Thursday, June 10, 2021

"The Woman and the Dragon" from Revelation 12: an Introduction

"The Red Dragon Lurks in Front of the Woman Clothed with the Sun" 
work in progress by Katherine Diuguid, 2021.

It does seem a bit appropriate to be stitching an Apocalyptic scene during a global pandemic, in a way, but that is not why I'm currently stitching this piece. I feel the need to put a disclaimer at the top that this is not a project foretelling the end of the world! Be at ease, my friend!

I created this embroidered panel inspired by a continuing education class I took this spring, "Animals and Monsters at the End of the World in Medieval Art," with Dr. Monica Walker. In this course, we compared depictions of animals and "monsters" in a selection of Medieval Apocalypse Manuscripts and Art. It was fascinating to approach the subject of the Book of Revelation from an art history perspective and compare how the various characters and narratives were depicted.

For our final paper, I chose to write about “The Woman and Dragon” of Revelation 12 as depicted in the Douce Apocalypse housed in the Bodleian Library. I love that its illustrations survive at various states of completion, exposing the laborious nature of the work required to create such an exquisite piece. The story of the Woman Clothed with the Sun is beautifully depicted across three pages. Her story's complexity and portrayal of femininity were fascinating to explore, especially for modern women reading today. I will readily admit to being disturbed by the narrow portrayal of women and dismayed that, if we’re honest, not much has changed while searching for the hope that is the heart of Christian belief. As Dr. Walker repeated throughout the course, “This is not an easy story.”

For the panel, I drew inspiration from both the Douce Apocalypse and the Trinity Apocalypse. Both are beautiful examples of an Anglo-Norman Apocalypse manuscript; however, there are many differences between them. Over the next series of blog posts, I will discuss the different parts of my embroidered panel in more detail and how I drew inspiration from both the Douce Apocalypse and Trinity Apocalypse to create my piece. While both are Thirteenth Century Anglo-Norman manuscripts, there is a lot to compare between them. In this blog post, I thought I would introduce the two inspirational manuscripts and lay the groundwork for all the design decisions to come and all the many, many details intricately stitched to bring my embroidered Apocalyptic scene to life. 

The Douce Apocalypse

A mixture of elegantly rendered and unfinished drawings, the Douce Apocalypse is a beautiful example of an Anglo-Norman Apocalypse manuscript whose illustrations reveal the laborious work required to execute a manuscript of this caliber. The richness of the text and images are reflective of the assumed patrons Edward I and Eleanor of Castile before their ascension to the English throne and whose coats of arms are painted inside the beginning of the manuscript.  

Rectangular illustrated miniatures rest atop two columns of Latin text in the Douce Apocalypse. The manuscript includes a commentary by Berengaudus and a commentary in French prose at the front of the text. It is part of the Westminster group of Anglo-Norman Apocalypse manuscripts that includes the Getty ApocalypseMS 35166 at the British Library, and MC lat. 10474 at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) (Morgan, 12). This group of manuscripts was all written between 1255-70 and share many similarities in their visual execution of the various Apocalyptic narratives. The angels throughout the Douce Apocalypse mimic the rendering style of angels painted on the ceiling of Westminster Abbey and help to date the manuscript to 1265- 1270 when the then Prince Edward left for the Crusades (Morgan, 29).

Though the specific artist(s) is unknown, it is believed that the BNF MC lat. 10474 is a sister manuscript to the Douce Apocalypse and was probably created by the same artist(s) at a different point in their career or artists that closely collaborated (Morgan, 21). The miniatures in the Douce Apocalypse survive at various stages of completion from simple line drawing, line drawing with gilding, the addition of base color washes, and finally, compositions fully rendered with colored washes and gilding. The story of the Woman Clothed with the Sun is one of the narratives that has been fully rendered with colored washes and gilding.

Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian Library, fol. 33v.

Making her first appearance in the Douce Apocalypse on fol. 33v, the Woman Clothed with the Sun emerges wearing a red dress with blue sleeves as a halo containing 12 stars frames her face. She caresses her belly while standing atop a moon inside a series of concentric blue and gold undulating lines. John sits to the side on a grassy hill. 

Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian Library, fol. 34r.

