Matchmaking

I hope no one’s bored with book covers yet. I’m making a cover for a 12” square sketchbook – though I expect it will be more of a notebook, really, with drawings. Somewhere I can jot down ideas and designs for Red Bubble.

Book cover in progress

I’ve always enjoyed seeing red and turquoise together. It started me thinking about the concept of clashing colours, and I’m not sure that I agree there is such a thing. In my experience, you can generally put any two or three colours together and they will sit side by side fairly happily. Red seems to go with pretty much anything; so does purple. I think there is the potential for a problem when you put too many different colours together, but even then you can generally tone them down by adding some black and white.

Front cover, about 12” square

The main problem I’m having is trying to get an accurate photograph. If the red is right, the turquoise is wrong, and vice versa. Suffice to say the colours are richer and deeper in real life.

Moon flowers

The design initially started with the red circle, which is a piece of shot silk from an old sari layered over a circle of felt. I was going for a fairly obvious red bubble, but then the little flowers popped up and it’s turned into a kind of moon flower arrangement. These things happen. I find the thing that grows organically in its own way is usually better than the thing I was aiming for. You just have to trust the process sometimes. The turquoise background is pieced together using strips from the edge of a hand-dyed vintage tablecloth. You can see the creases, which formed the edge of the cloth where the fabric had been doubled. They won’t iron out, and in any case I quite like these scars from a previous life.

And then I found a piece of really ugly fabric. I don’t often have dye disasters, but this poor thing was definitely one of them. Usually you can rescue a disaster by over-dyeing it, but I think this one has been over-dyed a few times and never looks any better.

A dye disaster

But actually it looks ok here. It looks as if it has found its place in the world. Maybe ugliness is as much in the eye of the beholder as beauty. Maybe there is even no such thing as ugly. Beauty is, after all, one of many problematic cultural concepts that just excludes the non-conforming. It’s not exactly a match made in heaven, but then most of us can rub along ok with most people most of the time. Perfection is virtually unattainable. I will settle for OK on this occasion.

The back almost made itself. I already had the patchwork circle, pieced a while ago when I was gathering together some scraps of red print. These are mostly shiny/glitzy silk and satin, fabrics I wouldn’t ordinarily use much. But put them together, cheek by jowl, and they seem very happy.

Patchwork circle, paper-pieced, about 9” diameter

I often think auditioning fabrics to see which of them looks good together is a bit like sending them on a blind date. Sometimes they instantly find true love, and sometimes they never want to see each other again and end up back in the drawer. Eventually there will be something for all of them, even if that turns out to be solitude. Some fabrics don’t need others; they do just fine on their own. Some need company. Sometimes which of them ends up together is more luck than judgement.

Red and gold glitz

Thinking sideways, not knowing

I’ve been revisiting my Lines on the Land sketchbook this week. It’s a collection of sketches and designs based on ancient landscape features like standing stones and rock art, just to explore some of the patterns.

Lines on the Land, front cover

I made this sketchbook myself, using signatures of cartridge paper, and then collaged and painted the pages before assembly. I prefer to make my own sketchbooks because I have more control over the size, shape, and proportions. I don’t always like the proportions of standard A4.

I usually cut off part of the page when making a sketchbook if I know I’m going to include fabric or stitched samples, as with this one below which is waiting for me to do something with it:

Deliciously blank sketchbook waiting for an adventure

When I get round to doing something in it, I will be able to attach a stitched sample to the short tab which will form a new page that will be separate from the paper pages.

I didn’t do that with the current sketchbook; there are some pull-out pages, but no partial pages. While trying to figure out a way of sticking stitched samples in it without covering a finished page, I accidentally discovered that you can add pages sideways:

Extra page glued over the top edge of existing pages

You can lift up the stitched sample to reveal the completed page underneath. I like it. Necessity, invention, etc.

Mixed media sketch of Callanish beneath the stitched sample

Of course I made a cover for it. I do like a well-dressed sketchbook.

