Why I Stitch…

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If you spend half as much time trawling Blogland as I do, you’ll no doubt have seen a fair number of bloggers lately writing about why they write. I love reading these posts, I suppose we’re all fascinated by what brings us back to the blank screen, time after time.

I started thinking about writing one myself, but before I got very far, the word stitch booted out the word write and just wouldn’t go away. So why I write will have to wait for another day, this post, shamelessly using the same format, is about…

Why I Stitch…

What am I working on?

This is what I’m stitching at the moment – well, I would be if I wasn’t also running a part-time taxi service for two teenage daughters, doing daily battle against the invading laundry pile and attempting – frequently in vain –  to keep on top of the cooking/shopping/gardening and cleaning.

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This time I’m going for some gentle texture, so it’s what I’ve taken to calling a canvas embroidery as opposed to the stitched tapestries which are smoother (because they’re all done in tent stitch).

How does my stitch differ from others in the genre?

Ummm, is there a stitched tapestry/canvas embroidery genre? I’ve never been able to decide if what I do fits into any category, which is probably why I find it difficult to know what to call it. All I can say that I know is perhaps unusual, is that I much prefer to stitch into loose-weave canvas materials rather than the rigid monos and interlocks – it makes for interesting times trying to square anything up, but I like the feel, the weight and the drape of the finished pieces much more than anything I’ve ever done on stiff canvas.

Or perhaps I should say that for me, stitching is just painting in threads. I use wools, silks and cottons as a painter would apply oils, acrylics or watercolours – thread just happens to be the medium in which I’m most at home.

Why do I stitch what I do?

I was tempted to answer this ‘I stitch, therefore I am’ (sorry Mr Descartes). I don’t know why I stitch, but I don’t seem to be complete, to feel at one with life the universe and everything unless I have some stitching on the go. It’s just something I’ve done for so many years, it’s integral to who I am.

I tell people that I find the process of stitching meditative and that’s true. When I’m repeatedly passing the needle backwards and forwards through the canvas, I find a peace and inner calm. But when you think about it, that’s not surprising because it’s not something you can do quickly, so it forces you to slow down, and then finding the tiny holes literally requires one-pointed focus, both characteristics of meditation techniques.

As for subject matter, I always wonder where inspiration comes from. I’ve mentioned before how the druidic concept of awen* appeals very much to me, I like to embrace that idea. And somewhere deep in the machinations of my mind, my love of all things ancient and historic, of medieval arts and crafts, and of the patterns and textures from the natural world, coagulates into the designs that finally end up in the canvas.

How does my stitching process work?

Much easier to answer this. I’ll generally start with something loosely seen in my mind – it might be a combinations of colours or a pattern or something that has kindled an idea. I might try to sketch something on paper – probably getting the paints out too, although I never end up with anything even vaguely akin to the cartoons tapestry weavers may use. I just try to see how it might sit in two dimensions.

Then I lay out the canvas and draw on a rough guide (one advantage of using loose-weave scrims and crash, is that it’s much cheaper than tapestry canvas, so I’m not afraid to get anything wrong).

Then I rifle through my stash of yarns and pull out all the colours and textures I think I’m going to want. (If the project starts with a colour concept, this stage will come before the design). Often I’ll decide I need to add shades, so it’s off to whoever has what I’m looking for – I love that part! And frequently, once I’m into the piece, I’ll decide it needs additional shades, so these are bought in as and when they’re wanted.

I mainly use a clip-on frame to hold the canvas because I like to be able to move around it – I suppose this is where I really depart from woven projects which have to be created line by line and this is also why I tend to think of it as painting in threads, after all you don’t paint from the top up or visa versa, you go all over the canvas as the piece requires, and this is to some extent how I stitch (this is also how I decide how to fine-tune which colours to use where).

And after that, it’s just a case of sitting down and stitching and stitching and stitching until all those little holes are finally filled with threads.

* Awen: It’s not an easy concept to sum up in a few words here. The wiki link is a start, but there are druid bloggers and writers who do a better job – albeit in many more words if you’re interested.

A couple of Why I Write posts I’ve really enjoyed are from Sue at The Quince Tree and Jessica at Rusty Duck. Check out the comments on both these blogs for links to more lovely bloggers’ posts – you’ll need a large mug of your favourite beverage and half and hour at least to while away, but it’s one of the best ways to meet some new Blogland heros.

Do continue the hop if you haven’t already, whether it’s why you write or stitch, or, well – whatever makes your heart sing.

