The Wisdom I’ve Gained From Hand Stitching

The Wisdom I’ve Gained From Hand Stitching

In 2015 or was it 2016(?) things were in flux. I was re-evaluating what I was doing, where I was headed, what I wanted…  There were a number of things going on that led to this, but it was one of those moments that didn’t seem particularly extraordinary or even interesting, but in hindsight I see that it was a pivotal moment. A moment when I re-found hand stitching.

My mother taught me to embroider with crewel and a hoop at an early age. This is the Christmas creche we made together. It was while making one of those sheep that I came to truly appreciate the diversity and beauty of the simple French Knot done hundreds of times.

Christmas Creche embroidered with my mother

Since then I have gone down many paths, but the hand stitching path is perhaps the most surprising, to me.  While at Parsons School of Design I would do anything I could to avoid hand stitching. And then I discovered draping and for a time it was my new love.  Draping is a whole art in and of itself.  Cutting fabric on the bias and then draping it onto a form and manipulating it so the fabric falls in specific ways was something I loved, but it was also time consuming and I was young and impatient and so my love for draping was set aside.

Funnily enough when I moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school and before I went to Parsons my first job was in a tailor’s shop in Beverly Hills.  My favorite thing to do was to sit in the back room with the master tailor, an Armenian man who tried to teach me the fine art of tailoring.  Hand stitching hemlines and buttonholes was something I never quite mastered during my time there, but I loved it never-the-less.

Hand stitching can be slow and arduous and very, very time consuming, and it can also be meditative, serene, calming and restorative, depending on one’s perspective.  These days I find hand stitching to be all of the latter and none of the former.

A detail of my most recent work hand stitching on Pat Pauly hand dyed linen using Stef Francis threads, Painter’s Threads, House Of Embroidery Threads, Mulberry Bark from Stef Francis, Sari Cording from Stef Francis and wool roving.

When I began hand stitching again I followed other people’s patterns and instructions and while that was interesting and I learned a great deal, it wasn’t completely fulfilling. I have always gone off script and the farther I go, the happier I am.  So when I began doing what I call “Improvisational Stitching” I knew I’d fallen into something important.  Not only was I creating original pieces that didn’t look like other things I was seeing out in the hand stitching world, but it was an expression of my moods, my thoughts, the things that were going on in my life.  Hand stitching is the way I express myself.

A few things I’ve learned through hand stitching, which can be applied to the piece I’m working on, but also to life:

  • Any emotion is fair game and can be expressed through stitching.
  • Any emotion is okay and when expressed through stitching creates a vibrant, interesting piece.
  • Impatience is a frame of mind and a choice.
  • When I don’t know what to do, stand back, take a photo and get a new perspective on the situation.
  • Compare and despair.
  • Everything has its own timeline.
  • Divas can be fun, but they also can silence everyone else.
  • Diversity makes anything and everything better.
  • Rules are helpful, until they’re not, in which case, break them or ignore them.
  • Explore!
  • Be curious!
  • Engage and show up for the work.
  • Don’t squelch what makes you unique.
  • Be courageous!



Videos From My Mother and Other News!

Videos From My Mother and Other News!

First things first. My mother sent me two videos this week and both are too wonderful to not pass along.

The text within this video roughly translates to: “What an animal concert: The Cologne pianist Thelonious Herrmann came up with this unusual idea. He took his piano to the Koln Zoo to play among goats, monkeys and giraffes. Many zoos are closed due to the COVID19 pandemic. He hopes to collect donations for the Cologne Zoo. Usually the young musician travels all over Europe with his piano. He has already toured 18 countries with his project “Stadtgeklimper”. Incidentally, the music for the zoo animals was composed by himself. The sea lions seem to like it in particular!”

And then there’s this. Adorable…

And finally, I have some spaces left in the Dorset Button II workshop, this coming Wednesday, March 31st from 2-5pm EDT.

Dorset Buttons Gone Wild Part II:  Wednesday, March 31st 2-5pm EDT. $60 This includes a recording of the entire 3-hour class that you can refer to whenever and as often as you like.

This workshop is for those who’ve already taken the Dorset Buttons Gone Wild Workshop and/or have a good working knowledge of how to make a basic Dorset Button.  We will NOT be going over the basics, but instead will be going rogue, incorporating all kinds of other materials as well as changing the way we make the spokes so that you can make “tree-like” Dorset Buttons, as well as more abstract looking buttons.  

