Friday, March 24, 2017

Module 2, Chapter 13 - Three artists

Hans Holbein, the Younger

According to Margaret Pascoe in her book Blackwork Embroidery double running stitch, the basis of the counted thread technique known as Blackwork embroidery, is also known as "Holbein stitch", used to embellish clothes at the beginning of the sixteenth century. She goes on to explain that "Evidence for the early use of blackwork comes from portraits and religious paintings, particularly from the works of Hans Holbein the Elder (c. 1465-1524) and his son Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 - 1543)".
The actual stitch, Holbein stitch, was named after Holbein the Younger who, according to Mary Gostelow was "supreme among blackwork artists".

Hans Holbein the Younger was born in Augsburg circa 1497. His father, Hans Holbein the Elder, was a well known portrait artist. Hans Holbein the Younger travelled extensively, reaching England in 1526 with a letter of introduction to Sir Thomas Moore from his mentor Erasmus. Holbein spent the last 11 years of his life working in the English court. During this time he painted about 150 portraits. He also left behind  a series of designs for buttons and buckles and book-bindings, amongst other accessories. Many of the costumes he painted depict blackwork embroidered designs.

The earliest evidence of blackwork on a costume comes from a painting by Hans Holbein the Elder in 1516, with three blackwork bands on the sleeve:

In 1526 Hans Holbein the Younger painted a portrait of Anna Meyer in her wedding gown featuring four blackwork patterns:

Holbein stitch was also sometimes called "Spanish" stitch. In her booklet A New Modelbook for Spanish Stitch, Kathryn Epstein writes that "Peter Quentel was the first pattern book printer to refer to the double running patterns he copied from Schonperger as "Spaniche stiche" in 1527." She goes on to suggest that since these bands of double running stitch were so frequently found in Holbein the Younger's paintings, they were named after him. However the patterns and stitches only became known as Holbein in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Hans Holbein the Younger died in 1543. His portraits were deemed to give an accurate depiction of their subjects and his greatness as an artist was acknowledged in his lifetime and beyond.

How to work double running stitch:


*Blackwork Embroidery, Margaret Pascoe

*Blackwork, Mary Gostelow

*A New Modelbook for Spanish Stitch, Kathleen Epstein


Bridget Riley:

Bridget Riley, born in 1931, is an English Op-Art abstract painter who became well known during the 1960's when her black and white paintings were exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The geometric patterns and designs in her works create an optical illusion of constant movement and shifting ground, often creating an effect of disorientation in the viewer.

She studied art at Goldsmiths College, London from 1949 - 1952, followed by the Royal College of Art until 1955. But having experienced great swathes of freedom as a child, playing by the sea near her home, the artist found it difficult to succumb to the rigidities of the institutional college's teaching regimes. Later in her life she recalled the influences which her early childhood memories of open space, light and colour, has continued to effect upon her work.

At the end of the 1950's after a traumatic decade, she met Maurice De Sausmarez, who encouraged her to study the painting of Georges Seurat. She began to experiment with Op-Art when she was teaching in the Hornsby College of Art from 1960-61, painting simple geometric shapes in black and white. After her major success at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, she rose to critical acclaim, though some critics dismissed her work as trivial. But Op-Art was gaining popularity in the sixties, and so was Bridget Riley. Op-Art is a kind of geometric abstraction devoid of sentiment. In the words of Bridget Riley herself, “I couldn’t get near what I wanted through seeing, recognizing and recreating, so I stood the problem on its head. I started studying squares, rectangles, triangles and the sensations they give rise to… It is untrue that my work depends on any literary impulse or has any illustrative intention. The marks on the canvas are sole and essential agents in a series of relationships which form the structure of the painting.” 

Kiss, 1961

Throughout this period Bridget Riley worked primarily with black and white imagery, sometimes incorporating tonal shades of grey. It is these works which interest me most, bearing as they do a relationship between the striped and cut Fibonnaci samples produced for earlier chapters in this module. Studying Bridget Riley has inspired me to continue playing with the apparent simplicity of black and white in conjunction with basic geometric shapes and simple stripes.

Movement in Sqaures, 1961

The predominant shapes in Bridget Riley's art have largely been geometric in form, including lines, squares, circles, ovals and curves. Stripes feature prominently and regularly. In a catalogue accompanying an exhibition of her work in 2014 the following observation was made:"The London show, her most extensive presentation in the city since her 2003 retrospective at Tate Britain, explored the stunning visual variety she has managed to achieve working exclusively with stripes, manipulating the surfaces of her vibrant canvases through subtle changes in hue, weight, rhythm, and density."

