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. 


  1. You've done some really interesting work here - all of it, I think, has possibilities for extension, too...

    1. Thank you Rachel! I'm sorry about the delayed reply. I just found where the comments were on this new Blogger format.