Thursday, January 27, 2011

Abstract Punchneedle

In keeping with trying to warm up my little corner of the world this winter - I have begun a punchneedle picture that explores the fluidity of color and shading and I'm using lots of 'warm' color. 

The first step for a punchneedle project is to use my lightbox and trace over the design so that it appears in simple lines on a piece of paper.  As I draw the design I make notes to myself ('double line here' or 'blend colors' here).

Once the design is drawn on paper, I turn the paper over and retrace it.  Because the actual punching is done on the reverse side the pattern needs to be reversed when putting it onto the fabric.  After the pattern is reversed on the paper I lay it on the light box and position my Weaver's cloth over it.  I then trace once again -- this time onto the fabric.

After that the fun begins! This is the time to choose colors, to pick through floss and yarn and whatever might end up being put into the punchneedle form.  Because punchneedle can appear 'flat' if only one color is used at a time I always mix and match threads for any one section of a piece.  Sometimes I use three different shades of the same color family for background.

A picture like this will require a LOT of threading and rethreading because there will be so many variations of shades and changes of color.  In a small space like this picture, rethreading will be the most time consuming part of the process.  Threading the needle and then rethreading the needle and then rethreading once again to only cover an inch or less of space can become quite tedious.  Or it can be accepted as part of the process, which is the way I like to look at it.

As I punch, I write down the colors that have been used in each section.  The reason for this is that if I have to go back and fill in a space (which can easily happen with punchneedle) I will know exactly the combinaton of thread that I used in any one section.

The nice thing about punchneedle is that you can even make notes in the margin right on the fabric as you go -- that edge fabric will all be gone when the picture is finished.

So here you have a little 'lesson' in punchneedle.  Now that I have prepared the design and fabric I think that I'll get busy and start punching -- such an active word for such a quiet, peaceful process.

"I broider the world upon a loom
I broider with dreams my tapestry
Here in a little lonely room
I am master of earth and sea
And the planets come to me".
- Arthur Symons

Monday, January 24, 2011

The "Follow Me" Bird

I've just spotted the rare and elusive "Follow Me" bird.  He is hard to spot because as his name indicates he's always going somewhere, urging others to follow him.  I think this year he has had an easy time trying to convince everyone to follow him to warmer climes.  Most of the people I know, during this chilly winter, would follow him to sunshine and warmth without a pause.

I promised myself, after the first two punchneedle birds, that I would create brighter 'plumage' on future birds.  And so, here is a bird to brighten the day.  What a pleasure to sit here on a cold wintry day working with these bright colors and seeing a colorful bird appear beneath my fingertips.  Say the words 'follow me' quite rapidly and you'll hear the sound of his call.

"Birds have wings; they're free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy". - Roger Tory Peterson

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Little Fuzzies

Don't you think that even the most lowly thing can make it into our art?   Sometimes, even if I don't have a plan for something I keep it around, thinking 'who knows?'  So it is with these 'fuzzies' that have come off of the fat quarters after they've been thrown into the washing machine.  For my work, I guess I don't really have to wash the fat quarters - but I so love to feel that 'after the wash' soft fabric beneath my hands and then too, if I didn't wash the fabric where ever would I find these pieces of thread all twisted and tangled and matted. 

I store them in a jar and periodically I'll pull out a batch, wad it up and attach it to something.  What can I do with these cast offs?  I can scrunch some together and stitch them to the toes of an art doll or find a place for them in the middle of a stitchery.  I can finagle them together in a way that will create a head of hair for an art doll.  Or, I can just handle them (they are so soft) and admire the colors that have blended together in this mess of threads.

Sometimes - in fact quite often for me - its the little things that make me happy.

"Success in life is founded upon attention to the small things rather than to the large things; to the every day things nearest to us rather than to the things that are remote and uncommon". - Booker T. Washington

Monday, January 17, 2011

"The Bell Ringer"

I'm welcoming the new year with art doll "The Bell Ringer".  To paraphrase an old rhyme 'with bells on her fingers and bells on her toes - she shall have music wherever she goes'.  These warm colors boosted my spirit during the snowy, grey/white January that we've been having.  It was almost like a warm sunset sitting on my work table as I stitched away on her.

She ended up with 229 French Knots -- no, I wasn't counting as I went, nor was I trying to beat a record.  It just dawned on me as I finished the last one - 'wonder how many French knots I've done'.  So of course I had to count them.

Working on art dolls requires constant movement going from one type of stitch to another and I like the energy it involves.  Not much quiet meditation when working on such a small item - because you no sooner get involved in one stitch when that area is finished and its time to move onto the next.  I love trying out various stitches and looking for fibers to add to the surface.

"Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in". -
Leonard Cohen

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Face Forward

For months now, as some of you know, I've been wrestling with art doll faces.  I have tried beaded faces, punchneedle faces, printed faces, embroidered faces, square faces and round faces.  I have made up templates and I have stitched and stitched and stitched.  Each time, I will make a few and two days later I am back at the drawing board because I'm not happy with what I've created.  I've begun to doubt my sanity *smile*!

For whatever personal reasons I have certain criteria that the face must meet and so far none of them has quite lived up to my expectations.  I want to have a face theme that I can use over and over again.  It must be comprised of fabric and stitchery.  It must not be too cute, nor too sophisticated, nor too somber. It must be simple in design - humble if you will.   It must be somewhat quiet and yet reflect a joy for life.  This is what I've been searching for.

With all of this in mind and with all of my past attempts behind me, I recently began again with what I hoped would be the design.  And I did it!  I accomplished what I was beginning to think wasn't going to be possible. Using overstitching on the base fabric (which has a tinge of color) I was able to give a bit of 'texture' to a simple design. I know that anyone looking at this face would say 'what was all the fuss about' and I really can't begin to tell you.  It was sort of like looking for a piece of furniture and saying 'I'll know it when I see it'.

And so I have finally made a fabric face, simple in design, simple in technique and one that will express the spirit and heart of the art dolls that I hope to make this year.  Could it be that by shear determination I have finally accomplished my goal? 

"It is the common wonder of all men, how among so many million faces, there should be none alike". - Thomas Browne

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pondering Fabric

Having said that I was going to focus on bright colors in a recent post -- I found myself pulling out this stack of colorful fat quarters.  There are oranges and greens and pinks and turquoise and the designs on the fabrics are modern and sleek and... Well, you get the picture.

It was time to start preparing a couple of new art dolls and I had all these marvelous designs and colors laid out in front of me.  Scissors ready I snipped away, I soon had a couple of bodies cut and fused and ready for embellishing and stitching.  It was at that point that I realized they weren't going to work for my particular style . 

For people who don't work in fabric art there might be a misunderstanding that you just cut it out, stitch it up and its done.  For me, working with fabric in a representatational way, each stitch is put onto the fabric with a lot of thought.  If the background fabric has a distinct pattern design of its own and says 'don't cover me up' -- its hard for me to find the spirit of the cloth. Don't get me wrong, I love the bold fabric designs and the colors, but for the work that I do I find that I need subdued fabric - something that will be a background for my stitchery.

And so I spent a morning pulling muted fabrics from my stash, laying pieces all over the table and looking at them.  An integral part of my work is the use of embroidery stitches to bring the background fabric to life. The stitch 'becomes' the fabric design.  Its very hard to explain but I guess I don't just want to make an art doll I want to imbue my very own consciousness into it.  I want to use my stitching and embellishment to create a theme that means something to me personally and that I hope will mean something to someone else somewhere along the way.

I love the work of others where the fabric is the key -- and I do so admire their skill at combining and displaying these beautiful, bright, modern designs.  Once again however, I've learned something about myself (do we ever stop learning?) and it relates to what is important to me in my work.  Because embroidery stitchery is important to me when creating art dolls I shall have to put aside bold patterns and go back, once again, to the subdued patterns and shades.

Now that I've figured out all of this about myself its back to the needle and thread.  Isn't the creative process wonderful?

"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside awakes". - Carl Jung

Friday, January 7, 2011

Winter Thoughts

This is turning out to be a winter we will all remember.  Over the Christmas holiday, here in our little nook of western North Carolina, we received 9" of snow.  That set a record - going back to 1969.  It was beautiful and I loved that it fell on Christmas day itself.

Many of our friends in the UK and in Europe were 'snowed' in earlier in the month and another set of storms in California and Nevada brought torrential rains, flooding and mud slides. Nature once again has shown us that we are but small players in this universe of life. 

As I sat here, looking out at the beauty that the snow had brought, there was this small voice inside that asking 'when are they going to clear the roads?', 'what appointments will I have to cancel'?  Fortunately that voice is much smaller these days than it was in my earlier years. I remember days when I just knew I had to get to work, come snow, ice or whatever.  One time I broke two ribs after a fall trying to hike up a hill a block from work. Was that one day at work worth it?  Of course it wasn't.  But I guess that's the human spirit to think that we can tame the natural world.

For me - a few days of imposed quiet within the confines of my house and yard are just fine.  For now I'll enjoy the beauty knowing that the snow will soon melt and all will be back to 'normal'.

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather". - John Ruskin

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Winter Trees"

Here is what I see looking at out the window these days!  I decided to create a punchneedle design reflecting this 'winter' scene.

Now that it is completed I have decided that enough with these drab, cold winter pieces.  Standby for some brighter colors - as bright as my 'quiet' personality will allow anyway.

Off with the blahs!  I'm thinking spring and sunshine and color!!!

"She said the object and color in the materials around us actually have a physical effect on us, on how we feel". -- Florence Nightingale


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