Thursday, February 21, 2013

Embroidered Art

...and Silk Threads

One of the advantages of travel is collecting images and ideas that I can use to influence and inspire my designs. Recently, while visiting friends whose art collection reflects their many travels, I was drawn in particular to several pieces in their collection of vintage textiles.

In the crypt of the Basilica of San Isidora de Leon, The Royal Pantheon, in Spain, there is a 12th century fresco on an archway depicting the 12 months of the year and the agricultural labours associated with each month. In medieval times, seasonality was recognized and respected, because it meant survival to another season. With all the disease and wars that were rampant at the time, living to see the next season was not something that could be taken for granted, so the medieval calender became a celebration of sorts.

Purchased in 2005 at the studio of textile artists near the basilica, this piece is a replication of the month of September taken from the fresco, and celebrates the September grape harvest. 

As the background fabric, the artist used old church vestments, exact era unknown, but likely from the 1940's to the 1950's.

The piece is embroidered with a stitch that is unfamiliar to me. It looks like a tiny cord has been couched down, however, a closer look reveals very intricate, individual stitches. Perhaps it is a very tiny stem stitch. If anyone is familiar with this stitch, I would appreciate more information on the technique.

The stitch can best be seen in the gold thread that forms the garment of the farmer. (Zoom in to see the stitch). Various widths of thread were used in the piece to achieve the desired emphasis, but most of the stitches were done with this "corded" technique.

This luxurious Japanese wedding kimono (ca.1920) was purchased in an antique shop in Vancouver in 1981. The intricately embroidered patterns and motifs, are hand stitched with silk as well as gold and silver threads. Just as is the case in French "boutis", symbolism is an important design aspect in Japanese needlework, and in a bridal kimono it would represent characteristics such as long life, fidelity, superior character, strength, etc.

A rolled red hem is often seen in wedding kimonos. Some slight deterioration is beginning to appear on the hem.

Japanese needle artisans, whether embroiderers or quilters, strive for mastery of their technique and stay faithful to the traditional methods and patterns to accurately understand and appreciate the skill.

Japanese embroidery is always inspirational.

Close-up of the kimono. The white on white silk embroidery adds an elegance the design.

This last piece was found in an antique shop in Winnipeg, displayed as a liner under glass in a mahogany tray. Given the title "The Silk Story", beautifully silk-embroidered images illustrate the production of silk, from worm to thread. Believed to be from the 1930's, other then an embroidered image of a spool of "Belding's" thread, not much is known of it's provenance. However, it's another example of skillfully and patiently laid silk threads.   

Any history or background information of this piece would be appreciated.
Although it's not possible to become familiar with all skills and techniques associated with fibre and threads, I believe that an appreciation for them can enrich and enhance the skills that we as textile artisans focus on. Just like a painting hanging on a wall, skillfully crafted fibre art can also be appreciated for it's beauty as well as it's technique. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Embellished Quilts

" ... And Silk Threads"

Even before "Mr. Darcy" was introduced on the screen in the 1995 BBC Production of "Pride and Prejudice", I was enchanted with the opening segment, where an elegant young hand gracefully pulls needle and thread through a delicate silky fabric. It alludes to a gentle activity in a peaceful, serene setting. Perhaps it is this feeling that all is well with the world that has always drawn me to embroidery and hand work in general. When I first started quilting about 15 years ago, it was the lure of the hand work that drew me and and then captured me. Therefore, most of my early quilts involved mostly hand stitching using applique, embroidery and quilting.

At the time, "Piecemakers - Times and Seasons" calenders (that came with a full set of patterns) were a popular attraction in the local quilt shops. I registered for a class and thereafter became completely consumed with applique and embellished hand quilting for a while. The quilt below was made using the patterns from the 1997 calender. All 12 months were individual, so a number of them became separate wall hangings, which have been gifted away. Below, 4 remaining months have been stitched together into a larger piece, but have not yet been quilted. (Another project which has been placed onto the ever threatening "back-burner".)

During the class, it was always fun to wander through the shop and find fabrics that were meant to be used as a specific landscape feature. At the time, many manufacturers seemed to cater their fabrics to suit that particular design

A close-up look at some of the fabrics that were "fussy cut" into landscape features such as sky, grass, trees, chimney, etc..

As you can see, I got a little carried away with the silk ribbon embroidery.

This Victorian style crazy quilt was made using the patterns from the 2001 "Piecemakers" calender, for a class that I was asked to teach at another quilt shop. The class was taught in conjunction with another quilter who taught the machine piecing and quilting portion of the class.

This quilt uses a combination of machine piecing and machine quilting along with detailed hand embellishments.

Also made during the earlier years of my quilting experience, this miniature Baltimore had not been quilted until last winter. Proof that some UFO's do make it off of the back burner and actually get completed. There is hope!

Made from Jenifer Buechel's book, "Silk Ribbon Baltimore".

Another beautifully made film that celebrates embroidery and sewing  is "Bright Star" (2009), produced and directed by Jane Campion (The Piano). It's the story of the poet John Keats and the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. Fanny is serious about following the latest fashions and is proud of the fact that she can design and make her own clothes. As most embroiderers and quilters understand, stitching is what gets her through both happy times and times of grief.  Stitching is an integral part of her life, as it is for many sewers today. Well worth the watch, if you can find the movie.