on the colour of the lower layer.
Sketch book page:
Page 3 – Contemporary Method Cont
d. Four Pointed Star
Version d.i is sewn from the outside in, similarly to c.i. You will note that I misjudged the fabric size for the top layer. Primarily this was because I expected this layer to be the smallest one. I think I have the hang of it now! Also I decided that the smallest line would not work as the whole repeat, but rather I just sewed and cut the triangles. I’m quite pleased with this, though I notice now I have done several of these that I could have made the gap between the sewing lines slightly smaller and so got three complete motifs in.
Version d.ii is sewn from the inside out and frayed. The balance in this one feels good. I noticed in doing these that where my original design was 4 inches where I cut on the outside of the line the results were slightly larger and I had to cut bigger centres to the frames for most of the samples. The blue fabric with different coloured warp and weft works better here as the colour below contrasts more.
Page 4 – Contemporary Method Cont
e. Diagonal Cross
Version e.i is sewn from the inside out but came out much more wonky than I thought I had drawn it. Still perhaps there is some charm in this. Otherwise it is somewhat boring, and once more I failed to see how much fabric I needed. The pale background fabric had been in my stash for a long while and I was unable to remove the crease near the bottom of the design.
Version e.ii is much more fun and I like the colour combination. It’s stitched from the outside in and then frayed. As I stitched these samples it became apparent that the size of the different layers varies considerably between the two versions and this needs to be borne in mind when designing. The gold background is metallic and the ripples in the material are not noticeable in the fabric piece, but have been picked up by the scanner, but the colour is much less dramatic here than in reality too.
Page 5 – Multicoloured Contour Effect
This was slightly different again. Questions raised were about how many layers to use, what size of shape did I need, how wide apart the stitching lines needed to be and whether to start from the inside out or the outside in. I was also unsure how the part layers would work.
f. Diagonal Cross
This shape comes from one of my black and white images. I wanted to cut the centre through to a dark layer, but found it difficult to cut through so many in such a tiny area. The choice of fabric does not work so well in this. When I picked the printed fabric for the top I had forgotten that I had used the same fabric unprinted lower down and I feel there is not a strong enough contrast in either colour or texture in the top 5 layers. The brown would have helped but this was the one that was only a partial piece and does not extend far enough to create much dynamic.
g. Orange Background
This shape is one of the ones that arose from when we were looking at negative shapes. It arose in Chapter 3, design sheet B. I just wanted to play with something different and thought this might work. I think it did, though they were perhaps slightly too big for the 4 inch sample and would have been better taking a couple more lines inside and one less outside. Writing about this now I realise that I could of course have done that by putting another line of stitching inside… I might do it later and send as an addendum!
I used 6 layers of fabric, the dark blue and peach being only partial pieces. The dark blue provided a stripe through the middle and the peach was an odd shape piece left from another project. Cutting choices with these additional layers was complex, but I’m pleased with what has arisen.