Very Small Pieces, 11

October 26th, 2021

In the SAQA 100 Days Reboot challenge I’m currently participating in, I’ve been using it to explore different materials and combining some surface design techniques with basic stitch. As I outlined at the start of this series, instead of just throwing them into the large shopping bag I normally use to receive my sample bits and pieces, I am mounting these ones on small pieces of foam core board cut to the same size.

Some have been excitingly successful and will no doubt lead to some new directions in my surface designs, others came out less interesting, but every one of them has shown me something, and at least my curiosity about a few dud ones is now settled ­čÖé Many of them I’ve posted on Instagram @schwabealison, and quite a few have appeared in this Small Pieces series of posts, of which there’ll be another two or two before the 100 Days challenge finishes on November 3rd.

Many of you know I’ve been interested in sheer fabrics for some time, with burnt layers in some of my Timetracks series, which featured nylon organza. Sheer fabrics include tulle, organdy, organza, chiffon, and their character has been used to great effect by some contemporary textile artists in the Korean Pojagi medium , others such as Rosemary Claus Grey, and Christine Mauersberger whose installation Timelines seems to float on its fine tulle substrate.

I recently (2019, 2021) bought some clear plastic to experiment with as the ultimate sheer, a flexible but solid, soft material that could be stitched through without drilling holes in it, as UK artist Clyde Olliver often did to stitch on really solid materials, like slate and wood.

These next two samples require thinking of heavy duty clear plastic as ‘fabric’ … Working on 100% see through sheer material means you need to be thinking of what the thread is doing on both sides to make the pattern as viewed from the front.

Tailor’s tacking. ~3.5in.

Here I thought I might just as well tie a knot in the thread and leave it on the front anyway! But, if I were going to use this kind of thing as a background, to frame something, I’d probably start and end the stitching where it would be behind that ‘thing’ once that was put in place. I joined the pink to the yellow with a knot on the front for the same reason – the limitations of a completely non-traditional material can require different thinking, and here, this can be made a feature of the surface texture.

Early in 2020, I began what was for me a new technique of hand oversewing raw edged strips of fabric (Pandemic Pattern resulted from this experimental technique) While oversewing one small wall quilt with metallic gold, I realised that for every stitch showing on the front, there was as much again hidden behind the work. This meant I needed to join threads twice as often, (a handsewn metallic thread will tend to fray fairly quickly) and at the density of my stitching, I realised I’d soon go crazy turning it over every couple of minutes to finish off conventionally. So I joined those threads with knots on the outside/front, and there were so many of them that the knots made a pleasing additional surface texture. We think of metallic as ‘hard and cold to the touch’ and this surface looks brassy, but it is surprisingly soft to touch. Couched cord – largely invisible, because I used fine toning thread.

Couching: when threads and cords too thick or textured to actually sew with are laid onto the fabric and hand or machine sewn down with a finer thread, visible or not. There are many potential variations to this technique. Couching will come up again soon.

Browsing With Pinterest

October 17th, 2021

In addition to this blog, I also post to my other blog,, writing about foody things including memories of the family from which I came, and my own family’s life, plus for the duration of the pandemic, writings on the StitchClub workshops I’ve been undertaking as my Pandemic Treat. Posts there include two on the Richard McVetis workshop and a more recent one by Shelley Rhodes, UK which I really liked too. I post these jottings in pickled gizzards because they don’t necessarily have anything to do with the textile art I’m developing right at the moment; but of course sooner or later there is an influence on any following works.

My regular readers know I also regularly browse around on Pinterest, as one of the ways to keep up a bit with what people are doing just as in other times I used to send for textile magazines and catalogues. This morning while filling in a little time before we went out, I pinned a few things to different boards.

First to catch my eye was detail of a textile work in white with black thread that had been covered by other white threads and emerging every now and then as a slub. The technique used to achieve this is irrelevant, it is the pattern made with the discontinuous line of blobs that I like, and so I pinned it to my contemporary hand stitch board to think about, or not … if I ever want to do such a thing I can think of several ways to achieve it in stitch. I’ve always been struck by the outline and filling potential of intermittent lines with or without the inclusion of blobs – this being one example. I also have pinned others on my lines and shapes board.

Left – “Morse” tetrahedron 18cmx18cmx18, 2016. Intermittent lines of stich (running stitch or quilting) with periodic dots/blobs.

Next, I pinned an image of I don’t know what and followed the link to reveal a bunch of what seemed to be textile art images, as there were a couple of textile artist names there I know, but this image wasn’t part of any of those, which is interesting! What had caught my eye was the ‘grid’ structure, apparently slapped on with wild abandon about which I thought: “hand painted grid, in gold, with metallic stitching – pin it” So I did, feeling I will think more about it, as I love paint on fabric, and love metallic glitter, especially gold.

