Thursday, October 30, 2008

Originality and a Sleeping Cat

I was talking to my friend Carole Rinard the other day about the term "original" as it applies to artists' work in needleart. I was in a show last spring where I questioned to myself the originality of some of the other fiber artists' work. In EGA there is a strict definition of original work: "an original work is one which, the from beginning, is solely the creative product of the stitcher." The spring show featured a lot of different types of fiber art from knitting to tailoring, silk painting, and lace-making to embroidery.

Some of the work was obviously original and some was obviously done from patterns. Is a piece of machine knitting original if a commercial pattern is used, but the artist changes the yarn suggested? I do not think so. There is no great leap of creativity or no twist to it that made it seem unique. If the knitting machine artist came up with her own pattern and used her own hand-dyed yarns, well that is what I would say was original.

A Bowl of Flowers

original work by SKW, mixed media

from the collection of Laura Sandison

I think it is the same with tailoring or garment construction. Sewing a garment from a Butterrick pattern even if silk is used instead of cotton is to me not original work. The garment might be beautiful to look at and might be beautifully constructed. But it is still a Butterick pattern.

It is embroidery that know best. I know that if a person stitches a picture of flowers from a chart, that is a technician stitching someone else's original pattern. If that stitcher changes the big flowers from red to blue and the little flowers she uses a thread that the pattern did not call for, that is a technician taking a flight of fancy. If that stitcher takes the pattern and puts her own design of a sleeping cat next the big blue flowers, that is still not original work--it is an adaptation. If that stitcher takes the big blue flowers, the sleeping cat, and a bunch of robins from another pattern and puts them all into a sampler, that is still not original work, but an adaptation. When that stitcher takes the sleeping cat and stitches a pillow and chair, both her own work into the picture, that is original. No one else had a thing to do with the pattern.

Silk painters use brushes silk dye and paint, and resist to paint designs on silk fabric. A lot of times they use blanks or pre-sewn garments to paint on. In my mind this is still original work. The garment blank is like an artist's canvas. The canvas itself is not the point of the art.

In lace making the same things apply. A lacer can be the world's greatest technician, but she is not an artist until she starts designing her own work. Here in Albuquerque we are lucky to have Laura Sandison and Susan Peterson who fit into that category of great technicians and great designers of lace.

Work done under the eye of a teacher is very rarely original work. I was in a Rocky Mountain Region Seminar class quite a while ago where we were given a theme and instructions in making a mixed media piece. The theme was the four seasons and we were to use transfer paints with stitching over them to work to the theme. The teacher had several examples there to show us. Everyone else in the class worked to the theme, did the transfers, and stitched her own version of fall, spring, etc. I have long been unable deep inside me to do other people's ideas, so I worked to the seven continents producing flowers that would be typical of the continents (okay, snowflakes for Antarctica.) I was happy with what I did and the other people were happy with what they did. Since then I have seen a couple of those four seasons works shown as original work. No, they weren't original. They were done under the aegis of a teacher with her theme married to her technique she was teaching. Mine? Mine weren't original either. The only difference in mine was that chose my own theme.

Originality is a unique vision of the artist, from beginning to end. Unique is starting from scratch with your own thoughts and assumptions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Elizabeth, Mary, and Bess

Did Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, have trouble matching silks? Did Mary Stuart, queen of France and Scotland (and claimant to Elizabeth's throne), worry about not having enough blank fabric around her embroideries for finishing? Did Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, worry about rough hands when she worked with delicate threads? I bet they did.

These women lived in the 16th century. It is amazing to me that they most certainly had some of the same problems as we do as we step through the door of the 21st century. These women were all embroiderers. We still have examples of their work. I love to think of the thread that stretches from us back to the royalty and nobility of the 1500's, back to the workshops and design shops of the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, back to the ninth century Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical embroideries, and surely back two millennia before that.

Elizabeth Tudor was a fine and noted embroiderer, especially in her early life. One of her pieces, worked in 1544 when she was a princess, was the outer cover and bookbinding of Miroir or Glasse of the Synnful Soul. The book was also copied out in her own hand. Elizabeth I fostered embroidery on another level. She chartered the professional embroiderers' guild in London in 1561, only a few years after she came to the throne.

