A play day with Klee

Firstly, thank you so much to everyone who has purchased fabric and thread – it’s now all on its way to you. I hope it arrives soon and that you can do something lovely with it.

I’m back in the day job from tomorrow so I’m having a little me time today, working (playing) in the second of two sketchbooks I have on the go at the moment. The first sketchbook is about ancient marks, standing stones, and lines on the land. The second is a study of work by Paul Klee, one of my favourite artists. I have often registered the affinity that Klee’s work seems to have with textiles. One of the first textile wall hangings I ever made was an interpretation of Klee’s ‘Fire at Evening’. Many of his paintings are basically patchwork, and many of his drawn lines look very like stitched marks.

Sketchbook page in progress

This painting looks exactly like a stitch sampler to me, and reminds me of my own stitch journal.

Paul Klee, ‘Rhythms of a Plantation’, 1925
Drawing based on Rhythms of a Plantation, 1925, 10” square

The marks on Klee’s painting ‘Clarification’ also look exactly like running stitch or kantha stitching.

Sketchbook page, watercolour and pencil, exploring lines and marks

What particularly interests me about Klee is his work linking painting with music. He thought of music as having similar principles to painting, particularly in terms of composition – and of course we use the same word to describe an arrangement of musical notes and an arrangement of painted or drawn shapes on a page. I like the layering in his polyphonic works, which are usually a series of regular painted marks over a patchwork-like background. To me this is very like a quilt – the patchwork ground tells one story, and the quilted lines on the surface tell another story, like two voices singing in harmony.

‘Ad Parnassum‘, Paul Klee 1932

The stitched sample is an exploration of how tiny bits of fabric would look if applied to a textile surface. I’ve used felt in this first foray, simply because it’s easy to cut up into small pieces and it doesn’t fray. I’ve experimented with different ways of attaching the little tiles (for scale, the bits of felt are about a quarter of an inch square).

Tiny pieces of felt applied to vintage linen

Probably my favourite is the invisible method (top right), but I’m not confident that it would be stable enough. I took the needle and thread horizontally through the centre of the felt, like threading a bead, and then down into the base fabric. I suspect over time it might split the layers, in which case the top layer could peel off.

Whether any of it works or not is immaterial today, really. It’s just nice to have some time to think about the possibilities.

(Not) numbering the days

I have taken to rolling up and pinning the stitch journal, just to stop it getting so unwieldy. It’s a long strip, about 7 or 8 feet, and it tends to unroll itself as I stitch each daily block.

Safety pins keeping it together

I unrolled it today, just to see everything in context. Winter into spring.

The year so far

And what I find myself thinking is: those are 69 days of my life that I will never see again. I know I was there, because I stitched each block. But do I remember all those days? I don’t. And, of course, we can’t possibly remember everything. We only tend to remember the exceptionally good and the exceptionally bad things that happened on those days.

A number of days

I’m deliberately choosing not to mark the stitch journal with numbers or dates, because the calendar is arbitrary really. Who decided that our years begin on January 1st? We are born, and we live for some days, and then our days end, and the calendar has very little to do with it. The calendar just gives us something on which to pin and memorialise our experience. The days just join up.

I found myself wondering about how many days we can expect, in general. If you live to be 80 you get about 30,000 days. You spend about 10,000 of those days asleep. Factor in all the other practical necessary things that take time – washing, cooking, eating, going to work, etc – and it really isn’t very long. Factor in war and disease, for those people in terrible circumstances, and it’s even less.

The most recent days

This isn’t about making the most of every minute, or trying to cram more things in because life is short. Sometimes just being alive – just being – is enough, and sometimes that takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. Even when we’re sitting still, time is passing and taking us along for the ride.

The day before yesterday. The Welsh have a lovely word for it: echdoe

I wonder about the empty space still to come, the section of blank sheet that is still to be unrolled. The days I will stitch together. The white sheet, that is the foundation for the stitch journal, is antique/vintage French metis (a linen/cotton blend), and will itself have seen birth, life, and death. So much time rolled up in my hands. We are lucky to be here.

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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