At this point I came across a work by the artist Alberto Burri, 1915-1995, whose works often come up in my searches I love one of his unmistakable style, saatchi, that began in his time in a WWII Tunisian prisoner of war camp when he made art with whatever materials he could salvage around him, that in his hands became a fusion of painting and low relief sculpture, very often expressed through mended burlap and other non-conventional and industrial or agricultural materials showing signs of staining, wear and tear. When looking at his work I’m unsure what might have already been on the material when he picked it up to work with it, and what he might have added as part of his mark making.

SAQA Challenge, Day 70

October 11th, 2021

It’s hard to believe we’re on day #70. Pictured here are three of the most recent ones all in a related theme. I’m using Mistyfuse adhesive bonding web to at least hold the fabric pieces in place until they’re stitched down. Synthetic fabrics (in the 3rd sample the orange organza) don’t hold as well as natural fibres, like cotton, linen and wool; and leather works but tends to buckle or curl once enough heat’s been applied to actually bond it to a fabric. So making samples with a variety of fabric types does teach a lot about individual handling, which helps shape plans for larger project use of particular materials and techniques. fused circles, hand stitch. fused circles, hand stitch fused organza, hand stitch.

I haven’t done today’s little piece yet, but there are several on the list; think sliced stuffed olives. I made 3 in the last couple of days, having slipped behind a little last week ( talk about pressure! ) So I need to do today’s, plus at least one more today to get ahead a little. Tomorrow I have a long dental appointment (but it is within a few minutes’ walking distance) The next day I have a medical one (25mins Uber trip away, but the appointment will be brief). So I’m adding a necessary hair cut and a little urgent shopping in the same part of town as my polyclinic, that way I can kill 3 birds with one stone… but it will take the best part of 4+ hours, a sizeable chunk of the day.

This morning, checking through one of the daily lists Pinterest sends of things I might like, I paid close attention to an interesting work on the cusp between soft sculpture and contemporary stitchery, by fibre artist Wendy Watson of New Zealand. It’s calling to me to do something like it if I can, and I have in mind threads and techniques she might have used, though I’m not planning to go into encaustic with it as she has.

Very Small Pieces, 10

September 27th, 2021

Now well past the halfway mark in the SAQA 100 Day challenge, I’m on schedule, sometimes a day or two behind but more often a day or two ahead of the calendar. These next two are of fabric with holes cut, stitchery added, and the work placed over a contrasting background and mounted over a 3.25sq. inches foam core background.

Holes in black fabric, stitched with neon orange thread; all mounted over neon orange nylon on a foam core square 3.25sq. in.
Silver fabric + machine edged holes, mounted on black foam core square 3.25sq. in.
Machine stitched beach sand textures on painted fabric, mounted on black foam core.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing a Stitch Club workshop with Shelley Rhodes which had us observing a landscape by walking it and recording it’s lines and shapes via various kinds of markings, paint and stitch onto a strip of fabric ~1.5m long. I chose to use the many photos of interesting lines, shapes and textures I’ve taken of our local beach over many years of walking along it. Instead of recording segments of the landscape on the long strip, I did several shorter segments and even cut one into 2 pieces.

One of my favourite beach texture photos, which I observed only one time several years ago. These ‘cliffs’ are actually only about 3cm-5cm high, not huge cliffs across a vast desert! And the waving lines are the trails left by tiny little bivalves in the wet sand as they followed the receding tide back down the beach.

Machine stitched erosion textures, mounted on black foam core.

On each of these tiny landscapes I resorted to free machine stitchery to enhance my markings, as by the time I’d finished painting several layers onto the fabric it was just too stiff for me to hand stitch through. Learning by doing, though, as ever, as I now know to use water diluted paint next time…

Very Small Pieces, 9

September 19th, 2021

I can hardly believe we’re nearly half way through the SAQA 100 Days Reboot project, in which participants undertake to produce a small part of an over all project (of their own design) and post a daily pic with/without information on it. My goal is exploring textures in fabric and hand stitch, so far meaning mostly short to very long straight stitches, plus one or two samples with Y, stem, back and a few french knots.

That we are half way along is evidenced by my growing bunch of small mounted samples resembling a collection of mismatched drink coasters ­čÖé Rather than having trouble coming up with ideas, I’m finding each one generates at least one more idea or variation. Also, as usual, sample making teaches the maker various things: some have showed there’s an easier way to do something than my original approach. Some will/should make interesting larger works, and others clearly have no future at all.

Stencil making done 2+ weeks back gave some reasonably blah results, partly because the paint was a bit watery and bled before drying:

I didn’t ditch them, but I did just turn my attention elsewhere. I must have been thinking about them, though, because this past week I came back to these with some interesting results:

Result of cut away and roughly oversewing the raw edges of this group from the upper right sector of the above pic.
Hand stitching over shapeless blobs resulting too watery paint – lower right sector.
Stitch patterning over blobs (upper left) was so fiddly at this scale that I felt free to abandon it before completion as this particular sample was going nowhere.

I have no idea yet what I’ll do with the 4th stencil, but might re-use it on the same fabric with variations in colour, or something. There’s no rush.

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