Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wasatch Chapter and Certification

In 1984 our family of four was peaceably living in Cherry Hill, NJ and I was attending the Creative Needlework Chapter which met in Collingswood NJ, just a fifteen minute drive away. It was that year that Mike asked Unisys if we could transfer out west to Salt Lake City. It sounded good to me--another adventure in life. Little did I know how much that move would change my life. The Creative Needlework Chapter was a wonderful chapter. We had fabulous teachers both locally, from the other coast, and from points in between. The big needlework teachers back then just itched to come to the east coast around NYC to teach and make their reputations. I had been teaching professionally for about two years and had even taught at one National Seminar--I had gotten a taste of what could be. But I was a mountain-west girl. I longed for open space and open skies that were bright blue.

We moved to a nice house on the side of a mountain in Sandy, Utah. I put PJ in the local high school and found a preschool for Barrett, then went looking for the local shops and EGA chapter. I found a mint: good shops and the Salt Lake Needlepoint Chapter. This was early in 1985 (we had moved over Christmas) and I was an ambitious stitcher. I thought I could fit right in to the local groups and get on with stitching. But I was wrong. Salt Lake had a different way of doing things, both the city and the chapter.

The move to Utah was just as hard as the move to NJ, culture shock, a different way of doing things, outsiders were not always welcomed with open arms. And I must admit as I look back, I had an attitude. I had just started the process of EGA National Teacher Certification and so was pretty full of myself. I was just in from the east coast, had lived within that magic circle of EGA that surrounded the then-national headquarters in New York City. I was certainly god's gift to SLCNC.

Well, there was more to this than just my attitude. The SLCNC was operating under two charters--one from EGA and one from ANG. A thing specifically forbidden by both national organizations because of the complications with the money and the IRS. But in Salt Lake City things were done differently, as I have mentioned before. Instead of being a sweet team player and just attending meetings, I turned activist. There was a powerful clique running the chapter. It was those four or five who held the offices and made the decisions about who would teach, what would be taught, how we spent the money, etc. One lovely spring afternoon, I gave fair warning to the ringleader and told her I was going to write national EGA about this whole mess.

At the next meeting of the chapter, it was announced that SLCNC was giving up the EGA charter and swinging wholly over to the American Needlepoint Guild. I had two friends to whom I had already talked, Sherry Gates and Mary Repola. At that meeting, I stood up and announced that we three were starting a new EGA chapter that would start meeting informally right away. The deed was done and I did not ever write to national about the charters.

Both Mary and Sherry moved out of Utah before the new chapter formally began, so I started Wasatch Chapter of the EGA on my own. We first met in January, I believe, of 1986 with enough members for a president (me), a program chair and vice-president, a secretary-treasurer, and a newsletter person. There were about ten of us in all. We were off and running.

Meanwhile I was having other problems. I was struggling with the certification process. This was supposed to take from one year to eighteen months. It was a series of six parts that had to be passed satisfactorily. I was a good teacher, I knew that. But I couldn't seem to please the east coast certification group with my embroideries. I had to do nine of them in nine different techniques of counted work. As always, I did original work, some times startlingly original. And this was the problem. The Certification Committee suggested that I quit certification (I had done about half of the parts successfully) and take some time to study more about the classic way of doing the counted work. I protested vigorously and wrote a letter to Rosemary Cornelius, the head of the committee--it was not she who had suggested that I quit. I told her that I knew I could pass this, that all she had to do was to send me detailed instructions for exactly what they wanted for each embroidery.

Rosemary was a wonder. She told me that from then on she was to be my mentor (before that my mentors had changed with each part) and that we would try this again. I still have the papers, the fabrics, and threads she sent me tucked away in my stash. I passed in just over eighteen months, in December of 1986 and was presented my rose in Parsippany, NJ in the fall of 1987.

It was an exciting time of life with adversity and struggles all overcome by hard work, persistence, and a little guile with the SLCNC. In 2000 after working for five years I got my second certification, my master certification with EGA: Graduate Teacher. No one questioned my original, outre embroideries then.

Just remembering this whole struggle makes me smile.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heat and Destruction

Worm Tracks, Star Fields 4
velvet appliqued onto wool
this has a lot of beading
from the collection of Kathleen Weston

Art of Embroidery is meeting this coming Friday, the 5th of December. Normally we meet the fourth Friday of the month skipping December because of the holidays. But we like to get together and get on with stuff, so we elected to meet early in December, just two weeks after our November meeting. We are a group of five who study things beyond the stitch, like design and sketching, plus many other things. At this meeting we are exploring layering. Felice Tapia is leading the meeting with her ideas on layering stitches, something that I have not worked with very much. I am eager to see what things we can come up with.

Aldebaran: the Follower, Star Fields 2
wool appliqued onto velvet
from the collection of Mary Kircher
Layering that I know more about and that I love to do is what I call Heat & Destruction. I originally learned some of the the techniques from Jean Littlejohn, an English fiber artist who, along with her partner Jan Beaney, is top in the field. Then I added a few things of my own and developed my own style of work that suits me very much. So far I have done three bodies of work in H&D, plus many more solitaries, Burnt Offerings, Star Fields, and Holyoke/Holywell
I start with a tough ground fabric--artist's canvas, upholstery fabric, a heavy silk, or something of like nature. My first layer is almost always three-dimensional paint that I dab on in my chosen composition. I take my heat tool which heats to 650 degrees and I pass it over the wet paint, making it boil and bubble away. Sometimes the color of the paint changes a bit too. Over this I put a layer or two of nylon netting, smooth or rumpled, in one or two colors. I either stitch it down or I dab more paint on top to hold it in place. And then I melt most of the nylon away with my heat tool. This work as to be done in a well-ventilated area. I keep layering with different colored paint, and different fabrics. I heat them to melt them, scorch them, or merely to warp them to form a surface like no other surface in embroidery. Then I start stitching. Sometimes the needle is hard to get through the resulting surface, but never impossible. At this point too, I might add beads or other found objects.

Heaven's Tree
there is very little stitching on this one
artist's collection (still for sale)

When I work directly on stretched artist's canvas, I clean up the surface, do some more stitching and beading getting it like I want it, I sign it, and it is ready to go. When working with some of the other fabrics, if I have enough of it to pull around the edges of artist's stretcher bars and lace it, I will do so. In the case of silk or similar fabrics, I will get a stretched canvas, paint it a good background color, and then applique the finished surface to it.
Mab's Flowers there is thick layering on this with many meltings
from the collection of Laura Sandison

Depending on the amount of stitching and beading I do, a piece of work can be finished in as little as two or three days. Some of the more elaborate pieces take up to a week. It is important for me to finish these works quickly. These are the works I sell most often because they are fairly inexpensive compared to work that is pure embroidery. I like to do this work precisely because it is fast. My big embroideries can take up to three or four months to do. I work at embroidery only three or so hours a day. Anything more is too hard on me. But the H&D, I can work on longer. It is a more active process. Also I can work on two or three at a time--if I did that with embroidery it would take me a year to do four big pieces. I like that I can start, come to a middle, and see an end in just a few days.


Beading with H&D

This one took a little longer because of the beading

from the collection of Kathleen Weston