For those of you who are interested in either workshop you must send payment via Paypal, Venmo or Zelle using my email address:

My Scissor’s Case Design, but using Dorset Buttons.

I am also teaching an improvisational workshop! This is the YouTube Video I did about it, which includes a little about my design background.

Videos From My Mother and Other News!

2020: A Year in Photographs

January: Things start off easily enough. I release my Rhino Pouch and post it in my Etsy shop.
January: Created YouTube Channel: Ariane Zurcher ~ On the Other Hand.
February 20, 2020 – Posted my first Youtube video.
March: Designed and Posted my Abstract Pouch in my Etsy Shop
Found out I’d been granted a two week artist’s residency at the Chateau D’Oquevaux. All set to go in April, 2020, only to realize that wasn’t going to happen. Rebook my air travel for July, 2020 and hope for the best.
March: New York City becomes the epicenter of the Pandemic.
March: Home sewn facemasks become a thing.
And so do empty Manhattan streets in the middle of a day during the week. Pick a day, any day, the streets were empty.
March: A sobering moment when a mobile morgue parks just blocks from our apartment. NYC is unable to keep up with the numbers of people dying from COVID. Mobile morgues like this one begin showing up all over the city to contain the overflow.
April: The eerie silence of a great city in full lock down.
May: A little pandemic humor
May: And some beauty amidst the horror
June: Stores board up their storefronts in response to the demonstrations against rampant police brutality.
June: Design and release Otter Needle Roll
July: Outdoor dining transforms the streets of New York and brings a little magic to a stir crazy populous.
July: Design and release River Rocks Pouch
August: With little else to do, I continue to design, and release my Rock Gardens Bag
August: Celebration of my 60th Birthday on our roof with a couple of socially distanced friends.
September: Visiting an empty Highline
September: Design and release eyeglasses case.
October: My improvisational stitching idea continues.
October: Design and release scissor’s case.
October: A bike ride heading downtown.
November Humor
November: Fall in New York City
December: A little snow in New York City
Finish second improvisational stitching piece: “Perseverance”
December: A quiet Christmas.

Happy New Year!

Videos From My Mother and Other News!

Power Struggles

Above is one of the images my teenage daughter sent me saying that she wants to dye her hair pink. I don’t have a problem with that, except for the fact that her hair is already pretty fried from having gone platinum (like Gwen Stefani) for years, and only in the last year plus has she agreed to get highlights, (less damaging) instead of full on platinum. Even so, her hair is not in good shape, we just had to trim it again, and I worry that it will get even worse if she goes pink. So we discussed. And then we discussed more, and there was alot of disagreement, interrupted by watching You Tube videos of a number of young girls dying their hair various shades of pink and how they did it. Some were incredibly compelling and I wavered between thinking maybe I should dye my hair pink, to sternly telling myself this was an idea I would quickly regret and reminding myself to get back on track as this wasn’t about ME, this was about my daughter and how could I best support her without her doing something that might just destroy what was left of her hair. Not my body, not me, get out of the way…

Last night I barely slept. Because this is just the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. And yes, I was aware, at 2AM that I was incredibly fortunate to be thinking about my daughter’s hair color and not something actually serious. I even said a silent – thank you – to the great unknown. And then I remembered that when my son was my daughter’s age he went in for some serious ink and came home with a massive tattoo that he now wants to have removed. I didn’t love that tattoo, though I rather like a couple of the others that he got, but again, not my body, not me, get out of the way…

My job is to support my children, now almost adults. This is easier said than done, however. I figure it’s my job to give them good information so they can make, hopefully, great decisions. Unlike my own young adult self who made a series of questionable and even very, very bad decisions! (I will spend the remaining years of my life apologizing to my mother for what I put her through.) But mostly I need to not engage in anything that starts feeling like a power struggle, because, in the long run, I’m not going to win, and anyway it’s ultimately counter productive. Again, not my body, not about me, get out of the way…

All of this got me thinking about designing (see, I told you my thoughts ricochet like a pin ball during the wee hours of the night/morning) and how similar these kinds of challenges are when designing and stitching. Often when designing I begin with a sketch. Sometimes that sketch evolves, but other times it’s simply the starting point. I have to be willing to let go of the initial idea. Some ideas are definitely more bossy than others. I have to go with where the design leads me, sometimes down unexpected paths. But most of all, I have to get out of the way…

Below is a sketch of a bracelet idea I had using 18 Kt Gold and a variety of green colored gemstones.

