I wanted to write a blog about Contemporary Art Cross-stitch, which I something I have previously written about on a_n, and you may even be able to dig out my old blog.

 

Contemporary Art Cross-stitch is a name I created to differentiate between cross-stitch as a form of contemporary fine art, and other forms of cross-stitch.

 

I have been cross-stitching since the age of 12, but it was only when I was around 28 that I started to think about using it in my fine art practice. I was stitching for a hobby and had become bored with the patterns that were available. It suddenly dawned on me that, as an artist, I could create my own patterns, making conceptual pieces of artwork in cross-stitch. Although this may sound obvious now, cross-stitch as a quiet hobby was so much a part of my domestic life that I just hadn’t thought about it.

 

My first cross-stitch artwork was an adaptation of one of my paintings, The Heart of  Heartless World.

 

I wasn’t entirely happy with just adapting any picture to be a cross-stitch pattern. Now my cross-stitch works need to have a sound conceptual basis for me to be interested enough to see ideas through to completion.

Over my upcoming blog posts I will explore further my attempts to break away from cross-stitch as craft, and some of the concepts and experiments I have been working on.


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As in any of my practice, I hate the excuse that something can’t be done simply because I don’t have the right equipment or materials, or enough money etc. There are creative solutions to these problems if you look hard enough. While I was working on The Thread of Life project, and travelling around giving workshops, I found myself with nothing to occupy me at times. I had pieces of pre-cut Aida, needles and various cross-stitch threads, but wanted to make a demonstration piece in a non-traditional way. And so I began to unpick the edges of a piece of Aida and then to stitch the pattern with the frayed fabric.

Working in this way made the pattern almost invisible, with the colour matching perfectly, giving an embossed impression. I also liked the idea that the piece of fabric shrank in size as I worked, making a kind of self-imploding, or self-destructive, piece of work.

This first attempt was just an experiment, but it inspired me to make new work using this method. I decided to work on a simple labyrinth pattern, taken from the back of an Ancient Greek, Minoan coin, which I would take with me to exhibit in Athens at Platforms Project 17 last year.

Minoan Maze, work in progress, 2017.

I was really pleased with the texture and the overall look of the piece, but beyond this it has inspired me to develop the idea of making something out of nothing, which is something I will certainly return to in future projects.

Minoan Maze, Aida on Aida, 2017.


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In May 2017 I was invited to join a group of artists exhibiting in Athens, Greece, as part of Platforms Project 17. I have an interest in Greek Mythology, which often comes into my practice, and so I wanted to make work to reflect this.
For one of my pieces of work (I took 3), I decided to build on the Penelope piece I had previously made (see my last blog post), but this time work with Greek text. I speak a little Greek, and find the language and the Greek letters beautiful, and so I chose to use the word for Faithful (πιστή Pisti) to once again stitch and un-stitch.

Faithful [work in progress, before the text was un-stitched]. Cotton on Aida. 2017

 

This piece was smaller than the Penelope piece, due to time restrictions on making something of that size. The Greek Key pattern was stitched with white cotton on black Aida, and broken up a little to mimic ancient mosaic patterns. Once again, the word was stitched and un-stitched, leaving larger holes in the fabric, so that the letters could be seen.

Faithful. Cotton on Aida. 2017

The work was very popular with a Greek audience, especially the secretive nature of the lettering, which became clearer as the fabric was touched.

While in Athens I was lucky enough to visit various archaeological sites and museums. The patterns that come up again and again on Ancient Greek pottery are very inspiring to me, and lend themselves well to cross-stitch. I will be returning to Athens again this year, and I am currently developing work to exhibit, some of which may well draw on this inspiration.


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Aida can be very unforgiving if you make a mistake while sewing. Where the needle passes through the fabric it enlarges the hole, and if the sewing is then unpicked, it leaves behind a trace of where it once was. Of course there are tricks to put this right, but the space left behind by un-stitched work has long since fascinated me.
A long time ago I came across the story of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus in Homers Odyssey. It was believed that her husband, the King was dead, and so many suitors wanted to marry her. Believing her husband to still be alive, she came up with a plan to keep them at bay. She said that she would not marry until she had finished her embroidery, and so every day she stitched it, and every night she unpicked it again.

