Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Musings on Creativity

One of my needlework groups, in particular my ANG chapter, had an interesting challenge that I opted into - Robin style. They gave us a piece of 14 ct canvas in cream, a line chart with 120 threads divided into sections of differing sizes, a few threads in the red/pink/purple range, some charts and said go. The design needed to be within the 120 thread square. The design theme was hearts. The threads were to all come from stash. 7 months to complete.

I was partially successful. Here is the process I went through:

Despite the guidelines, I did spend a lot of time staring at blank canvas. To start I stitched the border and then the lower 4 section lines. Gave myself a mental talking to - it is a practice piece (not like some of the amazing stitchers in my chapter whose every piece is award winning perfect). Also, I don't have the temperament to take my hobby and design it to the inth degree - for me it needs to flow from me.

Finally I jumped in with a couple of the predefined sections and put in some patterns. Yes I did modify the chart of sections.

The bargello hearts was easy. It was a pattern I liked and I had lots of threads that would work - or so I thought. I love silk but silk and canvas don't mix. Fortunately I keep a large number of cotton threads on hand for teaching basic embroidery and lucet so I dived into my teaching stash. I had been given a card of very velvet so used it to make a frame inside the section to give the area a finished look.  Can I say now how much I hate having to strand each 6 thread section, then recombine and THEN lay the threads. Eventually you get into a rthyme but... and then there is the counting that is never my strong suit.
Issue 1 has now appeared - the base is heavy so the other areas need to balance.
Issue 2 - there is a line across the lower third that needs to not become a mental block. Unless you have a defined focus, the eyes should not rest on any one area, but move around the canvas. Hearts are great in this way, in that they are, in effect, arrows.

Then moved down left. There are hearts in there - outlined and then filled - over 1. I didn't like the look of all the open area so used a gauzy thread in straight lines to cover. Not sure I like the look - but it definitely makes for a 3D sense.

2 heart blocks up and left - one is a brick stitch pattern of laying one color with a heart bead on top. I wanted something that would be background but the final dimensions of the section don't work - too much height for the size bead. The other section is right and left gobelin background around the geometrically stitched heart using an overdyed thread. Tried to pickup some of the coloration from the bargello section.

One way to pull a piece together visually, is to use a limited palate of colors or threads. This resulted in more pink that I normally like, but at least it was a dusty pink. I pulled a range of threads and colors to start, and then moved the lesser ideal colors out. I tried to only pull from this group during the project and found I easily discarded most of the options until I had a palate that meshed fairly early in the process.

Right side is from one of the needlework magazines. The gold threads run all the way through the  hearts so the wine and red overlay the gold. Liked the effect, but it does not show well in the photo.

Left section is one of the gauzy threads done in squares on angles. The buttons needed a background and I needed something to balance the red in the hearts on the right side. The buttons float a little bit more than I like. Maybe next time I will stretch the canvas threads and poke the shank through.

Top Left - is the same thread as the brick, but laid up/down in one swathe of thread. The bead is very flat and sits well over the thread. The bead is also very sheer and needed a light background.

Top Right - failed experiment. Many years ago there was a class where you cut the side to side canvas threads and folded them back. Then you used the up/down threads like you would for Indian Thread Beading. It worked sort of - beads worked but I could not get the definition I wanted. I then used a metallic thread that matched the dark of the bargello teal in straight stitches to mimic the upper left block background. The background is too heavy a color but the area is too fragile for me to take the threads out and replace them :(

Top box - repeat of the 2 versions of laid hearts. Again I needed something to pull the piece together. Repeating patterns and threads does this.

Center gold box - trammeled the threads. The thread is a 6 thread lightly twisted metallic. Using the whole 6 meters, untwisted the threads and laid them in each line - R to L and then L to R, over 1 stitch at each end. This mimics classic goldwork. Then using 2 strands of the gold, I couched, in a progressive pattern, each line in the top 1/3. The heart was then couched using the same count, but only over 2 threads, as the bargello below. The heart is a metallic overdye. The goal was to couch the whole section and "float" the hearts in a line from top R to lower L - maybe someday. The biggest problem with this idea was to find sufficient coverage of the canvas.  I think next time I might paint the canvas first so uncovered areas are not so blatant.

Still want to put in some version of a background for the top and R side box. Back to the I don't like naked canvas. Now to find the umph to finish off the bits or fix the areas the are blatantly wrong to my eye.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Finally Getting My Stitching Mojo Back - what I did this weekend

For the past 18 months I have been in a bit of a funk about stitching. When I stitched it had to be something that the tension was pretty defined and preferably had a plan in place.  Surface embroidery took a back seat - physical tension affects stitching tension. But stitching is a part of my life that is important so I was intent on finding a way to make some lemonade .

There are several blog posts whirling in my brain about what I learned and am now able to share with you. I hope the insights help. First up: What I did this weekend.

All classes given at National Seminars, whether EGA or ANG, need to go through a trial run called a pilot. The teacher uses the materials identified for the kit and charges for the kit. The instructions are handed out. The teacher usually visits a chapter or area not their own so there is a lack of overt familiarity. The teacher may charge for transportation and expenses, but not a teaching fee. If it is supposed to be a 4 day class, then the pilot is 4 days, etc.  The group of students taking the class provide feedback on everything - written materials, quantity and quality of materials, flow of the information, and so much more.