 Pause, 1965

In 1967 she began to explore colour in her work. But she was wary of the unforeseen effects of colour since the perception of hues is less stable than the perception of black and white - the latter can be controlled by the artist in a way that colour never could. Still she continued her colour experiments incorporating hue with lines, both straight and undulating. By spacing the colours effectively she could generate the illusion of movement.

Cataract 3, 1967

By the middle of the 1970's Bridget Riley was working with more curves, in conjunction with a more nuanced use of colour and light, thus generating an increased emotional intensity to her paintings, many of which were given poetic and musical titles. Interestingly up until the late '70's she restricted the use of colour to just 3 hues per painting, extending this to 5 in 1978.

Zing1, 1971

Well travelled, much of her work evokes the spirit of the landscapes which inspired her. She spoke of her "Egyptian palette" after her visit to Egypt in the early 1980's. It was around this time when her work shifted away from the disciplined structure of her earlier op-art to the "assertive gestures of the Neo-Expressionists". Entranced by the colours she saw around her while travelling through Egypt she wrote, "The colours are purer and more brilliant than any I had used before". Here was where she finally learned how to use colour and light in the manner she had been seeking.

RA 2, 1981

Throughout the mid 1980's and 1990's Bridget Riley began to explore a new geometric form, the diagonal lozenge. Here she worked with form and colour, with an emphasis on contrast of depth, tone, hue and even direction. She considered both form and colour as "ultimate identities, as things in themselves".

From Here, 1994

From 2000 onwards the shape changed again, this time growing more fluid and curved. The colours were softer too, eg blues and lilacs.

 Two Blues, 2003

Bridget Riley's modus operandi reminds me of the painstaking approach which many contemporary art quilters adopt in the making of their textile art. She begins with a sketch of her design which she then enlarges. Everything is done by hand and with great precision. A single painting may take 6 - 9 months to complete.




*Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961- 2014

Artist of my choice: Alice Kettle

The instructions were to choose an artist whose work relates to some aspect of this module: blackwork, tone, machine stitchery, decorating fabrics with dyes/paints, 3-dimensional items. I chose Professor Alice Kettle because of the impact her work made upon me after viewing her textile art which was exhibited at The Knitting and stitching Show in Dublin many years ago. What struck me most of the sheer depth of emotional content which resonated through the meandering lines of her freely machined stitch. And then there was the size of each individual piece, the immensity, almost overwhelming volume of line upon line upon line.
Alice Kettle's art evokes a sense of otherness, a mysterious interrogation of some of life's most unanswerable questions. Her machine embroidery is so much more than the sum of its parts. For each stitch, each line seems to be placed precisely where it is supposed to be. There is nothing superfluous added, no sentimental pathos, or hyperbolic noise. Just a statement of one of life's mysteries, sketched like a question mark written in rayon.

Perhaps it is her emphasis on the fragility of the human figure which generates such fathomless responses from the spectator.

"The figure is the absolute essence of the work, the human content, the emotional link for me as an artist."  Alice Kettle

Three Caryatids, 1988-9

"The theme I develop is often subconscious - it emerges in the making. I like images that are universal, that sum up some inherent quality of human existence. I like playing with contrast and paradox: these Caryatids are made of something soft, delicate and flowing, but are they stone, or even human? They are made from something intricate - but they are monumental." Alice Kettle commenting on her work Three Caryatids.

Though the figures are shapeless, sometimes faceless, they are never anything less than beautiful And yet her art is beyond decoration, for her works always reference something beyond themselves. As her art progressed in depth and vision, a new sense of universality began to emerge, so that by time she embroidered "Creation" the main figure was genderless, ageless, raceless. This is concept art at it's most notable. For to combine an idea with the perfection and beauty of execution requires the skill set of a mature and experienced practitioner, which Alice Kettle displays in abundance.

Creation, 1991

Alice Kettle studied Fine Art from 1979-84 at the University of Reading, followed by post-graduate studies in textile art at Goldsmiths College, London, until 1984. She is an honorary member of the prestigious textile art 62 Group.  Amongst many fellowships that she holds, she is also a Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University. Though she began with painting, it wasn't until she switched in 1985 to textiles that she finally found her niche.

Alice Kettle works intuitively, following where the stitch wants to go. She prefers to work this way instead of laboriously planning her art, so dyeing and printing methods are not for her. Unlike hand embroidery, machine embroidery allows her to fill the canvas with long, sweeping lines of stitching. She uses coloured threads in much the same way that a painter uses oil paints or acrylics.
Furthermore, the act of over stitching layer upon layer creates a rippling effect in the canvas, transforming a 2 dimensional flat piece of work into a shimmering 3 dimensional surface.

