A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Letting go

Penny again here.  As I talked about in my last post, the drawing class I took several years ago taught me that letting go of control could yield interesting and beautiful results.  But even though I went to the class with the intention of applying it to stitching, nothing much happened on that side of things.  I knew I wanted to do something different, but had no idea of how to go about it.  Then came Dorothy Caldwell's "Human Marks" workshop in May 2013, which opened up a whole new arena in stitching for me.  I have written about the week at the workshop and about work influenced by it in my own blog.  Some of the photos below also appear in that post, but have added new reflections here, focusing on the notion of "letting go."

A number of the exercises in the workshop were directed towards opening oneself up to chance or accident, encouraging us to pay attention to what was happening under our fingers, even if it wasn't intentional.  Here are two new directions in my stitching, both stemming directly from the workshop.

Blind stitching
The photo below shows the results of a blind stitching exercise, where Dorothy would read out a word, and the students, blindfolded, were to make a row of stitches with that word in mind.

When I took off my blindfold, I was enthralled with the second row from the top, made with the word "dialogue" as the prompt.  (I intended pairs of stitches, but sometimes I couldn't remember whether I'd done one stitch or two, so sometimes ended up with three stitches together.)  I asked Dorothy, "If I want to do a stitch like this again, do I have to be blindfolded?"  She answered no, likely not--a good thing, as sewing with a blind-fold on was not something I'd be eager to incorporate into my practice. Looking at the work as it develops is one of the joys of hand-sewing.

Last fall, I tried out the stitch as one included in a sampler piece (more on this piece here):

It is not as "loose" as the stitch done blindly, but that's fine--I like it very much as it is, perhaps even more than the stitch done in the workshop.  I think of it as my "conversation" stitch.

Looking at the back
One of the major lessons I took away from the workshop was reinforcement of the idea to slow down and look carefully.  To be open to accidental beauty.  To look for serendipitous adjacencies/relationships (this last most in play when we were making our small books, looking to arrange pages with interesting juxtapositions).  For example, on one of my cloth-book pages, I sewed a trapezoidal piece of fabric I had brought with me.

But when I turned the page, I found I was more enchanted with the line of stitches that showed on the back:

Looking at the back came into play when I turned to a large quilt that had been lined up for machine quilting for some months, but I had been unable to make a decision about the quilting.  It struck me that  my "conversation" stitch--could contribute to the meaning of the quilt, which is about regret--a state of mind that has much to do with conversations, missing or gone astray.  And that sitting with the quilt on my lap for the months it would take to hand-quilt it would be more therapeutic for me than machine stitching.  (More on this quilt here.)   I started by making the stitch in irregular rows in the upper right black figure (charcoal thread on black fabric).  When I looked at the back, I loved the irregular dot-dash lines that were created, and decided to use that as the main stitch on the rusty/red/orange background sections of the quilt.  So, for those sections, I am stitching with the back of the quilt facing up, making the conversation stitch onto the back.  In this photo, you can see the conversation stitch in the black and it's "back" in the background (this shows about a quarter of the whole quilt):

Here's the back side, showing stitching from the top right and some background:

And I've also varied the stitching on the front by sometimes doing the stitching from the back as a random seed stitch rather than in rows, which yields the stitches on the bottom right on the red side.  (This is a lot less confusing if seen in person!)

When my friend Mary Beth was visiting a few months ago, she asked me how it felt to do the more improvisational stitching--did it take more attention/thought than a standard, regular quilting stitch, or less?  Interesting--it actually takes more, and I find this to be true of making compositions improvisationally as well.  There is an early stage when the point is not to think so much, to let go of concentrated intentionality.  This is what generates the free-form stitches or compositions.  But once those elements are in place, and one wants to repeat them or work them into a composition, one has to think about it.  In repeating the conversation stitch, I had to take care to make it not regular.  After months of repeating the stitch, it now comes pretty naturally to vary it without thinking.  But there is still more conscious thought involved.  It's different from the kind of meditative state that I am more likely to enter if doing a regular, repetitive traditional hand-quilting stitch.  I like both.

My last post is scheduled for later this month.  In that post, I'll talk about techniques, tools, and materials (including the thread that I hand-dyed for this last project).


  1. Thanks Penny. Following you though your thought process was very interesting as was perusing your blog. I have now subscribed.

  2. You're so right about it taking more concentration to make a piece that appears random. I love the idea of practicing blindfolded to achieve more randomness. Thanks for the post.

  3. Goodness. You have changed the way I will be trying to express myself in what I create. Not sure I have the passion to be an artist. But I'd like to express myself and to try to be. Thank you


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