On fol. 34r, she shifts left of center inside the celestial lines as she hands her child, now born, up to heaven through a mandorla entering the frame. The seven-headed Red Dragon stands overlapping the heavenly lines, encroaching into the Woman’s space, yet distant enough to prevent its desired intent upon the Child. Progressing across the composition, the Dragon shares the grassy ridge as the Woman flees, reflecting upon her terror.  Abstracted trees topped with clumps of oversized oak leaves and foliage fill the wilderness. 

Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian Library, fol. 35v. 

The Woman reappears in fol. 35v receiving wings and escaping as the earth swallows the water the Dragon spews towards her.  This series of sequential images and the style of the compositions are very similar across the Westminster group of Apocalypse manuscripts that includes the Getty Apocalypse, MS 35166 at the British Library, and MC lat. 10474 at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) (Morgan, 12).  

The Trinity Apocalypse

The Trinity Apocalypse does not belong to a manuscript grouping and is set aside by itself amongst Thirteenth Century Anglo-Norman Apocalypse manuscripts. The tale of the Woman and the Dragon is depicted on two folios with two rectangular illustrations on each.  The Trinity Apocalypse dispenses with all introductions of the characters.  We jump straight into the story on folio 13r, where we meet the Woman as she lays in bed with the sun behind her and the moon at her feet.  She has already given birth to the Child and is handing Him to an angel in Heaven.  In the next scene, the illustration shows the Woman sitting in the wilderness.  

Trinity Apocalypse, Trinity College Cambridge, fol. 13r.

In folio 14r, we find the war in heaven complete and the Dragon spewing water at the Woman attempting to drown her. She receives wings from heaven, escapes the Dragon’s persecution, and flees to the desert, leaving her children to defeat the Dragon.   

Trinity Apocalypse, Trinity College Cambridge, fol. 14r.

When we look at the overall page composition, we can see that the format of each page does not fit into the straight template used in the Douce Apocalypse. The text is still split into two columns, but the illustrations are doubled and are not consistently at the top of the text. The text and Berengaudas commentary, both in Anglo-Norman, appear to be the work of one scribe. The choice to avoid a strict template may have been the artists attempt to compensate for the differing lengths between the Biblical text and commentary (McKitterick, 35 and 42). 

The illustrations of the Trinity Apocalypse are richly rendered without any bare space remaining. The full illustrations are each completely filled with color washes and gilding with the backgrounds filled with interesting geometric vignettes that frame the compositions and create a harmonious feel joining the compositions together. Delicate tiny patterns are used in the large areas to break up the solid spaces resulting in richly detailed compositions in which every area seems deeply special and considered. 

The Focus of My Panel

When considering which part of the narrative to depict in my embroidered panel, I was drawn to the section of the text which both of the manuscripts seemed to skip past--Revelation 12: 3 and 4 which describes the presentation of the Red Dragon. I decided to create an embroidered panel based on this section of the story.  

3Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. 
I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, 
with seven crowns on his heads. 
4His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, 
and he threw them to the earth. 
He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, 
ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.  
Revelation 12: 3 and 4

In comparing the written story in Revelation to the depicted story in both the Douce and Trinity Apocalypse, it seemed like a large visual jump to leave out the presentation of the Red Dragon. And, I cannot lie. I got really excited thinking about how I could stitch a seven-headed dragon!

Why These Two Apocalypse Manuscripts?

So, why did I choose these two specific manuscripts? Well, it's not because they were my favorite. There are definitely aspects of each that I love, but if I had to pick a favorite it might be the Silos Apocalypse for its amazing use of pattern within the motifs. I chose these two manuscripts because there were enough similarities that comparing the two made logical sense and enough differences that I felt confident that I could create a piece that would give a nod to both while being distinctly mine. Also, the reasons that I love each are directly opposite each other. 

The plain background of the Douce Apocalypse is fabulous. It simultaneously feels like a sketchbook while also minimizing any distraction from the stories depicted. I also really enjoy the geometry present in the compositions--the concentric circles and their undulating lines reflected in the foliage boundaries. The movement of the narrative through the imagery is well developed. The foliage becomes more and more prominent as the Woman descends from Heaven and then is earthbound. 

