Thread Painting – Nature Portrayed Stitch by Stitch

Warm up exercises in thread embroidery

Warm up exercises in thread embroidery

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

Thread painting, or using your sewing machine to create an image is a technique that I’ve always admired. About two years ago, I had the opportunity to take a workshop from Susan Levi-Goerlich, a local artist whose work I had always admired at the Baltimore Winter Market, a craft show sponsored by the American Craft Council. I got on her mailing list, and was excited that she was giving a workshop on an introduction to thread painting.

It had been awhile since I had picked up my sewing machine (which once upon a time had been considered portable), but I think it had gained weight since I had last used it. There was also an extensive list of materials, especially threads to consider, so I brought as many as I could carry. Then, there was the ever important photo that we were going to use as an inspiration. I chose a pic of one of my beloved Japanese irises, and fortunately was smart enough to pick one that had a single flower in it.

Photo of Japanese Iris

Photo of Japanese Iris

The first part was stretching the fabric taught into a sewing hoop that had been wrapped with bias tape so the fabric would really grab in the hoop. Instead of sewing with the fabric on top of the hoop, as in regular hand embroidery, the fabric is on the bottom of the hoop. The presser foot (machine sewing foot that is next to the fabric) is taken off and the feed dogs are lowered. (They’re the little track-like treads that help move the fabric through the machine). Then the hoop is passed under the needle, and since my hoop was kind of thick, I kept breaking needles. (I just now realized that I could have put the needle in afterwards, once the fabric in place…hindsight is always so accurate!)

Then, the needle becomes your pen or pencil, and the fabric your paper, but in this technique, the “paper” moves and the pen stays still. At first we practiced making loops and circles and then writing our names, as you can see in the first photo above.

The background of the Iris thread painting

The background of the Iris thread painting

In thread painting, you start with the background, and then move towards the foreground. It’s impossible to get every single blade and leaf in the picture, so you try for sort of a general blur for the background with a few larger, better formed elements, such as large leaves, that are closer to the viewer. You need a tremendous amount of colors from which to choose, so that you can create depth and distinguish leaves. I think that over on the left side of this photo, I was more drawing what I think the leaves should look like than what I actually saw. I got very tired, very quickly, working with just greens, so I moved on to the center section where the iris was in the photo.

Completed thread painting of a Japanese Iris

Completed thread painting of a Japanese Iris

This final photo shows how I interpreted the iris. While the flower is pleasing to look at, I don’t think that I did a good job of portraying an iris, and was more sewing what I thought it should look like rather than actually portraying what I was seeing. One problem is that the more you overlap the different colors of threads, the thicker the layers become, until you reach a point where you may have to switch to a thicker needle to get through all of the layers.

I really appreciate those who have dedicated themselves to thread painting, as just for the sheer physicality of moving the fabric around on the sewing machine for hours at a time. I imagine that the above piece took me about 15 hours to complete, and it’s only about 6″ or 15.5 cm in diameter. You certainly have to get up and stretch every so often and have good posture, or your upper back really starts to hurt. However, most art forms have some sort of hazard; I have to sand my fingertips every so often from the pin pricks from sewing on so many beads.

Have you ever done any machine embroidery or thread painting? How did it go for you, and do you have any tips to share?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.

Beaded Art Quilts in the Sky – “Sky Map”

Full View - Sky Map

Full View – Sky Map

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

Once in awhile, I get to see pieces that I sold before I knew much about photography and so didn’t have a record of the piece. That’s the case with a recent re-connection with Dr. Lisa Gordon, who introduced me to a whole new world of healing. This beaded art quilt that she bought was actually visionary art, as it’s based on a dream that I had while visiting Sweden. In the summer, Stockholm only has about 3 hours of darkness.I awoke at 3 am, looked out the window at the sparkling harbor, and then went back to sleep.

I’m fortunate that I have vivid dreams in color, and in this dream, the sky was faceted with sparkling mirrors and lines. The quality of the light that far north is much more silvery than what I’m used to here in the Mid-Atlantic of the States where light is more golden. I immediately jumped up and made a very rough sketch of the image that I had seen, which wasn’t really necessary. as I can still see what I saw that night as vividly as it was way back then.

Detail (1) of Sky Map

Detail (1) of Sky Map

This first detail shot shows some of the rich diverse materials I used in the making of this art quilt. There’s a large shi-sha mirror bordered in gold near the middle of the pic. On top of it as a star piece that I baked from friendly plastic. While the gold edges were still warm, I pressed a glass cabochon into the middle to make another shiny effect. There is a metal button that is criss-crossed with lines below the shi-sha mirror, and to the right of that is a bent waffle looking shape that I have no idea where I found it, but I wish that I had more of them. Finally, there is gold mesh stitched flat on the background to repeat the images of crossing lines that catch stars.

