Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Ethan's Flag

Ethan simply cannot resist a chance to operate machinery, particularly when it has dangerous needles in it . . .  it's a guy thing, even if he is only a little guy now.

He made a piece for his parents for the fourth of July, and this is a little corner of it that I love.  Notice that on the postage-stamp sized piece of blue wool he has made 50 straight stitches.  And the proper number of red and white stripes.

Happy Fourth of July, U.S.!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stitch Sampling

This article from TextileArtist.org is a nice read if you have ever wondered about the value of sampling stitches or techniques before you start a project.

Sampling can be addictive.  It's all about the "What ifs" that keep popping up as you try one thing, then make some small alteration to the process or color or thread weight and try it again.  Even better is when you let one idea link to another and another . . .

The reward of all this curiosity spread across small pieces of fabric is that the samples are making your own encyclopedia of stitch and technique ideas as they begin to fill a box or a bin.  Notebooks with cloth pages (the holes are made with buttonholes) hold mine.  I've even used Pellon as a page, which keeps the pages from folding over in the thick binders.

If you searched the dark corners of your own studio space, how many samples could you collect?  Enough to fill your own ring-binder notebook?  Maybe two notebooks?  My favorite ones are where I start out a little loose and not so nice, but as the stitching continues, I can see the improvement I make.  Seeing where you came from is often a great teacher.  And mistakes might be the best teacher of all, because we learn more from mistakes than doing things perfectly the first time.

Don't forget other fabric techniques-- Felting experiments can lead to a new direction in wet or dry felting.  Fabric manipulation gives texture, whether perfectly or imperfectly worked.  What about painted Lutradur or Bond-A-Web, heat-manipulated surfaces . . .

Take a moment to read the article about sampling as a creative process.  It might be the impetus you need to start your next project!

Sunday, February 5, 2017


One of life's little pleasures is to have a bag of scraps for stitch:  scraps from dressmaking, from domestic stitch for the home, from quilting-- even a bag of old clothes from the back of the closet (my own or others') or pieces sourced from thrift shops.  These are not precious fabrics in the sense of my having spent a small fortune shopping in fine fabric shops for them.  They are fabrics with a history, some still holding the memory of others' hands in the making or their having been worn for years and finally given up because they've shrunk.  Yes, shrunk.  That's what clothes do in the dark at the back of the closet, they hang there, neglected for a season or two, and this neglect sets off a naughty shrinking behavior.  Not that I change sizes, of course.  It's all the attitude of the clothes.

Most of my clothes are linen, cotton, or a few silks, which are exactly the fabrics I love to sew with.  I avoid synthetics because they do not breathe and can be hot and cloying, even in the cold months.  Early in the autumn, in a closet-clearing excursion, I came across a blouse of a creamy silk broadcloth I'd made when my son was still in college.  It was very simple, straight-cut, elbow-length sleeves, with shell buttons.  The thing that made it special was that one of the sleeves had been painted with silk paints using gutta to draw a butterfly. In soft pastels, the narrow channels of cream were the perfect venue for straight stitches, and it was drawn so close-up that the shapes look more abstract than realistic.

I took the blouse to the studio and laid it on the worktable preparatory to cutting it up.  But I simply could not do it.  I could not chop into that silk.  I can still remember my Mother's surprised pleasure at the odd symmetry the one decorated sleeve made, her handling the hems and smiling over the buttons.  I put the scissors down, and carefully folded it over.  Back to the closet it went.

Then I went to a bag of old linen clothes I'd been keeping to take apart on a rainy day when nothing was stirring in the creative right side of my brain.  Some of these were from friends (the FreeStylers do amazing cloth and thread and bead swaps), some from my closet.  I love this part of preparing fabrics for stitch:  unpicking the seams.  I remember a pale green linen suit I wore until I no longer looked presentable in it.  Going behind the linings and into the facings was an education in dressmaking.  Those lined jackets do not normally have serged seams the way unlined clothes do, and they come apart easily.

It would be much easier to simply rip into the clothes, but picking out the stitches is very meditative.  Piece by piece the green linen began to pile up, and when I was done, I took everything to the ironing board and began to iron the curling edges.  Some of the pieces will be overdyed when I set up the dye kitchen in the basement in the next few months.  Others will be used as they are, the spring green forming part of the edges or backgrounds for new pieces.