The fully rendered background of the Trinity Apocalypse, on the other hand, I love too! The delicate diaper patterns soften the background vignettes' harsh rectangles and help harmonize the background with the foreground. It is also a lovely study in color placement. 

I wanted to be able to incorporate my reflections on both the imagery and the complexities I found with the story itself. As a woman, the depictions of femineity in Revelation are troubling and I hold no judgment towards anyone that reads it and rejects that imagery as wholly misogynistic. The story of Revelation is far too frequently used for emotional and psychological subjugation by way of fear and shame. I wanted my piece to reflect the hope of the Christian story, not the condemnation. 

Watch this space for more :) 

Referenced Sources: (this is only a selection from my full bibliography)

A. G. Hassall and W. O. Hassall, The Douce Apocalypse: with an introduction and notes (Faber, 1961). 

Bodleian Libraries, Bodleian Library MS. Douce 180, April 2021. 

David McKitterick, Nigel J. Morgan, Ian Short, and Teresa Webber, The Trinity Apocalypse (British Library: London, 2005). 

“MS. Douce 180,” Medieval Manuscripts, April 2021. 

Nigel J. Morgan, The Douce Apocalypse: picturing the end of the world in the Middle Ages (Bodleian Library, 2007). 

“Revelation 12: NLT Bible: YouVersion,” NLT Bible | YouVersion

“Revelation 21: NLT Bible: YouVersion,” NLT Bible | YouVersion

Richard K. Emmerson, Apocalypse Illuminated: the visual exegesis of revelation in medieval illustrated manuscripts (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018). 

Friday, December 4, 2020

A Little Early Christmas Cheer

I had not really stitched in months.  I know I am not alone in this.  Though we find ourselves at home due to Covid-19, so much has turned topsy turvy.  I had finally carved out some time to stitch and I wanted to stitch something frivolous and full of joy.  Something that was a small project just purely for the joy of stitching. 

Vintage Cerarmic Christmas Tree
Vintage Ceramic Christmas Tree as shown on Southern Living

I started thinking about my absolutely favorite Christmas decoration my Mom had when growing up-- her ceramic Christmas tree.  I loved how the ornaments would light up and how you could move them around to different pegs.  Recently, I looked them up and found that to my surprise these charming little tress were now "trendy"!  A find that both made me giggle and twinge with a bit of sadness.  My mom had the traditional green one and there was a small chip in it that just made it more special to me.  In my search for images of ones like my Mom's, I found this fun video showing Molly Sanyour, a contemporary potter, creating her own modern versions.  

I decided I wanted to stitch my own little tree reminiscent of my Mom's ceramic tree but in my beloved metal threads and wires.  I wanted this piece to exude cheer and joy and embrace a slight wonkiness that so many Christmas heirlooms have.  

The result was this little Christmas tree created with loops of colored metal purls and combining other metal work techniques with beads and crystals.  

Then since it brought me so much joy and since my kids loved this piece, I made it into a virtual workshop and kit to share with others.  And, I stitched another one!  This time I used a mix of emerald green and Grinch green purls.  

And because this one was so much fun, I kept stitching different versions to give to friends.  These move fairly quickly and (and this detail is important) is something I can easily stitch for 5 minutes here and there between other responsibilities.  I'll share those soon-- I don't want to spoil their surprise!  

I wish everyone reading this post a safe, healthy and magical holiday season.  As many of us find ourselves having to forgo our usual traditions, I hope we are able to find joy in the tiny details and new ways of celebrating together, and I look forward to when it is safe to gather again.  Happiest of Holidays to everyone for whichever holiday you celebrate this season!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Pride & Prejudice: the Sample Book

17th Century raised work has enjoyed a special place in my heart since I first saw photos of it in textile history books years ago.  I love the dimension of the quirkily rendered characters and scenes.  I find everything about them absolutely charming and cannot learn enough about the pieces, the history, and the techniques.  I am very grateful to have seen many pieces of raised work in museum collections during research trips throughout the UK and USA.  Their charm may have captured my attention in black and white photographs but seeing these creations in person, at scale-- it is truly something special.  

