Making art with yarn and other media

 

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.

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one of my soft baskets and a button landscape

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.

IMG_3038My 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.

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“Second strong”  all the buttons already had bits of thread attached from their previous uses

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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.

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Japanese daruma, Zen monk

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Afghan headpiece  made into a hanging

 

 

My background is very different, which affects the ideas that do come out. I have done some Turkish patterns andIMG_3696.JPGd 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!

IMG_4534At 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.

IMG_4489I 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.

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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!

My creation story

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sampler by my mother, Dorothy Joyce Stone Farquharson

My grandmothers and my mother made things and so do I. For the most part, they made things according to directions. So did I. However, now I do stitcheries that come out of my head and as I make them, I often think about what I am doing and why.

First, why? Because I can. Since I am retired, I have the time to do what I want and getting into stitches is what I want to do. It is relaxing, as I generally do it with a movie going on my laptop. It is rewarding because I see what I have done, in contrast to much of my professional work, which was much less visible. Frankly, I am a bit obsessed with making these pieces. I literally cannot go a day without working on something.

How is more complicated, of course. For the stitchery pieces, I have learned to make a border first, and sometimes I even measure it to fit a frame. Or not. I usually start from the bottom and work up, making it up as I go. I don’t draw a design, though I might have one vaguely in mind. Since I use fabric that is meant to be for cross-stitch or tapestry, I usually end up with shapes that are based on the geometry of angles– squares, triangles, straight lines. Even the round parts are a little angular.

The colours I use are determined by a few factors. One is what I am trying to represent. Obviously I use blue hues for water and sky, greens for trees and bushes, many colours for flowers. How much of a colour I use is determined by how much of it I have. Sometimes I am using up colours, which ends up in a more shaded area. Sometimes I have a lot of a colour, so I try to come up with ideas to use it (especially red, as I don’t care for red but ended up having a lot of it). And of course once I have used one colour, I have to decide what other colours will go with it. I like playing with the colours. What goes with what? If I know I will be using several shades, how should I do it? I prefer vibrant colours, but I use everything.

Some of the embroidery thread was my grandmother’s, so that thread is decades old. My sister has some beautiful pieces that Marney did probably in the early 1900s. Some of the thread is left from some of the projects I have made, such as the one for Meadow and the similar style one for me. And of course there have been other projects. I also buy bags of thread from Value Village, some of which is also quite old, judging by the labels with prices as well as the brands. I like that the thread is being used, especially since I doubt there is anyone in my family who would be interested in using it. I am using it up.

One of the things I have noticed about the art I see here in Ontario is that it is very much based on nature. Frank Carmichael, one of the Group of Seven, was born in Orillia, and like the other members, he focussed a lot on the wild Canadian landscape. I would say that the ideas I come up with are partly inspired by the beautiful river my sister lives on, where I have stayed for weeks at a time. My version of nature is more impressionistic, as I can’t draw a ‘real’ thing to save my life.

I also realized that the person looking at my pieces has to look at them closely. Recently an artist I met look cursorily at a piece and said ‘I see a tree.’ Well, there was much more than a tree! The flowers and water depths and sky shadations are also there, sometimes dominated by a tree or two. My pieces remind me of some of my grandmother’s garden embroideries– one has to look closely to see the different stitches.

In the past, I followed directions for pieces I made. Some were from kits, which provided the yarn or thread and even needles, along with a grid and colour scheme. My first counted cross-stitch I made for my daughter when she was a Rose Princess in Portland, Oregon in 1995. It took me more than a year to complete. Then my friend Nancy came across a pattern in the same line, so she gave that to me for my 50th birthday. I then had to go in search of the required embroidery floss, which I did with Meadow on a trip to Portland. That one took eight months of off times from grading papers at Koc University. My friends would drop by and I would show them my progress. It went from being fairly unrecognizable to, oh there is a lady and there is the garden. Another friend gave me a gold nazar to hide in the garden. Another piece I still have (the others I gave away) is from a book I found. Again I had to go in search of the thread for it. It is full of mistakes, of course, but only I can see them and now I don’t even look.

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I have also made some pieces from buttons. Some people look at them and exclaim, “Oh my god, you sewed all those buttons?!” Well, yes. Sewing buttons is not so hard, though it seems to have become a lost art. Again, I use the buttons to make a picture. I have buttons that were in my mother’s button box and some I found recently at VV obviously came from a button box, as the buttons were quite old.

Of course I knit and crochet, though I am not that good at it, truthfully. However, I have made some bags that I like and I made some things for my grandson that I think my daughter did not like that much. In fact, when I went to her baby shower, I was the only one that had made something by hand.

Ah, mistakes. I think mistakes made a piece more individual. I have a male friend who does cross-stitch and the back is as clean as the front. There is a kind of Turkish work that is absolutely reversible. Not mine! The back is a mess, as I figure no one will look at it. Sometimes I make mistakes in stitching or colours or direction that are too far gone to undo, so I leave them. They add character. Obviously I am not a perfectionist. I have some Turkish village pieces that have mistakes in them and I think they add to the individuality and character of the pieces.

Adult colouring books are the rage now, especially among aging baby boomers. Actually, my grandmother, Marney, coloured in her adult colouring book in the late 1970s, so they are not such a new thing. I have seen articles that discuss how they help people keep their minds sharp. I joke that my stitchery is my version of an adult colouring book, so inshallah my mind will stay relatively sharp as a result. My eyes are another matter. One of these days the stitches will be too small and I will have to move on to something else. That is what my mother did, until she could not do any work due to arthritis and then Parkinson’s. In fact, I have started to make some pieces using larger mesh with yarn.

Whatever the case may be, I love using colours and I hope other people like my work too. I do it for me, but I like to share the stories that go with it.