Detail (2) of Sky Map

Detail (2) of Sky Map

In this next shot, you can see a swirled iron-on applique. Perhaps that could be a new galaxy forming out there in space? While iron-on appliques always have a glue on the back that is supposed to be heat set when ironed, I’ve scorched some, and had some fall off. Therefore, I always sew them on to make sure they’ll stay, even though it’s hard to stitch through the glue. In the middle right is a silvery leaf earring, whose outward swirls suggested to me that energy could be emanating from a central force. Scattered throughout are flat rondelles with a finish that’s know as aurora borealis. While the beads are still being made, I can’t find them with the shiny AB finish anymore. Bead manufacturers bring out new lines and stop making some, usually the ones that I really like.

Detail (3) of Sky Map

Detail (3) of Sky Map

In the center of this shot is another gold colored iron-on applique. This one however, is in a square with the lines that circle round and round filled in with background material. However, in contrast, just beneath it, is another of those bent waffle forms made out of gold colored metal. (I love to repeat patterns in different ways across the surface of one of my art quilts). In the middle left is a “spider” looking pin, which I intended to be a starburst. To fasten it to the surface there’s a glass bead that I sewed in the middle to be a stopper to keep that swirled pin fastened down.

This piece was created in 1997, and the owner bought it before it right after it was finished, so I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile. I was surprised at how big it was (41.5″T x 39″W or 105.5 cm T x 99 cm W), as the pieces that I’m doing these days are much smaller and manageable. (Those things get heavy once you start adding on all of those buttons and beads!) I was pleased to get a chance to photograph it for my records, as it was one of my favorites and can still remember the night when the sky was faceted with lines and mirrors of light.

Do you have a favorite dream that you’ve translated into a piece of art? What was it like creating that art and do you feel that the piece turned out?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.

Leaves All Around – Art Quilt Embellishments

Enameled metal teal and white leaf

Enameled metal teal and white leaf

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

Here on the East Coast of the States, the leaves are starting to turn and fall. I thought I would show you how I’ve used some costume jewelry leaves as art quilt embellishments.

For some reason, leaves seem to be a popular shape for use in jewelry. In this detail shot, you can see a teal and white enameled metal leaf. I love the way that the teal color fades out to white, just as real leaves lose their color in the Fall. On a live leaf, the color usually remains next to the midrib, just as in this metal pin. The gold midrib and edges of the leaf pick up gold motifs scattered nearby, tying the composition together.

Gold metal leaf pin

Gold metal leaf pin

In this second pin, all in gold, the leaves have beautifully curled edges. There are  faint outlines of tiny veins in the larger sections of the leaf, while the larger veins are hidden in the folds. Perhaps this was meant to be a maple leaf, but it’s hard to tell as the shape is rather distorted. This is true, however, in nature, as few leaves, even on the same tree are exactly alike. This pin was one of my mother’s that I got after she died, and I don’t know when or on what she wore it. The glass “cathedral window” button in the lower rights seems to light up the leaf, and I like the way they look next to each other.

Stylized gold metal pin

Stylized gold metal pin

This last leaf pin is another that was my mother’s. It’s rather stylized, and seems to focus more on the veins of a leaf than on a whole leaf. It could be a conifer, or a branch from a tree that has needles, but the ribs seem too big to be from that kind of tree. I do like the spaces in it, because it allows you to see some of the fabric below (which was also from a blouse of my mother’s). A gold wreath off to the far right I use a lot, as they’re the circles from my signature “bead”, a hummingbird. The wreaths are the circles that the birds go through to attach the two ends of a necklace, but since the bird toggle has a shank, I use it as a button. (Wait for the link to load if it’s slow).

These costume jewelry pins usually have a pin that fits into a circle at the other end. When you rotate the circle, the pin stays locked in place on an outfit. However, because these art quilts get folded and unfolded a lot, the pins come undone if I don’t do the following. I thread the connecting pin up through the three layers of the quilt and put it in the circle and spin it. I then take small pliers and crimp the circle so that it can never be opened again. Then I stitch up and around each end of pin several times, securing it on to the surface of the quilt.

Leaves have been a popular adornment, from the laurel leaf wreaths given to winners of athletic events in ancient Greece to the present day as part of wedding tiaras and tattoos. Even though modern man is often pretty detached from daily contact with nature, leaf designs can help connect us with our ancient roots.

Do you have a favorite natural objects and how have you used them in your work?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.

Button Embellishments on Other Objects

 

Woven ball with buttons and shells glued to it

Woven ball with buttons and shells glued to it

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

It’s not just art quilts that I embellish with buttons. My ex-husband used to say that if it sat still long enough, it would get covered in buttons. This photo shows a woven rattan ball that I glued shells on one side so it could stand up. (Shells count for embellishments if I can get a hole through it). Then, covering the top, I glued buttons in the same color theme and voila, a button ball. I don’t have it anymore, as it was part of the downsizing process as I move, so I don’t remember who got it. It’s about 5″ or 13 cm in diameter, and was always being picked up by guests as they’d ask, “What’s this?”, so I hope the new owner appreciates it.