A few-ish years ago, I started the Cabinets of Curiosity courses with Tricia Nguyen as I have a deep desire to embroider a casket or cabinet of my own at some point in my life.   Through her courses I have learned so much and have found many other embroiderers that share a passion for raised work embroidery and a desire to stitch their own casket.  It is incredible to me to see how fellow participants use and interpret the 17th Century techniques for their own designs and to see the broad range of themes that are chosen.

I have had this little wooden box in my studio since I first started the Cabinets of Curiosity courses.  The course materials seemed so precious to me that I had wanted a box that was not too expensive to practice on first.  I found one at a craft store and thought it would be a sample appropriate size and price point.  This Spring, as I was closing in on finishing my City and Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Stitched Textiles with Tracy Franklin and Julia Tristan, I had the deep desire to cover this box for my daughter for one of my final projects.  However, a mix of looming deadlines and indecisiveness about the design direction led to me creating this sample book first.  You see, I wanted to tell the story of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in the embroidery but I could not decide what I wanted the aesthetic feel of the piece to be.   I love 17th Century raised work, however, I found myself wanting to incorporate some contemporary techniques to help create a feel that would transport me to the misty mornings of an English Countryside.  

Why Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?:
The beginning of Quarantine (as I am sure many reading will agree) was a bit stressful, full of changes coming from every direction, and filled with uncertainty.  I found myself looking for a space that provided a quiet respite from everything going on around me.  I started rewatching the various Jane Austen BBC miniseries adaptations while I stitched at night once everyone else in the house was fast asleep.  Then, I fell down a Jane Austen rabbit hole. The beautiful writing, the happy endings, the subtle nuances of personal relationships and Regency Britain -- she provided the perfect escape.  I started reading Pride and Prejudice at night before I fell asleep, listening to the audio book when I walked or stitched and continued rewatching all the different movie and BBC miniseries adaptations.  It became a bit of a family joke.  My very patient husband listened to my reasoning on which film version of Pride and Prejudice was "the best".  Just as a personal note: my opinion still remains that the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice is my favorite overall.  However, the music, color, and pacing of the 2005 movie make it a very close second and I find its soundtrack playing in my head when I read and reread the book.  

The Landscape:
I started looking at a lot of different english landscape photographs and paintings online.  I finally decided upon on using photos from my friend Denny's garden outside of York as reference for the compositions.  Her garden is absolutely beautiful and there has always been something so peaceful about the time I have spent there with her over the years.  

I also found myself going back to David Hockney's Yorkshire Sketchbook.  As I sketched and watercolored my landscapes, the question presenting itself was how detailed did I want the landscape to be on these compositions?  I took a step back and relooked at Hockney's Yorkshire Sketchbook watercolors and his paintings from his exhibition A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2012.  I also started looking at Joan Eardley's landscapes.  They are quite different work, but both captured the landscape in ways that intrigued me and that I thought could be interesting to interpret in stitch.  

Joan Eardley, Hedgerow with Grasses and Flowers

My ultimate desire for the landscape was to create that misty, romantic, quiet of an English countryside setting that the 2005 movie captures so beautifully.  As I sketched, I quickly transitioned to watercolor.  The first sketches were fairly detailed and as I continued to sketch, and re-sketch, and try it again, the compositions became looser and closer to the feel that I was after.  I was drawn to how they both abstracted areas of the landscape and balanced the composition with specific areas of more defined detail.

While I was watercoloring in my sketchbook, I remembered this casket that is part of the University of Albert collection.  When opened, the casket reveals panels that have been painted with stitched outlines. I would love to one day see it in person!  This combination of watercolor and minimal stitching was very intriguing. 
Image 2

Related Item Image 1

I decided to try watercolors on silk and linen.  On page 1 of the Sample Book, I tried different scenes watercolored on silk dupion with various levels of detail.  Then on page 2, I painted the same scene using watercolors on different linens (28 count, 32 count, 40 count and a metallic linen blend).   I really enjoyed painting on the silk.  It was so lovely how you could build up the layers of colors.  By contrast, the watercolor on the linen visibly wicked away.  I should note too that two of the linens (32 and 40 count) were "raw" linen and I found that a bit dark to work on with the watercolors.  The ivory of the 28 count was better, however, I still really did not enjoy how the watercolor moved on the linen.  

