Taking Stitch to Cloth and Paper

What do I need to Learn Here?
Thomas Crum

For many years, I worked with Thomas Crum as we introduced people to what we called the Discovery Model. The premise is that as long as the questions you ask yourself in life are along the lines of “What do I need to say or do to be right?” you are not operating at your full potential. Indeed, a look at the truly great inventors over time revealed that their frame of reference in trying new ideas as setbacks and failures occurred was more typically the question, “What do I need to learn here?”

As many of you are aware, I have been exploring the art of hand stitching with Karen Ruane for a number of years…what began as an interest in learning hand embroidery has grown to an exploration of expression using stitch on both fabric and paper.

The start of my current project was innocent enough. I was interested in creating a small art quilt from a glacier photo taken on a trip to Alaska last summer. Initially I thought I would follow my typical process of drafting a sketch from a photo, fusing various fabrics to muslin to create a base and then free motion quilting to complete the art quilt. It has been a bit since I had followed that model but it had always satisfied me before.

An interesting thing though happened as I began to work on a muslin base trying out various fabrics. Nothing satisfied me. The more I searched for fabrics, the less pleased I was. I finally realized that some paper I had collected to use in projects with Karen was pretty close to what I wanted. It was time to let go of the traditional and come from discovery!

I began constructing a base of fabric and possible papers for my scene:

In the above photo, I found that a matte frame really helped give me a sense of direction. The central portions in the scene are all layers of paper while the sky and water are fabric.

I wisely did not permanently attach anything to my muslin base. The more I looked at the scene I realized that while it was a fair representation perhaps of the photo I had chosen as a base, it wasn’t what had stood out for me as I remembered our trip. We saw many glaciers in varying light and, as you would expect, varying colors of both ice and water. The glaciers as a whole left us humbled by the power and raw strength of nature that created and moved them. I realized that I needed to create an art work that captured what spoke to my heart as I had gazed at all of them rather than concern myself with reproducing a specific photo.

Once I accepted that reality, I really began to make progress with my piece. I changed some of both the fabric and paper layers and added some dabs of paint.

From there I quickly began experimenting with stitch on the glaciers. I found that a combination of seed stitch and french knot offered the effect I wanted.

This piece is very much still in progress. I currently am playing with stitch for the water. In my earlier stitching stages, I worked without a batting layer as I didn’t feel it was needed and I had given myself permission to create without being bound by the current day definitions of an ‘art quilt’. As I played with possibilities for the water on test pieces, I concluded that I will now add a batting layer to the piece as I like the textural effect the batting lends to the hand stitching for the water.

Bullion loops and running stitch

Over the coming weeks, I will be stitching in the water and then exploring how to interpret the mountains and sky. Promise an update soon!

As always, linking to Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Friday.

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  1. Hi, Judy! An old aikido person here. I love this work in progress you shared. Many years ago, I took watercolor lessons from a friend who is a master watercolorist. I love her work. At some point back then, she became interested in stitching in places on her large paintings, on 300 lb. Arches cold press or rough watercolor paper. The results were wonderful, lending texture and dimension to her non-representational paintings. She has continued working stitches into her paintings to this day. I look forward to seeing how this picture of yours progresses. This may launch a whole series of works using fabric, paper, and stitches. Hope all is well for you. –Jan Hempel (Princeton Y dojo, currently living in Texas).

  2. I’ve been lucky enough to have hosted several quilting cruises to Alaska and your little piece brought back such nice memories….you’ve got the scenery spot on. Funny….I’m struggling with a similar (but different) project now too. My SIL sent me a photo of 4 in their family walking along Sea Side Beach in Oregon……in a long shadow……so far it’s been a bit too challenging for me….but I’ll keep at it!

  3. Judy… so beautiful. Your explorations with quilting continue to amaze me. I love watching how this piece of art is developing and look forward to seeing more. Thank you for the beauty of your work, and you!

  4. Love this and love reading your thoughts as you went. It takes maturity and resolve to begin to think that way. Bravo! This is going to be good!

  5. Great work, Judy — and your sampling proved so useful. I too keep an assortment of “elbows” and mats (some white, some black) through which to examine my work in progress. Learned that long ago from a watercolour teacher. It’s a nugget of advice that’s been so very useful for years. Looking forward to seeing where you end up with this piece!

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