I am planning on teaching a class at Northampton Center for the Arts in the fall – Fabric Collage and Art in Boxes. Because I have become very fond of making small art, and then putting it in a box for better presentation. My friend Matt gave me an entire 4×8′ sheet of plywood, precut into sixteen 1’x2′ sections, so they fit into my laser cutter. Since they are cheap, I feel perfectly happy using them for testing out patterns and making prototypes. Since the plywood has a nice finish, I also feel quite cheerful about the end results. I am rich in plywood!
My affection for containers, and for smooth stones, seems to have deep roots. My grandmother had several boxes of stones she’d collected over a long life. When I was invited to choose something from her possessions after she died, I picked an owl shaped with a handful of peculiar stones in it, some dated. My mother has at least one jar of stones that sits in her window to catch the light. I have a clear plastic bucket full of mostly nicely rounded stones from beaches of New England. My daughter Alice has a series of Mason jars filled with fossils and samples from geology field trips.
I was thinking about the end of the 100 Day project that turned into a daily project. I made object 366 yesterday and posted the picture to Instagram. I wasn’t sure then what I’d do today.
After I got started with my morning today – I have a whole routine, as you do, with coffee and some writing and some introspection – I did not pick up the materials to make a daily thing. It felt really strange. I went on to the next thing, a little inspirational reading (comics. It’s the funnies, except online.) and finished with Oblique Strategies, Brian Eno’s collection of actions to take when you’re stuck. Because I am definitely at loose ends, if not stuck. And it said:
Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do & do the last thing on the list.
So I’m working now on an exhaustive list of things.
Three little ones – about 2×4″ – and one working on getting bigger – 4×8″
I’m figuring out how to draw the laser cutting lines right on the stitched material, so I am working in response to the stitching I have already done instead of carefully sewing the places I know will be cut out later. It is a small distinction, but it lets me work more fluidly in the early part of the process, with fabric and thread.
Programmers and authors know for certain that some problems that feel intractable yield readily to being described to an interested observer. When an interested observer is unavailable, they can, and do, describe the problem to an inanimate object in their vicinity – a rubber duck, a stapler, etc. This is a known phenomenon, and many people have sympathetic ducks or other (toy) creatures on their desk for exactly this reason.
I am having what I am fairly certain is a rubber duck problem – I have finished two pieces using the same palette, and the same techniques, and I think (I think) one is kind of a hot mess, and one is a really solid piece of work. OR… it could be that one is a step towards more intricate work, and the other is too simple. OR … you get the idea. They could both be doing interesting things in different ways?
The biggest issue with my rubber duck, is that she doesn’t say much.
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.
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
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
Sometimes I get stuck on a particular topic. The staghorn sumac berries were speaking to me. I finished the first one, with two colors of velvet providing depth and one variegated thread defining the berries. But!! I was not done! The second piece used one solid color of velvet for the body of the subject, and I added three different variegated threads to shade the shape. The third one I used heavy perle cotton in the bobbin, and worked upside down, over brown velvet. I used two related colors of thread to give lighter and darker sides.
There’s a modern, painterly feel of the first one, and it surprises me how much I like it. The second one has some delicate shading in it, but the background is … busy. The third one feels most like my usual work.
Frames, laser cut from 1/8″ birch plywood, in various shapes. A different interfacing interfacing – this has no fusible on it, so I will fuse the fabric with Wonder Under.
Cut the interfacing to the size and shape of the interior shape. It works better, ultimately, if the interfacing is juuust slightly smaller than the inner shape.
Interfacing gets fused to the fabric backgrounds.
The interfacing adds a nice layer of padding when the frames are attached, and also works to keep the embroidered image smooth.
I like one more layer of interest on these tiny things, so I add a bead (or several) by hand. Then the work is placed over the interior shape, and the outside frame pressed gently into place. If it isn’t going to fit with minimal persuasion, make certain the fabric is smooth around the edge between the inside shape and the frame. Once it is in place, run a bead of liquid super glue on the back around the place where the fabric comes through from the front. Liquid superglue is important, because it soaks into the fabric between the pieces of frame, and holds everything together. I have done it with the gel super glue but the results are not satisfactory. Cheap superglue works really well.
Once the super glue is hardened, trim off the leftover fabric using whatever is handy. If you can’t find a sharp blade, a brisk application of sandpaper also works.
And behold! tiny scraps of fabric, small amounts of embroidery and some loose beads turned into something magical.
I use frequently use silk to represent water in my work. China silk makes a good sky, and dupioni and noil have a rougher texture that works well for ponds and streams. One of my favorites is silk organza; a stiff, translucent fabric that is easier to work with than other sheer fabrics. Organza is best to add depth and distance, as well as adding clouds, mist and fog.
The above pair of pictures are my attempt to make sense of layers of morning mist my friend Jen captured on her morning walk to her lake. I worked from the background of the picture forward, putting down each layer and stitching in details. On one piece, I left the organza loose, on the other piece I stuck it down with Misty Fuse, a very light fusible web that shows much less behind very sheer fabrics. The two pieces feel very different to me, and I’m not sure I like either of them.
One of my studio rules is: If you love something, do it again; also if you hate something, do it again. I didn’t love either one of these, but I do very much like particular details in each one. I think I have to make a third iteration, using both techniques, and see if I can catch the feeling I am aiming for. My thanks to Timna Tarr for her excellent performance as a rubber duckie* on Saturday.
*I am told, by people who program, that many engineers keep a rubber duckie to explain things to. Apparently describing the problem out loud, to a sympathetic audience, helps locate the problem. This works with someone who understands the problem, someone who does not at all understand the problem, or even an inanimate creature such as a rubber duckie.
I thought I needed more brown fabrics, but in fact, what I needed was to organize and dig through the fabrics I actually own. I found this array of browns and tans, some with gold – I was particularly hoping for brown with gold so it was gratifying to find these pieces.
Then I finished getting the colors down for the spring river piece, and starting stitching on the fields. The outrageous thunderstorm last night prompted an outburst of blossoms and baby leaves all over the trees, so I need to get moving on this to catch the part of spring I am thinking about.