8 October 2016
Project 5, Exercise 2 – Stitching
I chose this exercise because it has huge potential, because I love stitching onto paper, and because it complements the other exercises. My only misgiving was the amount of time it will take to complete. I allowed twice as long as the other exercises in the assignment. However, it is a topic which I could easily explore for several months, and even then not to exhaustion; different placed holes, holes made with different implements, different threads, different stitches, different background materials. Then to top it off, the course notes say to combine stitching experiments with paper folding techniques. The number permutations is huge.
I had previously completed a workshop on stitching in Textiles 1: A Creative Approach. It was the first assignment which I completed for OCA, and coming from a craft background, I had tended to prioritise neatness over creativity. That said, the experiments provide me a valuable and comprehensive reference with regards to stitch spacing, stitch size, thread thickness, stitch direction, regularity vs. irregularity and layering stitches.
The photos below show this work, exploring marks through line and stitch (Eastaugh, 2014a):
and creating texture with stitch Eastaugh (2014b):
I did not want to simply repeat these exercises, so I allowed myself to be much more free, spontaneous and playful in this assignment, and I tried to let my personality (creative voice) show through.
One of the texts which I found very influential was “The Art of Embroidery” (Tellier-Loumagne, 2006). My attitude towards this book had changed since I completed “A Creative Approach”, and I now appreciate it much more as a inspirational reference. I also referred to “Hand stitch Perspectives” (Kettle and McKeating, 2012a), both as a reference for inspirational textile artists, and by using the glossary of stitches as a prompt for the amazing diversity of visual outcomes which are possible, just by varying stitch and materials (Kettle and McKeating, 2012a: 208-215). I used chapter 5 of Helen Parrott’s book “Mark-making in textile art” as a starting point for stitching ideas (Parrott, 2013:54-95). I just wish I’d had more time to explore all these the possibilities.
SAMPLE 1: Radiating flat stitches
I decided to start simply. I took an A4 sheet of 250gsm cartridge paper and punched some holes in a radial pattern using a crewel needle – see Project 5, exercise 1, sample 3 and photo below:
I then worked a flat stitch into some of the holes using red Coton a Broder. I wanted the stitches to be approximately radiating from the top right hand corner, but not to follow this rule/pattern too strictly. Therefore worked some of the stitches at angles of 15-20 degrees away from the radial. I also made the holes so that their spacings were further apart, the further away they were from the top right hand corner. The stitches were therefore progressively longer, giving the impression of perspective (see below)
I chose red thread to evoke feelings of warmth, and yet the ‘spiked’ stitching gives a feeling of prickly uncomfortableness, perhaps like sitting too close to a hot fire. The different length stitches give a feeling of motion, almost explosion from the top right hand corner. Not stitching through all the holes gave me choice of stitch placement, but I also like the fact that they are not all populated. It gives the impression of emphasising the negative space between them.
The reverse side of the sample was not sufficiently different from the front to warrant a photo, but I clipped the work on the angle-poise lamp/ and photographed it lit from behind. This allowed the threads at the back of the paper to show through onto the right side. (see below)
It is interesting because it shows the path that I unknowingly took with the needle. It was a conscious decision to minimise thread wastage and produced interesting forms in it’s own right. There is also the pattern of the light shining through the holes, so there are two complementary patterns in this view.
I like both arrangements, and think this sample would have been even more spectacular on a larger piece of paper (say A2).
I chose to draw this sample and was both pleased and surprised that, through the use of different pressures of the red pencil, I was able to create the impression of a surface with thread running both on top and underneath (see below)
I am pleased that the sketch looks so similar to the sample. I do get the feeling that the punctured holes are really present and that the thread is penetrating them. Despite being a simple sample, sketching was more difficult than it looked.
SAMPLE 2: Fly stitch, slightly irregular composition
I took inspiration from “The Art of Embroidery” (Tellier-Loumagne, 2006: 78-79). Tellier-Loumagne, describes hand-stitching as being able to animate a regular design by introducing an element of disorder. This is a quality inherent within hand stitching. In all but the most accurate of work by fine embroiderers, hand-worked stitches will appear slightly different in size and placement. I thought I would investigate this by working vertical lines of offset fly stitch (see below)
To add some extra interest, I used a handmade textured paper. I did not pre-punch the holes – instead I worked the stitches directly into they paper using a crewel embroidery needle.