Elizabeth had a troublesome cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Mary was romantic and unlucky, she loved intrigue and politics, and she was an embroiderer. She was imprisoned by Elizabeth for almost eighteen years, during which time she plotted her escape and stitched. Many embroideries have been attributed to Mary. One of the things that was certainly done by her was part of the Oxburgh Hangings around 1570.. Originally these were four wall hangings, designed and partially stitched by Mary and Bess of Hardwick. They were made of green velvet with small appliquéd emblems. The emblems were tent stitch on canvas, either square, cruciform or octagonal, and were allegorical pictures or mottoes. Thirty-four of the small appliqués have Mary's initials or cipher and are called the Marian Hangings. Of what must have been piles of needlework which she worked during her long captivity, only two other pieces are certainly Mary's, a couple of pillows in canvaswork now at Hardwick Hall.

Bess Of Hardwick, Elizabeth Countess of Shewsbury, was a famous needlewoman. She rose from being the daughter of a country squire to the second richest woman in all Britain. Her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was the "gaoler" for Mary Stuart for most of her captivity. Bess's household embraced many professional embroiderers and designers. Some of her maids stitched when they were not doing other duties. In Bess's later years, starting in 1599, she built a new residence for herself in the new "Elizabethan" style of architecture. This is the New Hardwick Hall. In this stately residence today remain many of Bess's embroideries. In fact the house is a treasure chest of Elizabethan period furnishings, accouterments, and ambiance.

The historical thread of embroidery runs strong through all of us stitchers. We still do the old embroideries and still in the old ways, one stitch at a time with a thread and needle. We still have trouble matching silks. We still have problems with rough hands on delicate threads. We are the Besses, the Elizabeths, and the Marys of our time.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Topic of This Posting is Books

In 1978 when I first joined The Embroiderers' Guild, I found myself in an active and friendly chapter that met in a church hall n Collingswood, NJ. That first meeting I attended was my second life epiphany where I found other people who were as passionate and dedicated as I was to the threaded needle. Those first years were a wonderful time for me with every day being a learning experience and every meeting having a new teacher. I was in that chapter until 1984 when we moved to Sandy, Utah, with my husband's job. The name of the chapter, now disbanded, was the Creative Needlework Chapter.

It was in that chapter that I met and had for teachers people like Jane Zimmerman who came out from California every year to teach on the east coast. Betsy Lieper first taught me crewel embroidery, the long and short stitch, soft shading, and how to do a perfect satin stitch. Muriel Bishop came from Princeton. Pauline Fischer came from New York to teach crewel on canvas. Ilsa Alther taught blackwork and Hardanger. Mary Fry came with some color studies and Ginger Di Pasquale came for igolochkoy. No one could have better teachers.

The topic of this posting is books. I can see that I digressed down Memory Lane a little. But the author of one of the books I am going to talk about I also met during this time at the Creative Needlework Chapter. Her name is Edie Feisner and she has written the best book on color that I have seen so far. As Carole Rinard and I write this Color Correspondence Course, we have looked at a lot of books on color, both old and new. Some are pretty good and some are pretty bad, but Edie Feisner's book stands out. It is called Color Studies and is a text book for Montclair State University, NJ. It is full of color pictures, diagrams, famous art, and student works. It is a complete study of the topic and very accessible. I highly recommend it. ISBN: 1-56367-213-8

Page from The Book of the Smiling Moon, an altered book by Shirley Kay

If one disregards the beads at the top, this page is a monochromatic color combination with orange plus neutrals. The splattered paint is tone of orange. If the blue beads are considered part of the color scheme, then it is a complement: blue and orange. Color combinations, tones, and neutrals are some of the topics considered in the correspondence course.

The second book I am recommending is Principles of Color Design by Wucius Wong. This little book presents color from a little different perspective than other books on color. Wong shows color in the context of design theory. The examples he shows are all his own work that are abstract designs. Because of this we learn about color from a pure and unified standpoint. This book is for a more advanced student of color, but very valuable in the understanding of how color works and how to manipulate it. I also highly recommend this book. ISBN: 0-442-29284-8

Mr. Wong has also written two books on design theory. If a person only had those two books, she could know almost all of what she needs to know about the pure theory. His books are excellent: Theory of Two-Dimensional Design and Theory of Three-Dimensional Design.

To bridge the first two paragraphs to this last paragraph, I want to mention Sandia Mountains Chapter, my current chapter of the EGA. We are also very friendly and very open to new things. Unfortunately in this day and age, national teachers are harder to come by because of the expense of traveling to such a far place. Also back in NJ we were new to embroidery and ready to learn anything and everything. Here in NM many of us have been in the EGA for three decades and more and have sampled most everything at least once. But we continue to get good national teachers, plus we have some excellent teachers within the chapter itself.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

AoE and Personal Abstraction

Yesterday, the fourth Friday of the month, the Art of Embroidery met for its organizational meeting. The Art of Embroidery is a special interest group within Sandia Mountains Chapter. We study things that are connected with embroidery, but we rarely study just embroidery. This coming chapter year, from September through May, we are looking at drawing and sketching, at patterning, and at layering. I realize that each of these topics deserve a year each, but we are having just a taste of each.
I am leading the drawing and sketching, while Felice Tapia is leading the layering. and Carolyn Bivens is leading the patterning. In other posts I have talked about the importance of being able to draw in order to be an artist. I am glad that I was able to arrange having some drawing sessions with AoE.

