I cannot begin to describe how incredibly grateful and fortunate I am to be able to do this 2-week residency in this Chateau in Orquevaux. It is beyond anything I could have imagined. I have a studio, a real studio where I can splash paint around and create pieces that are much, much bigger than anything I could have dared imagine back in my workspace in New York City. It is like being in a dream. Seriously. And here’s the thing, I’m practically in tears because I’m just overwhelmed at how lucky I am to be able to do this, to have this opportunity, to have this kind of space, to be able to create without distractions, to be able to make a mess… it really is a dream come true.
My studio for the next 2 weeks.
This is the piece I brought with me and have begun working on…
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.
As this post’s title suggests, there’s a little something for everyone, but let’s start things off with Fiber Talk!
In December I was interviewed by Gary Parr and Beth Ellicott for their podcast Fiber Talk, also available on their Youtube channel, Flosstalk. We had such a great time covering a whole variety of different topics including inspiration, finding your voice, color, color theory, art, choosing threads, improvisational stitching and life in general. Fiber Talk just released our conversation Sunday, so go have a listen. We had such a good time and I hope you will too!
You know things are difficult when my mother sends me several videos within a few days of each other. This is something she started doing when COVID hit hard this past spring in an effort to cheer all of us up. I’ve been posting many of the things she sends on this blog ever since. This last week I was the lucky recipient of THREE wonderful videos from her. The most recent is from the New York Philharmonic, a performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”
Another was this, which is particularly hilarious because many of my descendants are German and this sort of humor is exactly what we have often noticed and commented on.
Finally there’s this, which is just an amazing and beautiful example of creativity and where it can take us. If you don’t like the colored lighting shots, skip ahead to around the five minute mark and look at the other absolutely spectacular work made.
I think of color as having personality. I get a sense of colors much the way I get a sense of people at a dinner party. There are those who dominate the conversation, others who are quiet, yet have really interesting things to say once encouraged. Some people light up when seated next to someone they enjoy or are able to bond with, others prefer to ask questions and listen, but however they behave, all are interacting with each other in different ways. Color is similar.
I did a Youtube video, Choosing Thread Colors a few months ago, but as I’m always thinking about color and since color is such a huge component of how I design, I thought I’d talk about it a bit more.
When I was at Parson’s we had semester long classes on the topic of color and color theory and while I’m grateful to know some of the basics such as cool vs warm, tint, shade, tone, etc, I also think it’s important to know what colors speak to you specifically. If someone tells you, green is a soothing color, which for many people it often is, but you happen to hate green, incorporating a great deal of green in your piece may cause you to not love the finished product.
I’m all about diversity. I want my eye to travel from one place to another. I want to see different things the longer I look. I like pattern, but I don’t want to focus only on pattern. I want to see things beyond pattern. I love curved shapes, but appreciate angular shapes as well. It’s the same with color. I try to listen to the colors I’m choosing and then make decisions on what I’m hearing. What I mean by that is if I’m working on a piece that has a really bossy color such as bright red (think of it as yelling at you, “Look at ME!”) then I’m going to think about what colors I can use around it. Now maybe I want that red to do all the talking and everyone else will be listening. Then I might use a lot of neutrals, maybe a bit of black somewhere, I might add something else, but I’m not going to add another bossy color to drown the red out. I want the red to stand out. On the other hand, if I don’t want the red diva to dominate, then that’s going to change what other colors I choose. But the point is I’m listening. I’m looking. I’m observing and then I’m making my decisions based on what I’m hearing.
I love warm colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, but also love cool colors: Blue, Green, Purple. And once you start combining them you can come up with a wonderfully, fascinating mix of personalities and conversations!
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.
As I developed my idea, I added to the large shapes…
And finally when I felt I had what I wanted, I began appliquéing 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.