My stitches are certainly irregular – more so than I intended! I started with the vertical column on the far right and worked columns vertically and left-wards. My irregular stitch sizes caused some of the stitches to be squashed close together to maintain the “pattern” (especially by the time I reached the bottom left-hand corner).
There is certainly a lot of animation in this sample, and it works. Had I wanted to make the irregularity less obvious, I could have drawn a grid on the reverse of the paper, as a template. The size and exact placement of my stitches would still have been slightly irregular, and the animation more subtle.
This sample is simple (especially as it is worked in a single colour 6-strand embroidery thread). However is it surprisingly engaging. The individual, similar but not identical stitches remind me of the work of Magdalena Abakanowicz. Her art deals with the subject of the “countless” i.e. situations where she is overwhelmed by quantity and counting no longer makes sense. She is especially interested in the inherent variability of nature, where people, gestures, leaves (for example) have subtle irregularities or are not precisely repeatable (Abakanowicz, n.d.)
To use her analogies for my sample the stitches could represent trees in a forest plantation, or soldiers in an army standing in lines on parade.
For completeness, I also considered the back of the sample, although in this occasion I feel that the front is more engaging. There is however an interesting slanting of short stitches in one direction and long stitches in the other, reflecting the order in which the individual stitches were worked.
SAMPLE 3: Bullion stitch, slightly irregular composition
I used the same handmade paper as sample 2, and followed the same inspiration from “The Art of Embroidery” (Tellier-Loumagne, 2006: 78-79), regarding slightly irregular stitches. I used Lincatex “Gold Rush” metallised polyester/rayon embroidery thread, wrapping the thread around the needle 7 times for each stitch.
Like sample 1, I did not mark any grid or spacings; I just worked the stitches straight onto the paper. The stitches are irregular, but the irregularity is less pronounced, and on first glance they appear evenly spaced.
I also photographed the sample under multiple spotlights which gave a shadows under each stitch (see below)
I really like this sample. The stitch itself is textured and the metallic thread also contributes to it’s textural quality. It would be interesting to work a family of samples with different densities of bullion knots, to give the impression of different tones.
I made a sketch of the sample but is was in slightly different lighting conditions. Although lit with the same lamp, the presence of natural daylight meant that I did not achieve the double ‘two-tone’ shadow effect in the photo above. Nonetheless, I am reasonably pleased with my sketch (see below):
I think it could be further improved by the addition of more textured marks within the knot stitches and background paper.
Again, I also looked at the back of the work (see below)
It’s unremarkable, but it does show that I was not consistent in my method of working – working two rows at a time (zig-zag thread) and then working the rest of the sample in rows.
SAMPLE 4: Irregular compositions and creating texture with stitches
This sample was a development of samples 2 and 3. I used the same handmade paper, and a variety of stitches and threads to create a multilayer sample. I drew on the inspiration from “The Art of Embroidery” for irregular compositions (Tellier-Loumagne, 2006: 89) and textures and stitches (Tellier-Loumagne, 2006: 112).
I started with a slightly irregular composition of the type which I had stitched for samples 2 and 3. I used a green ribbon to sew flat stitches of approximately even length and spacing at random directions across the surface of the paper (see below)
I always like to take some interim photos, because is provides a record at each stage without having to work numerous samples. On top of this texture, I added bullion knots worked in crewel embroidery wool. This yarn was the same colour as the flat ribbon, but chosen to provide a contrast in texture (it being fluffy and matt). The spacing was irregular, but involved most of the paper surface.
Finally I used red Coton a Broder to add accents of both the flat stitch and buillion stitch with much wider spacing (see below)
All of a sudden the piece started to feel much more textural and dynamic. The choice of a complementary red meant a strong contrast and the red stitches certainly stood out as accents (although unified by having shape and size in common with the green stitches).
There is definitely a feeling of the green stitches being in the background and the red stitches in the foreground. The effect is that the green threads form a ‘background texture’ as the viewers’ eye is more readily drawn to the red stitches and tries to interpret whether there is a pattern formed by them.