I was not convinced in any of the painted samples, so I decided to do a set of samples with embroidered landscapes using a cotton/linen background that was digitally printed with a very loose watercolor I had done a few years ago for my Lighthouse Landscapes class (taught at EGA National Seminar in Louisville).  For these samples (page 3), I also experimented with how much or how little detail to stitch.  

Square 1 (top left)- most detailed, uses straight stitch, seeding and chain stitch, lots of layering in the bushy and leafy areas.

Square 2 (top right)- uses only straight stitch, any direction, but lots and lots of layers of straight stitch

Square 3 (bottom left)- completely flat, only horizontal straight stitch, no overlapping

Square 4 (bottom right)- not all flat, grass is completely flat with horizontal, non-overlapping straight stitches, hills in distance are layers of vertical straight stitch

Not convinced of the embroidered samples either, I pondered the possibilities of free motion embroidery.  Page 4 shows a few samples created using solvy and free motion embroidery.  The middle sample is created with many layers of just free motion (it is pretty thick, thick enough that I was concerned it would be too thick).  The samples on the sides combine different combinations of silk, cotton and wool threads hand stitched in long floats onto the solvy and then lightly free motioned on top.  I do not think the combination of the long hand floats and free motion are right for this project, but I will be saving this idea for future purposes!  

And, still......none of the samples felt "right".  I wanted something softer.  Something misty.  Something ethereal.  Something that also would complement and not compete with the figures.  I did not want lots of contrast or relief or any hard edges.  I went to my scrap drawer and found strips of silk organza.  I decided to watercolor over the organza and then try layering the painted strips in different ways (page 5).  Layering the organza felt very organic and had the same relaxed feeling of some of the looser watercolors in my sketchbook.  This felt like it was going in the direction I wanted, so I did a larger sample (page 6) and created the composition for the front cover.  

As I reread Austen's description of Elizabeth visiting Pemberley, I felt that my desire for a soft background reflected Austen's approach to the landscapes that felt so important to the story but were defined so vaguely.  The reader is provided with just enough detail of the landscape as is needed to create space for the drama between her characters.  

The Clothing for the Characters:
My next hurdle that I wanted to sample was the clothing for the characters.  After experimenting with the free motion for the landscape samples, I thought it could be interesting to test out free motion embroidery on solvy for the clothing.  I wanted to see and feel the difference between that and the hand needlelace or appliqué techniques that I have tried before.  

I did a deep dive into Regency fashion and found a pattern for one of Jane Austen's silk pelisse written by Hilary Davidson and published in Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society, "Reconstructing Jane Austen's Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814" .  I used this pattern for the long jacket sample and adapted it to create patterns for a spencer jacket, day dresses and a waistcoat for Mr. Darcy.  For scale reference, these clothes are about the size of finger puppets.  

Pages 7 and 8 of the Sample Book show the pattern and the machine free motion samples for Mr. Darcy's waistcoat (right half) and for Elizabeth Bennet, a long pelisse and a couple dress variations.  Dressmaking at this scale was so much fun!  It was extremely fiddly, but I was fascinated that I could still ease the sleeve into the armhole, and it was fascinating to watch the tiny pieces take shape into tiny pieces of clothing.  

From these samples, I found (as I was afraid it would) that the free motion on sovly resulted in a piece that was stiffer than I wanted for the dresses and pelisse.  For Mr. Darcy's waistcoat- I think it might work, but will probably choose the technique chosen for the female clothing for cohesiveness.  I did try both the translucent and the mesh solvy types and neither was "perfect".  On the first batch of samples, I had some skewing issues that caused the pattern to shrink up in the direction of the stitching.  That issue was fixed with some patience and being very conscious to make a grid first and then, at the right speed for my machine so the correct stitch length was achieved, filling in the piece.   I also made sure before putting anything together to true the stitched pieces to the pattern.  

The thread that I found worked the nicest was the Sulky rayon thread.  It was thinner and the final piece was drapier (see yellow above).  The green is Sew All cotton wrapped polyester and the resulting pieces were noticeably thicker and stiffer.  

After satisfying my questions of free motion on solvy's suitability for this project, I turned to hand needlelace. On page 9, I created a sampler of different needlelace techniques using different threads (each shade of pink is a different thread).  I tried various silks by Au ver a Soie, Cotton machine thread by Valdani and Gilt Sylke Twist. 

