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.
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.
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):
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.