I like this sample, but it is not my favourite. It is a very good ‘learning sample’ which illustrates how contrasts in colour, stitch placement and stitch shape can work together. However, the overall effect lacks delicacy due to the big thick matt woollen green bullion knots. It is also unsubtle because of the colour contrasts between the paper and the two colours of stitching.
I photographed the back of the sample too (see below)
Due to the different length of stitches, it feels more dynamic than the front. The red thread feels like a vector; it is like a road within a map of a landscape of mountains and valleys (the green stitches). Instead of the red stitches being mere accents, they lead the viewers’ eye on a journey.
SAMPLE 5: A study of flat stitches in two thread weights
I make a conscious decision not to work any samples with layers of stitching because I had covered this extensively in textiles 1, A creative approach (Eastaugh, 2014b). Instead, I used this sample to crease a very different texture to sample 4, using long, uneven, closely spaced flat stitches in two contrasting thread weights.
Firstly, using the same handmade paper as for samples 2-4, I worked bands of closely spaced flat stitches using bright pink dressmakers’ polyester cotton (see below):
Instead of the crewel needle, I intentionally used a knitters’ sewing up needle, which punched larger holes in the paper causing some embossing around the holes which added to the texture. The stitches are purposely imprecisely aligned but approximately the same length. I liked the subtle texture of the sample at this stage, so decided to photograph it before moving on.
Next, I worked some more sparsely spaced stitches in the red Coton a Broder which I had used for sample 4 (see below)
The Coton a Broder stitches were worked between the polycotton stitches, and with a similar length and orientation, but they were placed much more irregularly. I find it interesting how the red shiny thread of the Coton a Broder dominates. With both colours of threads in the sample viewed together, the bright pink somehow appears at first glance to be a hue of red rather than pink. The addition of the dark red stitches give the impression of a 3-D appearance, as they suggest tonal areas of light and shade. To me the sample closely resembles bark texture, which each band of stitching suggesting a trunk or branch.
Using the angle-poise lamp and daylight bulb, I was able to view the sample from underneath, whilst projecting pin-like areas of light through the spaces left by the holes the needle had made (see below):
I also looked at the reverse side of the sample:
The pink polycotton threads made a zig-zag pattern, with the red threads appearing much more random in length and direction. I did not find this view particularly interesting.
SAMPLE 6: Broad chain, different threads and hole sizes
I continued with the same handmade paper as samples 1-5, but this time I investigated different thread types and methods of puncturing the paper. Lines of stitching were worked individually. The finished sample is shown below:
The very top of the sample is a row worked in thick woollen thread, straight into the paper using the same knitters’ sewing up needle as I used in sample 5. The stitches are only slightly irregular, being the same basic shape and size. It looks like boring conventional embroidery.
The very bottom row is worked similarly, but using yarn made from recycled sari silk, which varies in thickness. For added interest I also varied the spacing of the chain stitches. I quite like the sinuous effect; it reminds me of a slinky spring (longitudinal waves). There is a definite suggestion of ‘bunching’.
For the two rows of stitching in the middle, I first punched rows of holes using a screw punch. These were not entirely regular (being made by eye). For the centre top row of stitching I used two threads together – the Coton a Broder I had used in samples 4 and 5, and some natural raffia. The intention was to contrast a shiny and matt thread, but the result was rather uninspiring. Together they almost filled the punched holes, so I didn’t get very obvious negative spaces where the thread punctured the paper.
The centre bottom row was the one I found most interesting; first the contrast of the mis-match of very fine thread with oversized screw-punched holes. Next the doubled-up polyester dressmakers’ cotton made an interesting ‘double image’ as the threads separated slightly (made possible due to that large holes). There were also subtle shadows made by the thread on the paper; again a feature of the oversized holes which meant the threads were not held tightly against the paper. It is certainly an interesting effect which I would use again.
The reverse side of the paper shows zig-zag stitches, a result of working the broad chain in a systematic way (see below):
It is like a reversible pattern – two stitches in one sample.