The final clothing sample on page 10 is a small handmade needlelace spencer jacket and day dress.  The spencer jacket was made with Soie de Paris using a corded Brussels stitch.  The day dress is made with Soie Gobelin and mixes corded Brussels stitch, double Brussels stitch, pea stitch, and Hollie point.   

Final Thoughts:
Ultimately, the pieces in this book are samples, just explorations, for the small wooden trinket box that I plan to cover in embroidery for my daughter, but it felt very rewarding binding them all together in cloth book form.   I purposely chose to mount the samples to the pages in a more informal way to preserve the sample quality for each exploration.  I did not want them feeling "too serious".   In hindsight, I am so glad that I took the time to make this sample book, and it excites me that now I have a book to go with the eventual trinket box.  Creating this sample book allowed me to focus on developing alternatives and trying a few techniques that I had not tried before.  It slowed me down freeing me up to further challenge myself to find the technique that I felt best suited the project not the timeline.  It was a reminder of how sampling provides such a wealth of knowledge as a project develops and is invaluable when trying to sort out those tricky design questions.  And, I will admit that not all of the samples created made the cut to be in the final book.  

Further Looking, Reading, Listening, and Watching:
I also thought I would share some of the wonderful resources that I have found or that have been shared with me since starting this project.  

An audio book of Pride and Prejudice is available for FREE via the Audible Stories website!

Jane Austen and Co's Recorded Lectures page (check out the most recent with Jennie Batchelor and Jane Austen and Regency Needlework-- it was fabulous!!!!)

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion by Hilary Davidson.  She also wrote an excellent article "Reconstructing Jane Austen's Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814" published in Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society, vol. 49, issue 2 .  I used her jacket pattern from Jane Austen's silk Pelisse jacket as the basis for the needlelace clothing that I've been creating for this project. 

Sew What Podcast by Isabella Rosner

"Jane Austen and the English Landscape School" by Elsa Rehmann from Landscape Architecture Magazine, April 1935, vol. 25, no. 3, pgs. 127-135. Accessed via Jstor.

Other videos that were great to stitch to while I work on this:

Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors with Lucy Worsley

Contemporary Embroiderers Who Have Stitched Caskets:

Janet Brandt (she's even done multiple caskets!!!)

Katie Strachan

Janice Gail

Selected Bibliography:

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen (read book and listened to audiobook)

“Pride and Prejudice”, 2005 movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen

“Pride and Prejudice”, 1995 BBC Miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

Online Collections referenced:  MET, V&A, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of London

“Caskets of Curiosity: Stumpwork” course materials by Tricia Wilson Nguyen

“Needlelace: Designs and Techniques Classic and Contemporary” by Catherine Barley

Hilary Davidson (2015) Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812–1814, Costume, 49:2, 198-223,         DOI:10.1179/0590887615Z.00000000076

Jane Austen & Co.:

My Pinterest Board for Raised-work Embroidery:

My Pinterest Board for Jane: 

Raised-work Caskets with Watercolor Detail:

University of Alberta Collection:

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Collection:

V&A, London: (not watercolor, but love the inside)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Upcoming Virtual Workshop: Good as Gold Earrings Through the NC Museum of Art

It is with excitement that I can announce that I will be teaching a few virtual workshops over the following months!  The registration for the first of these workshops just opened.  It is an introductory goldwork workshop inspired by the exhibition Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women which showed at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art last fall and was scheduled to travel to the North Carolina Museum of Art this summer.  

In this workshop, students will design their own pair of earrings (or could easily be made as a brooch) that will then be embroidered using couched metal threads and metallic leather kid.  All supplies needed to complete this workshop are included within the kit as well as a coordinating instruction booklet.  Various design motif templates inspired by the pieces in the Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women exhibition are included within the instruction booklet.  

The workshop will take place via Zoom over two 90 minute workshops on August 15 and 22 from 1:30-3pm.  With the following outline:

August 15:  Design motif, transfer design to ground material, padding, leather appliqué and couching.

August 22:  Wiggle couching, chain stitch, and finishing

You can register for the upcoming workshop at this link. I hope to see you there!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Community Stitch Challenge: Weeks 4 - 6

These Challenges just kept getting more and more fun!