Moonbeams…

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Inspiration comes from many places and sometimes we don’t really know exactly why a piece evolves the way that it does. But that wasn’t the case with the latest piece of stitched tapestry, because from the moment I saw the fabulous silk Moonbeams on a Mystic Sea from Eleanor Lee at Solstice Yarns, I had a good idea in my mind of how I wanted to use it.

And so here it is. I’m calling this one Moonbeams because that’s where it all came from.

In addition to the greeny silk in there, much of the purply background and big purple patches also came from Eleanor’s wickedly enticing store. There are also a couple of blatantly sparkly gold and silver metallics and a rather subtler, almost silver silk in there, to add a twinkle or two as you walk past.

Working with Eleanor’s threads has been pure bliss. They stitch into the cotton crash so happily, you’d think they’d been designed with that in mind.

Thank you Eleanor.

Moonbeams.

Approximately 38cm x 38cm

Silk, wool and metallic threads on cotton crash.

May & June 2014

 

 

False starts and moonbeams…

What do you do when something just won’t come together the way you think it should?

I’ve just had a stitching false start. The piece I thought I knew what I was doing with, didn’t agree. We couldn’t come to terms, it was deeply frustrating.

And although I like the old Robert the Bruce adage of ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’, I do not have the same mettle as fugitive medieval kings or patient cave dwelling spiders.

No, I failed, and so I did what was the most satisfying thing I could think of at the time – I ripped it out of the frame.

Instead, I am now working on a new piece inspired by a gorgeous silk yarn from Eleanor at Solstice Yarns – Moonbeams on a Mystic Sea.

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I am in love with this silk and I’m back in the flow – phew!

Ta Dah…

Well thanks to a productive weekend, it’s done! Thank you so much to everyone who commented with ideas on a name for the latest piece. Something nearly always suggests itself to me while I’m working on a canvas, but this time although I’ve really enjoyed stitching it, there was a deafening radio silence as far as names were concerned, so it was really helpful to hear your thoughts.

There was considerable consensus on a title that spoke about flow, movement and nature. Something about it evidently evokes a Jacobean feeling, and the colours are distinctly autumnal.

As I’ve been stitching during the last week or so, I’ve been mulling over all your comments, playing around with word associations and combinations, waiting for the name that felt right to emerge.

Now when I tell you what happened, you’ll have to remember I am a true child of the ’60s, certain experiences molded me at an early age. So when Alister at The Bargellist mentioned in his comment being able to see snails, it triggered a chain reaction in my head. First I had a little giggle, because although not designed as snails, I could see precisely what he meant, I’m forever drawing spirals, they crop up in lots of things I make, and yes, there is a distinct snailiness about this piece.

The obvious thing was to call it snails, but…

…the trouble is, I am of the The Magic Roundabout generation, for me all snails have but one name, and so, although I tried hard to think of it as something a trifle more elegant, in the end I give you…

IMAG4881… Brian

You might be interested to know that in Christian art, snails symbolise laziness or the deadly sin of sloth…

Thank you to Catherine at Knotted Cotton for introducing me to A Scientific Romance – I’ve just bought a copy and will add it to the reading for the  ‘A Year in Books’ project.

If you want to indulge in a little Magic Roundabout nostalgia, click here.

Time for bed

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Nearly there…

Thank you to everyone who came up with their thoughts on a name for the current piece. I’m very close to finishing it now, so failing any unforeseen events (holds fingers crossed while typing this), it should be finished next week and then I’ll reveal it with the name I’ve chosen.

In the meantime, this is what I’ve been playing at when I probably had better things to do…

The thing I find about spending most of my time slowly stitching, is that every so often I have to release the valve on the images swirling around in my brain and do a bit of faster art. I think perhaps the obsession with stained glass might be evident here…

Right, I’d better get on. Happy Spring and happy stitching!

 

 

 

 

 

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This, that and the other…

Well, THIS is where I am with the current piece…

IMAG4548Would anyone care to suggest a title? Usually something pops up in my mind, but I think my creative impulse is taking a spring break…

Here it is a bit closer up…

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)O(

While THAT – below– is what happens when you finally get your old easel out and play with paint all afternoon.

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Although I always felt most at home with oil paint,  the practical difficulties of using it in a house where there’s no space to leave your kit set up and where you have to snatch opportunities ‘as and when’, has prevented me from painting for years. But lately Number One Daughter and I have been dabbling in gouache and acrylics, which although not the same as oil, do give you the chance to use similar techniques, and can be tidied up fairly painlessly – (the kitchen gallantly doubles as a studio, but sooner or later it has to revert to primary function).

So as it was SO MUCH FUN, I shall probably do it again…

)O(

And THE OTHER news…

I’ve been going all soft and gooey over the delicious yarns from Eleanor at Solstice Yarns (be warned, a visit to her Etsy shop will have you dribbling and/or grasping for your credit card)

IMAG4556This little bundle of silky joy is my latest acquisition.