Gold rose hairpiece with buttons

Gold rose hairpiece with buttons

Back in the 80s, in the days of “big hair”, my ex and I would go to a number of black tie balls. I always made hair pieces to go with each outfit, and this one went with a black brocade jacket. My hair was a lot more blonde then, so the sheer gold ribbon sparkled well. The small gold roses (1.5″ or 4 cm) came from a button and bead shop in New York City. Here was one time where I did buy a lifetime supply of an embellishment, as it’s VERY hard to get a needle through the woven wire petals on the rose. It’s better to glue them, which I hate to do onto a quilt, as the glue starts to leach out after awhile. Here, on this hair piece, it didn’t matter, but if they were going on an art quilt, I would first glue them to small circles of felt. Then the felt could be sewn to the fabric and would serve as a barrier between the glue and the decorative top of the quilt.

Detail of bathroom wall

Detail of bathroom wall

This last photo shows a detail of a mural that I did on the wall of a big soaking tub in my house. The wall is about 10′ wide and 8′ tall (9.2 m wide x 7.4 m tall). It took 3 days to nail and glue all of those buttons and wooden medallions on the wall, and I needed to see my chiropractor afterwards as I was reaching above me head a lot of the time. The painted part is of a scene in Tuscany and the buttons could be interpreted as rocks, or flowers, of whatever the viewer wishes to imagine. I hope the new owners of the house like it, because of the love I put in it, and it will also be very hard to remove without redoing the entire wall. However, my bathroom wall is amateur hour when it gets compared to  the Shell Grotto on Bella Isola, Lake Maggiore in Italy. You can follow the link to see the rooms that are entirely covered in seashells and small pebbles. (Also Google “Bella Isola” to see more images). The palace was built by an Italian duke dedicated to his bride, and as you sail out to the island, it does look like a wedding cake perched on a hill. The shell rooms are in the bottom of the palace, and were completed by his sons, as they took over 100 years to complete. They gave a cool refuge from the summer heat, and since that’s when I visited them, they were indeed noticeably cooler than the upstairs rooms. Now, that’s got me thinking of a whole room full of buttons in my new place. I just hope that it wouldn’t take 100 years to complete.

What other objects have you embellished with unusual materials in your art medium?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.

Buttons Made of Unusual Materials for Art Quilts

Button made out of compressed sawdust

Button made out of compressed sawdust

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

If you’ve been reading these blogs for awhile, you know that I love buttons. I embellish my art quilts with hundreds of them sometimes. I think it’s because when I was a child my grandmother had a button jar. I got to run my fingers through them as if they were a pirate’s treasure, sort them, and string them on shoestrings to make necklaces. So the love for the little round things began at an early age.

Most buttons are made of plastic, metal, glass, or sea shells. However, the one on the left is made out of compressed sawdust. The pink center is glued onto the peach background, making the whole button about 1.5″ or 4 cm. I bought three of them at a bead show, and wished that I could have purchased more, but they were $7 US each. SInce I put so many buttons on my art quilts, I try to keep the prices down, but for a big showy one like this, I’ll spend more.

Coconut Shell Button

Coconut Shell Button

This next button is of another unusual material, at least for here in the States. It’s made of a coconut shell. I imagine that they were constructed by cutting them out of the shell with a punch, and maybe shaving off some of the backing, as these buttons are much thinner than the coconut shells that I’ve seen. The artist who painted the design on was quite skilled, as there was some shading and several of the motifs had several colors on them. Also, I feel that they were handpainted, as there were slight variations in the five that came in the set. Purchased off of eBay from my favorite button seller, Spirit Inc. The owner lives just 20 miles down the road from me, and is known for her glass buttons, but every so often, she’ll carry something different , like these coconut shell buttons.

Peach pit toggle

Peach pit toggle

Finally, this last button is one that I occasionally saw as a child growing up in North Carolina. It’s a carved peach stone or kernel from the center of a peach. Also know as a pit, it could be used after removing the fruit from the kernel and scrubbing it clean. Then one end could be carved to make a shank for a toggle for a coat. (You need shanks on buttons and other thick fabrics so that the button can go through the thicker fabric.) This is about 1.5″ or 4 cm tall, and once in a while. I’ve seen them sprayed colors and used as ornaments on a small Christmas tree.

Since these buttons are all of wood or wood-like materials, I wonder if they’re prone to insect infestations. I have had that problem before with feathers, so I’m not quite sure how to get around that issue. I do know that good ventilation around an art quilt when it’s hanging on a wall helps, but being in a closed box seemed to be the issue for the feathers. I guess time will tell, but since I’m not having children, my art is what I’m leaving behind. Besides, I’ve found that she who leaves the most information about herself, makes it easier for some future curator to document her work, so I hope that all of my buttons survive long past me.

Got any other different materials that you’ve seen for buttons? I think that people down through the ages have used the materials at hand, from bones to leather to fasten their clothes.

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.