The simple stitch

Plunge

Plunge (2016)

All this pondering how or whether to use the felted knitwear I have has got me thinking through the ways I make work anyway.  I know that I always have to have work to think about – I always have done.  It is what motivates my living.  I have to have mental occupation almost all of the time – for instance, I cannot often watch television or listen to the radio without also doing, making, or thinking about something else.  Creative outcomes arise from all the input; the curiosity, the pursuit of threads tugged by the curiosity, thinking, and of course seeing – paying attention.

This was also true when I was occupied with publishing, but with a large and fundamental difference from what I do now.  When I was for instance orchestrating the creation of a book other people’s work, wishes, and money were concerned.  I worked with colleagues who had various expectations of and influences on the decisions I made.  I commissioned the work: writing (although I did write a few myself if I wanted to commission a particular artist who had no particular subject in mind), artwork, production, sales – and then of course the consumers also played a huge and vital part.  With books for children the parents, librarians, and teachers comprise the first level of consumers.

When I left publishing and was thinking about being creative for myself, it was with notional consumers in mind that I started.  I thought I saw a gap in the market for a kind of knitwear – but quickly it became obvious that that was not the right path for me.  I carried the thought of consumers with me when I then combined my hobbies of painting pictures and stitching, hoping perhaps to find galleries which would carry my work.  I had sold some paintings through a gallerist friend in the USA, and a couple of galleries did take my early stitchings – but over the years I have learned that my work is an acquired taste, galleries have to make consistent money, and besides, there are now just so many makers existing and emerging whose work is more appealing, instantly attractive, or fashionable.  Perhaps my work is just not good enough.

But it is more than good for me.  It is taking years to get out of the mindset that developed a successful publishing career, to adjust to a state that is neither paid employment nor hobby, but is a kind of manifestation of being.  But as such it does not seem to fit comfortably into any labelled box.  ‘Twas ever thus: many years ago even at Oxford University Press where I began my publishing career I was labelled an administrative anomaly, in this case because my responsibilities straddled both the schools and tertiary markets.

Although for convenience I have so far put myself in the textile artist box, I do not think that wholly appropriate, despite using cloth and stitching.  Printing is at the heart of what I do, but I am not really a conventional printmaker. Collage, the gathering of divers elements is also fundamental to what I do, but somehow does not wholly describe my practice.  Everything goes towards the way I want the work to look, and the simple stitch is at the heart of it in two ways.

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First, and essential, it is my handling of the cloth.  It is a long slow process which has been with me since early childhood when I sat amongst older generations, making cross stitch cloths.  When I saw Kantha cloths I realised how powerful the simple running stich could be for me.  I have to be a-making with my hands.  It helps my mind to clarify, to digest, to make connections, ….

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The stitching might be described as a kind of colouring in, but it is so much more than that, despite being simple.  When used with wadding (batting) it creates a bas relief.  It emphasises, it provides a flow, and it presents a kind of subtle catching of the eye with colour and shape.  On my Soliloquy project I have decided to keep it muted with the first top stitching before I join the panels and then quilt the whole.

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Soliloquy (detail of work in progress)

With the couple of pieces I’ve explored with felt again the simple stitch I think works well – in Winter sun with the simple outline of the felt itself – and leaves room to appreciate the subtle pattern in that felt,

Winter sun

Winter sun (2017, detail)

and in Cathedral (below) the simple stitching will I hope calm the somewhat (deliberately off register) chaotic screenprinted fused collage.

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Cathedral (detail of work in progress)

Regarding the use of the felt – you perhaps can see in the full photo of Plunge that I have used a scan of weaving (my first effort with a backstrap loom and knitting yarn!).  The actual weaving – or any felt would have been inappropriate there because of the importance of the relative flatness of the elements making up the image.

 

Before biting the bullet

When I first retired from publishing it was knitting which attracted me as a possible activity.  I had long been a hand knitter, but for some reason I decided to learn to use a knitting machine and designed a range of garments.  For a few years I attended craft fairs, and some people loved my work – but not enough.  I enjoyed the designing of the garments, the designing of the knit patterns, the choosing of the glorious yarns, … but I did not at all enjoy the selling, and the knitting itself was becoming boring.  So I stopped.

img_2617I gave away the many cones of beautiful Shetland wool, but have not yet been able to part with the bits of garments with which I was left.  I felted a lot of them, thinking that surely I must think of something satisfying to do with them.  I have a tub full which I look at from time to time, but have until now not thought of anything I even wanted to try.

felt-fish

Then I decided to try cutting out familiar figure shapes from my work.  I took my much-loved woman with fish on a dish, and was relatively pleased with the result so far.  They also have the advantage of working in either direction – there is no fixed front or back.