Front cover, patchwork earthwork
Back cover, patched ragged spiral

I’ve found spaces for some stitched samples I made a while ago:

Mixed media sketchbook page, mini monolith
Mixed media sketchbook page, circles
Textile sample, layered scraps and sheers on painted handmade paper

I don’t always think of a sketchbook as preparatory work for something bigger or better, though it often is that. This may or may not lead to some larger textile work. Part of the adventure is the not knowing, the voyage in the dark, and true of any creative venture I think. Having a go, never knowing whether what you’re making is any good or not. And then realising that it doesn’t really matter, if you’ve enjoyed doing it.

Little collages with drawings added

Little stitches

Making some progress on the Klee sketchbook front cover, based on his painting ‘Small Picture of Fir Trees’. I upgraded the blog and apparently I can upload videos now – this is just a little test to see what I can do.

A little seed stitching

I have a very small piece of hand-dyed silk net, which is one of the most delightful (and expensive) fabrics you can handle, and I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. I decided this was the occasion. I’m using an eco-dyed stranded floss from Arlee on layered organdie, silk organza and net.

I don’t often use a frame but seed stitching is easier this way. I also want to scatter stitches across the surface so it’s good to be able to see the whole thing.

Hand dyed silk net and silk organza

The sun is a raw-edge circle of loose-weave cotton scrim, covered with very sheer chiffon – a type of shadow applique, I guess, since the cotton circle is secured underneath the sheer.

In progress

Video, though. Imagine the possibilities!

Klee sketchbook cover

I finished my painted/stitched version of Klee’s painting ‘Clarification’, which is part of the cover for a sketchbook. I’m fascinated by that solid line across the lower third, which also features in the original painting, and somehow ties the whole thing together.

Paint and stitch based on a section of Klee’s ‘Clarification’ (1932)

I decided though that this is going to be the back cover, not the front, so there has been a bit of cutting and splicing.

Moving the front to the back

I’ve kept the seam on the right side because I’m going to cover the spine area later so the raw edges will be covered. The sketchbook is a 12” square spiral bound one, so I didn’t want the raw edges on the back interfering with the wire spiral, and I didn’t want the bulk of a turned seam.

So now I’ve started on the front cover, which is based on Klee’s ‘Small Picture of Fir Trees‘ (1922). I did a sketchy collage just to understand the colours and shapes and used a view finder to isolate a square area.

Klee’s ‘Small Picture of Fir Trees’ 1922

I’m trying this one in layered sheers and semi-sheers, with a base of hand-dyed cotton organdie and bits of silk organza over the top. You can just see the outline drawing underneath.

Sketchbook cover in progress

I really like layering sheer fabrics. I used to use them a lot; less so these days but it’s maybe something I might revisit. I like the way they are solid and transparent at the same time.

Pile of hand-dyed sheer fabrics – organdie, organza and chiffon, with some net and vintage sheer scarves
Building up the layers

The best bit is putting in some tacking stitches to get rid of the pins, which will be my next step. Then you can see much more clearly what you’re dealing with. Less hazardous too. I don’t know why, but I am always surprised by how sharp pins are. Makes me feel like I’m maybe not the sharpest pin in the box.

Immersion

One of the perks that comes with working at a university is free access to an academic library, and last week I found this:

Paul Klee Notebooks Vol. 1

You can read it free online, actually, but I prefer books to be on paper. I like leafing through pages and don’t like scrolling up and down a screen. It was good exercise carrying it home too, so twice the benefit.

I’ve had a completely free weekend so have been immersing myself in Klee and his life and works.

Notes

Having started to read his words, I feel I am beginning to understand him and his work better. Weirdly, I understand myself better too. I periodically berate myself for not drawing more often (what kind of artist doesn’t draw?) but then I read Klee and feel more validated about valuing process over object and trying to explore the intangible. I admire people who can draw with photographic realism but learning how to do that doesn’t really interest me. I don’t want to draw what I can already see. Klee famously said, ‘art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible’. And I guess I draw with a needle and thread instead of a pencil.