A Page of Illustrations

Drawing, illustrating, and sketching. I wish I had better terms for what I perceive as the differences between them. Drawing is certainly the formal and basic way of getting information down on paper. Drawing is where images are recorded as faithfully as possible including shadows, textures, and the environment of the subject. This what I learned to do in Drawing 101 I took while living in Colorado. This is what I would like AoE to practice at. Illustrating is just getting a few lines on paper to show stitches or the outlines of designs. This takes a lot less practice than drawing.

Pear & Red Teapot

An abstraction

What I term sketching is really two things to my mind. The first is rough images suitable for an artist's journaling. And the second is my own interpretation of an image in my own drawing style. My own interpretation is an abstraction not only of image, texture, and environment but also of color. Obviously I do not have the correct vocabulary for that personal abstraction.

While on vacation for the past week I made several sketches and several of my own personal abstractions. The assignment for AoE for October was to do several sketches--every day if you could manage. Of the six of us in AoE four of us are quite experienced. But practice does only good. I was glad to see that everyone tried and came up with something. Drawing can be scary: fear of making a mistake and fear of not being as good as the person sitting next to you. I know because I have experienced all of this.

Moonset 1

A personal abstraction turned into an embroidery

Jo Morris, Patricia Toulouse, Felice Tapia, Rita Curry-Pittman, Carolyn Bivens, and myself are the current active members. I can only congratulate all of us for coming to the edge and with a little encouragement jumping out and over in an effort to broaden our horizons.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tumbling Deltas

I wasn't able to get into my studio much for the last couple of days--I was busy preparing for vacation. I really miss the time spent there. In my very first post to this blog I spoke of the casita and of my just moving in to inhabit the place. That was the summer. Now we are well into another season and the situation in the casita has changed a bit.

I get more natural light this time of year. The sun is lower in the south and so my two south windows are bright most all of the day. But it is colder in there. The floors are all tile and painted cement and there is no central heat. I have no doubt that in deepest winter it will take at least half an hour to heat up the air to where I want to sit, take my mittens off, and work. But that is do-able.

In the main room I have tall steel shelves along the north wall bracing the north window. Taking up much of the center of the room are two large tables--my work top. I also have a beading desk and a small stand handy near where I normally sit that holds my cassette/CD player. The walls are hung with some unsold art. I am surrounded by my threads, papers, books, paint brushes, paints, dyes. I am very happy with that room.

A Fall Progression
I took this photo in November of 2004 outside the local library.

I have brought in the indoor plants and three of them sit on a small desk under one of the south windows. They should be plenty warm through all of winter unless we have a terrible cold snap. The plants which are in the second room give the place a nice homey feel and brighten up the white walls and floor. Also in the second room which is actually the dining room / kitchen of the casita, I have my sewing machine and ironing board out where I can reach then at all times. Very cool.

This is after several iterations or changes I made on the computer.

The red leaf on the left is essential to the design.

But speaking of the casita, I saw Viviano Herrera the other day. He was up from his son Juan's home in la ciudad de Chihuahua. Viviano is the man who moved into the casita in 2004 and transformed it from a half-garage into a whole little house. It still had a garage door on the north side, an industrial heater in the roof, and an oil smell deep in the floor. Viviano moved in and redid the garage door into a wall and window, he fixed the roof, he removed the car grease from the floor, and he painted the walls. Already there were the kitchen and bathroom in working order. Viviano lived in the casita until March of this year, exactly four years, before illness overtook him and he had to be cared for by his family. But when I saw him on Monday of this week, he was hale and well. He had come up to visit his friends here in ABQ and then to go up to Colorado to visit two more of his sons, Carlos and Indio. It was good to see him.

This is one of the final designs.

It looks like little fishes to me and diatoms in the sea.

Because of Viviano, I was able to realize my dream of a studio--a place of my own. And I am forever grateful. The studio means so much to me. I think it is a prize that I have finally won after years of service and study. It is a space deep inside me that I can go to when I tell my stories of life and dream. When I am working in the studio I lose track of time. Hours can pass so quickly that I can barely remember them. I go into another zone, another type of time. Is it the fugue of creativity? Meditation with Delta Waves tumbling around me?

