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.

Hearts

The Covid Chronicle, founded by Wendy Bliss, is a community textile art installation, currently touring in the UK. It comprises about 140 panels worked in a range of textile art techniques and records contributors’ experiences of the pandemic since the first UK lockdown. You can see the work here from today until 19th June, and from July it will be on display at Riverside Studios, near Hammersmith Bridge.

The Hammersmith venue has a huge window space that isn’t suitable for the textile art because it gets too much light, so contributors have been invited to make hearts that can be displayed there a bit like the Wall of Hearts.

I already had a couple of patchwork hearts lying around in a drawer so it was quite easy to put these together.

Patchwork heart on layered background 9” x 12”

I really like layered sheers. I like the way they reveal as well as conceal, the way they cover the background but you can still see through them if you look closely. And of course we are all like that too. Very few people get to see through all our layers.

Layered linens, silk organza and silk chiffon

The other two are slightly smaller, about 6” x 8”, and are made with eco-dyed fabrics from Jane Hunter.

Pair of hearts made from linen, cotton and wool

The white heart is just strips of cotton fabrics pieced together into a heart shape, with some decorative stitching over the seams.

Strip of silk chiffon covering the edge

I really like the scrap of eco-dyed felted wool – it’s quite thick and substantial, I’m guessing from an old wool blanket, and perfect for this. It always amazes me how these orphans and scraps find their home eventually.

Eco-dyed wool with vintage cotton lace and little seed stitches

These will be travelling to Wendy very soon, and if you’re in London in July maybe you could go and visit.

Scraps: a gathering

The scraps build up alarmingly. I have no idea where they all come from. I find it difficult to concentrate on a large piece of work when there are so many tiny bits shouting for attention and I have a couple of large pieces waiting to begin, so I’ve been trying to get the scraps under control first.

The way I usually handle the tiny bits is to arrange them on a base of very lightweight fusible interfacing, iron them down and then cover the whole thing with a sheer of some kind (usually chiffon or organza) and then stitch onto the surface. I think of these as backgrounds for later, but some of them turn out to be quite attractive in themselves.

Short strips of cotton and silk layered under hand-dyed silk organza with hand stitch, 4” x 12”
Fabric collage under silk organza, 5” x 7”

Sometimes I dispense with the sheer covering and just layer the various bits.

Scrap of patchwork covered with vintage hand-dyed cotton lace on hand-dyed linen, 6” x 8”

I have quite a big pile of these waiting, which makes for a nice relaxing evening job – something of a manageable size and scale that can be pieced and stitched while watching (in my case, listening to) TV.

Scraps collages stitched, waiting to see what happens next

Some of these little backgrounds are destined for studies of ancient rocks and monoliths, as an extension of the sketchbook I’m currently working on. This piece is very small, made from tiny layered scraps and a piece of decorative lace that I’ve had for many years:

Tiny monolith, 3” x 4.5”

In the quest for zero waste, I think we’re doing ok so far.

Dream

I am having some very strange dreams lately. It’s all the tumult and conflict in Ukraine, I think. The daily news pictures and reports are truly harrowing. I believe that we are all connected by the single thread of humanity, and seeing others suffering on this huge scale causes the rest of us to feel it, one way or another.

Detail from ‘Dream’ wall hanging

It seemed like a good time to finish this little wall hanging that has been, well, hanging around for a while. It started life as the sleeve of an outrageous coat that I was realistically never going to finish. It’s an image of a town house that dreams of being in the countryside, far away from pavements and roads, where it can hear the breeze blowing through the trees.

Detail from ‘Dream’ wall hanging

I don’t know if it’s reasonable to be carrying on, keeping going like this, amid all the trouble in the world right now. It feels somehow wrong but also right, if that makes any sense. In many ways it’s one of the few things we can do. My immediate environment is the only thing I have any control over right now, and I know even that’s an illusion. In fact we have very little control over anything that happens beyond ourselves and yet we learn to trust life and its processes, and we learn to assume that we will wake up every morning to a new day.

‘Dream’ wall hanging, 8” x 24”

The backing on this piece is part of a viscose scarf with a ragged fringe, hanging by a frayed thread. As many of us are.

Small distractions

I need to do something with the scraps box, which fills up all on its own. This is mainly because of my zero waste policy, where no scrap is too small to be discarded. Fabric takes time and resources for its manufacture and isn’t supposed to be disposable.

the scraps box is overflowing again

The only new fabric I buy these days is silk, because old silk is often too fragile to be useful. Decorative, yes, but not useable in a meaningful way. I only buy a small amount, less than a metre, once a year. The rest of my fabrics are cut up from clothes or sheets, or they are bits of vintage linens that I dye myself. I genuinely don’t know where all the scraps come from. I don’t even like calling them scraps, because they are all treasure really.

What tends to happen when I notice the scraps box overflowing is that I stop what I’m doing and try to ‘do something’ with the scraps. If I reflect on that, I can see that I end up making something because I need to use ‘X’, which distracts me from making the thing I really want to make. There’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘what can I make with X’ but if it’s not the thing I need to make, then it becomes a source of mental clutter because I fret about having something and not using it. It’s also a source of anxiety because it prevents me getting near the thing I really need to do. If the stitch journal has taught me anything so far, it is only reinforcing how quickly time passes, and how little of it there seems to be.

unknown object in progress, layering treasures from the scraps box

I am collecting and layering treasures from the scraps box, and in itself that is quite enjoyable, but this isn’t really what I want to be doing right now. I’ve been working on a series I’m calling ‘Survivors’, made from layered bits of ragged, frayed antique fabrics and lace. For various reasons (and the sampler book was a major distraction that lasted a few months) I can’t get to it without climbing over about a million other things in progress. It is getting to the point where I can’t think straight. I also have a lot of fabric that is waiting to be dyed, and nowhere to put it because all the space is full.

At some point I want to give up the day job altogether and see if I can support myself as a maker. Even writing the sentence sends my cautious brain into terrified meltdown. I remember what it was like to have no regular income, and it wasn’t fun.

more scraps, mostly thin strips and frayed edges

I guess the obvious answer is to go through my collection and let go of the things I am unlikely to use. I am hanging on to various types of fabric that I don’t or probably won’t use, because it’s possible that one day I might run workshops and some of these bits would be interesting in a mixed media or experimental setting. I’m starting to feel that ‘one day’ and ‘might’ aren’t that helpful and I just need to live in the present and do what I need to do now, because there is only one of me and I only have one pair of hands. I don’t have the storage space for everything, and I need a lot less than I think I do.

What with the day job taking up most of my working week, this will take a while to work through. But I think there may be a shop update looming in a couple of weeks or so.

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