Klee’s writing is, as you would expect, pretty dense, so in between nibbles of philosophical art theory I’m working on a sketchbook cover. I accidentally deleted the photo I took of it in progress, so this is just a screenshot:

Watercolour on loom state cotton, inspired by Klee’s painting ‘Clarification’ (1932)

It’s just regular watercolour on fabric. It won’t ever be washed so it doesn’t matter about fixing the colour. The fabric I’m using is loom state cotton, and it’s a really good surface for sewing on. It’s not quite as thick as furnishing fabric, but a bit more substantial than heavyweight calico, and a nicer weave than cotton canvas – it’s quite a fine twill weave, similar to impossibly lightweight denim, if there could be such a thing. I’ve started to add rows of running stitch in threads similar to one strand of DMC floss.

The colour seems to be fading slightly already, but that’s ok. I thought it was a bit too bright to begin with anyway. You can see how I’ve had to draw lines on it to keep me on the straight and narrow and not go wandering off on a tangent. I’m not keen on the way the yellow square has ended up being more or less right in the middle, but it’s never going to end up on show anywhere so I can overlook that I think.

Front cover of sketchbook in progress

To dye for

I had a few days off from the day job this week so at last had time to dye some fabric and thread. This has been on the to-do list for months.

Smorgasbord

Some for me, and some for you, eventually. There will be a shop update when I can get round to sorting these into groups.

Delicious!

While I was waiting for everything to dry, I made a cover for the little notebook I use for dye notes. I made the book many years ago, when I first started having a go at dyeing. I don’t record everything in it, as most of my dyeing is quite intuitive so colours are often not repeatable. There are other dyers out there producing set lines but I prefer the more individual approach.

Colour notes from 2007, handmade notebook A6 size
A6 notebook cover, fabric from Hipposinhats
Hand-dyed silk and cotton threads in action

I really like the colour test card. Accidental abstract art in action, I’m calling it.

Dye splodge colour test

Back to sorting and labelling threads…

Skeins of silk and cotton thread

Sampler book cover

In the interests of keeping busy, I made a start on the cover for my sampler book.

birdie in his natural habitat

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to tackle the cover. I considered various kinds of needlepoint, cross stitch (really didn’t want to do any more of that) and a variety of seams. In the end I went for my usual style of book cover, which is layers of strips laid on a foundation fabric. I used modern, vintage and antique silk and cotton fabrics, mostly hand-dyed.

cover in progress

I really like old lace and ribbon, but I don’t tend to use it much. I thought this was probably a good place for it.

layered fabrics, lace and ribbon with hand stitch

A couple of weeks ago I acquired a few old wooden bobbin reels – more on that later, there are plans afoot – all of which came with very old dusty thread still in place. Most of the thread was unusable, very brittle from age and light damage. But on two of the bobbins, once the outer layer of damaged thread was removed, the rest of it appears to be sound. I’ve dyed some, and have road-tested the finer of the threads on this cover. It breaks quite easily so wouldn’t be any good for sewing seams, but it seems fine for surface decoration.

vintage cotton thread from an old mill bobbin, hand-dyed

As with the sampler book itself, I found myself wondering whether Ellen Mahon would like the cover I’ve made. I wanted to make it pretty for her.

Hand-dyed vintage viscose ribbon, very soft and silky

I wondered about whether I should label the cover with words, whether I should stitch the words ‘sampler book’ somewhere on it. I decided not, in the end. For one thing I’m not very good at stitching lettering, and for another thing I didn’t think it needed words. I really like the way stitching conveys its own meaning without the need for words as well. I always think hand-stitching is more like writing than drawing. I often find myself recognising artists’ work by their stitching the same way I might recognise the handwriting on an envelope.

Sampler book with cover
Back cover

I hope Ellen would approve.

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