This is Bouquet Salpicon from the same iteration.

The threads exactly match the red leaf.

This is a type of very modern blackwork.

I am on vacation for the next week. I will have my computer along and so will post when I can. I will also have along all my drawing stuff--pencils, paper, colored pencils, pens,--and I will draw. Drawing is another thing that puts me into my other zone. Don't bother wishing me a good time--I know I will have one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blackwork: A Master Class in Intense Pattern

Study in Scarlet
All the ways of achieving shading in blackwork

I am happy to announce that this morning I signed a contract with EGA in their Extended Study Program. An ESP is a course that goes beyond the scope of most classes and can be a deep study of one particular aspect of a subject. In this case we will be exploring patterning theory. Patterning theory is how patterns are developed, how they build up repetition. How to vary them.

I have broken the study down into four parts from basic construction to the most complex construction. But since we will be studying this one step at a time, it will be an easy progression from the basic to the advanced.

In order to do well in this class which runs in mid-July 2010 in Louisville, KY, a student has to have had at least some experience with blackwork. It is not the function of the class to teach basic blackwork to neophytes. But even a couple of beginning classes with a couple of projects under your belt and an vivid interest in blackwork should put you in good form to take this class. Of course the more experience you bring to the class the more you will get out of it.

Leaf pattern from Heartwood

I have been doing blackwork from the very beginning of my time doing embroidery. My first attempt at it was a kit I bout in Denver in 1976. It was of the three wise men and was fairly large about 14"X 18", done in rayon threads. There must be twenty patterns in that thing. It was wonderful. I was head over heels for it. And I didn't even know what type of embroidery it was. It was just labeled counted work. I joined the EGA a year or so later and found out what it was--blackwork.

A tessellated pattern from The Crazed Sampler

Since then I have studied and stitched my way up to designing and offering my blackwork pieces for sale in galleries and on-line. Check them out at And watch this space for more information on the class and my progress in putting it together.

Four Patterns from a polychrome work.
Notice the shading through use of color.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Turquoise, Cyan, and Blue

In some previous posts I have talked about writing a national correspondence course for EGA on color along with my co-author Carole Rinard. We are about finished with Lesson 1 of six lessons. Lesson 1 deals with color systems, color wheels, and color attributes. Okay, that sounds more complex than it is. Color systems are just different ways of explaining the phenomenon of color. People as far back as Aristotle have been curious about color, how it manifests, and what it is. We talk about three color systems, but basically use only one, the simplest, for the lessons.

The three systems are the Prang, the Ives, and the Munsell. The Munsell is the most complex. In the Munsell there are five primary colors, Yellow, Blue, Red, Green and Purple. With five primaries, the color wheel is ten part with the secondaries between each of the primaries. These are all numbered in the three dimensions of color: hue--what color it is; saturation--how much pigment is present in the color, for instance, a grayed lavender has less pigment than a purple; and value--the darks and lights of a color, for instance red on the color wheel is its middle value, while maroon is a darker value of red and pink is a lighter value. With all of these steps numbered, in the Munsell System any of hyndreds of color can be identified by numbers and be recognized as the same color by anyone in the world. Very tidy.

In the Ives System, the primaries are Cyan (or Turquoise Blue), Yellow, and Magenta. This sytem is used mostly in the printing industry with dots of ink, but it is also popular with some quilters, with dyers of fabrics, and with photographers. I am looking at a nifty little gadget right now called the 3-in 1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom that has about 750 numberd color dabs for matching fabrics and threads.

The third system we talk about in the color correspondence course is the Prang System or the 12 Part Color Wheel. This is the color wheel that Carole and I are using in the course. It is by far the simplest and easiest to use. This is the one that I as an artist have used for many years. The primaries are Red, Yellow, and Blue. The secondaries--colors that can be directly mixed in paints from RYB--are Orange, Green, and Violet. The intermediaties come in between the primaries and secondaries and are colors like Yellow-Green, and Blue-Violet. Using this system, the colors relate easily across the color wheel in logical ways.

Each of these color systems have their strengths and weaknesses I know people who swear by Munsell and will use no other--possibly because of the huge amount of numbered colors. I am not fond of it because it is complex and not easy to use in a quick way when I am creating. I know some quilters who like the Ives System. Those colors tend to be bright and transparent, ideal for silk dyes and paints, ideal for photography. I like the Prang. In the first place, it is what I learned from childhood and it is what I have been teaching for many years. I think it is the simplest and it shows me all I need it to show when I work. Also the Prang system has Color-Aid paper in all its brilliance to help artists. Color-Aid paper is a set of color swatches for the 12 Part.