"It was as if the canvas itself was also changing, rather than me just putting more and more into the surface of it." Alice Kettle

Alice Kettle's huge embroideries bring to mind the ancient art of tapestry weaving in both form and content. And yet, though evocative of many of the mythological stories from the far-flung past, her machine sewn embroideries are anything but ancient. Instead they are thoroughly modern in mode, if not in meaning. For once again we notice that it is not alone the vague generalised outlines which represent universal figures, but the emotions evoked through the narrative threads are common to all times, all eras, all beings.

"I like images that are universal, that sum up some inherent quality of existence." Alice Kettle

Odyssey, 2003

Alice Kettle is a master colourist, evidence of her earlier days exploring the interaction of hue and light while painting in college. But while most of her massive scaled embroideries are swirls of illuminated colours, there are a few equally striking even though they are bereft of colour. What follows are a selection of some her monochrome embroideries with accompanying commentary from the artist. I was especially drawn to them in that they seemed to suggest a very new and post-modern approach to the traditional form of blackwork embroidery, where the lines of delicate stitchery echo the gentle art of double running, or Holbein stitch.

Anthracite II, 1989

"Black and white has so much power - it dispenses with the 'prettiness' of embroidery."

Niagra, 1995

"Working in black and white gives me great freedom - without decisions of colour the line takes on paramount importance. Black and white brings me back to the essence of stitch."


*Eye of the Needle, The Textile Art of Alice Kettle, edited by Matthew Koumis

*Alice Kettle, Mythscapes exhibition catalogue

*Machine Stitch Perspectives, Alice Kettle & Jane McKeating

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chapter 12 - Final project: Functional, 3 Dimensional Embroidered Item

At long last I am nearing the end of Module 2. :) Today I put the final touches to my functional, 3 dimensional embroidered item - a bag.
The shape of my bag was based on a section of the shell of the tortoise I sketched earlier, the details and thought processes described in previous posts.

Below are a few images of the bag under construction.

 Embroidered fabrics adhered to pelmet Vilene using Bondaweb. Unbleached cotton bondawebbed to backs of front and back of bag.

Straps in progress. It was interesting to see how much shorter the straps became the more I knotted the strips of fabric together. I made each knot with 4 to 5 twists.

Completed bag, with gussets, free machine corded edging at top, and knotted strips of frayed fabric for straps:

Front of bag

Back of bag

Gusset edge with straps applied

"Embroidered Purses, Design & Technique" by Linda Tudor was invaluable in helping me work out an approach to making my bag, something I had never done before. Ms Tudor offers a number of different bag constructions, from which I chose her bag with gussets as my model.

Authenticating photograph of me adding finishing touches to bag!


*Embroidered Purses, Linda Tudor

*Strip Patchwork, Valerie Campbell-Harding

*Machine Embroidery: Stitch Techniques, Val Campbell-Harding & Pam Watts

*Blackwork Embroidery, Margaret Pascoe

*Blackwork, Becky Hogg

*The Machine Embroiderer's Workbook, Val Holmes

*Shibori for Textile Artists, Janice Gunner

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chapter 12 - Mock up of bag with a gusset

Below are a couple of photos of a mock up of my proposed final 3D project made with white card and thick cotton thread for the shoulder strap. The elements have been taped together with sellotape. My plan is to use black fabric for the gusset, decorated possibly with overlapping flaps of fabric representing the scales of the tortoise legs.

 The shoulder strap will be made from a braid of machine stitched cords.

I really like these little 3D shapes moulded to replicate the raised protrusions found on some tortoise shells.

Next step is to try and pull all these elements together! :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Module 2, Chapter 12, Stage 2: Creating a Functional, 3 Dimensional Embroidered Item

In preparation for making the final project for this module I began by returning to my monoprinted and dyed fabrics stash from earlier, picking a few to machine stitch. Below is a selection of a few of my new decorated fabrics. This time I was a lot more comfortable playing with both cable stitch and whip stitch. I also enjoyed incorporating both of these approaches to machine stitching on the same piece of fabric. I found that they complement each other rather well. The scrunched up piece of fabric on the top of the image below was especially interesting. I really like the ruched effect whip stitch can create especially when machined fast!

The next step was to create the pattern based on a section of the tortoise shell from one of my research images earlier in the module. This shape was just different enough to lift my bag design from the ordinary and expected. That it waspart of the tortoise whose shell had informed so much of my experimental work simply added to the effect for me.

