On Revisiting a Book of Stitches

Seven years ago a I collated a set of monthly stitcheries into a Book of Stitches. While preparing for an exhibition I found the fabric book in a storage drawer and, on a whim, added it to the works for display.

To my delight and surprise it has been one of the most looked-at items at my exhibition SEQUENCE. The quilt exhibition is part of the National Arts Festival fringe, and is at Carinus Art Centre in Beaufort Street, Grahamstown / Makhanda until Sunday (3 July).

The front cover of the book that contains 12 experimental stitcheries made month by month during 2015.

The book is 37 cm square. To construct it I sewed each of the experimental stitched pieces onto a light canvas backing and then top stitched the pages together along the left hand edge. The padded cover wraps around the wad of pages, which are affixed to the cover along the spine with the simplest bookbinding stitch.

An epigraph. Judy Martin is a Canadian stitch artist and her work and words have inspired me greatly. The quotation was stitched with variegated thread onto evenly woven Hardanger fabric. This is why the stitching is so straight and neat!
A frontispiece. These stylised African hoopoe birds are embroidered using Bayeux stitch. They were made during a wonderful embroidery class with Penny Cornell.
The stitchery done during January. Dense stitching of white and neutral thread on white scraps of silk.
February. More dense stitching where the remaining white silk scraps were appliquéd onto a vibrant red cotton hand dyed fabric. The weather was very hot that month.
March. To celebrate summer I rearranged the flower designs on a piece of Liberty fabric and added more flowers made from twisted rolls of thread.
April. The centre is made from leftover slivers from another quilt (called Candlepower). It was a way of conserving the scraps from an exercise in matchstick piecing of three-quarter inch strips.
May. Once again slivers from another quilt (Ten Thousand Stitches) were repurposed to create an autumn oak leaf. The veins of the leaf were embroidered onto the ‘thread fabric’ and the shadow at the bottom edge of the leaf is painted onto the cloth.
June. This is an appliquéd copy of the folk-art design on the cover of one of my notebooks. The tree is made from fabric and the birds from felt.
July’s stitchery was an experiment in weaving and/or darning. The strikingly textured red fabric was the perfect backdrop for the range of wools that were left over from the knitting of a fair isle jersey.
August. Made from the fabrics used for my mother-of-the-bride outfit, this is also a commemoration of a special person who died that month.
September. The month of spring when the oak trees make the brightest greenest leaves. The background is silk scraps from the bride’s dress. The leaves on the tree are also from leftover bits of fabric — this time from the quilt called Green Tree with Birds (also on display at the exhibition).
October was experimenting with creating a ring with stitch.
November. Yet again textile scraps were used to make the hills and houses. The focus of this piece, though, is the Japanese fabric used for the sky. Have you ever seen such clouds?! The houses are from the selvedge of an African fabric and the hills from a previous piecing exercise.
December. The bright red flower from a piece of commercial fabric seemed just right for Christmas time. It is surrounded by bands of heavyweight embroidery in stem stitch.

Revisiting this book has reminded me of the fun I had when making it. It is also personal record of a memorable year. To end this post, here is the back cover of the Book of Stitches.

Sequence

An Exhibition

The much-written-about (on this blog) quilt exhibition has happened and is happening. It is hanging — not in mid-air but in a well-lit gallery space at the Carinus Art Centre. If you are at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, please pay us a visit. We are here until 3 July.

For those who can’t make it to the Eastern Cape, South Africa, here are a set of photographs of the exhibition. They are in an anti-clockwise sequence.

House Portraits of historic Grahamstown. A4 sizes
Green Tree with Birds (143 x 92 cm) and Small BirdTrees (29 x 21 cm)
BirdTree (156 x 114 cm) and another flock of Small BirdTrees (29 x 21 cm)
Left Tree & Labyrinth (80 x 80 cm) and City Trees (112 x 112 cm)
Orbs # 1 to #9 (36 x 28 cm)
Carnival (160 x 133 cm)
Full Lotus (69 x 69 cm) and Half Lotus (69 x 63 cm)
Wedding Dress #2 (230 x 115 cm) and Small Dresses (29 x 21 cm)
Wedding Dress #3 (196 x 116 cm) and a Small Dress
Wedding Dress #1 (206 x 117 cm) and a Small Dress
Night Sky (70 x 70 cm)

In the centre of the space is a table of hand stitched books and cloths. Here’s a photograph of some of these works.