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I cut out another previously used shape – and I rather liked using the rib as the base in both cases.  I also came up with a design to incorporate the felt shape(s) with cotton and hand stitching so that it much more resembles a piece of my work.  I’m going to see if I can come up with more designs like the one on the right before I decide that this is a good idea, and before I finally decide whether to ditch the felt – with a sigh.

Summer sloth

I have not had anything to write about for some time.  Truth to tell I don’t really have much of substance to say now.  I have been puttering along with bits and pieces mostly, with only one real project to move forward.  I have cut several lino plates, both for the project called Soliloquy, and for other ideas.

Three

TwoI have not yet proofed these plates, but I have printed three of the others, and they are now ready to stitch as small pieces.

memoir

chicken

salad days

 

Proofing can render results

Seeking a perfect print is not my goal – or at least I am looking for a print perfect for my purposes.  With the few exceptions of print as end product, I have to bear in mind that stitch is to be added without looking superficial – or even worse, excessive.  For this reason I look at the proof stage of my relief printing as a possible source of material to progress.  I am looking out for happy accidents which make the image speak louder in its own voice.

Sometimes I am compelled to put (at least) two elements together: such as this figure

new body

and this background (street furniture in Oxford),

flowers streetwhich was altered thus when I thought of the figure.

patchedThe idea was developed when I had taken the idea of a grid as a theme/exercise – and so I elaborated onto the body.

body patched 1

This became the template for my relief plate, as I want the movement to be to the right.

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The proof onto plain paper came out boldly.

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I had digitally printed the background onto 42gsm Murakumo Kozo Select White, which is actually cream-ish white.  Perhaps because of my being aware of the thin-ness of the paper I did not press enough – I hand burnish my prints – and the result was much fainter:

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I am delighted with the ghost-like qualities, and although I shall most likely print another, bolder version, I shall still consider the possibility of taking this proof forward to stitch.  The original design was one of a happy conjunction of elements, but now I think I might be approaching ambiguity of meaning as well – which would be a much more desirable outcome.

Broadening focus

The problem with being focussed on finishing one piece in slow stitch mode is that meantime other things pile up, mostly because my mind keeps ticking over.  Well, the very nature of the slow stitching is that it provides the ideal environment for much thought!

building an argument

Anyway, deadline stitching done with just sleeves to sew onto the piece I must now concentrate on progressing through the designs which have accumulated in my files meantime.  I am using printable cotton lawn at present, and the result is a muted version of what I see on my screen.  This is OK, and have allowed for it.  The two I’m starting with are Building an argument (above) and Point by point.  I shall also use cotton threads, with the addition in Building an argument of gold for the grid.

listening and thinking before deciding

I already have a pile of designs waiting to be cut out of vinyl for relief printing, but of course I seem to just keep churning them out.  The first one, Giggles, is now a definite template and added to the teetering pile, while the second is still in ponder limbo.

new got the giggles

Clone of despair

 

Spontaneous – well almost – doodle

I was thinking about too many things to settle properly to doing any sustained work this afternoon, especially after having gone to an exhibition which got me thinking about an abstract idea completely separate from anything related to my recent workings.  So after I’d checked my mail and looked up various things and written a post on my Threading thoughts blog, I fell to on-screen doodling.

giggle girls

This is at a very preliminary stage, as you can see from the wobbly lines.  Unfortunately by later in the afternoon my hand quite often shakes when trying for a smooth curve.  But so far so good.

Fiddling about, but still not getting it right

Sometimes I cannot settle to one thing or other, and inevitably I turn to fiddling with designs in limbo.  The fritillary I deconstructed has been on my mind, and added to the image of the gardener which is incomplete, I started playing about.

gardener fritillary

The result is not bad, but not right.  I really need to be ruthless about putting this design away for a while because I do think that the figure is worth pursuing.