I have participated in 3 of these classes now. Each has been a very powerful and fun experience. When done right, the class becomes very collaborative in its effort to make the final product the best it can be. I have learned lots of techniques while interacting with a number of excellent stitchers.

The first one I did was with Lois Kershner. It was Blue Bonnet Homestead. Lois's instructions are excellent, but like anything it is hard to ensure that what you intend to convey in a step is clear. There were a few nits but the most interesting for me was the choice and use of threads. One thread was plied and we were to only use one of the 2 plys. I could do this by lessoning my tension, but my fellow stitchers had tension issues and the thread frayed badly. It was important for the teacher to replace the thread with something that wasn't stripped down and would take the hard tension of canvas stitchers.

The second class was with Michelle Roberts. It was an interesting look at using couching threads on canvas to underlay bargello. The design became a decorated box. The "ribbons" on the box were actually a method of couched stitching in a brick pattern. The "wrapping paper" was the bargello pattern over the metallic threads. Then the top of the box was decorated with metal threads similar to making a button but very 3D and then to be placed on the finished top of the box. Fascinating and very new ways of using classic metal thread techniques.

One of the best parts for me was seeing that the teacher had sprayed the canvas with spray paint so that any canvas that showed was not obvious. I HATE blank canvas. It is one of the reasons that I don't do a lot of canvas work. Here was a way to overcome my main obstacle!

This last weekend was a class with Marie Campbell. The class was a pilot for Turquoise Trailing - a bangle bracelet done in bead embroidery and being taught at the upcoming 2014 EGA National in Pheonix. I have done some bead embroidery, but not a lot. What I hadn't expected was that I would need to basically design my own bracelet. Yes I could have followed what the teacher did, but each package of cabochons was a bit different and necessitated some rework anyway. I had signed up for turquoise since the options were turquoise or warm pallette/orange/red. Since Marie had brought extras, I actually chose lapiz and lavender.  Yes I will post pics when I am done.

It was a tough group of students. I think I was the least experienced of the beaders. This meant I could be useful in asking the "newbie" questions. It also, hopefully, brought home that even experienced stitchers can benefit from a quick insightful review of materials and techniques. For example, we were given 12 bags of beads. If I am "designing" my piece knowing what each type of bead does best or can be combined to do something special, really helps. Also, since some students are paralyzed when confronted with the need to design something, giving the student tools to work with, makes the experience easier.

We all stall when confronted with a blank or nearly blank canvas. Our mind gives us either too many ideas or too few. Some people can draw and some can't, so saying draw it out is NOT helpful. However, if you say draw your "go to" basic form - round, oval, square, swirl, paisley, etc. puts pictures into the brain that can translate to pencil even for those of us who don't draw. Saying layer from high to low and low to high in your bead structure also gives creative help.

I learned a lot about beading this weekend. I also reminded myself of what I am really good at - I am an idea person. I joke that people keep me around because I have good ideas, but that is true and hopefully helps me be of value to others and myself.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

It is all about the context

My mentor Linn Skinner used to emphasize that needlework did not happen in a vacuum. As history unfolds, economics change, and discoveries happen so needlework reflects these changes and values.

One of her good friends and needlework exhibit show partner, was a retired Deacon from Durham Cathedral. Linn was fascinated by the Durham textiles and talked of them often.

For those in needlework history circles, we know Durham as housing the remains and textiles of St. Cuthbert. The vestments, a maniple, stole and girdle, are probably the best preserved examples of Anglo Saxon Embroidery. They date from the early 10th C. They were probably made in Winchester which was a center for both embroidery and illumination at that time. The figures on the maniple look to be very similar in style to the illuminations of that time and may have have been drawn on the fabric by the manuscript artists.

The textiles show a form of surface couching which has come to be known as Cuthbert couching that is done with a metal thread and a silk thread. The Cuthbert couching is done with an interlocking stitch. It is done on perpendicular lines along the warp threads. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs - Vol. 23, No. 121 (April 1913) has an article "S. Cuthbert's Stole and Maniple at Durham", by G. Baldwin Brown and Archibald Christie. It contains full pictures and descriptions of the items and the stitching. The article also supposes that the purpose of the locking stitch was to hold onto the base fabric as well as each next stitch to create a net effect. It goes on to note that other extant items from the same time period using linen base and underside couching are now (1913) falling apart.

For the Cuthbert pieces it was a very high quality fine spun gold thread and couched down with a red silk thread. The stitches were done at a gauge of approximately 14 to inch. The base fabric was a silk net with a count of 56 x 56 threads to the inch. This put the gold threads at a ration of 2:1 and the couching stitches at a ration of 1:4 (Relics of St. Cuthbert by CF Battiscombe)  Examples of surface, underside and Cuthbert couching show the differences in effect achieved by each method. 

Aside from the remarkable couching the remaining embroidery was done in split stitch and outline stitch in silk. The colors of the silk threads are quite varied - dark brown and dark green outlines, fill stitches of blue-green, purple-red, various pinks, sage green, and purple-brown; among others.

It was recently announced that some one in the year 1140 wrote and compiled recipes for both food and medicine at Durham Cathedral's monastery. Students at Durham University are studying these recipes and doing some practical testing to create a feast. The recipes are diverse and include recipes from what is now France. The spicing through out the book includes parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard, ginger, and coriander. All of which make great dyes as well.

No nothing happens in a vacuum. We are now learning more about the time period and can better understand the surrounding factors that play into the needlework. Linn would have been pleased.