To end off, here follows my artist’s statement. It is an edited version of a previous post. Is

Sequence
an exhibition of textile art by Mariss Stevens
June 2022
The title and theme of this exhibition comes from reading in general and
the author Sue Miller in particular. The following perceptive comment
about the function of fiction from Monogomy was the spark:
“[W]e read fiction because it suggests that life has shape and we feel
…. consoled, I think he said, by that notion. Consoled to think that life
isn’t just one damned thing after another. That it has sequence and
consequence.” — Sue Miller
If the word “life” in this quotation is replaced with “stitching”, this text
could serve as an explanation for why Mariss Stevens makes quilts. While
this is rather fuzzy thinking, it is true that the word sequence is a good
description of the results of repeated or recurring stitchings. The word
itself also has a nice sound and shape to it.
In fine art and quilting circles the word series is used to describe a set of
works with a similar theme. Here’s a clear definition: “A series is
essentially a collection of paintings that when viewed leaves no doubt the
same artist created them all. The theme running through the work is
stated and restated in different yet interconnected ways, and the viewer
can look at the collection and understand more easily what the artist is trying to convey. 31 May 2018.” (from a google search with no URL)
The preferred word is sequence which is, afterall, “a continuous series of
things, a succession; a set of related things arranged in a certain order”
(OED). The exhibition title sequence was also apt because there were existing works in a series, particularly the house portraits of buildings of
historical Grahamstown.
Settling on the title of sequence led to focussing on the new works that
were made for the exhibition. The themes of some of the recent larger
works have been reflected in sets of A4 sized smaller works.
The word sequence also refers to: a liturgical chant; the repetition of a
phrase or melody in musical compositions; an ordered set of infinite
quantities in mathematics; a passage in a film; a group of three or more
cards; a logical consequence.

Postscript

This post has been written on my phone, in-between talking to visitors to the exhibition. So please pardon any oddities

On the Advantage of Distracting oneself by doing other things when a Deadline is looming

Another long title for a short post. When I was a student I invariably began to knit a jersey as examination time approached. As you know, I am currently preparing for a quilt exhibition on the fringe at the National Arts Festival, which opens in six days’ time (23 June to 2 July 2022). As a distraction, I have started to knit a jersey for our grandbaby. But there is more.

Last week brought other distractions. I did a two-day workshop with Doortjie Gersbach and I gave a one-day class on designing and stitching a sampler in kantha-style stitching. These three days were like a welcome holiday because they took my mind of my to do lists for the exhibition, Sequence, which will be upstairs at the Carinus Art Centre in Grahamstown.

I have written about travelling quilt teacher Doortjie Gersbach more than once (see here and here and here) and it was lovely to welcome her back to our small town. I chose to do the more advanced class she offered. Titled Swallows, it is an exercise in curves within curves.

Above are a section of Doortjie’s Swallows quilt (left) and a close up of the flower block that had us cursing quietly on the second day, as we tackled those curved seams. She consoled us in our struggles by telling us that we had earned our Advanced Quilters badges.

On the first day of the workshop we eased into stitchig curved lines by making the blocks that form the swallows when two curved pieces are placed point to point in a four-patch block. Alongside is my first swallow block. For the next one I will use fabrics with a higher contrast so that the swallow shape will be more visible. The Mathematician (aka The Woodworker) told me that these curves are hyperbola. So, I might call my quilt Hyperbolic, when I get to finish it.

It took us all of the second day to create the flower block. Doortjie said we each have to make 13 of these blocks for the finished quilt (!!). We all protested that making one was enough of a challenge.

This is the flower that I made (from Fassett fabrics). It has not yet been squared off. The photograph of the reverse side (right) is there to show you the complicated seams. I did not iron the seams in the correct direction, and will have to *unpick some of the stitching to rectify the mistake.

Despite the undertone of grumbling, it was a fantastic workshop. It is always fun to be with Doortjie and there was much laughter and chat during the class. For me, it was a perfect distraction.

Stitching a carefully pinned curve, exactly on the line and (right) everyone hard at work.

The Kantha-style sampler class

Look what the class participants produced during a pleasant day of hand stitching. I am so proud of them! It was a nice warm winter’s day and we spent some of the time sitting outside in the sun while we stitched. Here are a few photographs to mark the day:


*Footnote

Unpicking is the bain of any stitcher’s life, but it is the only way to rectify a mistake. There is a nifty little tool that we use to unpick seams and I have always called it a quick unpick. I have gleaned that the term seam ripper is more commonly used and confess that I have wondered if it has any connection to bodice rippers. I digress. Doorjtie gave us the Afrikaans term for it — torringmessie. It is such a delightfully expressive word. A messie is a small knife and the verb torring has multiple meanings: to unpick, yes, but also to rip open, worry, pester, bother, trouble, irritate (Bosman, Van der Merwe & Barnes, Tweetalige Skoolwoordeboek). By the way, my trusted Oxford English Dictionary has let me down — it lists neither quick upick nor seam ripper.

