Inspiring Raw Materials, 2

I enrolled in The Stitch Club when it started in early May, and though new registrations are currently closed, check the website and if you like the whole idea, you can put your name down for notification next time they open. Every 4 or 5 years ince the late 70s, I’ve been in the habit of going to a long workshop over several days, at a summer school or similar. I value the charge, the boost to my creativity this experience brings, while learning some new skills or techniques. The networking opportunity with like minded souls is very stimulating, too. I was starting to think about working one into our next trip to Australia which, of course, thanks to Covid-19 didn’t happen this year. I never have trouble keeping myself occupied, and am never short of ideas for my next artwork. However, seeing rather more fibre and thread time than usual ahead, I thought treating myself to a series of workshops by prominent textile artist teachers would be a treat and compensation for the pandemic’s disruption – what a good decision.

Hand stitch being one of my passions, it has been so inspiring to take online workshops from a variety of top stitch artists from several countries. When planning the workshops, the organisers clearly required all Stitch Club tutors to design projects with requirements lists featuring repurposed and recycled fabrics, and materials that average stitchers and craft people will have around their homes, anyway. I can honestly say that apart from some wire I needed for in workshop #1, I haven’t needed to buy anything to proceed with any other, and my sewing or embroidery resources are not large. Thanks to my upbringing (and probably age) I’m in the habit of using what I already have around and improvising where necessary, a skill and attitude honed in 2 decades of Austalian Outback living.

I make non-traditional or art quilts often featuring freehand patchwork, and have always kept offcuts and decent sized scraps, so although my stash is very small by many standards, my generous sized scrap bags contain plenty of interesting bits and pieces. The lovely cotton fabrics I love to work with in my contemporary pieced work (heaps of examples elsewhere on this website) are impossible to buy here in Uruguay, and I only have access to them in USA or Australia. I tried mail ordering a few times, but 2/3 of the consignments were pilfered, so I gave up on that.

L – collaged raw edged applique on a plastic base
U.R. – metallic finish leathers, machine appliqued with gold thread
L.R. mylar backed nylon machine appliqued to black faux patent (vinyl)

I believe this whole situation has left me more receptive to any kind of material’s potential when faced with something unusual, like this black patent finish vinyl:

Land Marks, 2016, 120cm x 90cm

When I came across this faux patent, I bought the last 1.3m piece on the roll, used every square centemetre, and have never seen it again.

Land Marks detail. Nylon backed mylar, hand drawn marks, machine applique.

One of the Stitch Club tutors, Susie Vickery, took the recycle-repurpose materials furthest so far, developing her workshop around using actual rubbish, like plastic mesh vegetable bags,strips of plastic bags and packaging. She coupled this with an exercise in Jacobean crewel embroidery, a european style that reached a height of popularity in the C15 and C16. The formal, stylised designs of this embroidery are still very popular today, usually carried out using fine wool thread on linen or wool twill fabrics. Though I’ve never done any, it is lovely, and the history of this well documented style is fascinating, but an investment in expensive materials is needed to faithfully duplicate the intricate colour gradations and finely detailed patterns that characterise it. In a follow up video segment this morning, Suzie Vickery made an interesting, thought provoking statement:- that she’s found that using beautiful expensive, specialised materials can actually paralyze a person’s creativity.

Ultimately, the maker’s planned use of the textile art largely determines final choice of materials. On one hand, natural fibres (wool, silk, rayon, leather and cotton) are comfortable around the body and next to our skin, and in time they eventually decay into the biosphere – so think clothing and up-market household furnishings. Unless we’ve been hiding under a rock, though, we know that cheap, durable man made fibres or synthetics, usually take much longer to decay, eventually accumulate in the environment and produce harmful effects on all life forms. However, for a large installation they offer durability and sturdiness that natural fibres may not have in the same location.

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