Now with design and shape in hand it was time to make a pattern from which to cut the pieces of the bag. I enlarged the shape on cartridge paper, then traced it on to architect's paper, before cutting out pattern pieces from pelmet vilene and lining fabric, which was cotton canvas. I also created a window shape of the design to help me audition which sections of the combined fabrics I would use for both front and back panels.

Using Bondaweb I ironed the cotton canvas to the insides of the bag panels.

Now the real fun began! It was time to start playing and experimenting with fabric layouts to create both front and back panels of the bag. But first back to the drawing board! Covering the table with painted and decorated papers I played with some of the design ideas previously explored, only this time bearing in mind the finished object.

I knew I wanted one side to be somehow based upon or derived from the Fibonnaci design, as I had enjoyed the beauty of its geometry when experimenting with it earlier in the module.

First I choose a selection of fabrics to sew together in strips keeping a close eye on their tonality.

Next I cut the combined piece into the Fibonnaci sequence - 1-1-2-3 = 2"-2"-4"-6"

To rejoin the pieces I cut some black fabric following the Fibonnaci sequence again and sewed the strips together into a single piece. Below is the front of the fabric with seams facing outwards.

Much as I like the effect of the outward facing seams which will be ravelled back as far as possible, I also loved the effect of the back of this piece and was rather pleased with the overall effect of the stitched and decorated fabrics. I would never have thought that such a simple approach to fabric play could generate such effective work!

Next step was to take the cardboard cut out of the pattern and audition which section of the pieced fabric I would choose for the front panel. How about this?

Or this?

Back to the drawing board, or rather the cutting and pasting board to play with ideas of placement bearing quality of tonality in mind:

Which led to this: Note that the pattern piece still needs to be cut to size as well as having it's seams shredded.

For the back panel I wanted to work with the quality of value moving from light to dark. I loved the blackwork section of this module and was keen to incorporate elements which harkened back to the days of such glorious embroidery. So I started by cutting and pasting some of my decorated papers on to the mock pattern piece.

Next job was to recreate the above with fabric. Choosing my fabrics carefully I stitched them into strips before cutting them roughly into the panel shape. Bother panels will be completed by adhering the fabric to the other sides of the pelmet vilene once I have fully frayed all the seams. Otherwise there is a chance that the action of pulling at the seams and fraying the fabric will loosen the panel from its supporting vilene.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Module 2, Chapter 12, Stage 2, continued

Continuing to play and experiment with surface design for my bag, I began by adapting the method worked in an earlier chapter, but instead of stitching for shibori dyeing, I stitched with a view to gathering the painted, dyed and patched fabrics in order to generate entirely new designs through stitching.

In the first example below I began by choosing one of my log cabin samples and stitched uneven lines of running stitch before gathering. Unfortunately because I stitched with normal sewing quality polyester thread, one of the lines of stitching broke. Thinking about this I came to two conclusions - the first was to use shibori quality thread next time, and secondly ungathered sections create a more interesting finished effect.

Log cabin sample:

Log cabin, stitched:

Log cabin gathered tightly:

In the next sample I chose some commercial striped fabric and gathered it more loosely than previous sample. I then rearranged the gathers in order to imitate, at least partially the lines in the image of the tiger's markings below.

Tiger markings:

Striped fabric:

Striped fabric, gathered loosely and then rearranged in an attempt to capture the tiger markings above:

Wrapping fabric strips with thread:

Instructions from "Three Dimensional Embroidery" by Janet Edmonds

Finely woven linen in first 'failed' black dye bath, wrapped in white crochet cotton:

Next step was to coil the above wrapped fabric into a pointed shape reminiscent of peaked shapes on tortoise shell:

I really like this shape. Definite possibilities for a possible panel for my tortoise inspired bag!
So I tried it again, this time using some of my more successful dyed black fabric, wrapping the fabric with white crochet cotton. Again I really like this little sample, even better than the one above, although sewing it into a coil shape was very hard on my fingers. Will need to remember to use a thimble next time and hope that needle doesn't break!!

Still wanting to experiment with a similar shape using a different construction, this time based on Jean Draper's "Raised structure with bound points" in her brilliant book Stitch and Structure, I created these little shapes. Though they have possibilities, I think I prefer the solidity of the above shapes for my bag. Reckon they will be considerably more hard wearing! :)

All in all a good day filled with lots of experimenting. What I enjoyed most was taking some of the earlier methods used in previous chapters and samples and adapting them in a new way.  Happy to be moving forward in my ideas for my bag, and beginning to "see" it evolve........


Three Dimensional Embroidery,  Janet Edmonds

Stitch and Structure,  Jean Draper