And on a more mundane front, I have just bought these little chaps…

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I’ve had so much trouble with very sore fingers over the last year or so, sometimes I wondered if I was allergic to the yarn or scrim, but then I read something recently about nickel allergy and a penny dropped. Of course it might not be anything to do with it, but I’m going gold-plated for now to see if things improve.

Happy stitching!

)O(

Over in the sidebar, are my Instagram pics of the Daily Tree Project, with the occasional stitchy update and other random snaps from daily life around here.

Do feel free to explore, or follow on Instagram or Twitter.

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

Sending a huge thank you to Tanya and Elizabeth for giving me the confidence to go all the way – and wet the tree.

I’ve pussy-footed about steaming odd bits before, but never had the guts to get everything really wet, now, thanks to the encouragement from you all, I’ve done it.

treeAnd it worked! 

I am absolutely delighted and will now be giving the same treatment to the rest of the pile of wonky pieces sitting on the self – I just need to invest in another couple of packets of drawing pins.

Now that it’s square, the finishing options are much more straightforward – so I’ll start nagging the Other Half for the promised frame (who knows, at this rate I’ll probably end up making it myself).

)O(

And in other news…

Anyone who’s been having the occasional peep at the snaps in the sidebar, might have seen the new piece I’ve started. Here it is…

IMAG4260Take no notice of the colours I’ve drawn in, I’m working in a more red/green palette – err, well it looks like this…

IMAG4257I needed to go couching again after months of tent stitch, – it’s a weird kind of release, and I like to watch and see where the yarns decide to go.

IMAG4264So that’s me on the stitching front. Hope your projects are all coming along the way you want them.

Happy stitching!

 

)O(

Over in the sidebar, are my Instagram pics of the Daily Tree Project, with the occasional stitchy update and other random snaps from daily life around here.

Do feel free to explore, or follow on Instagram or Twitter. 

 

 

 

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Tree updates…

IMAG4197Well there’s good news and there’s bad news…

On the positive side, I have finished stitching the tree.

Sadly however, like everything else stitched on this scrim, it has succeeded in doing a very good impression of the Leaning Tower of Pisa…

IMAG4198I’ve cropped the picture above so you can see the scale of the problem – to be square, the stitched area should reach all four corners – oh dear.

I’d been discussing ways to stretch it over a frame with the Other Half, but I’m afraid the angle is going to be too extreme. So now I’m wondering about stitching a complementary colour into the missing corners.

So perhaps not quite so finished as I hoped.

)O(

In other news, I have started a new piece. After all the tent stitching in tree, I’ve decided to go for texture in the new work, so lots of different stitching this time. I’ll post about it another day, but if you want a preview, take a look at the little widget I’ve added on the bottom right hand column – it’s my latest Instagram snaps.

I have to thank Elizabeth at Bottle Branch for alerting this techno-laggard to Instagram (huge thanks Elizabeth!) – she mentioned in a recent comment, that the Daily Tree Project would be ideal for Instagram, and I wanted to know more about it. I wasn’t sure at first – I’m not the biggest social media type you’ll find, but when I saw that I could incorporate it into this blog, it seemed to be the perfect way to give snapshots without doing a full post. (I think if you follow me on Twitter, you should also get a link to new snaps).

So if you scroll down there, you’ll find snaps from the new embroidery and today’s tree photo. I really like the idea of putting snaps up more often, although I’ll still do a proper monthly Daily Tree Project update post. So if anyone is interested in a more up-to-date glimpse into the current WIP or the latest tree pics, feel free to scroll down and have a look. (If you click on the snaps, you’ll see a bigger version).

 

Happy stitching.

 

)O(

 

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Mid-month update…

Plodding on, and on…

The end isn’t in sight – yet – but I think I must be over half way by now….IMAG3856I ripped it out of the frame this morning to take a quick picture while the sun made a rare appearance. 

The giant clips I bought a few weeks ago are a tremendous hit. If you are working to a pattern, or have worked out in detail exactly which colour you want where, then it might be possible to roll up the canvas on a traditional frame and just work the parts that are visible as you get to them, but that’s not the way I like to do it. I’ve realised that I stitch in much the same way that I paint – so I need to be able to see the whole design all the time (or near as damn it).  This is much easier to do with the new clips, because they’re so easy to put on and off – they also cope well with the extra thickness of the stitched areas – my old clips (the ones that came with the frame), simply ping off as soon as the canvas gets too thick.

