Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Progress report

I feel I've been lingering too long over this Module, so will attempt to post regularly now, even if I just have a small amount of progress to show.  As Picasso once said, "Inspiration will come but it has to find you working."  And so I have decided not to wait until I am in the mood to work, but just to sit down and start.

When I first decided to interpret the poem in the form of four small books, an idea was in my head already for one of the books, the starfish one.  It seemed to me that a concertina book would be ideal for this, like the children's cut out of a row of dolls etc.  I made a mock up out of paper painted orange and I quite liked the liveliness of it.

Starfish book 1 -  First mock-up of starfish book

In order to make all four books work together as a whole, I followed Sian's suggestion to find some way of linking them even though their shapes and colours would be different.  I liked her idea of making all the pages from silk paper and echoing the edge stitching on each one.

When I first made the silk paper for the starfish book, I thought that the success of the shell book's pages must have been beginner's luck, because this second attempt was soft and fragile and I didn't think it would be strong enough for the pages of a book.  However, once I had painted each side with diluted Marvin Medium and let it dry, it acquired the necessary crispness.  The oversewing of the edges will stop the layers separating too.

Starfish book 2 - The silk paper starfish pages

At the same time (I always like to have some "watching tv" stitching on the go)  I made a start on the embroidered cover of the book.  I intend to make it the same way as the shell book, with an embroidered slip covering a piece of stiff card, shaped by applying some self-hardening clay to the card before covering it with the embroidery.  I have found some clay that dries to a slightly soft rubbery consistency which seems ideal.  As before, I am using stem stitch in fairly thick thread (six strands of stranded cotton).  I intend to try to portray the texture of the starfish skin with French knots on top of the stem stitch.  (Hope it works!)

Starfish book 3 - work so far

Since Wednesday is usually quite a free day for me, my 2017 resolution is to post something every Wednesday.  It will be a spur to make me keep going.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 . . . and another little step . . .

I must confess that Sian's last feedback kind of stopped me in my tracks.  I was thinking that things were going well, all major decisions made and this module was nearly done.  Instead, Sian suggested that the plain painted canvas would be a very large part of the finished composition and so should reflect some of the content of the module.  My feelings were mixed: a feeling of "Oh no, I thought I was nearly finished, now I've got lots of thinking to do, experimental samples to try, decisions to make and a lot more work to do."  At the same time, I realised that Sian was right and, as she has done so often, she had got right to the heart of my slight feeling of unease about some aspect of the project, although I couldn't think what.  I realised that a "that will do" attitude in order to get the project finished by Christmas would devalue the whole thing and that the only way to continue was to make this project the very best that I could do.

It prompted me to think again of how to display my little books.  I wondered about making a box to contain the books, perhaps in the shape of a bucket, with perhaps the first or last lines of the poem written on the spade.  The books could nestle in the bucket, perhaps on a bed of sand.  Another idea I had was for a large book with hollowed out spaces to contain the little books.  However, neither of these would use the fishing net, which I very much like as part of the whole thing.   A friend suggested using the fishing net as a hammock which could contain the little books.  That seemed a good idea too, although I didn't particularly want to do it.  However, considering other ways of displaying it helped me to realise that the picture background of sky, sea and sand was important to me as an integral part of the whole work.

So, following some of Sian's suggestions, I tried out various ideas for backgrounds, things that used some of the topics and techniques earlier in this module.  Laying the net over some drawn thread work samples made me realise that this would be too busy and detract from the net and little books.  The same applied to a large square frame which I had wrapped with string and applied paper pulp.  The latter, however, was closer to what I had in mind. - a rejected idea

I did like the look of the net over the paper pulp, although I wanted something simpler with bands to represent the sky, sea and sand.

One thing I realised was that my original canvas was too large for the size of the little books.  I tried a smaller canvas and tried Sian's idea of using bands of paper pulp.  I covered it with strips of hand made paper, some which had been bonded onto drawn thread fabric, and spooned on some dyed paper pulp as well.  I was pleased with the result. The canvas background.  (Note that the mottled beige background is not part of the piece, just the window blind I leaned it against to get the photo.)

While thinking about the background and trying out ideas, I had also been working on the first of the four little books, Maggie's shell book.  I made the front and back covers of stiff card (the back of an old pad of cartridge paper).  The back cover I covered with silk, tea-dyed silk crepe for the inside and cream dupion silk for the outside.  The front cover I also made of cream dupion silk,   I embroidered a piece of cotton  with close rows of stem stitch in various colours for the markings on the outside of the shell.  This I stretched over some self hardening clay made to the right shape and size and then applied this onto the outside of the front cover. The front and back covers of the shell book

For the pages, I tried making some silk paper and then painting it with a mixture of acrylic wax and irridescent acrylic medium to capture the irridescence of the nacre inside the shell.  I machine embroidered the wording in a dark blue metallic thread (echoing the sea).  I made each page double and bound the book as a simple signature.  I attached the pages to the book by stitching the front and back pages to the inside of the front and back covers.  This stitching (simple oversewing on the edge of the page) made the page look better and so I hand oversewed each page of the book.