SAMPLE 7: Acetate strips and cross stitch
At this point I decided to explore the effect of some less conventional materials. For my paper, I used some newsprint which I had previously painted with acrylic paint. I made my own transparent ‘thread’ from strips of acetate joined together with glue to make longer lengths.
I sewed the cross stitches directly into the paper using the knitters’ sewing up needle (which together with the acetate tended to tear the paper at entry and exit points). The photo below is shown lit by the angle-poise lamp and daylight bulb:
I had hoped that the acetate strips would appear as almost invisible stitches, revealed only by the shadows which they cast on the paper underneath. The results were disappointing. The stitches were near invisible (I did manage to get some definition with the camera in this lighting scheme), and there were no visible shadows cast.
The only aspect of this sample which I do like is the behaviours of the acetate, which sits above the paper rather than laying flat (see below)
Consequently, each cross shape is very different depending on the twisting of the ‘thread’ as it enters and exists the paper. This is an interesting feature which I might consider using again, but probably in conjunction with printed or painted acetate to improve definition.
SAMPLE 8: A study of edges with wire stitching and textured threads with flat stitch
This sample was the first of a series which explored edges, and in particularly stitching onto edges. Knowing that I was going to be covering “joining” later in the module, I purposely did not join any pieces.
Using the same handmade paper that I used for sample 2-6, I started by punching holes around the edge of a square piece of paper with the office hole punch and threading some purple coloured copper wire through using an “oversew” stitch (see below)
The contrast of the matt, neutral-coloured paper and shiny, bold-coloured wire was interesting, but I felt that I could take this sample further, so I let myself pursue a materials-based approach and carried on adding stitches.
The inside of the square was too plain and too dull for my liking. I chose a complementary hand-made yellow tissue, cut strips and rolled them between my fingers to make a textured paper ‘thread’ and I worked rows or parallel flat stitches using the knitters’ embroidery needle. I contrasted these with flat stitches of similar length worked perpendicular in purple dressmakers’ polyester cotton and tiny, short stitches of purple handspun merino wool. Finally, I used some gold Anchor Marlitt 100% viscose rayon embroidery thread to whip-stitch around the edge between the purple wire, and this helped to unify the piece (see below)
This photograph is taken in natural daylight. I did also look as the sample under artificial lighting, but there were only insignificant shadows coming from the wire at the side of the sample. The reverse of the sample was also unremarkable, so I haven’t included an image of either.
SAMPLE 9: An extended study of edges using buttonhole stitch and oversewing with a variety of threads and wire
I used a patterned handmade paper to work around the edges of a series of three strips of paper in related colours and stitches. For ease of viewing, I sewed the pieces onto a backing paper of neutral coloured handmade tissue. However, I made sure that the edges of the strips could be lifted to examine the underside of the edge stitching.
I started by punching some holes in the edges of the paper using an office hole punch. I then worked oversew stitches using pink coloured copper wire, and oversewing and buttonhole stitches using a variety of pink and purple threads including raffia, dressmakers’ polyester cotton, 100% silk, and 6-strand embroidery cotton. The finished sample is shown below:
The running stitches simply secure the strips to the backing paper. I think this sample is a partial success. I like some of the edge effects, particularly the raffia and wire. I’m not sure whether the patterned paper enhances or confuses the stitching (I would say it looks more confused in the photo than when viewed with the eye, where the lustre and texture of the threads is more obvious). The sample was photographed in natural lighting conditions.
Looking at the sample as a whole it reminds me of pieces of an old leather garment uncovered in an archeological dig; the centre section being analogous to the bodice, the outer sections to the sleeves (especially as it is presented on a tissue background). The paper has the quality of vellum. The advantage of using the paper and not leather is that it is easier to sew and more malleable.
SAMPLE 10: A study of stitch density and direction
I liked the effect of using oversized holes with a fine thread in sample 6, so I decided to explore this further using the same paper I had used in sample 9. I punched the holes using the smallest sized screw punch. Whilst I was working the sample, it was being lit by multi-directional spotlights and I noticed a lovely pattern of light shining through the holes (see below)
Although I sewed through all the holes I had punched in this sample, this lacy effect was still present after I had stitched the sample, because the thread I used was very fine. The photograph below shows the finished sample lit in natural daylight:
I worked in 100% silk thread using an embroidery needle with straight stitch in different stitch spacings and groups of stitches in different directions. I stitched some areas by working straight through the paper. In other sections I threaded the silk thread through the pre-punched holes.