Doortjie is here kindly unpicking a miss-sewn seam for on the workshop participants

A Sequence of Small Trees Each with a Perched Bird

How is this for a long title? It’s a long title for a short post. I have been working on another sequence for my forthcoming exhibition, called Sequence, which will be mounted at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown/Makhanda from 23 June. Titled SmallBird Tree #1 through to #7 (so far), this new sequence is a series of small works that echo their mother tree, made in 2020 from fabric with a repeating pattern of parrots in lush foliage.

Here are four examples from the Small BirdTree series.

They are A4 size and were made from the leftover fabric from the mother tree (see below). It was a brilliant suggestion from my friend The Artist that sparked the sequence. The trees and the lone parrot are machine appliquéd onto a previously machine quilted background. There is also handstitching, in purposely large stitches, along the grass at the bottom edge and the tree bark.

BirdTree (156 x 114 cm)

And that’s the account of this project. To end off, here are a set of photographs of the process of making one of the trees.

On Counting

This morning I compiled the sixth advertisement for my textile exhibition, Sequence, which will be on the fringe at this year’s National Arts Festival from 23 June to 2 July. I then posted it on Instagram and Facebook with the caption “three weeks to go”. Meanwhile I am sewing steadily, making A4 size works in various sequences, and counting as I go. In process are five Small Dresses and eleven (hopefully) small BirdTrees. This morning I completed the ninth Orb (mosaic ball) and there are seven finished House Portraits.

So, I am playing a number game with myself as I count off the finished small works. I am also counting on providence that this year’s Arts Festival will not be cancelled at the last minute because of COVID.

In short, I am allowing myself to get very excited.

Above are the six advertisements that I have posted on social media over the past six weeks (with apologies to any readers who have already seen them). As you can see, I have been having fun with the Canva app (no affiliation) which pretty much does the design work for one.

But I have been having even more fun behind my sewing machine, when I was able to use it. Our area of the town was without electricity for four days this week. It did mean I got lots of hours of sleep at night and caught up on all the handwork that needed doing during the day. Two more House Portraits are now ready to be exhibited.

House Portrait #12. 2 Cross Street. (24 x 33 cm). Machine appliqué and hand quilted.

I have written about my method for constructing these houses before, so won’t bore you with a detailed account. I did, however, take a set of progress photographs while making this house. I photographed the building more than a year ago because it is so charming and ‘stitchable’, but only got around to making it recently.

And the final pair of photographs are the photograph from which I worked and (again) the finished House Portrait, side by side. Perhaps I should add those flower pots on either side of the front door.

The other house portrait is the side view of our house. I am, in fact, sitting in that upstairs bay window as I write this post. It is called an oriel window — a projecting window of upper storey (OED) — and is said to be the only example of such a window in Grahamstown.

An in progress photograph (left) and the finished House Portrait #13. The photographs were taken at different times of the day and it is salutory to see how the lighting affects the colouring. The photograph on the right (taken with more care and early in the morning in gentle light) is true to the actual colours in the work.

And now it’s back to my sewing machine.

The Wedding Dress Sequence

It is done. My 38-year-old wedding dress has been stitched into a textile work. There was a moment of hesitation before I took the drastic step of unpicking the side seams so that I could appliqué the front of the dress onto the background. For more than a moment I sat, seam ripper in hand. But the moment passed and the intention won through.

Wedding Dress #3. (196 x 116 cm; 77 x 45 inches)

It was while I was refashioning Wedding Dress #1 that I thought about also turning the real wedding dress into a quilt — afterall, the dress will never be worn again. I began thinking about how to do this and, with help from my good friend The Artist, decided on an indigo background. Once the background was quilted in straight lines with a walking foot, I appliquéd the front side of the dress onto it, first by hand, and then by machine.

The dress was first pinned and hand stitched onto the background. The very wide skirt was pleated and quilted into place with perle thread. The photograph on the right shows the effect of the stright line machine quilting that was done after the dress was securely hand-stitched onto the background.

When preparing the background I machined the lines so that they were the width of the walking foot apart. When machine appliquéing the dress I stitched between these lines to create matchstick quilting on the indigo background, with wider foot-width lines on the surface of the dress.

While planning this piece I made a series of maquettes or samples to try out different stitch combinations. I prepared A4 sized sandwiches in the indigo cloth, quilted them, and then added the shape of the dress, using the remaining scraps from the wedding dress. The first one (at left, below) was quilted by hand. I realised this would take too much time and so machine quilted the following samples. The straight line stitching won over the serpentine stitch.