A friend gave me some "closet goodies" to organize for the group, so I am in "unpicking" heaven for the next week or so.  There is even a tangle of thread to be sorted-- my granddaughter and I love this process.  Seeing the strands emerge as they are teased from a bundle of knots and loops is so rewarding-- and meditative.  We each try to see how long the thread can be before it has to be clipped.  Bethy is remarkable for her patience and very long strands of thread.

And in this way, the winter is passing.  Snow and ice the first of the year, and today balmy temperatures and spring storms.  The strawberry plants have put out blossoms, the bulbs are coming up--   I hardly know what clothes will fit this flurry of changing weather, if it is a false spring or a truncated winter.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Once lost, but found

I had computer woes this morning, and while frantically going through files I came across this-- once lost, but now found.  A card for Jordan.  Our computers are amazing little creatures, seemingly possessing para-normal abilities to sense when they should let us find something nice in the early hours of the morning.  Despite all the scrambling and angst about the lost Keynote presentation, thank you, dear Mac, for this gift.  And for opening the window to the "new" storage for Keynote files.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

December in the studio

Daylight has been in short supply lately, and in the abbreviated light, I have contracted my thinking to small scale as a doorway into some larger ideas to explore in 2017.  My favorite way of doing this is with a bowl of scraps, a smaller one of threads, and an overflowing pincushion.  Through the movement of fabrics from the bowl to the flat workspace, there never seems to be a reduction in little scraps.  All magic, I'm sure.

This project was originally meant to be a line and shape study, not really to draw in color elements, but the pull of color is very strong, even when working in palm size.  Last month, in anticipation of this project, I made a book to corral these ideas in one place rather than falling back on my usual practice of stuffing things into plastic bags and relying on the Good Fairy Of The Studio to retrieve them for me.  Rather than pages of paper however, it is a book of pockets made with Lutradur.  I've found that Pellon medium-weight interfacings also make good pockets.

This colorful character uses hand and machine stitch.  I like the precision of machine stitches in combination with the looser hand stitch.  Additionally, there is something so mysterious about vintage fabrics captured under a translucent fabric, something that calls up old times and faces.  Here we can almost see a vehicle for transport to those times, one with many windows, many doors . . .

These verticals are my personal view of winter, grim and textural.  Not that grim is always negative, of course.  This piece is a return to that style of using the blocks of fabric as a foundation for stitch:

Because I am drawn to neutrals with textural interest, these two appeal to me for their simplicity and single, uncomplicated imagery:

Monday, November 28, 2016


If I have a favorite studio item, it is my sketchbooks.  They are filled with ideas, creative rumblings of things realized, or things only half-formed.  Ways of remembering, of re-thinking old ideas through the lens of many more years of learning until the old becomes new.  Though they will never win awards for beauty, in my eyes, they are beautiful beyond description.

So many are ones I made-- and these seem to be the most fun to work in, the ones I fill and over-fill with little drawings, maps, glued, stapled, stitched or taped bits of paper or color chips, fabric and thread; punched holes in the sides of pages for collecting thread or yarn or fabric strips-- These are the brightest part of the bookshelf.

Recently, I went through the excruciating week-long exercise of organizing the bookcases in the studio.  Half way through, there was no daylight in this tunnel, but I am glad I kept at it and chose not to simply shove the books back in place.  I would like to say it was such a beneficial bit of work that I will do it once a year . . .  However,  I think my cue will be when I KNOW I have something on those shelves, but CANNOT find it!  To safeguard the most important things, all the sketchbooks are on one place, now.  Or, in two cases and spilling into the third.

I do not mean to disparage the commercially made sketchbooks because they have their place-- actually, many places-- on the bookshelf.  They are often immensely practical because of their spiral binding, but are sometimes not so interesting from the outside, especially if the covers are hard book boards that do not want to bend as they are packed full of ephemera.  This packing process leads to their morphing into wedge-shaped books that resemble over-filled laundry bins.  Fitting them on the bookshelf is like trying to close the suitcase that is packed for a month of travelling when it was only designed to hold a weekend of clothes.  A future project, maybe for a week of snow or sub-freezing temperatures, would be to go through them and make them less cumbersome, divide up the contents into several smaller . . .

