In the late 1980s, I started to do some machine embroidery in order to make some more marketable pieces that could be completed more quickly and thus be a lower retail price than my hand done art quilts. I was working with art consultants who were buying art for companies to decorate their offices. These companies had the philosophy that art was bought by the square foot, just as carpet was, so I needed to come up with a consistent price/sq foot price. I had just finished curating a show for the Maryland Science Museum in Baltimore, MD. Each piece in the show was 15″ (38cm) square, and I had some of the grey matboard pieces left.
For the pieces I was doing for consultants, I used white watercolor paper because of its thickness, as holes made by the sewing machine needle wouldn’t tear that paper up as it would have if I had used a thinner weight substance. Also, sewing on paper avoided the need to finish the edges of fabric by either hemming or binding the edges, which are steps I hate to do. Some minimal shading was done on the paper with colored pencils to give some contrast to the white background. I then glued the lace motifs on to suggest bushes and large clumps of thick grasses. Then, I dropped the feed dogs on the machine, so that I could then stitch vertical grass shapes and horizontal thicker lines to suggest the ground as you can see in this detail shot on the left. I also used a thicker thread for the ground, so it shows up better.
I then cut the upper edge of the whole piece of paper in curves to repeat the shapes of the lace cut-outs, and then glued the now embellished watercolor paper on to the mat board. I liked the generous spacing of the plain area of the mat board in relationship to the decorated watercolor paper, instead of having an evenly spaced area around the art work as is the usual practice. I am also pleased that twenty five years later, the glue, which was just fabric glue in stick form, has still held the paper in place and not discolored it, even though it has been hanging on the wall of my studio all of that time. I have seen some paper sculptures that have used liquid mucilage that has turned the paper brown over the years or not held after awhile and pieces have fallen off.
I’ll be writing more about some of my early attempts at machine embroidery. As I practiced, I quickly learned that you can’t do too much stitching in one area on paper, as you can quickly make a hole through it. Gluing a small piece of paper that is of a similar color to the back can cover up a hole if it’s small enough. By watching the paper carefully, I learned to see when a hole was about to happen, and to stop sewing in that area. There’s also the trick of gluing more lace motifs on top of a hole if necessary.
Watercolor paper is such a wonderful medium to work on. It’s toothed surface has a great texture to it, and allows you to build up areas to a certain extent. I hope to experiment some more in the future with this paper as there are a lot of interesting ideas in magazines these days. For me, the difficulty is trying to stay focused on a given technique and perfect it rather than scatter my attention to far afield. Still, it’s fun to play sometimes with different media and find out new ways to express yourself.
How have you experimented in different media from your usual focus? Do you have some suggestions as to ones that have become favorites of yours?
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You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com