The embroidery on the bodice was done by my 26-year-old self. I must say that I am proud of how carefully that young women stitched those flowers and also how carefully she sewed the dress. Here are some close-up photographs:

To finish off the work I kantha stitched a pair of red shoes below the dress, using the bricking stitch and perle cotton. It was a good, meditative way to finish off the work.

It’s been an intensive and satisfying process to make Wedding Dress #3. It will, I hope, be the centre point of my exhibition at the Carinus Art Centre during the National Arts Festival. It opens on 23 June 2022 — in four weeks’ time!

Finally, here is a photograph of the original wedding dress. I have plans for the verso side of the dress, which is plain white. This will have to wait until after the Festival.

On Refashioning

Do other bloggers find that, through this writing process, a seed is sometimes sown for a new project? In December 2020 I wrote a post about a work that I had made from the silk scraps of my wedding dress and ended the post by saying: “Having taken it out of storage and looked at it with fresh eyes, I am tempted to add a few more stitches and refashion it a bit.”

Wedding Dress #1, Take 2. 207 x 117 cm.

The section that has been refashioned is the bodice. It took a long time to work out how to do it and, in the end, the solution was simple. I had made a camisole from the same fabric as the orginal wedding dress and, luckily, had kept it for all these years. The idea came to me while writing my morning pages and so I unearthed the camisole, unpicked the side seams and threaded my needle to appliqué it over the patched original bodice area of the work.

It is still a strange piece but I confess to being rather fond of it. I did, afterall, originally stitch it to mark our 25th wedding anniversary. The new bodice is only stitched onto the background at the top end, so one can lift it and see the original patches. You may notice that I snipped off the frayed muslin bits on the side of the dress.

A close up of the new bodice. I used rows of close running stitch to create the illusion of armholes

Of course I looked up the word ‘refashion’ and was once again delighted to find that it means what I intended : “once more, again, afresh, (esp. in order to alter or improve or renew” (OED).

Finishing Line

Flower for April. 50 x 50 cm. Machine appliqué and hand quilted.

You may recall that I am making a flower each month as a block for the proposed quilt Brash Flower Garden. May is marching on and I had not had an idea of what to stitch for this month until yesterday when I saw some bold nastursiums blooming and brightening my garden. (We are moving into winter in this hemisphere.) So I am, of course, itching to start work on that. Shall I make the flower orange or a deep maroon red? Nastursiums bloom in a cheerful range of colours, from yellow through to red.

The title for my forthcoming exhibition at the National Arts Festival came to me while reading a novel. I had been mulling over what to call it (if anything). Then the following perceptive comment about the function of fiction from Monogomy by Sue Miller got me thinking:

“[W]e read fiction because it suggests that life has shape and we feel …. consoled, I think he said, by that notion. Consoled to think that life isn’t just one damned thing after another. That it has sequence and consequence.”

— Sue Miller (p.153. London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

With apologies to Sue Miller, it struck me that if I replaced “life” with stitching this could serve as an explanation for why I make quilts. While this is rather fuzzy thinking, it is true that the word sequence is a good description of the results of my stitchings. The word itself also has a nice sound and shape to it.

In fine art and quilting circles the word series is used to describe a set of works with a similar theme. Here’s a clear definition: “A series is essentially a collection of paintings that when viewed leaves no doubt the same artist created them all. The theme running through the work is stated and restated in different yet interconnected ways, and the viewer can look at the collection and understand more easily what the artist is trying to convey. 31 May 2018.” (from a google search with no URL)

I still prefer sequence which is, afterall, “a continuous series of things, a succession; a set of related things arranged in a certain order” (OED). The title of sequence for the exhibtion was also apt because I have made works that can be called a series, particularly the house portraits of buildings of historical Grahamstown. Here are the two latest ones:

House Portrait #10: 13 Bartholomew Street (34 x 24 cm) and House Portrait #11: 11 Bartholomew Street (32 x 24 cm). In real life the portrait and landscape formats are the same size.

Settling on the title of sequence has also helped me to focus on the new works that I will be making in the coming seven weeks. There are too many ideas buzzing through my brain and I hope that at least some of them will materialise. The hope is to repeat the themes of some of my larger work in sets of A4 sized smaller works. So, there will be other series besides the house portraits on the exhibition. There, I have said it. Now I must just do it.

Well, that was fun. I trawled through my media library to put up all the previous house portraits. Not all of the above will be on the exhibition as some of them have found new homes. If you are new to this blog, you can read about the making of these houses here and here.

Did you know that the word sequence also refers to: a liturgical chant; the repetition of a phrase or melody in musical compositions; an ordered set of infinite quantities in mathematics; a passage in a film; a group of three or more cards; a logical consequence. See why I like the word.

And The Winner is…

The quilt made by the QUOGs to raise funds for the Ukrainian disaster fund was won by Eileen Shepherd.