All of this book talk is leading up to the point that the Knoxville FreeStylers and the Atlanta SWAT (Stitching With A Twist) group are taking up sketchbooking in 2017, and we have been making our own books, for starters.  That way the pages are whatever paper we desire, any size, shape, have soft, malleable covers with pockets for stuffing with interesting notes or found objects, or even for the mundane task of holding pens or pencils . . .  To this end, we are customizing our sketchbooks.  Mine range from the elegant, soft-covered single-signatures in pouches made of embroidered silk or linen, to the basic workhorses, with soft covers made from fabric-covered pellon or stiff hand-made paper, both with varying kinds of closures.  The pouch books are purse-sized travelling companions, especially nice because the pouches are refillable as the sketchbooks are used, and the filled books go on the studio shelf for future reference.

The volumes are home to ideas spilled through numbers of books that I think of as places to muse on paper, a collection of wonderings.  I go through them when I'm in need of inspiration, and that is when the old ideas start to arrange themselves into new books on a single subject.  The major collecting starts with the single-subject-book, thread samples, cloth, colored sketches, dimensions that will or won't work, stitch sampling . . .  Oh, my goodness, but what fun the gathering-in process becomes!  Ursula Le Guin says it best:  "When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Black Floss on Cotton

I embarked on an enormous journey of discovery and endurance with this piece, never thinking I would actually stitch the entirety of the 10" x 18" cloth.  My style is smaller, more intimate pieces.  After I had gotten bored, I reasoned, I would cut the piece from the frame, fold what was left of the multi-processed cloth, and move on to something else.  To this end, I set out to try some different ways of doing a few things with simple, expressive stitches.  Instead of becoming bored, the challenge became so absorbing I couldn't put it down, and I worked weeks and weeks with the magic that was happening on the rectangle.

It is a study in lines, and to that end I used a single strand of black cotton floss.  I wanted to see how much energy short, dotted lines might have.  And then there was the idea of bending a longer line by keeping it under tension rather than Couching with two needles.  Or, what if the circles were stitched as loose Detached Chains and tied down to make rough circles of many sizes and shapes?  Is it possible to get a certain depth of perception with a tiny Straight Stitch by changing the compression, working dense stitches that graduated to a little more breathing space?  Could I really do this without using even one of my favorite little spot stitches, the French Knot?  Is there personality possible in a Square Chain Stitch?  And on and on it went, more questions, more answers.

If you've ever seen geology texts where someone has drawn beautiful illustrations of earth stratae, subducting plates, of layers of sediment under pressure, of conglomerate rocks-- this is where the idea started, buried in my twin loves of earth science and pen and ink drawings.  My husband sees an aerial landscape here.  It is hard to say which explanation I prefer, but in the end, the piece speaks in a different language to every viewer.

A word about the fabric:  This is a soft, loosely woven cotton.  I rusted it, washed it, buried it in the garden for a week, dug it up and washed it again and decided it would do as a mop-up cloth.  The color in the lower part of the piece is from spilled dyes and cleaned paint brushes.  More washing.  Nothing was planned, and when I last washed it I thought it might make a good lining cloth for other projects.  I've used several smaller cuts from the cloth in stitcheries over the past several years.

This thin, loose cotton is lined with four layers of linen, including worn napkins and a piece of linen left over from dress-making eons ago (how's that for responsible re-use of materials?).  The back of the work is almost as interesting as the front-- there are times I can't decide which side to show and which to put against the wall!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Starry Night

This is a little piece that wouldn't stay within the 4" square I meant for it.  It is an example of my starting something that simply had a mind of its own, and then hanging on as it galloped  off in another direction.

The fabric is linen I dyed, and the threads are a mix of hand and commercially dyed cottons and silks.  A little white-painted bowl sat on the worktable with the brightly-colored skeins tumbled together as I stitched and planned and listened to the story the threads were chatting about as the lines and shapes unfolded under my fingers.  Working with intense colors is always quite stimulating, but to add to the mood of creativity I listened to the soundtrack of BFG as the stitching progressed.  How could anything stay sedate and perfectly mannerly with John Williams' delightful music filling the studio?

