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

July

And that was July. I blinked and almost missed it. Just as well I had the stitch journal to keep me focused and present for at least some of it.

Stitch journal, July 2022

As always, it’s still made of mostly very simple stitches – running stitch, couching, blanket stitch, chain stitch, herringbone and fly. I’ve used a wide variety of threads, from very chunky perle no. 3 or 5 to very fine silk sewing thread. Some days are light as a feather, and some days really weigh you down.

Stitch journal, July (details)

Lots of summer colours in this month. Parts of July have been almost unbearable, it was so hot. The heat was suffocating.

Stitch journal, July (detail)

Summer is my least favourite season but I have tried to find something to love about each day. I think that’s what keeps most people going. And that’s all the stitch journal is ever going to be, of course. Just a record of days passing, with needle and thread as witness.

Stitch journal, July (detail)

Yesterday was World Embroidery Day (how do these things come about? Who decides?)

I turned yesterday’s block into a little embroidery sampler. It was that kind of day.

A sampler block on the stitch journal for World Embroidery Day

Tomorrow is 1st August, in the pagan calendar Lammas, which marks first harvest and the start of autumn. It may still feel like summer, but seasons and weather are not the same thing. Already I can see the light starting to change as nature prepares to move us from one season to the next. And there is space on the stitch journal to take another step forward into a new month.

In the zone

I experienced a proper state of what psychologists call flow this morning – utterly absorbed and focused on making these little samples, I somehow lost two hours. I quite like it when that happens. You literally lose yourself in something while time rolls on without you. You come back to reality slightly dazed, feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle.

I really like this Klee painting, ‘Oceanic Landscape’ (1929) and have been drawing tree shapes with watercolour. I love the simplicity of these shapes – just a few very easy lines that nevertheless unmistakably say ‘tree’

Oceanic Landscape, Paul Klee, 1929 – sketchbook page

Of course I wanted to see how these would work in fabric and thread. The first sample is layered sheers and silk net on a scrap of very soft brushed cotton.

Little fir trees, stitched area about 3” x 4”

The second is a scrap of vintage linen/cotton sheet, painted with watercolours and then stitched. You can see the imprint of the embroidery frame which kept the fabric taut just while the paint was drying. I will soak and stretch the creases out at some point.

A row of little trees, painted area about 3.5” square
Birdie is looking a little scruffy this season

This sketchbook (so far) is just for me, and just for fun. I’m not sure it’s leading anywhere, although really everything is good practice for something.

Two stitched samples inspired by Klee’s Oceanic Landscape

I’m having a few days away from the day job next week and am looking forward to a break. I have a strong need to paint – who knows where these directives come from? I think it’s probably important to listen, in any case – so will be on paper for a while. Just to see what happens.

Klee sketchbook

Sketchbook cover, Klee’s 1922 painting of a little fir tree. Layered sheers and hand-dyed fabrics with simple hand stitch and applique

The sketchbook cover is finished – despite all the careful measuring and re-measuring along the way, I am always really surprised when it fits.

12” square sketchbook with cover

I have sketchbooks in various sizes, mostly made from papers that I collate and bind myself. This one is a bought spiral bound 12” square one, which is a good size for exploring mark-making and for holding samples of stitched work.

First page: A Klee medley, or Klee’s best bits
Sketchbook page exploring blocks of colour

‘Coming to bloom’ is a pastel drawing made by Klee in 1934, on black paper. I made a quick sketch with pastels, also on black paper – the fixative has dulled the colours a little, so I made a duplicate sketch in watercolour on a white background.

Then the fun really started. I made a little stitched sample on a scrap of black cotton fabric, only about 4” square or so, exploring ways of creating stitched blocks.

4” square sample. From the left: needle weaving with hand-dyed threads; rough satin stitch with 2 strands of DMC floss; sketchy long and short stitch with one strand of DMC floss

I really like the woven blocks. The satin stitch blocks have floats that are too long to be practical, but I also quite like the irregular sketchy effect of the straight stitch sample on the right. I worked the samples from right to left, so the weaving was the last thing I did.

Stitched sample on sketchbook page

Not quite sure where all this is going, but then some journeys are about exploration and discovery rather than arrival.

In between days

The last day of June, and another month on the stitch journal.

30 days in June

A little handstitching every day, reflecting on the time that has passed…

Days in June
Days in June
Days in June

…and on the time to come. July will be with us tomorrow.

Between: June and July

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!

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

E for Evolution

Evolution: an evolving cloth

I pick this cloth up from time to time, usually when I don’t know what else to do or, in this case, while I’m thinking about how to start some new work. I started this one a couple of years ago, as a kind of map. Then it became a kind of journey.

Then I looked again at the embroidered E in the corner, and renamed it Evolution, since it never seems to know what it wants to be.

E for Evolution. Hand-dyed vintage handkerchief.

It was always intended to be a very lightweight bed cover for those awful hot summer nights when no one can get any sleep. The backing is a large vintage tablecloth, onto which I have randomly layered pieces of hand-dyed lawn, cheesecloth, and muslin – all ultra-lightweight, semi-sheer fabrics to add colour without adding too much warmth. I made it a bit bigger at some point by adding a 10” border of brushed cotton to either end so it’s now about the size of a single duvet.

This is the reason it used to be called ‘Map’

At some point I applied a ragged row of circles across it and then realised they looked a bit heavy. I’ve cut the centres out of the bigger circles and am stitching the edges under to form rings. Better, I think.

From circle to ring

It has a long way to go, and there is no plan. I often think life should come with some kind of handbook so we all know where we’re supposed to be going. I think most of us haven’t a clue what we’re doing here and are making it up as we go along. Some people manage to make it look as if they have everything under control, which can be quite unsettling for the rest of us.

Empty space, ready for the next adventure

I’m guessing this isn’t going to be finished in time for this year’s hottest nights in a month or two, though it is functional in its present form. In an emergency it would do.

In progress

May: stitch journal

Another month gone, and another 31 blocks on the stitch journal.

31 days of May

Time is flying. There is really not much more to say about that.

Summer colours
Hand-dyed threads, simple stitches

I ended with a square for no-mow May. We did this last year too but this year seems to have brought lots more buttercups and daisies, the prettiest of flowers.

No-mow May

I like the way we stand between, sometimes – between day and night, between the old month and the new. Standing still for a moment, to look back and then ahead. A bit like pausing before crossing a road. So onwards, into June:

Goodbye May, hello June
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