Week 4 with Richard McVetis Fill 4 shapes with couching.

Richard McVetis uses minute stitches in his work to create abstract compositions.  I was able to see one of his pieces in person last year when I visited the 62 Group's "Construct" exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills.  I love his play with negative and positive space and his minimal color use.

For this challenge, Mr. McVetis presented the idea of filling 4 shapes with different couching techniques.  I love, love, love couching, so when given the challenge to fill shapes with couching I shrilled with excitement!

Over the past few years, I have been working with weeds in my creative work as a way to process my observations and thoughts about the human need to belong.  During this Quarantine, I have been taking almost daily walks with my kids and have started documenting the different flowering roadside flora as I see them.  A couple weeks ago, I started collecting dandelion stems without a plan but a feeling that they would be useful.  I have used pressed flowers in my work before and have had the desire to do more of that recently.  My kids and I made a game of picking all the spent dandelions.  There were a few that still had wishes on them that they picked, but almost all of them were totally spent.  They had been drying in my studio and when the challenge came to couch something I knew I had to couch my dandelion stems!

The dandelion stems dry out fairly quickly and I have not done anything to them so some have twisted and curved slightly.   This does make them a bit brittle and needing some care when you stitch with them.  Some of the stems were very purple and some had a really nice light green- purple gradation.  I loved comparing the color gradations between all the stems. 

When I went to couch them down, I knew I wanted to use fairly traditional techniques to contrast with the dried natural material. I chose silk floss for my threads as I thought the subtle sheen of the silk would be nice against the raw linen and dried stems.  I also plied the silk with a thin metallic machine thread in a couple places for additional glitter. 

The squares are each a different couching technique:  burden stitch, basic lattice, and open basketweave.  Each one is then outlined in overstretched gilt pearl purl.  I stitched the burden stitch in a very closed way, concealing much of the stems as they pad the burden stitch.  To contrast, I stitched the basketweave in an open way so that the dandelion stems are left more visible. 

The lattice is created with mostly stem remnants leftover from trimming the stems to length for the right and left squares. The cross stitches over the intersections are alternating silk floss and silk floss plied with metallic. 

I had a handful of stems with seed heads on them that surprising still had seeds even after drying in my studio.  I knew I had to work these into this piece as they were so lovely dried.  I couched the grouping between square 1 and 2 with cross stitches and couched the grouping between square 2 and 3 with straight stitches.  The fallen dandelion seeds are couched below the squares.

In his challenge video, Richard McVetis spoke about the importance of the concept of time to his work and challenged us to consider time as we stitched our couching.  As I stitched this piece, it became more and more clear to me how perfectly relevant the concept of time was to this piece.  Dandelions, to me, are a great representation of time as they change so much.  They grow invisibly at first and slowly dot the landscapes with dots of yellow and promises of wishes to come true.  I have many memories of time spent as a child finding these plant genies and making wishes into the wind with them and now enjoy watching my children do the same thing.  As I stitched this piece, seeds continued to fall off in slow motion.  A gentle dance was created as the tiny seeds shifted and then fell off with each ping of the needle passing back and forth through the fabric.  I felt like I was stitching the music the dandelion seeds were dancing to. 

There was a delicate beauty to the seed shedding that reminded me of one of the characteristics of goldwork that I love so much--the metals age, tarnish and change right before your eyes.  These dandelions looked differently when I first started couching them on.  They were fuller with seeds.  They continually lost these seeds as it was stitched.  Thats a record of my stitching this piece.  In goldwork, the metals tarnish.  Living in North Carolina, the tarnishing happens more quickly due to the humidity.  I have always loved the tarnishing of the metals, which is why I usually take obsessive photos during the process of stitching my pieces.  They look so shiny when using new metals freshly stitched.  Then they darken in unexpected ways that you cannot control no matter how hard you may try.  It is the letting go of control and acceptance of this process that has provided so much love for me with goldwork pieces.

Also a fun extra-
As I was photographing this piece, I thought that the shadows, especially from the seed heads, were really beautiful as I moved it around and the direction of the light changed.

Week 5 with Emily Jo GibbsCreate an appliqué composition.