17.4, 1..5 and 17.6 show various views of the completed book.  An overview of everything I've done so far.

My next tasks will be:

  • Make the other three books
  • Decide how the first and last lines of the poems will be displayed.  The first line I thought could be written in the clouds, the last on a piece of "seaweed" caught in the net.  I tried making a piece of seaweed out of silk paper but it was too fluffy to have the right texture, I think perhaps painted tracing paper - some experimenting to do...
  • Work out how to secure the net and books to the canvas board securely but discreetly.  My thoughts are running along perhaps jewellery findings so that each book could be unhooked to look at.
  • Assemble the final piece.
I'm pleased that I'm once more out of the doldrums and voyaging on once more.

Just a final thing.  I'd love to quote what the poet David Whyte says about procrastination:

is not what it seems. What looks from the outside like our delay; our lack of commitment; even our laziness may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and a central struggle with the core realities of any endeavor to which we have set our minds. To hate our procrastinating tendencies is in some way to hate our relationship with time itself, to be unequal to the phenomenology of revelation and the way it works its own quiet way in its very own seasonal and gifted time, only emerging when the very qualities it represents have a firm correspondence in our necessarily struggling heart and imagination.
… Procrastination when studied closely can be a beautiful opening to the way we are; a parallel with patience, a companionable friend, a revealer of the true pattern - already, we are surprised to find, caught within us - acknowledging for instance, as a writer, that before a book can be written, most of the ways it cannot be written must be tried first, in our minds; on the blank screen on the empty page or staring at the bedroom ceiling at four in the morning.
Procrastination enables us to taste the single malt essence of our own reluctance.
An endeavor achieved without delay, wrong turnings, occasional blank walls and a vein of self-doubt running through all, leading eventually to some degree of heart-break is a thing of the moment, a mere bagatelle, and often neither use nor ornament. It will be scanned for a moment and put aside.
What is worthwhile carries the struggle of the maker written within it, but wrought into the shape of an earned understanding.
Procrastination helps us to apprentice ourselves to our own particular reluctance, to understand the hidden darker side of the first enthusiastic idea, to learn what we are afraid of in the endeavor itself; to put an underbelly into the work so that it becomes a living, satisfying whole, not a surface trying to manipulate us in the moment.
Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition, what stops us is giving up on an original idea because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, nor let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead. To properly procrastinate is to be involved with larger entities than our own ideas, to refuse to settle for an early underachieving outcome and wrestle like Jacob with his angel, finding as Rilke said, 'Winning does not tempt that man, This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by greater and greater beings.'
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
© David Whyte & Many Rivers Press 2015

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 ... one more step ...

I have come to enjoy the quiet stitching of my fishing net.  Since deciding to try to spend half an hour each day on this task, it has become an oasis of peace and quiet in my busy life - something to anticipate with pleasure rather than  a chore.

Alternating the stitching with more creative work has also proved a successful way of working, bringing variety to my Distant Stitch work.

I have now finished the fishing net, strengthening the edges with a narrow, close machine zigzag stitch.  I am pleased with how it has turned out: soft and light and it drapes very well.

4.11.FS 5 - completed net

Alongside the stitching, I have also been working on how to compose the piece.  The net on its own will not be strong enough to support the weight of the four little books.  Inspired by a little sketchbook I had made earlier in this module, I decided that it needed a firm background on which to fix the net.

4.11.FS 6 small sketchbook

 I had a canvas, 45cm by 35cm and thought I would try this.  I painted it in bands of colour to represent sky, sea and sand.

4.11.FS 7 painted canvas

Sian had suggested that I try mock-ups of the books to decide on the best size.  I coloured pieces of paper to represent each book and used plastic coloured with oil pastels for a mock up of a message in a bottle for the first verse of the poem.

I laid the whole thing out flat on a table and photographed it from above to give myself an idea of how the completed piece might look.  When I found an arrangement I liked, I photographed it.  I have not yet decided how to display the last line of the poem "for whatever we lose like a you or a me it's always ourselves we find in the sea".  One idea would be to make a piece of seaweed from fabric and stitch the words onto that.

4.11.FS 8 suggested layout

My task now is to make the little books.  My feeling at the moment is that little concertina books might work.  I have not yet decided whether all the books will be the same type of if they will all be different.  I have many decisions and experiments ahead of me, which I anticipate with pleasure.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 continued ...

It is three months since I last posted on my blog, so I feel it necessary to recap.

