Because I am not a painter or photographer or sculptor, I often feel like I have to explain my art. Some dismiss what I do as arts and crafts. No, this is art as much as anything.
I use different media from many other artists, but it is not to be dismissed as arts and crafts. However, I believe much of those genres are beginning be looked at as a different kind of art. I think these arts are still considered ‘lower’ because it is traditionally women who do them and they tend to fade away unknown (in mainstream art too). I suspect that photography went through a similar need as some photography did indeed become art.
Humans and some animals create with what is available. For me, what is available includes fabric, yarn, thread, buttons, random things like tiny figures or shark vertebrae, coins, keys, hardware. Of course I shop at Value Village and the Grandmother to Grandmother sale, among other places. Some people give me things. In fact, it all started with a gift of three bags of tapestry yarn and then a metre of aida cloth. In the past I followed directions or did cross-stitch kits. However, now I was on my own and off I went.
My small living room has become my studio. I sit in my comfortable chair by the window going stitch by stitch as I have TED talks or movies going on my laptop. Instead of paint drops, there are bits of thread inadvertently tracked all over the house. I live alone, so I can tolerate the bits for a little while.
Another medium I often use is buttons. Buttons may seem humdrum but they can be a visual and tactile medium to work with. Thye come in different hues, they vary greatly in size within a limited spectrum, they are made of different materials and styles, and especially if they are in grandma’s button box, they may remind us of certain times. I have made complete pictures with them and I often use them as additional parts of a piece.
Ideas flow out of me, not only for shape, but also colour or texture. If I am already working on something else, I may jot down the name or phrase I was thinking of or do a little sketch. If I have laid something out (for example with buttons), I take a photo of it. I may change it anyway, but I have a guide. In the past I did not sketch anything on the fabric. Especially the bright landscape gardens were done organically from the water to the sky. And of course the geometric ones are often decided by how much of a colour I have. Once I decide a colour, I am committed because I do not aitch over and rarely tear out. Also, although my stitchery is limited to the sort of geometry of the cloth (the stitches go on an angle), I am learning to let the colours flow. It is not like the more physical movement of painting, particularly since it is stitch by stitch, but when I am doing a block of colour, I can go with it.
My background is very different, which affects the ideas that do come out. I have done some Turkish patterns andd a couple of Japanese ones (cultural appropriation alert). Some of the pieces are inspired by the art around me, a very common theme here in Ontario. Sometimes I feel like I am turning my environment into stitchery. I have done the oak tree in front, the first snow, the view of the column outside my window. I have made kind of fairy landscapes. Some are based on a real thing, such as a butterfly, a tiny figurine, my young face.
Recently I got into a heart metaphor fixation and made several pieces based on things we say – half hearted, empty heart, black heart, etc. it is actually amazing to see how many metaphors we use with our hearts. When I tell people what I am working on, they add more. Sometimes I have to explain (for example the heart attack). I think about my own heart as I make them, as I have experienced most of these metaphors. Above you can see ‘Stalwart Heart’, ‘Heart Burn’, ‘Purple Heart’, ‘Empty Heart’, ‘Heart on Sleeve’, and ‘Pure Heart.’ And there are more!
At the same time, I have been making what I call fancies. They incorporate old handkerchiefs and some tatting I found in with some thread. They are more delicate than my normal stitcheries.
I am naturally a thrifty person and I hate to waste things. I recycle and compost and pass on. So I also use up colours and the little end bits of fabric. Those become necklaces, bandeaux (like bracelets), wee pieces or window decorations, pins. I wear a bandeau most days and I love the softness of it. One person bought my favourite necklace right off my neck! The final little bits and the yarn labels I save to make a palette, like painters often do when their palette is full. It is beautiful because of where the painter used these particular colours. Even the very last little bits of thread charmingly tracked through the house get composted when I empty my vacuum cleaner.
Framing is an issue. Traditional frames make a piece more officially ‘art’. The woman at the framing shop is good-natured about stretching my pieces to fit a frame, but in general, it is a rather expensive way to outline my pieces. As a result, for hanging pieces I often use fabric to frame them, with a dowel to hang them from. I also frame seat pads and pillow covers. It fits better.
So yes, I can say I am an artist. People are not used to fibre art, I think, and the style and intent are different. My pieces are unique and I incorporate many ‘found’ things. I want my work to be touched, because it is not only the colour to be seen, but often the texture to be touched. Most things can even be gently washed.
So there it is. See, touch, wear, or use one of my pieces today!