Bench Notes: printing from embroidery

I had an epiphany the last day of the North Country Studio Workshop, when I was captivated by the work in the print studio, and I came back to the fiber studio and looked at all the stitches we had put on things-that-were-not-fabric – the stitches made a raised surface that looked like it could be printed from.

I feel like I have been broody about this idea for the last three weeks, like a hen all spread out over her nest, protecting the eggs and keeping anyone else from looking at them too closely. Including myself; if I examine an idea in this stage too hard it just evaporates out from under me. Whereas sitting quietly with the tiniest beginnings allows them to grow, to gather steam and become big enough to work on.

These are tests, so they are fairly small (2.5×3.5″) I started with the process I am most comfortable with, using my sewing machine with #8 perle cotton in the bobbin. I worked with the piece upside down, which was helpful in part because that is the way the image will look printed. This is just the first two iterations, and some notes on what I think I want to change for the next iterations.

Notes:

  • the dots of fusible on the interfacing come through
  • stitching or not stitching the background does not seem to matter
  • the interfacing might not be stiff enough to hold the threads up, proud of the surface, enough for printing without the substrate carrying and transferring ink as well
  • wetting the embroidery slightly makes the ink soak into the threads, and provides a bolder print
  • except it also makes the ink soak into the substrate more, so there is more background noise

Next Steps:

  • find smoother interfacing, without the prominent bumps of fusible
  • try drilling holes in a stiffer substrate – chipboard or thin plywood
  • what difference does hand sewing make? I could use thicker threads working by hand than with a machine, but the line is not continuous
  • does a different type of thread matter? Nylon, rayon, linen are all on hand for testing

progress

I have been keeping up with both the 100 Day Project and Daily Feb 2020, and the collection of tiny things looks like this:

I made some sampler pieces at the workshop – I never made it terribly far past running stitch. I got very interested in the weights of stitches I could achieve by varying thread weight and stitch length.

preparations, long and short term

I am packing for a workshop today, and leaving tomorrow, and coming back on Sunday. The workshop is at Bennington College, in the lower left corner of Vermont. A bunch of different things are being taught, from glass and woodworking to embroidery. I signed up for Embroidery Expanded, which I am very much looking forward to.

I have a rudimentary knowledge of embroidery, and enough knowledge to look up stitches I do not remember. I signed up for this particular workshop to gain some ideas for how to embroider on non-traditional surfaces, and with unusual materials. I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of things we talk about, and the community of people who think this sounds like fun.

I’m also pulling together materials for the #DailyFeb2020 challenge that starts this Saturday on February 1st. The plan (subject to change) is to embroider something every day, honing my newly acquired skills, and post the results on Instagram. I have a bunch of tiny laser cut frames for that project, although I have also been thinking very hard about three dimensional shapes and how to form and embroider them. Plans are allowed to change – that’s how I learn things!

The third thing I am working on is the 100 Day Project. I started that (stealthily) on Jan 22. It will run through the end of April. I seem to be able to think about 100 days more easily than a whole year. I’d like to try another daily for a year project, but my last couple of tries have not been successful, so I’m scaling back, and looking for a shorter horizon. You can see my progress with my 100 things on Instagram, with the tag #the100dayproject.

#DailyFeb2020

Hey people – remember last year, and the year before, when we made a bunch of things in February and learned some stuff and possibly used up some stuff and etc.? I’m doing it again!

There are only three rules: A Very Low Bar, Very Clear Boundaries, and Quantity Not Quality.

A Very Low Bar – An absurdly low bar invites anyone and everyone to step over it, to prove, in fact, that anyone and everyone can step over it. Having cleared it once gives you a little jolt of accomplishment, which is a good thing, and encourages you to do it again. We are chasing that tiny jolt of endorphins that come from doing the thing. The theory is, that will propel you to do it again, and again, and again, which is practice.

To assist in making the bar even lower, choose something you have tools for. Choose something that you can set up quickly and clean up easily (or set up in a corner somewhere that won’t be disturbed). Lower the threshold for doing the thing as much as you possibly can. To that end, it is perfectly legit to lay in a stock of things before Feb 1 – like pre-cut paper, sharpened pencils, the paints for this February’s palette, or all the ends of sock yarn you have on hand. Get a little excited about this process!

The Very Clear Boundaries: This is a lesson from Twyla Tharpe’s book The Creative Habit and reinforced by personal experience and even Orson Welles (“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” ) To this end, 1) you must put some lines around what you want to practice, and B) make that measurable. So choose a size, limit your palette, limit the number of stitches you are knitting, or the time spent, limit yarn size, commit to buying nothing new, or using up all of a resource. Basically think about what you need to do, to make the box you are creating around your project small enough to be a little constrictive. Those constraints let you can experiment with pushing at the edges, without having to spend too much time finding the edges first.

Quantity Not Quality: You want to make a LOT of something this month. To make that measurable, choose metrics you can see, and count, things that are strictly mathematical or true/false. Your metrics matter, a lot. “Make one nice picture” is useless because who says it is nice? “I used up all the paint I had” is a very good metric because you can tell when you’ve achieved it and also it is pushing you towards more using and making.

My plan for February 2020: make something small that is out of my comfort zone every day. Since I am taking an embroidery workshop at the end of January, my plan is to make a tiny embroidery every day, and frame it up in a small laser cut frame. I’m working on making the frames this week, so they’ll be ready to go, and I have the floss and other materials on hand. I even wound all the floss onto bobbins, so I won’t get the appalling tangled disaster than I have encountered before!