And that is how all of these little images came to dwell here: stars, even a little block of fallen stars, a blackberry "briar" patch, river road, tracks, foliage . . .  Ethan shares my passion for blue and green, so this will be my subject for our writing club meeting this afternoon.  The children write their stories, Grandmother stitches hers.  The children read their lovely written works, Grandmother tells hers and accepts the children's excited interruptions the way historians add footnotes to the body of their data.  What better way to spend the after-homework-is-done moments of an afternoon in the studio?

And yes, Beth Ralph, you are entirely right about the way the story should be matted and framed rather than stretched over a small wooden stretcher the way I usually do these pint-sized pieces.  Isn't Show 'N Tell the best part of FreeStyle?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Feathers by the water

The story of this piece is one of wondering, "What if . . . ?"

It started off innocently enough, a weaving in a variety of yarns and thread, then the idea of weaving feathers into the story changed everything . . .

Once the feathers were in place, weaving the last part of the piece was impossible.  The feathers changed the story, and I left off working on this for weeks, waiting for the rest of the idea to form.  That was when Sherry Mayfield suggested that I not continue weaving at the bottom of the little hand loom, but to ease the piece down the empty warp and work from the new middle toward the top.

After I had moved the weaving and feathers down, it seemed a shame to do something common to it, like weaving with ordinary (or, in my case, semi-ordinary) materials.  Instead, I made a fabric sandwich of silk paper, a scrap from a vintage handkerchief, a cutting of old linen, and covered it with silk chiffon and a small strip of more silk paper.  This was the point of initial stitching, straight stitches using a high-sheen cotton floss in horizontal lines.

When it all held together fairly well, I began weaving the embroidered block into the open warp.  That called for more stitching to secure the embroidered sandwich to the piece (or the sandwich to the warp).  For this I used silk, a pale blue Spun Silk with Flame thread from Stef Francis.   These new silk straight stitches were all done in vertical lines in contrast with the cotton.  The vintage cotton yo-yo looks on the scene with kindly interest.

Three days of intensive stitching and assessing the progress of the piece followed.  With a deep breath (carefully, carefully) I cut the piece from the loom, then began weaving the warp ends into the stitching behind the fabric sandwich.  Next came a strip of "eyelash" from Tentakulum (Painter's Threads) near the bottom and above the feathers, and stitching the little reeds in shades of indigo silk.

I believe it is done.  When I look at it I find no adjectives or adverbs in need of changing, so the story is complete.  I have never inserted a stitched cloth, large or small, into a weaving before this, but as I consider the possibilities this is a mixing of techniques quite worth exploring.  The warp threads that are left on the front of the work are the most challenging feature for future experimentation.  Thank you Sherry, for encouraging me to look at this piece differently!

A closer look at the stitched/fabric sandwich weaving:

Now, if I can keep from touching it long enough to consider mounting and presentation . . .

UPDATE on the Feathers:  Poor feathers!  One was lost in moving it about . . . I think it is time to think of a resuscitation (yet again),  as one has been lost.  Or, I should simply move on, put this hexed piece in a studio journal and note it is not something to be tried again.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Map-making

Maps are not always flat little things with lines and letters and numbers.  Sometimes they can show us the way in and out with stitches and silk thread on scraps of hand-dyed silk noil.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Two summer strolls

In a little park, strolling, and thinking about . . .

Turquoise beads and a scrap of fringed green fabric.

The threads and I considered how many different ways we could color kid glove leather, the threads were of the opinion that the leather could NEVER be as nuanced and subtle as they.   Because it was growing late, I did not answer.  But the next day I spent a lot of time working on putting color on smooth, thin, kid leather.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Number Game(s)

Layering, appliqué, hand and machine stitch, hand-dyed fabrics . . 

Below, tiny scraps of hand-dyed linen are cobbled together by some system known only to the numbers.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Woven ThoughtSomely

Woven on a hand loom with the colors of the summer-cum-autumn in mind. 

