City and Guilds Completed!

Last week I received in the mail my City and Guilds Level 2 Certificate in Design and Stitched Textiles. It was a long journey from the beginning in 2016. It was an amazing, enriching, challenging course that I throughly enjoyed! I learned so much about stitching and textile design. I learned to push the boundaries of my creative work and express myself through my work.

There are two pieces that I produced for my final project that I haven’t shared with you, my readers. These are not my usual embroideries of pretty flowers worked in silk and gold or Bayeux Tapestry scenes or Crewelwork pieces with many different stitches. These are pieces about my experience with breast cancer.

These are pieces from my heart, from my soul. If you choose not to look at them because you may find them upsetting, unsettling or difficult to see, I understand. However, if you want to see how deeply this course changed what I’m able to do with thread and fabric, then you may want to take a few minutes to look. If you had asked me even 16 months ago if I thought I would ever produce something like these pieces I would have said absolutely not. Never.

For the first time, stitching became more than a peaceful place to reflect or withdraw from the world for a while: it became a place where I could confront fear and uncertainty, where I could rage and recover.

I want to thank my tutors Tracy A. Franklin and Julia Triston, for guiding me through the process that helped me find another way to make textile art.

The felt book, below, contains pieces I embroidered by hand during the time I was diagnosed, making decisions about treatment and undergoing surgery and recovery. Each piece was embroidered in hand (not in a hoop) and the soft, felted wool and wool threads felt comforting in my hands.

 

The videos, below, are the front and the back of the second part of the project, an accordion book. During the entire time of diagnosis and treatment my daughters were texting (and calling and visiting) every day. Their love, support and ability to listen to their mother talk about things that were frightening was amazing. I printed some the the texts and fused them to the back of each page.

 

Here is part of what I wrote in my evaluation;

“When I step back and look at the two pieces I made for this project, I am proud of both. The hand embroidered pages that make the first book are reminders of a very difficult (but mercifully brief) time. The machine embroidered accordion book is far more powerful and I feel speaks to a larger audience. It isn’t as personal. It expressed uncertainty, fear, rage, sadness, healing and recovery.

I wouldn’t change the act of hand stitching as therapy. It is, and always has been, a place of quiet for me. However, the machine embroidery on a larger scale is a first for me and allowed me to approach my experience and put it into art. This process was painful. It was the most “honest” piece I’ve ever done and the most personal.

There isn’t anything I would go back and do over – except never get cancer.

Most of my work is inspired by history and I’m very comfortable there. This work was inspired (or propelled) by my experience and the process and outcome are very different from what I’ve always done. I liked it, even though it was difficult. And I am proud of, and like, the work I’ve done.”

Unbelievably busy!

It just can’t possibly be September yet! The summer has flown by and I’ve gotten some, but not a lot, of embroidery time.

We had family for just under a month staying with us from all over and loved every minute! I got some stitching done and finished a project I’m teaching to the lovely members of the Quinsippi EGA in Quincy, Illinois at the end of September.

This is a new crewelwork piece I designed just for them called “The Queen’s Pomegranate”. It was inspired by the emblem of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.

The design changed some as I worked up the model. I was really unhappy with how the lower leaves looked when I stitched them as illustrated in the drawing, above. My initial idea was to have satin stitch on the bottom half and seeding on the top half but that was a non-starter right away. Not enough color or texture in relation to the rest of the piece.

The next rendition of the lower leaves was to use the same techniques I’d used in the crown – namely stem stitch and French knots. That REALLY didn’t look good – too busy!

I let the first stem stitch/French knot sit while I worked on the turned over leaf which I decided to work in long and short shading. When it was finished, I was very happy!

As it turned out, shading was the perfect answer. Everyone who’s seen the pomegranate comments first on the shading – ‘Ooohhh, I love those leaves!”. Obviously it works!

Along with embroidering the model, I’ve been working hard with my graphic designer on upgrading my kits. I am so excited to show you what the completed kits will look like! However, I’m going to let the members of the Quinsippi EGA Chapter see them first. The one thing I’m most proud of is that the kits will not contain disposable plastic.

If you belong to a group who would be interested in having me come to teach, just let me know via email at kathy “at” theunbrokenthread.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Nelson Museum of the West; textile ornamentation

You can imagine my delight on the third day of our four week trip we visited a museum that had ornamented textiles in the collection! I had no expectation of seeing any embroidery other than the “I, Bathya” sampler during the workshop at The Attic in Mesa, AZ, with Nicola Parkman. We were traveling to rest and renew. Whatever came our way would be interesting and we had few definite plans. Don’t you love it when something delightful happens unexpectedly?

The Nelson Museum of the West is in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Firstly, we loved Cheyenne! The people are friendly and the town itself is charming. On the last morning we were there, we visited the museum, hoping to learn more about Native American culture and the settlement of the western part of the USA.

The Nelson Museum of the west is a private museum. To quote from its website:

“The collection itself was designed by our Founder Robert L. Nelson to show visitors a broad spectrum of our older western cultures.  Cowboy, Charro, Art, Native American and Military aspects of the west were carefully studied and needed artifacts put on a list for acquisition. The collection grew through the 1970s, 1980s and in 1998, the museum was opened to the public. Many Collections are very deep. Our collection is very wide!  Each spur, saddle, firearm and artifact was added to the collection for a purpose. Each was added to make the story more complete. At this writing and including the 4000 book library, the collection totals over 14,000 items.”

We didn’t know what to expect, but had heard that the collection was special. We weren’t disappointed! Of course, my favourite exhibits were of ornamented pieces of clothing. The first exhibit in a large, well lit glass case included a display of quillwork done by people from the Plains tribes, many done by the Sioux.

I was struck by how similar the motifs on the vest, above, are to embroidery found on vests and coats from Europe! Flowers, leaves and vines in beautiful colors adorn this vest.

Close up of quillwork vest

Here’s another vest with different designs and colors.

Another Santee Sioux vest

I know absolutely nothing about how to do quillwork. Naturally, I looked it up and found numerous articles about the technique, the meaning of the motifs, how to process and dye the quills…the information is endless.

This technique is unique to North America, so far as I could discover. Porcupine quills are used and the work was often done on rawhide, as you see on the vests, above. Apparently, it could take up to a year to finish a complex piece.

Many of the sites with information also sell quillwork. Here is one site that has good information with minimal advertising: Quillwork: A Vanishing Native American Art

When commercial beads became widely available, Native Americans stopped using quills and began to use beads. The designs can be similar but the time involved to produce a beaded piece is far less than for a quill worked piece.

The saddlebag, below, is heavily beaded on rawhide. Notice that the designs of both quillwork and beading could be worked in satin stitch. If one imagines each row of beads or quills as satin stitch, it’s easy to see how these designs could be worked with thread on fabric.

One of my favourite pieces of beading was the little doll, below.

In addition to the Native American pieces, there was one piece from Mexico that caught my eye.

In one display case full of Mexican artefacts, I spied this beautiful sombrero covered in goldwork and “jewels”.

The workmanship is just fantastic! Note how beautifully every single piece of gold thread lies flat against the felt of the hat.

Just imagine how it must have shown and sparkled in the clear, bright sunlight!

How lucky to have found such beautiful pieces by accident! Have you ever come across something you didn’t expect in the textile work, in a place you didn’t imagine you would find it? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!