As stitchers or scrapbookers or photographers, choose which system that fits your needs and learn it, get comfortable with it. But color is so important to an artist and a craftsman, that it bears studying. Don't be lazy about your passion.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Scholarships and a Judge

Rita Curry-Pittman phoned the other day to tell me that the program presenter for the Sandia Mountains Chapter November meeting had cancelled and could I do that meeting. Rita herself was going to be absent and needed some help. Rita is Vice-President Programs of Sandia Mountains, while I am president.

The October meeting is this coming Tuesday, the 14th of October. Jane Moses is doing part of the program. She received a scholarship from Sandia Mountains (as did I), for the last national seminar and now is pay-back time. Now let me just say one thing. I object to have to "pay back" a scholarship. A scholarship in the wider world is not paid back. I would much rather name the monies we give people for classes and other personal enrichment a grant or even a supplement. I think the word scholarship muddies the waters of the language.

But to get back to my main point: Jane is going to do part of October's program as the pay-back for her scholarship. That is good. I was going to pay back my scholarship later in the chapter year. But now it is going to be November. The scholarship program is a good one. I would venture to say that most chapters and regions have scholarship funds for members. Rocky Mountain Region has the Jody Gergens Memorial Scholarship Fund available for specific needs to anyone within the region. Sandia Mountains has a nice little fund that we award from once or twice a year, depending on the amount in the it.

I was awarded both a Jody Gergens and a Sandia Mountains so that I could go to national seminar. I am eternally grateful. Without those monies I would have been unable to go. And so November is pay-back time, probably for both scholarships.

My classes at seminar were the judging class and a class about making frogs--those sewn on fasteners for clothing. I have decided to do a program on judging for Sandia Mountains. The judging class was a revelation to me in at least one aspect: team judging. I have done a little judging in my time. Seven or eight times I have been asked to judge at county fairs, at SCA events, at a local photography show, and at local shop exhibits. In all instances but one I was judging alone. When I lived in Sandy, Utah, I had the opportunity to judge an embroidery show put on by a frame shop. The owner had three judges come in and we judged in a team. It was a very good experience. Each of us had areas of expertise and we could talk and make group decisions.

The judging class at national had us judge on our own and in groups. Once again the group judging was the better way to go. I want to give the chapter that same experience of judging. So Carole Rinard and I are gathering up ten original works for the chapter to judge. Unfortunately Carole can't be at the November meeting either. I will just have to soldier on by myself. So after introductory remarks, I am going to split the chapter into three- or four-person groups and have the groups judge the ten works on different merits. They are to choose a first, second, and third place for their particular merits. And then we will have a group discussion on those merits and choices. Sounds like fun to me. And I hope the chapter will begin to understand how judging works.

The ten original works of art will be mostly from Carole's fine collection contemporary embroidery art. I will contribute two or three pieces of my own work. It should be a first class art show (well, most of it) in addition to a good way of introducing tough judging to the group.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Autumnal Blues

Now that fall is impinging on my life it is time to look around me and see where the new turn of the year is taking me. My little studio was so much fun and so much a haven this summer. It was a little hot in the late afternoon with the sun beating down. But the tile floors are always cool. Now in the autumn the tile floors are still cool. There is less natural light inside the casita. I find it less welcoming in the coolness than it was. My two tables pushed up against each other are full of the projects I am working on. The floors have not been swept. I think it is my own mood and not the studio.

Autumn is a hard season for me. It can be glorious, but it is still the harbinger of things to come. If Autumn is hard then winter is even harder. As I age, winter, never welcomed in my life, is more ominous and arduous than ever before. The cold creeps up my body and lethargy follows close behind.

Now on the cusp of cold weather I take a look around me. First I am working on my bee book in the studio. I ran into a snag two days ago and it is taking me a little time to re-plan and regroup. I made the sampler cards that fit into the page pockets of the star book too large by half an inch. I made three of them before I was finished with the book itself and realized the size problem. I have now thought it out and have come up with a solution. I have to correct it the hard way starting over with the sampler cards making them 2.5 X 2.5 inches. Too bad.

Second, I am working on the national correspondence course on color with Carole Rinard. We met yesterday to hammer out Lesson 1. We did good work and I have several pages of notes and corrections to go through. It is always harder near the bottom of the well to look up and crawl out. At least I can work on the thing inside. My feet don't get too cold inside the house.

Third, in my head I am planning out the classes I am going to propose for the EGA 2010 national seminar. Those are due in February, so I have lots of time, maybe.

