A new sewing machine

When showing or talking about my work people often say ‘you must have a very elaborate sewing machine…’ and I always reply with the same answer ‘I only need running stitch and the ability to drop the dog feed’. My very first and subsequent early drawings were made on my well loved and reliable Bernina 1090 sewing machine. The dog feed was lowered, embroidery foot attached and the stitched drawings started to emerge but as I became more ambitious, the scale increased and it became clear that I needed more space under the arm of the machine.

Choosing a new sewing machine was exciting but also slightly daunting – it was like a  right arm and it had to fit with my creative requirements and budget. After visiting shops in Bristol exploring different makes and types of machines, I returned to the Bernina brand and found Quilt Direct online. I began having conversations with Katherine who appeared to know everything there was to know about Bernina machines and asked several questions about my work so that she could make sure that I purchased the correct machine.

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https://www.quiltdirect.co.uk

In March 2016 I took delivery of my new machine – the Bernina 720. I now owned an ‘elaborate’ sewing machine but the reasons for the choice were simple – fantastic lighting, accurate digital control of the tension and large bobbins that could hold a lot more thread. Simple requirements but fundamental for my process.

After taking delivery of the new sewing machine, Katherine at Quilt Direct was very happy to provide any other support that was required and continues to be available if any help is required. A very intense and complicated process of working is now an absolute pleasure.

bernina couple on tube2

Making corrections

When I first started making drawings from thread I liked the fact that my errors became part of the work. The first finished piece called ‘We should smile more…’ contained errors that caused the drawing to fall apart in places giving it a soft, organic feel and creating movement.

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‘We should smile more…’ Free machine embroidery, 2013

 

Life isn’t perfect and my drawings weren’t either, and I liked this comparison. However, as my drawings became bigger and more detailed I found myself correcting the mistakes, and then doubt about this practice started to creep in. My chosen method of working, that included the keeping of imperfections, allowed me to throw away any inhibitions and preconceived ideas about how the finished piece could or should look. Making the corrections felt wrong because I had lost a key element that had been the cornerstone of my technique.

Whilst  Henri Moore said that ‘great art is not perfect’ (1966), the process of correcting errors in art has always happened. The Old Masters used tools such as mirrors and lenses (Hockney, 2001) to reproduce exquisite and accurate detail, and canvases often had overpainted work beneath the finished image (BBC, 2016 and 2017) and  It could be argued that this was part of the story and invoked conversation. However, when I look at contemporary embroiderers’ work, I always view it as perfect. If there are any corrections, they aren’t obvious and this is making me question whether or not they are well judged.

 

St Amelie by Paul Delaroche and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham by Rubens – both were discussed on recent TV programs where experts discovered corrections and overpainted areas.

 

Currently, corrections are part of my making because the drawings are too intricate and detailed to discard and start again. However, the process for making these corrections is quite daunting and has an element of risk involved. Is the mistake that obvious? Will I successfully manage to remove the error and will the correction blend into the existing stitching? If it doesn’t blend in, does that matter?

These images show how I try to make the corrections. In the first picture, I have cut out a part of her brown coat because it looked flat and didn’t work. This has had a new piece of solufleece inserted from the back, pulled tight and stitched into place. The second image shows what the back looks like when areas of stitch have been reworked.

 

 

This can be a parallel with my life – I really find it tricky when I get things wrong and will go over and over the issues in my mind. Making errors and then deciding if they need correcting seems to be something we all have to do, perhaps how we manage this says a lot about who we are.

 

BBC (2016) Fake or Fortune. BBC1 Documentary. Series 5: 2. 60 minutes.

BBC (2017) Lost Masterpieces BBC4 Documentary. Series 2: 1. 60 minutes.

Hockney, D. (2001) Secret Knowledge. Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd

Moore, H. (1966) Writings and Converstaions. Available online. Google books.

 

‘Make a shift dress in a day’; a summary of the workshop.

Last year when shiftWorks showed at the NCCD in Sleaford, a member of Seam collective was invited to run a workshop on making a shift dress in a day. On Saturday 15th July this year, I ran the workshop on the top floor in a large, sunny room with 6 participants.

 

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National Centre Craft and Design, Sleaford

 

The ladies had all come with various requirements for the day; a gentle reminder of some sewing basics like following a pattern, personal development in dressmaking skills, and learning how to adjust and fit patterns in a relaxed, but supportive environment.

The day got off to very quick start with the plan that the paper patterns would be cut out, appropriate adjustments made and fabrics prepared ready to start sewing after lunch. For 4 ladies, the adjustments were quite simple, but for two participants, we had to do more detailed pattern adjusting and whilst we managed that in the morning, we didn’t have enough time to make a proper toil before moving onto the dress. The decision was made to concentrate on the fitting and pattern adjustment, make a toil from the fabric brought to the class, and then construct the new, altered shift dress after the workshop.

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At 12.30, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed our pre ordered food in the open planned cafe on the ground floor of the NCCD surrounded by inspiring contemporary craft displayed in the shop.

During the afternoon we started to construct the dresses working at a fast pace but within people’s capacity, referring to prepared samples and demonstrations as required.

