Stitches As Mark Making

I’m probably 3/4 way through a small quilt, 40cm sq. The order of work is a bit unusual though, with trimming and binding already completed so I can hand stitch detail over the top of the fused machine applique, and machine quilting. The signing, sleeve and label will be last, as usual.

The hand stitched ‘vegetation’ is a joy, as I’m a fan of hand stitchery from way back, but it’s been a while, as the most recent work of this kind I’ve done was around 2015. Below are some of my favourite landscapes with hand stitched detail ranging from 1980 to 2014 –

Upper left: Sunburnt Textures 6, 2014. Upper right: Ancient Expressions 1. 1988
Lower left: Simpson Desert Sunset, 1980. Lower right: Out Back of Bourke 1987

I learned the basic stem and straight stitch needed to embroider around printed Semco doilies and place mats when I was about 8 years old. I was positively influenced by my own mother whose needlework was beautifully finished (traced designs, drawn- and counted-thread works) I don’t have my very first embroidered work from grade 3 sewing class, a yellow doll’s bed cover with a Semco design of the three bears and a mushroom or two, that year. But I do have this one from a few years later, about grade 6:

I’m pretty proud of it 🙂 and ask you to try to not to focus on that eyecatching stain – more than 60 years have passed since I stitched this and crocheted the edging. I used it for many years, and have it here with me in Montevideo in my ‘collection’. The left side of the photo shows the reverse of the doiley, the right half the right side.

I show these because, though I am perhaps better known as a maker of contemporary art quilts, my interest in hand stitch goes right back really, to early childhood. I embraced creative embroidery in the late 70s, and in the late 80’s quilt making emphasised to me the power of a stitch as a way to make a mark on fabric. Today, some of the textile artists I most admire are fabulous makers of marks using stitch on fabric – people like Dorothy Caldwell, Helen Terry, Debbie Lyddon, Christine Mauersberger, Rieko Koga and Richard McVetis, all of whom have instantly recognisable styles. I love them all, and would aspire to achieve what any one of them do.

This afternoon, browsing on Pinterest, as you do, I came across UK ceramic artist Craig Underhill. I’ve started seeing his slab constructed pots crop up since I recently saved one or two images on Pinterest, because some of his markings on them suggest overlaid sheers with very informal, freehand stitchery on fabric. That drew me to his website, where I was enthralled with his sketchbook slide show at https://www.craigunderhill.co.uk/sketchbook.html Of course, I would never copy anything he or any other artist has done; but I saved a few to remind me of the potential of similar mark-making in sheers+hand stitch, or even sheers+machine stitch, as suggested by some of his pieces.

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