And fourth, today I am going to have to take my little kitten, Buster, to the animal shelter. This lies heavy on my heart. Everything else seems hard to do because I have this task to do first of all. I rescued Buster a week ago. He was cowering out north of the house with Cosmo stalking him. Buster was only about six weeks old and Cosmo is a sleek, full-grown male cat with claws and teeth. I had seen a new black and white cat around, but did not realize that she came with a kitten. These are cats that someone has abandoned. The kitten was starving and he loved human company. So I took him inside. I thought that Cosmo would reconcile himself to this new sweet little stranger. But I am sure this will not happen. Cosmo attacks him on sight, every time. So after a week of feeding Buster up, a week of sleeping with him, and teaching him not to use his claws on humans, I am taking him away. It breaks my heart.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Artist Within

Wednesday Group
Emily Holcomb on the left, then SK, and Karen
We did several shows together

Yesterday afternoon Karen Schueler called me just to say hello. Karen was one of the three original members of Wednesday Group (of which I have posted earlier in the summer) and the winner of the Diana Grossman Memorial Award in the 19th National EGA Exhibit. I cannot say too much about the Diana Grossman Award and how prestigious that is.

I met Karen in 1990 when I taught in New Mexico for the first time. She was program chairman and therefore set up my two classes--a Hardanger and a blackwork. I saw her once or twice after that at EGA meetings in Albuquerque. In 1992 Mike, Barrett and I moved to England for Mike's work. We lived in a little market town called Newbury sixty miles west of London. By happy coincidence Karen and Fred and her two boys were living in Oxford while Fred was on sabbatical. Oxford is just twenty-five miles north of Newbury on the A34. At the urging of Barb Scott (thank you, Barb, for a lot of things, not least of which is this meeting), I drove up to Oxford one fine late winter day.
I had been to England several times before for various reasons, but had never driven there. Driving and direction finding and stuff like that were always left to my husband. I just sat back and enjoyed myself. We had moved to Newbury in late January and lived in a hotel while housing could be arranged. But I had a car that was furnished by the company Mike was working for. After a week of getting Barrett put in infants school (the local grade school called Saint Nicholas) and of acquainting myself with the town on foot, I decided it was time to start driving. Every day for a week, a rainy, gloomy week, I drove out the back exit of The Chequers Hotel (an old inn on the Great West Road to Bath and accommodations for the famous horse race track out south of town) and into the wilds of the English countryside. The lanes and byways off the main roads are quiet, especially on weekday mornings. I learned to stay to the left, to keep my heart stout on the seemingly one-lane roads that could hold me and a farm lorry passing in different directions. I never got lost and I explored the smaller villages of Inkpen, Blue Ball, Hungerford, and Kintbury.
But none of this prepared me to drive up to Oxford one fine morning--there was weak sunshine and slightly warming temps. The A34 is a highway that comes swooping down from the north, carrying major traffic to the seaport of Southhampton about thirty-five miles south of Newbury. I got lost in the maze of on-ramps and off-ramps just getting to the A34. When I finally got on headed the correct direction, I did fine until I got to Oxford. Newbury is a medieval town that was under special protection of Henry VIII. It is a market town that was founded in the mists of time. But it is "new" town and so was not in existence when Julius Caesar was tramping around. The tiny hamlet of Speen, now a neighborhood of Newbury, was a Roman town. Oxford is an old, old town. It was there before the Romans came with their fine roads. If a cow could wander through a patch of gorse and weed, then the path it wove was called a road.
SK on the left and Karen on the right
Team-teaching at Glorieta

I really got lost in Oxford. I couldn't find the right street for Karen's house. I went around and around, asked some people, and came to the correct cross road in my directions. Finally I parked the car and got out and started walking. After two or three blocks I walked up a little street that didn't have a name on it and I found a house with the right number. I knocked on the door and Fred answered it. I took one look at him and burst into tears. It was like an English farce. At any rate, I got there I met with Karen and we struck up a friendship that has taken us through a lot.

But I want to tell you about this phone call I had yesterday. Now remember, Karen studied art at Stanford where she did watercolors and other painting media. She has been in many art shows, won many prizes for her mixed media embroideries, including the New Mexico State Fair in the Fine Arts Division which is a juried and judged show. She has been in many EGA National Exhibits. Together we have shown in several galleries and venues around Albuquerque and have even had a show in Santa Fe. Karen is one of the best mixed media people that I know of in the country--and don't forget the Diana Grossman that she won this summer.