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couple on tube-4

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The afternoon passed by very quickly and at 4pm, the time we were due to end, the sewing machines were still stitching but the dresses were taking shape and the last moments of the day were being fully utilised with zips going in and final fittings being discussed.

couple on tube-8

The day had had some challenges, but it had been fun from start to end. I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to meet a lovely group of ladies and teach at the National Centre for Craft and Design.

 

Using colour

To make my stitched drawings I use rayon embroidery thread and now have a collection of approximately 100 colours. However, this vast collection of colours are still not perfect for my needs and just like an artist who may use paint, pencils or pastels, I have to manipulate my threads so that I can achieve a realistic finish that will cause a discussion about the work.

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Reels of rayon embroidery thread

After carefully studying the colours in the image, I choose 2 different threads, one for the top and one for the bottom. With my selected colours on the machine, I then play with the tension so that I can alter how much of the bottom thread comes through to the surface, allowing the correct tone. Whilst colours may appear solid, they never are and a much better result is achieved through this process.

Before I use the colour on the work, I test the mix of threads with altered tensions on a spare piece of dissolvable fabric stretched in a hoop.

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Test colours in little squares on dissolvable fabric

I will never get true to life colours with threads but with this technique, I can get as close as I need to to make the image work.

lady and pushchair photo
Original photo
lady pushchair thread
Free machine embroidered drawing

 

 

Sorry for the delay in posting

It is time to start posting again and I do apologise for the delay. March and April were very slow due to a persistent chest infection – as the consultant said “a nuisance disease” which, as a friend suggested, is vaguely reassuring but irritating when there is work waiting to be made. Then there is the determination to try and catch up which means that I am unable to pull myself away from my machine to edit photos of the work and find interesting things to blog about.

So here is the work in progress. What you can’t see is the mound of threads, written notes about colour choices and bobbin cases stacked one on top of the other.

couple on tube
Work in progress, ‘Couple on Tube’, free machine embroidery

During the past few months I have started to make a list of possible tips that I could share on my blog: how to make a repair or make a change to a part of a drawing that isn’t correct, how to do small details like lettering, what materials, threads and needles to use, how to choose the correct colours and the effects of altering the tension.

couple on tube
The drawing so far…

Drawing people

I have had some pretty rubbish attempts at drawing people on paper and whilst at uni, it was suggested that I should avoid it altogether. Also, I am not a painter so the thought of attempting to make images of people in a painterly way with threads is daunting. Realising that I am taking  a new and difficult direction with my work, I have spent some time researching other artists who use thread as their medium for portraits.

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Cayce Zavaglia (online image)

Photorealistic hand embroidered drawings by Cayce Zavaglia, a textile artist who originally trained as a painter. Zavaglia moved to embroidery when she wanted to make work that reflected an embroidered piece from her childhood. Over the years she has developed a very difficult technique that enables her to blend colours in thread as if they were paint, allowing for tonal qualities usually seen in classical oil paintings.

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Emily Tul (online image)

Tul works with thread, fabric and paint and focuses on faces because she is  intrigued with what they show us about a person (or what they don’t). Tul works large and then crops the work suggesting an element of confrontation.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL MOVIE
Julie Sarloutte (online image)

Sarloutte is a French artist whose work is a mixture of traditional and pop culture. I love her use of bold colour which resembles a pixilated version of oil paint. Her inspiration come from her life, cinema and the media.

These artists have different approaches to their subjects and use thread in very different ways. One makes very intricate photo realistic portraits, another works very large and interrupts the image to encourage deeper questions and the final one uses intense colour to add to the emotion portrayed. But in each work, the thread is successfully used to lead us in to the soul of the sitter and allows for further engagement with the viewer.

I am also fascinated by people and their relationship with the world around them; a relationship that only they know and we can only guess at or wonder through our interpretation of any emotion shown. This is why I felt so compelled to photograph and draw the couple sat opposite me on the tube in London. Whilst my picture is being drawn with the machine, I do hope that I can share some of that wonder with the viewer and if that does happen, then perhaps I will know I was right to have another attempt at drawing people, but this time with sewing machine and thread rather than marks made on paper.

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‘A couple on the tube’ (work in progress, free machine embroidery, Julie Heaton)

Back to work …

It has been a while since I have picked up my work and switched my sewing machine on, but today it was time to start. A very difficult Christmas period is over, my self assessment is in and last year’s photos have been edited and labelled.

It still surprises me when things get hard, but every time there is an issue in December, the month of the anniversary of Carl’s death, numerous weeks can be really hard, my confidence and resolve weaken and work remains untouched. It has happened before and will happen again, but at least I have learnt that it is ok to take some time out and allow the sad feelings to pass.

Such breaks also allow me to realise just how important my work is to me. Without it I can dwell on things that aren’t necessary, but stitching makes me feel good, it awakens my inner self and brings back my passion for creating. The drawing I have returned to is one that I started in 2015 but then stored away whilst I completed last years exhibition pieces for ‘Shiftworks’ and Newark Park.

couple-on-tube-2-jpg

 

The drawing is taken from a photograph of a couple who were sat opposite me on the tube train in London. The lady looked into space and her husband had his head turned away for the whole journey. Not a word was spoken between them. I couldn’t resist taking the photograph and will endeavour to complete the whole image …

 

elderly-couple-on-tube