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.
My previous post about painting on Aida looked at the beginning of my experiments. After rejecting the idea of either painting or stitching the outline on painted works, I moved forward by embracing the messiness of the process.
I produced a piece of work for an exhibition called Failed to Connect about my failure to connect with religion as a child while attending a Methodist school. I used to sit in the cream painted empty church and long to be allowed to leave. The work is in the style of a banner (one of the few decorative elements within the church), on a cream piece of fabric. I wanted the heart in the painting to reflect me, restless and full of life. The opening words of The Lords Prayer are stitched across the top of the banner leaving a blank space in the centre. In this instance I felt that the painting on Aida worked really well.
Empty Words. Acrylic paint, metallic thread, & cotton on Aida. 2017
I have also been working on a large scale piece of work over the last year. It’s in the style of a prayer rug, with a repeat pattern made up of interlocking anchors. In the centre there will be a large hand painted anchor. There is plenty more sewing to do before the painting can begin, and lets just hope that paint doesn’t drip on the stitched areas when that happens.
Section of pattern for Prayer Rug [working title] Contemporary Art Cross-stitch work in progress
Prayer Rug [working title] work in progress
A major aim of my Contemporary Art Cross-stitch practice is to push the boundaries of what cross-stitch can be, and attempt to create new ways of working within the medium.
I began to experiment with painting on cross-stitch fabric, originally with the idea of stitching the black outlines, usually found in my paintings, onto the finished work. However, I didn’t like the finish on this work due to the distortion on the lines because of the grided fabric. I quickly moved on to adding embellishments to the work in cross-stitch, better utilising the grided nature of the Aida, rather than fighting against it trying to create smooth lines.
Sample of Eurydice, Acrylic paint, cotton, Aida. 2017
I took an early, experimental piece of work with me to Athens in 2017. This work was based on the Ancient Greek Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the myth, Eurydice dies and Orpheus journeys to the underworld to retrieve her. In ancient Greek pottery the images are often portrayed with Orpheus in colour (terracotta) and Eurydice in shades of white and grey to show that she is dead. In my work, the red living heart represents Orpheus, while the grey heart is Eurydice. Silver thread has been used to embellish on one side, while gold has been used on the other.
Orpheus and Eurydice. Acrylic paint, cotton, Aida. 2017
A major failing in this piece of work for me is the painted outlines. I have an obsession with outlining my work when painting and it can be hard to get over. I hate how it looks on the Aida, and so abandoned the painted outline on my next piece of work.
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.
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.
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.