If you’d like to join in, that would be great! I’ll be posting my work on Instagram, and tagging it #dailyFeb2020 – if you use the same tag, we’ll find everyone’s work!

Happy 2020

I had almost reached that point of embarrassment about not posting that I was contemplating shutting down the blog and staring over, but it seemed like an over-reaction to a medium absence composed of medical issues and holidays.

Hi! I’m back! I had a teratoma (it was a Mass!! It was a MONSTER MASS!) removed when it twisted some internal stuff and hurt a lot. That was the beginning of December. Then I recuperated on the couch, and then the holidays happened and I took the family and fled to the Florida Keys to be warm and together.

We got back in time to have more winter weather happen. Last night friends came to see the perfectly timed evening fireworks (my little city is so civilized!) and come back to the house for dinner and foolishness.

Today I am catching up on the things I meant to do earlier, and thinking about what I want to accomplish this year.

I hope you are also entering the new year with hope and enthusiasm –

whatever the weather

Thanksgiving happened in the US – in an unusual move for us we split along generational lines, and the kids went to see my Mum, while Al and I traveled to see his grown-with-huge-children niece and nephew. Reports from the far north indicated a fine dinner was had by all, and the kids stopped to see their cousins and baby cousins on the way home.

We had a glorious snowstorm Sunday – Tuesday morning. It was moving so slowly, so it hovered over us dropping snowflakes for well over forty hours. It felt luxurious, to have a snow day following the Thanksgiving break, I guess less luxurious once the shoveling is taken into account. And now on Friday it is snowing again, although less than an inch is predicted. I’ve taken advantage of the weather to sit in the studio doing hand work on tiny things in frames:

I did some freelance theatrical scene painting for the Pioneer Valley Ballet’s Nutcracker this week, marbling a few pieces and making a ground row look fluffy enough to be snowbanks or clouds depending on lighting.

bench notes: thread weights

There are two paths to apply thread to work. The most used on a sewing machine is top thread – it follows the usual thread path from the spool to the needle, and through the magic of the lock stitch is looped around the bobbin thread and drawn back to the top of the work.

This little video shows clearly all the moving parts that make up a stitch. You can see that the top thread travels through several steps to get to the fabric. It also gets pulled back and forth through the eye of the needle as the take-up releases it for each stitch and takes it up again. This wear can be absorbed by finer threads running through appropriate sized eyes, and a wide range of threads can be used.

In a perfectly counter-intuitive move matched only by the wire industry, thread weights are inverse to the actual size of the thing in question. The 50wt thread on the left, from Superior, is the finest I tend to use because anything smaller than that does not cover the underlying fabric in any useful fashion. The weights increase to 40wt, also from Superior, 30wt, from Sulky, and 12wt from Sulky. All these are 100% cotton threads, and three of the four are also variegated threads.

Once threads are too coarse to fit through the eye of a needle, they can be wound on a bobbin and worked from the back of the piece. I’ll take some pictures of that process and demonstrate in the next bench notes.

bench notes: more thread

I wrote before about threads. This is a small sampler of four variegated threads I use routinely; three cotton, one rayon.

If you look at the samplers, you can see the Valdani and both Sulky threads have a long color change – there is a fair amount of each color on the thread. In close stitching, such as cobbling (small round circles) or small overlapping scribbles this long change gives depth and interest to the area covered. In lines, such as outlining or contouring or sketching, it means that the lines change color or character unless they are repeated, going back and forth over the line brings more different colors to it as well as making it a thicker line.

The King Tut, from Superior Thread, has a short color change, roughly every inch. This makes the thread read more like one color than several, as your eye averages the color within the area. I use these threads to blend different fabrics into a more cohesive mass. Because they are finer than the other threads, I also use them in the mid-ground and background of a piece.

I think the prettiest threads I use are the Sulky Blendable cottons – there are more different colors in one spool, and the patterns are more variable. I use these threads in the foreground of a piece, to keep details in the foreground from becoming an undifferentiated mass.

For a long time, I only knew of and used Sulky Rayon threads. They are easy to find, and come in many solid shades as well as the variegated versions. Rayon has a truly delightful sheen which is especially good for adding details and highlights to a subject, but it can get overwhelming in large areas.

Finding more variegated cotton threads, and variegations in different lengths, has helped my work evolve in a more painterly direction.

long drive into nostalgia

Monday I drove to Ipswich and back, the second drive in a week, to retrieve art that did not sell. The weather was perfect, I made good time, and I got to walk on the beach for while before I went home.

As I suspected, the large button river did not sell, and I got to take it home again. The two smaller pieces, sumac and milkweed, did sell. Trina Schell, the sainted woman who runs the sale, said some people had been asking after me, and were pleased to see my work again. She also had a list for how long I have had work in the show (since 2011) and what years art has sold (the smaller pieces generally sell). So I am feeling cheered about getting work to them, and maybe next year I’ll be organized enough to ship work instead of schlepping it.

Nostalgia comes into play because I grew up in Essex County. We lived in Marblehead, on the coast, for a while, and then further inland in Boxford, with horses and dogs and various farm animals, when I was in middle school and high school. The trip to Ipswich and out to Crane’s Beach is littered with memories of Pony Club and riding lessons, gallops on the beach and time with friends. And then my mother moved back to Ipswich when my first child was born. So I have another layer of memories, of my kids’ infancy and childhood, to drive through.

I don’t mean to complain – I had a happy childhood, and they tell me they did too – but it is a lot of time and memories to be sifting through when I should be paying more attention to the driving.