On Work

Approaching the end of my first month as a self-employed artist, there is a lot to reflect on. Briefly, I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard, and also I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. ‘Work’ means something different now. Primary goal for next month is to get better at managing my work/life balance, which is difficult when work and life have essentially become the same thing.

‘Work’ means this, among other things:

Thread dyeing in progress

It also means wearing a variety of different hats from one minute to the next. Some of the jobs I’ve done so far this month are Sales Manager, Marketing Manager, Accountant, Goods Inwards Manager, Customer Service Manager, International Relations Manager, Tech Support Assistant, Logistics Manager, teacher, photographer, copy writer, proof reader, film director, video editor, sound engineer, dyer, content creator, and researcher. Haven’t had time to do any actual art yet.

But it’s a glorious feeling to wake up every morning filled with excitement for the working day ahead.

There will be thread in the shop soon (ish) – when I can get all of these skeins wound and sorted:

Textured threads
Cotton threads (they’re not all green!)

Here’s my Heath Robinson style skein twister. It’s a tiny hand drill I used to use years ago when I made miniatures, with a bent paper clip where the drill bit should be. The board is thick foam with a pencil stuck in it, clamped to a stool so it doesn’t move. I should probably patent it.

Unpatented Heath Robinson skein winder

I think some of the Teachable teething problems have been resolved now, and so far people seem to be enjoying the online course – I’ve been assured by several students that it isn’t only for beginners, which makes me very happy.

I’ll let you know when threads are available – it will take as long as it takes, but probably (I hope) some time this week. The shop will be temporarily closed while I list the threads, but it should only be down for a day or two. I aim to have threads in the shop every month from now on, if I can. The first batch will be UK post only, just until Royal Mail gets through the backlog of delays caused by strike action in December and the cyber attack earlier this month. From next month I hope to return to international shipping.

And on that note, it’s back to work for me.

Time travelling

And a very warm welcome, firstly, to new subscribers – thank you so much for joining us here. If you’re looking for a quiet restful space, where nothing much happens except some hand stitching and gentle reflection, then you’re probably in the right place.

On the subject of which, I do enjoy my quiet Sunday mornings. At weekends my husband likes a long lie-in, and I don’t. I’m generally wide awake and out of bed the second I wake up, usually driven downstairs by hunger. I have the metabolism of a hamster and need frequent refuelling. Once the need for breakfast has been met, the rest of the morning is my own and I can stitch away in my workroom until lunch time. I call it a workroom – actually it’s the spare bedroom. Maybe I should go all Proper Artist and call it a studio.

Continuing on the Winter Time Traveller’s quilt

This quilt, originally a (Time) Traveller’s Blanket as part of an online class with Dijanne, has become a celebration of winter, my favourite season, and maybe it will be finished in time for next winter. It certainly isn’t anywhere near done at the moment. The top and back are hand-dyed silk noil, with some soft flannel (brushed cotton) as the middle layer.

This little tree is an experiment in making branches with blanket stitch and so far I like it. I’m using hand-dyed cotton perle size 12 thread, on a scrap of hand-dyed Swiss cotton fabric applied to the quilt top. I really like the way the woven dots in the fabric look like snow.

Little tree, in progress

The rest of it seems enormous, but it’s only about a metre square.

Very much still in progress; hand stitch on applied fabric scraps

I’ve added a layer of sheer fabric to some of the patches. This one is simple embroidered tree pictograms on hand-dyed silk organza, and then I’ve layered a piece of painted dotted tulle over the top. It’s impossible to photograph, but in real life the dots create little shadows on the organza beneath.

Painted tulle layered over embroidered silk organza

I always think this multi-layering is one of winter’s best gifts. It’s the season that most brings time to reflect, to look beneath the surface, to embrace the shadows, to see in the dark. To see through the dark too, because it doesn’t last long. It will be spring before we know it, and if you’re on the other side of the world it’s already summer. If that isn’t time travel, I don’t know what is.

Treading softly

Little stitches, little steps. Some seeding stitches and French knots on this beautiful eco-printed silk from Jane Hunter

Eco printed silk with hand stitch

Trying to find the fine line between trampling over the delicate pattern and using hand stitch to enhance it.

French knot flower heads, seed stitch ghost leaves, and whipped running stitch stems

Treading softly, on tiptoe, through this Monday morning.

Silk panel on tea-dyed silk noil

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

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

Drawing stitches

Still working on paper, thinking things through. I don’t have a lot to say about this today. Not in words, at least. Colour, shape and composition have their own language that is universal and goes far beyond the limits of words.

Collaged sketchbook pages in progress

I have started to draw what might become stitches.

Marks on a standing stone
Patterns similar to those found on carved rocks
Stone circle with henge
Abstract marks suggested by irregularities in the inked background

Ongoing. Going on. Same thing.

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