I came back from Summer School in July all fired up and keen to proceed with the final push of this Module.  My best of intentions were derailed by helping two lots of friends pack up and move house, a succession of minor assorted bugs and viruses, major house refurbishment, visitors and more illness.  I completely lost my direction, enthusiasm and energy.

However I'm now fit as a flea and my get-up-and-go seems to have crept back home.   My former studio is now a downstairs bedroom all ready for a disabled guest who is coming to stay for a few days, as well as (hopefully not too much later) for Moray when he has the hip replacement surgery that his doctor says is necessary.  One of the upstairs bedrooms is now my new studio with a pleasant view of the garden and thanks to IKEA, plenty of storage and work areas.  I'm now back in harness and ready to proceed.

Former bedroom, now studio

Former studio, now bedroom
To recap, I am interpreting a poem by ee cumming:

'maggy and milly and molly and may'
maggy and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
its always ourselves we find in the sea

e e cummings

My plan is to make a book for each of the four girls, shaped as the object each one found on the beach.  The books will be caught in a fishing net, with the first and last verses as messages in bottles, also caught in the net.

4.11.FS 1
My first task was to decide how to make the net.  I thought of four different methods I could use to make the net:

(1)  Russian Drawn Thread Ground, where threads are withdrawn and the remaining bars overcast.  This could be worked in a very open fashion.

Mary Thomas's Embroidery Book

(2)  Using the technique of "gloop" from summer school.  A mixture of PVA and cellulose would be painted onto a black bin liner and then threads and pieces of fabric could be laid on the gloopy surface with more gloop added.  Once dry, the adhesive would have fixed the threads in place and the whole network could be peeled off the black plastic.
4.11.FS 2 An example of a gloop structure now applied to a painted background
(3)  Crocheting a mesh using thin string and a large crochet hook to make a very open structure.

(4)  Researching and trying genuine netmaking techniques.

The first one I tried was the Russian Drawn Thread Ground.  I first bleached a piece of window-cleaning scrim then withdrew threads - withdrawing 16 and leaving 4 each time.  I then used the withdrawn threads to overcast the bars.  I was so delighted with the appearance and fragility of the resulting structure that I decided to settle for that method instead of trying the others.  As well as being satisfying because it used the techniques covered in this module, the delicacy and fragility seemed to me to echo the  emotional state of the girls in the poem.

4.11.FS 3 fishing net

I'm currently still working on the fishing net as it is time-consuming work.  To save getting too bored and risking getting bogged down again, I've decided to spend half an hour every day stitching at the net until it is finished.  (It's more than half-way now!)  In the meantime I'll also work in parallel on something more exciting.

Today I started working on ideas for the covers of the four books.  I started with May's book " a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone".  Today I painted some paper in stone type colours, using some metallic paint and irridescent medium.  I hope to make 3-D covers for front and back by layering successively small round pieces to build up a dome shape to represent the stone.

4.11.FS 4 stone coloured papers

I have been worrying a lot about losing track while being unable to do anything about it.  It is good at last to have the time, a space to work and most of all, my energy and enthusiasm back.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 - a little bit more

I've been giving some more thought to my special book structure and thought I'd just record my ideas so far.  I still have some book structures to try from the Chapter 10 course notes and a few I've seen on the internet.  I'll try to make the content of these samples relevant to my ideas for interpreting ee cummings' poem "maggy and milly and molly and may".

I have three main areas to focus on for my work now:

  • explore some more book structures and, from my samples, select ones suitable for interpreting the poem
  • decide on the content of each girl's book
  • devise a method of linking the books that contributes to the theme

I've come up with three main ideas, which I've scribbled down in my notebook:

4.11. idea 1

4.11. idea 2

4.11. idea 3

Sorry about the untidy and scrappy writing and sketches!  At the moment I'm liking idea 2 best, I see the net as being suspended with each book clipped on so that it can be removed to read.  The first two lines, "maggy and milly and molly and may went down to the beach (to play one day)" and "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea" would each be written on a piece of paper inside a bottle, while each girl's book would contain her part of the poem along with stitching inspired by it.  I like the idea of shaped books, possibly concertina style like the little rows of paper dolls that little girls used to play with.

4.11. concertina stars

I feel happy and excited that I can see my way forward and know what I need to do next, yet have enough leeway to change my route if the work brings new ideas.  

Friday, 15 July 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 "Make a Special Book Structure Related to Media" - first thoughts

In choosing my colour scheme based on objects I picked up while beachcombing on a family picnic, the beach and the sea seems to have crept in quite unintentionally to all my work.

 It reminded me of a poem I often used to read to my Primary 6 and 7 pupils when I was a teacher.