This was inspired by Sandra's program at the May FreeStyle Meeting, weaving on small looms.  She and Cynthia made some small looms from foam core to get us started, and suddenly we were off and running!  Once I had my "weaving fingers" back I had the feeling I had come to familiar terrain.  Later that same week I started this piece on a small hand-held loom I bought several years ago on Etsy.  The wonderfully colorful threads are left-overs from my weaving days, as well as some silks from the hand dyeing I did last fall.  The contrast of rough and smooth textures made interesting lines.

I used a large high-castle loom for so many years that working on a rigid heddle loom of any size starts out very slowly.  Growing a cloth from rows of empty warp to a finished cloth is an absorbing form of zen, and I am always surprised when I glance up and see the hours that have passed.  Then it's time to stretch and have a little walk through the garden . . .

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Small Glimpse

Sometimes an idea and I wrestle together in the studio.  The wrestling takes many forms:  I carry the difficult piece to other places to see it in a different light; I will often try something that is absolutely wrong simply to get some movement on the idea; or in the end I take a deep breath and cut the piece apart.  

This ground was a large (remember who's writing here) woven piece built up from from strips of linen and silk.  Maybe the size of the original froze the blood in my fingers.  I don't know.  But when I cut the larger piece apart, there was instant understanding and new direction, even a bit of fun in adding more layers to the back of the ground for more stability.  The cutting resulted in a stack of 2" (approximately) squares.

From the change of direction came a glimpse of tree, water, and sun.  Just a glimpse.  It came on a day when I needed to have a pink and blue tree in my afternoon. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Blue Wood

This from the winter-- the threads and I were chatting about how silly it was to always think of trees as grey or black and having green leaves . . .

It all depends on which side of the box you operate from, I suppose.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Spring Musings

An examination of spring colors, spring fragility-- these two pieces have surfaces of silk over layers of hand-dyed silks and linens.  

The first is on a firm ground of so many layers I lost count as it was being assembled.  The silk chiffon over the top of all was dyed, spottily so.  But it was the spottiness that gave the center pink area more interest.  The green danglies are there because it reminded me of the texture of the spring as it just comes into being.

Here is a different look at the spring.  The small piece is worked in hand on a very thin ground of (mostly) transparent silks and little snips of linen and a dyed lace.  The tree was made separately was slipped under the chiffon before being stitched in place.  A bit of hand-dyed linen defines the ground and left of the landscape, but the tree itself still dominates the scene because of the full bushiness of its branches and foliage, even covered.  The beads are trying to tame everything, but you know how difficult it can be to tame a spring day.  Held up to the light, it changes character, in that mysterious way light has of transforming colors. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Zen Moment

A truly zen moment in the studio while working on this small piece.  In layers, with silk chiffon for softening the scene.  The threads and I were taking a short walk to clear our heads, and the cloth scraps came quietly along.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Marks on Fabric: Blocks 1 and 2, et al.

One of a series of blocks where I experimented with leather to make marks rather than using stitches or dyes.

The second block uses antique silk, tucks, thread marks, and vintage wrapped circles from Battenburg Lace.

The third block is what I think of as a conglomerate, done several years ago when I was studying Gwen Hedley's work.  The base is layered scraps, making the most of the translucence of the silks as overlays, tying all together with a single color of the most simple stitches.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Thinking About New Directions

I got a glowing report from the doctor this morning at my 6 week check-up.  Still using a cane, but I have good range of motion and the incision is healing well (thank-you, Vitamin E Oil).  I can actually look at my knee, now, and not have to shut my eyes and pretend that leg belongs to someone else.

So now it's time to think about new projects.  And the one that has moved from the back to front of the queue is to re-make some of the clothes hanging in my closet.  Most particularly, linen shifts and jumpers from the 1990s.  With a little judicious cutting and hemming, it is quite easy to make a tunic from a linen shift.  And a few new pieces might be had from old skirts . . .

Fabric is fabric.  It doesn't know it has been designated as a skirt, top, jacket, or coat.  It just IS.  Time to move these pieces on to their next chapters.  I remember as a child my mother made my youngest sister a beautiful gathered silk skirt.  When she outgrew it, Mother used the fabric to make curtains for the bathroom.  And then she washed the curtains and passed them on to me.  I made a lovely silk blouse from the fabric that I wore for years and years.  Is it possible that I have this deeply-embedded idea of repurposing in my genes?