Unlike my “slightly irregular” stitched samples, I did mark a grid to ensure that my punched holes were in approximately the correct position (although some still went awry). I like the subtle effect of the stitching which gave a good contrast against the pattern of the paper. As I mentioned in my discussion of sample 9, the paper is vellum-like (this can be seen from the close-up below)
Due to the lustre of the thread there was a tonal difference obtained by stitching in different directions. The density (closeness) of stitching also had an effect, although I would have had to work a lot more stitches to see this effect properly.
Because it was worked in running stitch, the reverse of the sample was virtually identical to the right side.
SAMPLE 11: Large holes, bound edges
This sample was inspired by a continued wish to study edge stitching and to be much more radical with holes. The work of American fibre artist Anne Wilson came to mind (Mitchison, 2012: 154-155). In her series “Hair works” she adorns holes that are already present in crisp white cloth with hair and black thread stitching. The stitching subverts the idea of mending as it accentuates the holes. I wanted to develop this idea with my sampling, by stitching around large “ugly” holes to accentuate them.
I chose a patterned piece of handmade paper and made some big holes (tears) using the neck of a wine bottle (see below)
I then ‘bound’ the holes by oversewing, at the same time forcing the flaps to be bent back and secured, making the holes bigger and better defined. I used red and gold 100% silk thread and some purchased purple paper thread. I chose the paper thread because I wanted it to curl and stand up from the flat surface of the paper to form a 3-dimensional structure (the string had been wrapped around a cone, so had ‘memory’ of this shape). Below is a photograph of the finished sample taken under multiple spotlights:
I love the roughy untidiness of the stitching and the contrast between the size and texture of the lustrous silk and matt paper threads. I had really hoped to get dramatic shadows from the paper string, but I had to work hard to configure the sample and achieve them (see below):
Eventually I obtained some great shadows by forming a convex arch with the paper and holding it up so it didn’t rest on the white paper surface. If I were to use these properties in a finished piece I would have to make sure it was folded in such a way as to create the shadows and be self-supporting.
I am drawn to this sample because the holes remind me of wounds (maybe a bullet entry because it is ragged and torn?) and there is a feeling that there is not enough material to join back and cover the hole. The stitching has the appearance of being hurried and botched. There is an emotional connection.
I relished the opportunity to sketch this sample in all it’s complexity (see below):
I laid the sample flat against a white sheet of paper and sketched it in natural daylight. I’m pleased that I managed to capture the roughness of the handmade paper with Derwent Inktense sticks and pencils, and the contrast between the fine and coarse threads. The suture-like qualities once again come across.
SAMPLE 12: Stitched back flaps
I loved sample 5 of Project 2, Exercise 5 (Creating flaps) and felt that it had potential for development. I also wanted to extend the idea of sewing and securing edges which I had started to explore in sample 11. This was prompted by the idea of sample 11 being wound-like and I thought about stitched mouths and eyes in shrunken heads; it was the stitching of flaps or openings that made me think about creating a sample with flaps and stitching them back.
I started with some handmade paper. I chose a red colour with a delicate subtle lacy-gold print. In contrast to the precise pattern of the print, I chose to stitch with coarse untidy raffia (see below).
I like the way that the raffia is self supporting when stitched, and to some extent holds up the flaps. I had initially thought that the stitching would generate interesting shadows, but of course they are always in the shadow of the flaps!
I did get some interesting tonal variations where light shone through the cut-outs. Where light from the cut-outs overlapped the tones were brightest, and there were darker toned areas depending on how much light got through. It was difficult to achieve this effect with the soft, floppy piece of paper (I had to hold it in a particular way). If I wanted to replicate these effects in a sample, I would need to use some support, such as wire or stiff card.