I have long been a fan of Emily Jo Gibbs work.  I love the visual simplicity of her pieces created through her use of silk organza and appliqué.  They seem to innately embody a quiet stillness in their subtle beauty.  I have a special fondness for her still life compositions of glasses or vases with leaves and her pin cushions.  

For Week 5,  Ms. Gibbs challenged us to create a textile composition using her preferred technique of appliqué.  In her Challenge Video, she demonstrated how she utilizes silk organza for her appliquéd pieces and suggested that we find a stick to use as inspiration.

I started this piece by playing around with different compositions on my desk.  I know she used a stick in her challenge but I wanted to do more of a composed composition.  I usually keep weeds from recent walks in a milk glass vase on my desk and I thought that would be a nice subject.  I photographed it with a few different groupings of weeds.  I did not dislike them, but none of the compositions were feeling particularly special.

Taking a break from composition iteration, I got my bin of eco-printed off-cuts out to pick out some fabrics to use.  I grabbed a piece of raw silk that I have over-eco-printed a number of times, most recently with marigold petals.  I wondered if I could use this piece in a way that I could make it feel like petals falling on the table like I did the previous week by couching the fallen dandelion seeds down.  I decided to use this piece for the bottom portion of the ground and pair it with a piece of raw linen (40 count).

Having basted my two ground fabrics to a muslin backing, I returned to sketching and playing with the composition with fresh inspiration.  Since the main eco-printed piece I was using was from marigolds, I decided to place a marigold from my garden in the vase and sketch it.  The vase holds a lot of special meaning to me.  I have long collected vintage green and milk glass, and when my husband and I got married, his grandparents gave us their collection of milk glass.  I also thought this would be an interesting challenge to interpret the relief on the vase with just simple stitching.

Finding fabrics to render each part of the composition was quite fun.  I chose silk charmeuse for the vase for its shine.  The silk for the leaves was off cut silk dupion bits that I watercolored over as I could not find a good green in my bin.  The fabric for the marigold blossom was tea-stained silk organza, and the shadow was created using some silk organza that I had eco-printed with rose leaves.  All the threads I used were variegated cotton flosses.  

Week 6 with Anne Kelly:   Create a folk art inspired fiber collage.

Anne Kelly's folk art inspired textile and mixed-media pieces are whimsical and filled with many beautiful details.  She also makes really lovely mixed media books.  She has authored a number of books, which I highly recommend (Textile and Nature is one that I especially love). 

I find Ms. Kelly's work really interesting as it combines simplified shapes with a covering of stitching that creates a complex web of motifs and imagery.  I had never tried the technique of machine topstitching over the entire surface like this before and was very intrigued to try it.  I had no clue how different the before topstitching v. after topstitching compositions would look.

So I have to admit that at first glance, I did not know what to do with this challenge.  I sketched a lot of different ideas in my sketchbook ranging from fairly simplified to more filled with different motifs--more directly folk art inspired compositions.  Originally, I thought I would use my birdfeeder as inspiration as I love Ms. Kelly's birds and birdwatching is something my kids and I really enjoy.  As I sketched and laid scraps of fabric out, though, I decided that since this was a new technique to me, I would try to reinterpret the same vase from Week 5 and combine that with the Dandelion motifs from Week 4. 

Once I had an idea for the composition, I got my bin of scraps back out.  I have a lot of scraps from eco-printing that have these lovely lines in them from the strings used to bind the bundles.  The very outside fabric of the bundle takes the color of the boil water and the string that binds the bundles acts as a resist.  The background of this piece is a collage of string resisted habotai silk pieces.  The habotai has a lovely sheen and is slightly sheer so when the pieces overlap it creates darker areas. 

I used satin and Chantilly lace for the vase and layers of dotted tulle for the dandelion seed heads.  After I had everything pinned, I machine topstitched the entire surface.  This part was so cool as I did not realize how different it would look after the topstitching!  Then I added extra details with machine free motion embroidery.  I wanted this piece to be completely machine stitched.  

I have already started another experiment with this technique-- I am so intrigued by it right now!  It is a similar background but a different composition and I think I'm going to embellish it with a mix of hand and machine. 

I have really enjoyed participating in the Community Stitch Challenge hosted by .  I want to say a thank you to them for organizing such a wonderful project and such a great mix of artists to challenge us each week.