With this in mind, I created a piece of work on a sewing frame, to look unfinished. The work has had the words “Until Death Do Us Part” stitched and unstitched, leaving behind the stretched holes, revealing this missing text. The boarder is a Greek Key pattern.

Penelope. Aida, cotton, wood. 2016

Penelope [detail of text]
This first attempt at stitched and un-stitched cross-stitch work was very successful in terms of how visible the text was, and lead me on to other experimental cross-stitch works.

 


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Back in late 2014, when I began my Thread of Life project, I asked people to make and submit their own version of a pattern I had designed, inspired by a strand of DNA. I was blown away as the project gained momentum and spread around the world reaching as far away as Australia and America.

Anyone was encouraged to take part, from professional artists, to complete beginners. The quality of the work was not important; what mattered was that each work was individual. I also encouraged the use of non-traditional materials and for participants to try things they had never done before, including new techniques.

 


Some of the DNA works submitted

Through workshops I met lots of the people involved, and it was a privilege to hear little bits about their lives and motivations for taking part. I gained a further insight from all of the cards and letter I received along with submissions. Some works were highly personal, and many paid tribute or memorialised a lost loved one. This made me feel defensive about the works, treating each one as a precious and unique work of art.

When the work was exhibited I tried as far as possible to create long strands of DNA by hanging the works in line. The reaction from visitors was interesting, as some people quickly looked as the work as a whole before moving on, while others took the time to look at each work as an individual piece.

DNA works exhibited beside Sharon Mossbeck
I think that this particular undertaking has been the most rewarding art project I have done so far, and, after a good long break from it, I am beginning to think about a future participatory cross-stitch project.

I am currently arranging some contemporary art cross-stitch workshops for 2018, so keep an eye out on the events section of my website for upcoming dates.


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My large scale cross-stitch work The Thread of Life (sharing it’s title with the project I ran alongside it), took one year to complete. I had set myself a deadline to ensure that I had an unfinished piece of work. However, I felt like the pressure was on to complete as much as possible of this giant piece of work, measuring one square metre.

The fabric was painted with clay before the sewing began. This was something I was afraid to do in case I ruined the fabric, but when I finally plucked up the courage I was very happy with the result. The idea was that the unstitched areas would leave the clay exposed, mimicking a fresco ceiling.

 

Although the work was a conceptual piece about time, I felt that I was living this theme in real life, as the stitching took over my life. I worked on it every single day except when I wane on holiday for a week. Sometimes I could only stitch in the evenings, other times I would stitch all day. It became a little depressing to sit in my studio and see the sun pass over as the day slipped by, and yet I had only a small patch of completed sewing to show for it.

 

Using gold thread was the biggest problem in getting a decent amount of sewing finished each day. Metallic thread is notoriously difficult to stitch with, and you would usually use just one strand at a time. However, for better coverage I decided to stitch with two strands at a time, which resulted in almost every stitch leading to some sort of tangling which needed addressing.


Although I was happy with the results, the amount of energy and time spend on the project left me with some resentment towards the finished work. It is only now that I feel I can look back at the work and be really proud of it. Framed by Graham at Bank Street Framing, the work looks just how I envisaged it, although I still wish I’d had more time to complete more of it. The gold metallic thread really works, and brings a quality to the work with could not have been achieved with a matte gold thread.

 

The long hanging threads were relatively easy to attach compared to the actual sewing. Each one is held in place on the back of the fabric with a knot and a sequin to stop the knot being pulled back through. The are plaited when the work needs to be stored or transported.

I am very hard on myself and my own worst critic, and through this project I have learnt to be more generous with myself when it comes to the amount of work I commit too. It cost me blood sweat and tears, and I’m left with a permanent dint in my index finger from holding the needle.

I followed up with two smaller pieces of work, which were extracts from the parts of the pattern left un-stitched. I refer to these as fragments, and they were completed just to satisfy my longing to have completed the bottom corner of my pattern.


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