She moved to Delaware with Fred last year in August. She joined the local EGA chapter there--the Brandywine in Pennsylvania--and she started going to their stitch groups. She was at one of those groups recently working on a complex cloth piece when one of the ladies came over to look at her work. Karen showed her and the lady said, "You must be an artist." And Karen said, "Yes, I am an artist."

On the phone Karen told me that that was the first time she had ever said it like that. For the first time she told herself and the world that she was an artist. Finally, welcome to the big girls party.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Aida is a Four-Letter Word

Three Penny Opera
Hardanger on aida 3ft. X 12"
painted with varnish and gold with cotton and gold threads

I have worked on many grounds in my stitching life and have even worked puntos in aria (stitches in air) For doing pure, beautiful embroidery there is nothing like linen. High quality linen has a sheen to it and a hand to it that is unequaled in any other ground. The "count" of evenweave fabric is how many threads per inch. So the higher the number, the smaller the holes. I prefer working on 28 to 32 count, but have happily worked on 48 count. There are tinier counts, however 48 is my personal upper limit. Glenshee is my favorite linen to work on, but I can rarely get my hands on that brand.
Evenweave cotton is pretty good to work on too. Egyptian cotton which is long staple is very soft and luxurious. It is an excellent ground. I like to work on cotton sometimes because the threads are rounds while the linen threads tend to be flatter. I truly like Hardanger done on cotton. The cotton gives it a slightly crisper look. These cottons I am talking about are the tabby weaves and look very much like evenweave linen.


Hardanger on hand-dyed cotton with cotton threads

14" X 20", I dyed this in an exhaust bath of blue indigo

Hardanger is classically done on hardanger fabric which is a double tabby. Hardanger comes in a couple of sizes, but the most familiar is 22-count. Classic Hardanger done on this looks tremendous, a hand in a custom-made glove. I like the highest quality of the hardanger fabrics. In this case price is an indication of quality. Hardanger weave and count is also available in linen for a wonderful look. But unless I am going to actually use the item I stitch, the cotton is just fine with me. You might have noticed that I use Hardanger/hardanger in two ways. The name of the embroidery from Norway is capitalized (according to EGA) while the name of the fabric it is done on is in small case.

Coleus 1

Hardanger on hardanger cloth, 16" X 20"

This was painted with Dye-Na-Flow before the stitching was done.

Aida is another type of fabric to do embroidery on and it is also the cheapest of the fabrics. It is a complex evenweave that looks like a waffle. I do not like this fabric at all. Using linen or cotton, an embroiderer generally does stitch over two threads. So a cross-stitch would be done over two threads diagonally in one direction and over two threads diagonally across in the other. With aida, a stitcher stitches over the waffle. One cannot make half stitches or quarter stitches. Aida cannot be cut nicely for Hardanger. In Hardanger embroidery, after stabilizing the ground with the kloster units, the fabric is cut away in a pattern to reveal a grid to stitch upon further. There is no possibility of this with aida. However, having said this, one of my best pieces of American-style, non-traditional Hardanger is done on aida. It was one of those things where I was greatly inspired to do a piece of Hardanger and I needed to start Right Then. The only piece of fabric in my stash that was the right color was a large block of aida that someone had given me to do some demonstrating on. So I used it. It turned out very nicely. This piece of Hardanger and one piece of cross-stitch are the only things I have done in aida. I do not like it and do not recommend it to any one but very beginning stitchers.

Another ground I have used very often and with which I am very pleased is perforated paper. This is archival stuff that normally comes in 9" X 12" pieces (though I have seen larger and smaller). It is fourteen count and comes in various colors. I like to get the white or off-white and then color it as I please. It is easy to do and the customizing can be extraordinarily beautiful. Perforated paper has been around at least a hundred and fifty years, so we know it lasts. The museums in Salt Lake City are full of paper samplers done in the late 1860s and later. Many pieces of mine can be seen in other posts in this blog.

I have worked on exotic grounds too, like window screening, paper I have perforated myself, ribbons, a steel grid. And with all of the above, from linen to cotton to paper to the exotics, I am just talking about counted work. Surface work or free surface design work can be done on these things, plus a wide variety of other things.

And the "stitches in air"--that is lace. When needlelace is done, it is done over threads. The threads are covered by more threads in buttonhole stitch, It just looks like stitches in air. Again it is the strong thread that binds us.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Watermelon, Turquoise, and Slate

12 Part Color Wheel
This color wheel I drew for a paper I wrote a couple of years ago, done in colored pencil. The "mask" or pointers point to a tetrad color combination. The colors here are at full saturation for colored pencils.