SAMPLE 13: Stitching through holes and a concertina pleat
I wanted to look at combining stitching with folding, so I started by taking a sheet of 80gsm A4 printer paper and dividing it into 8 using concertina folds. I was then able to punch regular holes with the office hole punch, as I had done in Project 5, Exercise 1, sample 9. However, instead of punching through all the layers of paper at once to obtain a repeating pattern, I punched through each valley and mountain fold separately, so I got some symmetry, but not a repeating pattern.
I then proceeded to stitch through some of the holes with natural raffia. I chose the raffia because of it’s irregularity and the contrast that this would make with the regularity of the holes. I loved the contrast, but found the colours rather uninspiring, so chose some very fine red boucle to use as an accent.
It was at this stage that I had to question whether I was actually stitching or weaving (because what I was doing, and the results were more akin to weaving). The finished result is shown below, photographed under multi-directional spotlights:
I am very pleased with the result. The shadows cast by the raffia effectively add an extra layer of pattern to the otherwise plain white printer paper, and enhance the sample. The holes are also emphasised by shadows; in some cases appearing as dark tones, in others eclipsed areas of light. The contrast between “order” (the holes) with “disorder” (the stitching) is very engaging.
I also viewed the sample from different angles whilst lit with the angle-poise lamp and daylight bulb (see below):
These three images show the potential of the holes to make lacy shadows. This is a beautiful sample as it stands, in it’s simplicity, but there is scope for developing the idea further; possibly with different paper (providing this doesn’t detract from the patterning with made by shadows of the raffia and boucle threads), but certainly with different types of folding.
SAMPLE 14: Bridging the gap with stitching
Folding creates voids which can be filled with stitches. Stitches can be used to for emphasis, but can also contribute to structural integrity (suspension bridges come to mind).
I was inspired by the shadows formed by the threads in sample 13, but also by “Happa” (leaves) (2003) by Kazuhito Takadoi (Takadoi, n.d.), who cleverly uses shadows from fine grass, leaves and twigs (which he substitutes for threads). He sometimes deliberately puts his work outside, so that it slowly decays and is reclaimed by the earth (Kettle and McKeating, 2012b:196-197). I am actually quite drawn to the idea of work being transitory and fading, shrivelling or decaying with time. This is an idea which could be readily applied to my ivy leaf sample in Project 5, Exercise 1 (sample 9).
Takadoi’s work is delicate and tensioned with a balance between the sense of interior and exterior (Kettle and McKeating, 2012b:196). I hoped to replicate some of that tension and balance in my sample.
This time I used 220gsm card, dividing it into 6 using concertina pleats. I punched holes with the office hole punch only in the mountain folds (I did not want the holes to make an all over pattern in the card, but intend emphasis the peaks only). I deliberately let some of the holes overlap.
I wanted to play on the idea of delicacy, and contrast the fineness and pliability of the threads with the stiff, well defined folds of the card. I used fishing line, 100% silk thread and polyester cotton. Again, I wondered if this was really stitching or weaving? Anyway, between one of the valleys I worked the fishing line only in spaced apart ‘stitches’ which did not cross. In contrast between the other valley, I let my threads cross and loop and used the full range of threads. The results are shown below:
Samples 1-14 are mainly paper, with cut-outs or holes comprising just a small percentage of the total area of the sample. I wanted to investigate the effect of making the negative spaces more dominant. Rather than cut out lots of holes myself with a scalpel, I used some ready cut florists’ paper. I ‘stitched’ (or should that be threaded?) silver coloured copper wire and paper string through the holes.
These photos were all taken using the angle-poise lamp and daylight bulb. The multiplicity of shadows is intoxicating, and through this sample, I have demonstrated to myself that very lacy papers (with a high percentage of the material cut away) have amazing potential. It is an idea which I will be able to develop and explore further when I have more time available.
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Kettle, A. and McKeating, J. (2012b) ‘Contemporary practices: where are we now?’ In: Kettle, A. and McKeating, J. (Eds) Hand Stitch Perspectives. London. Bloomsbury. pp. 196-207.
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Takadoi, K. (n.d.) “HAPPA (leaves) detail” [Stitch, twigs and grass on washi paper] At: http://www.kazuhitotakadoi.com/work.html (Accessed 10 October 2016)
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