Working with a lot of 4ply knitting wools in this piece has made me start to plot what I’m going to do next. I’ve completely fallen in love with the texture and the stitch definition of these wools, they are a dream to sew with and ideal for the tiny hole size in the linen scrim that I’m using. So I’ll be on the look-out over the coming weeks for the colours I’ll be using on the next piece. I haven’t quite got as far as a proper plan, but the little grey cells are certainly having fun.

Happy stitching!

-)O(-

Waiting…

IMAG3286The word of the week here is WAITING….

Perhaps that should be anticipating.

I’m waiting for some new crewel threads to arrive for the current project – I’d sorted out the yarns I was going to use for the rest of it, but the tapestry wools were just proving too thick for the scrim – not fun to deal with, so I’ve ordered a selection of solid colours to complement the delicious 4-plys I’m already using.

My excitement at embroidery actually making it to the TV last week, has set me off feeling experimental – so I’m also waiting for a delivery of different canvas materials – I want to see what I can do with some alternative base fabrics – well it’s good to flex those creative muscles from time to time. I know I’m never going to be a proper embroiderer, but give me a piece of loose-weave canvas and well – who knows…

I’m also waiting for some extra long and strong bulldog clips to arrive – these will – I hope – make it easier to clip the thicker parts of the worked canvas to the frame (this is what passes as technical stuff around here) – suffice to say, the air can get quite blue around me when the plastic clips ping off the frame, leaving the canvas floppy and recalcitrant – I’m pinning great hopes on these new clips.

And a BTW – I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new field guide to mushrooms (readers at Mostly Motley will remember) – found the recommended title online second-hand and a bargain to boot – thank you Catherine.

In the meantime, happy stitching.

 

 

-)O(-

 

 

 

Give me luminous…

IMAG3263I’m not normally in on Wednesday evenings, but last night was an exception.

While I stitched away, I watched two programmes on BBC Four; Guilty Pleasures, about luxury in medieval England, and Fabric of Britain, featuring early medieval opus anglicanum  embroideries.

The trouble with stitching and watching TV at the same time, is that I don’t really see very much, although I hear most of it. Last night, the two programmes seemed to fuse in my mind – they appeared to meld into a single exploration of luxury and colour in medieval times.

Seeing the  crisp bright colours of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the intricate, sensual textures of the opus anglicanum vestments, twanged something deep inside. We tend to think of our early ancestors living a bland existence, but these programmes proved the opposite – they loved colour, they loved pattern and they loved glitz.

And I have to admit I think I retain some of those medieval genes – I might prefer to live in a more neutral colour scheme, but in my art, colour and especially a need for luminosity always seems to come through.

Time and time again, I find myself drawn to stained glass – it sums up so much of what I feel.

 

-)O(-

The picture above is a detail from a stained glass window at St John Baptist, Claines, Worcestershire. If you’d like to see more of the windows there, hop over to my history junkie blog, Mists of TIme – I’ve just put up a new post about our recent visit.

 

The story so far…

It’s very nearly the end of the month, so I thought I’d show you a quick update on the current piece I’m stitching. I haven’t given it a proper name yet, although the astute amongst you might be able to see a tree hidden in the pattern, and I suppose tree might feature in the name eventually, but I’ll wait to see if it shows itself more clearly as I stitch, or whether it decides to remain obscure.

So don’t get too excited, this is slow art remember…

IMAG3165Nearly two months in and perhaps a quarter done.

I know you’ll be questioning the sanity of anyone who opts to use tent stitch only on a piece that’s the best part of 2′ square, but what can I say – it feels right to me, or should I say it makes me feel right, because there is undoubtedly a soothing sensation that comes with the act of stitching something relatively fine. And after the textures of the last piece, the urge to create something smooth was undeniable.

Many of us find a peace from the process of stitch – in its many forms – and this is especially true for me in this piece. There is nothing extraordinary about filling little areas of scrim with yarn, and yet, inch by inch, as I sew, the focus of my mind changes and I know I’m calming down, feeling tranquil. It’s that transformation that I love – the fact that at the end I can see a little more filled in canvas, is just an added bonus.

I continue to be delighted with the way both Natalie and Victoria’s knitting wools are performing, they stitch brilliantly, but best of all, as the tiny sections of colour grow and you stroke your finger over it, it feels soft and warm – it’s sensual.

I’ve started to incorporate a few sections in silk. It’s much more of the prima donna to work with – there are creative tantrums, but I want the occasional shininess to slip into the piece and silk does it like nothing else, so in it goes – in moderation.

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So there you are – at this rate probably not going to be ready by Christmas, but that’s ok.

Happy stitching!

 

-)O(-