'maggy and milly and molly and may'
maggy and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

e e cummings

When thinking about what I wanted to do for my special book structure, I thought I'd like to try to interpret e e cummings'  poem.  (He had his own eccentric approach to punctuation.)  The poem makes us think of the character of each girl and how her character influences how she reacts to the objects on the beach.  I thought it would be interesting to make a book to represent each girl and the object she found.   I had a very exciting tutorial with Sian at the Summer School when we had a real brainstorming session, discussing how I could portray each girl and how I could present the books in a way that would link them.

Since coming home, I've been thinking of how I could do this and how I could also incorporate some of the exciting new techniques we learned about at Summer School.

I was afraid I might forget about some of the ideas and so I started by having a brainstorming session, taking a sheet of paper for each girl and writing down words and ideas that came into my mind when I considered her part of the poem.




I'm feeling quite excited about this project and looking forward to exploring each book and how to link them.

I've been playing around with portraying each object through embroidery, at the moment quite literal interpretations, but some of my brainstorming inspires me to try to portray some more abstract qualities - should be fun!  I've also, when working through Chapter 10 and the various book structures I've been trying out, tried to portray the sea and the beach in general.

4.10.9 A beach-inspired sketchbook, bound using coptic stitch, which will enable it to lie flat.

A small pocket sized sketchbook, filled with pastel paper separated by tracing paper to mimise smudging.  Each folded pamphlet is stitched by hand and the pamphlets are joined by threading a machine embroidered ribbon through the stitches on the spines.  The ribbon was then glued down to the covers.  This idea could be developed further.

Fabric shapes trapped between adhesive soluble fabric on back and transparent soluble fabric on the front.  Machine stitched and then soluble fabric dissolved in warm water.  This is one of my samples from Summer School.

Another sample from Summer School.  We used "gloop", made from 10% PVA and 90% cellulose.  This was painted on a sheet of plastic before threads and  pieces of fabric were laid down (making sure they all linked) and secured by more gloop.  Once dry, the pieces had adhered to each other and could be peeled off as a new lacy fabric.  I thought mine looked like sea creatures, perhaps jellyfish.  I had some stiff paper which I had coloured in sea colours.  I glued on strips of coloured tissue paper using transparent blue Mod Podge, which I also used to give a top coat.  This, I have found, gives an almost leather-like texture to the paper.  I intend to use this piece as a book cover.

These are very early days.  I will have lots more samples to make and also lots of different book structures to explore.  However, as part of my resolution to devote more time to my Distant Stitch work and to work and post regularly, I wished to record my progress so far.  I feel as though I have taken the first tentative step on a really exciting journey!  

Monday, 20 June 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 10 (Part 1)

I thought, although I haven't yet finished this chapter, I'd better post my work so far since we'll soon be heading south for a holiday and the Summer School.

I had completely stalled with Chapters 8 and 9.  I wasn't happy with my colours, I was bored with the work, and it seemed that no amount of will power could get me going again.  So I decided to leave those chapters for the moment and re-visit them later and to continue with Chapter 10.

What a difference that made!  I decided to brighten my colour scheme somewhat and was really looking forward to making book structures.  Chapter 10 seems to have finally cast off all my winter gloom and let the sun into my life again.  I loved, loved, loved making these book structures!  In fact, I found it hard to stop, working on till late at night (through enthusiasm, not pressure).  This was FUN!

4.10.0  My little library of hand-made books

4.10.1  A simple pamphlet

4.10.2  A pamphlet construction with pages of varying sizes.  I used dyed tracing paper so that each one would affect the colour of the one on top.

4.10.3  Two pamphlets set in a longer cover

4.10.4  Four bundles of paper set in covers stitched in zigzag fashion using Japanese Stab Stitch

4.10.5  Three bundles of paper set in covers stitched as in 10.5 above, but with covers of different sizes

4.10.6  Two pamphlets stitched into a longer cover folded in zigzag fashion

4.10.7   Five signatures stitched into the spine of a cover.  Fabric was glued to the inside cover to support the stitching and for decorative effect.

I was in paradise all weekend and for once I didn't mind the amount of football on TV as I was engrossed in making books.  I particularly liked the last one, book 7 as it seemed to me like a "real" book.  Up to now, my books were just samples, more decorative than functional.  However I decided to make myself a real, functional book.  With Summer School coming up soon, I thought a small sketch book would be useful.  The pictures of it are below.  (There are lots of pictures, I apologise in advance, but I'm so proud of my baby I couldn't resist sharing them.)

4.10.8a  My finished sketchbook

4.10.8b - the spine

4.10.8c  lots of space for drawing

4.10.8d  the outside cover

This weekend was a very intensive and enjoyable two days.  While working on the books, I found that repetitive, time consuming cutting and stitching gave my mind the opportunity to roam free.  This chapter, as well as revitalising my enthusiasm, has started me thinking of the subject of my embroidered panel and I have the germ of an idea in my head.  I think that reaching this stage will enable me to make best use of my tutorial with Sian at this year's Summer School - I can't wait ...