In the last post I talked about hue, saturation, and value as aspects of color. Hue is the name of the color, for instance red, blue, or yellow. In English we have only eleven color names. All the rest of the colors are descriptions of the nine. So we have red, blue, yellow, green, orange, violet, pink, brown, and gray, white, and black. So watermelon red is a description of a particular pinky-red. Turquoise blue is a tag telling us where the blue mineral was mined and named. Purple describes the dye that is extracted from a certain eastern Mediterranean mollusk. Gray, black, and white are not considered hues at all, but merely darks and lights that can be used with any hue. In a sense, though, they are also "color" words.
Saturation is how much color or pigment is in a hue. The hues of the familiar twelve-part color wheel are supposed to always be at maximum saturation. Other words used also for saturation are intensity and chroma. So a color of low saturation would be slate blue, that is, a blue with a lot of gray added. The blueness of slate blue is less vivid or less intense than the full blue of the color on the color wheel.

Pastels are colors that are less intense. Pastel crayons are pure pigments that are bound together with gum or some other adhesive. These crayons have a beautiful light translucence to them. We think of pastels as tints of hues. Tints are hue with white added, so by definition tints have less chroma than the full hue. So now think of value that we talked about in the previous post. Value is how light or dark a color is. So a pastel color, for instance baby pink, is a red hue (after all, pink is red with a lot of white added), of low saturation, and a light value. So we have described the color!

Using only pastels in an article of embroidery, say a baby sampler, can be a problem. Light, delicate colors do seem just right for a baby, but if only light, delicate colors are used, then from a distance our sampler looks like gray-pink mud. For a sampler that people can actually see from five feet away, darks as well as lights should be used.
I do a lot of manipulating of photographs on my computer. One of the things I can do is to "super saturate" a photo. This mean that light can be packed in so that our normal color wheel hues, the ones that are supposed to be at full saturation already, are really bright. I have noticed that a couple TV shows shoot all their scenes in super-saturated mode. I see this most in CSI Miami (a show that I am not fond of, but not because of the super-saturation). Saturation is fun to play with in light on the computer, but as we stitch
"Merci Beaucoup"
4.5" X 6"
This is the original saturation of colors.
with our threads, it is almost impossible to achieve. And I am sure that I wouldn't like to see a lot of my stuff super-saturated anyway. After a while it has a decidedly artificial look to it.

"Merci Beaucoup"

4.5" X 6"
A small sampler done on perforated paper with Impressions threads.
This image has been artificially super-saturated

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Bees Reprise

The Bee Sampler (completed)
The wings are still light gray.
There are thirteen types of flowers that the bees are tending to.

For various reasons I am again looking at color in order to write about it and presumably teach it further down the line. And again I am struck by the power of value in any color composition.

Value is how light or dark a color is. For instance with the color blue, baby blue has a light value and navy blue has a very dark value. Easy enough.

In color theory, any color can be described by naming iits three of attributes. Hue is the name of the color it is, red, blue, orange, etc. Saturation is the amount of pigment in any color, or how colorful a color is. Lipstick red is more saturated than baby pink. Other words for saturation are intensity and chroma. And value, of course is how light or dark the color is. So lipstick red is red with high saturation and a medium value, being neither very dark or very light.

I have heard it said that the untrained human eye can see only four values in a composition at a time--the lightest, the darkest, and two middle values. If this is true, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, then we as artists, designers, and stitchers must get the values right in order to show the composition at its best.

In an earlier post I put up an embroidery of bees. My sister, Albie Merrill, suggested that the bees wings were not dark enough and she was right. I was not seeing the design because of my emotional involvement in it. I was still "seeing" what was in my mind it should look like, not what it really looked like. Look at the two bee embroideries next to one another and see the difference value makes. I changed from a light gray thread to a black thread to outline the bees's wings.

PJ's Bees
The upper example has the restitched wings, from light gray to black outlining.
The lower example shows the original gray. Of course this no longer exists except in electrons.

My friend Rita Curry-Pittman noticed that I had the same light gray wings on the now-completed sampler. She told me to change that as soon as I could. I have not yet gotten around to it, but here is the (almost) completed sampler that I showed just in the beginning phase in an earlier post.

So I guess I have two points to make in this post. One is that value has to be carefully considered in each composition. If something in the composition is a little off, it may be that a value is wonky and needs amending. Value is a powerful force within design. The other is that most artists need a cooling off period from their artwork in order to see it unemotionally. My cooling off period can be as long as a couple of months. If I have the time, I like to put a completed picture away for a period of time. When I bring it out again I can look at it with new eyes.