Preliminary Sketch for Bracelet

That idea eventually turned into this 18 Kt Brushed Gold Bracelet with multi-colored Tourmaline.

18 Kt Brushed Gold & Tourmaline Bracelet

Below is my sketch for what would finally become my Cookies Delight Quilt. The Pattern for this has been written and I’m just waiting on a couple of things before releasing it as a PDF with detailed instructions on how to make and stitch it.

Cookies Delight Sketch

My Cookies Delight Quilt, using Sue Spargo’s wonderful techniques for layering and stitching, free motion quilted and bound!

Finished Quilt

This is the preliminary very rough sketch I did for the piece I’m currently working on, which was begun in a workshop I took a few weeks ago with Sue Spargo.

Landscape Sketch

This is where it’s going or maybe I should say leading me… I am definitely having to follow this one as it’s careening off the original path I’d set out on. We will see! But that’s also part of the fun – seeing where it goes and doing my best to follow.

Landscape Piece in Progress

I’ve convinced my daughter, for now, to get highlights (compromise) and we’ve bought a “pink conditioner” and will apply that this weekend! Who knows where this may lead?!

Videos From My Mother and Other News!

But is it Art?

This is one of those questions that guarantees the page will remain blank, the canvas untouched, the design wall bare. This is a question best left unasked. It’s like asking, “Do I look fat?” Whatever the answer, it will do nothing to placate the nagging doubt. Ask 100 people how they define “art” and you will receive 100 different answers, and anyway their definition likely is not yours. Getting caught up in what is and isn’t “art” is pointless and ultimately not helpful when it comes to creating. Or so I keep reminding myself. Still, these are the kinds of questions that lurk in my mind, sullying my ideas before they’ve even made it out onto the wall or page.

Yesterday I returned home from a week in Ohio where I was lucky enough to be with a terrific group of women all there for a workshop with Sue Spargo. Sue developed an original way of working with hand dyed felted wool; creating layers using other fabrics, ribbons, velvets, cotton, linen, wools and then applying embellishments and stitching to create yet another layer, before machine quilting. Her work is exquisite and unique, and while many have taken her techniques to use in their own creations, her layering and designs are easily identified as “Sue Spargo”. So much so that I began using her name as a verb and noun, as in – “this needs to be Spargoed up” or “I’ll just add a little Spargo to it,” or “once I’ve Spargoized it, I think it will be finished.” All of which meant that whatever it was, it needed layering, embellishing, more, more, more!

My dilemma has been that because Sue’s style is so utterly unique, it is difficult to use her techniques and do anything that doesn’t feel to me like something she’s already done and done much better than I ever could. As a designer/artist, I don’t want my work to look like someone else’s. When I began designing jewelry, my cousin’s wife, who had started a jewelry business and was designing stunning pieces, had a huge influence on me and in the beginning the things I designed, looked a lot like her work. However, over time, I began to find my own voice and my work became more and more unique to me and my vision. This is what I hope will continue to happen with the things I am designing, using fabric and stitching. I have to trust that over time, just as with my jewelry, I will create things that look more and more like my own creations and unlike anyone else’s.

Last week’s workshop began with the idea of a landscape. As I thought about what I wanted to create, I incorporated some of Sue’s son, Jason Spargo’s gorgeous hand dyed wools, for the sky, moving into more sunset like colors, to greens and earth tones. But first I began with a very rough sketch.

A Sketch begins
And it continues…
My initial sketch begins to take shape

As I developed my idea, I added to the large shapes…

Adding layers

And finally when I felt I had what I wanted, I began appliquéing everything down…

Stitching everything down

Now I will begin stitching using a variety of threads and stitches. As I look at it, I am thinking I need to add something to the right hand side as it’s looking a bit claustrophobic. It is likely that this will become quite a bit larger than its current 18″ x 26″. This piece is still very much in its adolescence. But is it art? I don’t know and I don’t care. It is in the beginning stages of a much longer, wonderful, and thoroughly enjoyable process that I have only begun to explore. Asking that question ruins the process and makes me want to tear everything down in an effort to pursue some elusive enigmatic goal that I may never realize. Someone once said to me – “Start where you are.” And so I am.

The journey continues!