Inspired Stitch: A Creative Journey

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1 Inspired Stitch: A Creative Journey Design and Stitch from Photographs Gwen Hedley For many years I have been inspired by the shores of Dungeness in Kent. My creative journeys have always begun by spending time there, soaking up the atmosphere, using my senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch - it's quite a physical beginning. I study the big broad picture before focusing and coming in close to whatever attracts me. Then the all important sketchbook/notebook and camera come into play. My camera is a vital piece of equipment. I need high quality close-up images that reveal details of colour, line and texture, so that I can work from them at a later stage. I do make quick sketches on site, and I certainly make a lot of written notes. I record what it is that I like about my chosen source, as this will help me when I get to the design stage, by reminding me what characteristics I want to interpret, and what the 'feeling' of the piece will be. The Image For the purposes of this article, I will concentrate on just one image, and show the journey from the initial photograph through to the finished stitched work. The image selected is a close-up shot of part of a metal plate embedded in a painted wall. The metal has eroded and the rust has stained the paint, forming areas of diluted colour and streaked lines. The attractions that this image held for me: An unusual colour scheme, of white, turquoise, rust, burgundy, black and white - enough for me to experiment with, modify and change emphases as I wished. Layers of colour, with plenty of tonal variation. Interesting outlined shapes within the white area. Soft irregular edges between the distinct areas of colour.

2 I set to work using my 'adjustable window cards' to select areas for drawing. Moving two L-shaped pieces of card around a photograph gives windows that can be can long and thin, short and wide, square or anything in between depending upon how the Ls are positioned. From this photograph, by using my adjustable window to select different areas, I was able to create several abstract designs, two of which were developed into patched cloths, forming the ground fabrics for Metal Plate 1 and Metal Plate 2, in the Boxed and Shelved series of work. In this series, boxes were filled with assembled detritus from the shore and inset into stitched cloths. The thought processes behind the boxes and their significance is too lengthy for this article so it is limited to just the designing and stitching of the cloths. The Drawing and Design The point of the art work is not to make an exact copy of the original but to interpret it. The act of observational drawing makes us look carefully and gain an intimate knowledge of the source material in terms of shape, line, form and colour. Artwork is an important 'step on the way' to the stitched piece. Having decided upon the section to work with, I turned to my large sketchbook and began drawing. The small section of photograph needed to be greatly enlarged and I paid attention to proportion and scale. I drew with a stick and ink, as this helped me to be freer in my approaches - it's hard to get too fiddly with a sharpened kebab stick as a drawing tool. After the initial drawing, I blocked in the colour using acrylic paints, remembering to use different tones of each colour to reflect the richness of the original, and to avoid 'flat' colour. I often spread the colour on thinly, scraping it along the surface of the paper, using a narrow piece of plastic. Old credit cards cut into strips are perfect for this, as they are very flexible and, cutting them lengthwise, you can get three strips of different widths. Painting in this way is quick and direct and is especially effective if you want a 'blocky' effect with your colours, which I did in this particular body of work. When the initial blocks of colour were laid down, I used soft pastels to work over the top of it, rubbing them in with my fingers. This enriched the colours, adding different tones, and also gave me layers of colour, reflecting the nature of the source material. After that, came a third layer of work, using coloured pencils. This enabled me to refine areas and give further tonal changes to the work. I repeated the pastel and pencils stages, gradually adding more layers of marks and further depth of colour, paying attention to the edges where one colour joined another, to create broken irregular boundary lines. I referred back to the photograph, sometimes with a magnifier, discovering dots of unexpected colour and subtle changes of tone within each colour. The final, freely coloured, surface pencil lines are important, as these will act as a guide to stitching when I begin to work with fabrics. 2 of 7

3 Cloth and Stitch: Metal Plate 1 71 x 47 x 5 cm (28 x 18 x 2 in) The next step is to prepare fabrics ready for stitch. I like to use old fabric whenever possible. I like the fact that they have a history and it seems in keeping with the worn nature of my design reference. Old cotton or linen sheets, backs of shirts, old linen tea towels, calico - any natural fabrics will do. If there are holes or other signs of wear then so much the better. Using the artwork as a guide to the palette needed, and using acrylics, I painted large areas of burgundies, terracottas, turquoises, whites and greys, with acrylic paints, varying the dilution so that I got different densities of colour. As with the artwork, I used several shades of each colour. When they were dry, I set about cutting the fabrics up in order to patch and layer pieces together. The artwork was the guide as regards shape and proportion of colour, but the piece was eventually much larger. The cut fabrics were laid or pinned onto paper stabiliser before the initial round of 'holding down' stitching, done very spontaneously with free machining. I then made my thread selection, making sure that, as with the coloured pencils, I had several different turquoises, several whites etc. With the foundation laid, I stitched more densely, changing threads frequently, to enrich the overall colour. I overstitched one colour with another - layers of stitch and layers of colour. When free machining in this way, I consider my machine as a drawing tool, using the needle to work freely, changing directions and colours in the same way as with pencils. At this stage, I refer back to the art work, looking again at those final surface pencil marks, using them as a guide for the top layer of stitching. So it was, that in this piece, I softened edges of colour by stitching over the boundaries and altered the bobbin tension to bring dots of a different colour up from beneath the work (see below). The entire cloth was completed in this way, and then began the construction of the box and the final building of the finished piece (see right). 3 of 7

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5 Metal Plate 2 41 x 33 x 5 cm (16 x 7 x 2 in) I moved the L-shaped card right angles around the original image and was drawn to an area with a distinct small rectangular shape within the white section (see right). I decided to make slight changes to the colour balance, enlarging and giving more importance to the turquoise area, and giving emphasis to terracotta, rather than burgundy. I approached the artwork in the same manner as with Metal Plate 1, using several layers and many tones of colour. Again, the final layers of pencil marks were important (see right). The stitching process was as before, with layers of machine stitching, colouring with thread to soften lines and edges, and to give highlights (see below). 5 of 7

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7 Photographs of work are from the CD Elements of Change. It features 75 printable images, including 30 pieces of Gwen Hedley's work, close-up details, her design sources, explanatory texts and sketchbook pages. Price: p&p. The image for design is from the CD Surface and Structure. It features 114 high quality, printable, close-up images, including painted metals, rust, paper and fibre, wood, structures, stone and wall. There is also a tutorial giving suggestions and ideas on how to use the images for design. Price: p&p. If buying both, please send a cheque for to include p&p. Gwen Hedley, Copthorne, The Undercliff, Sandgate, Folkestone, Kent CT20 3AT, UK, com. Gwen Hedley studied embroidery at East Berks. College, was a National Medallist, and holds the Diploma in Stitched Textiles. She is an experienced freelance tutor and has taught extensively in the UK and abroad. She is a member of The Practical Study Group ( exhibits regularly and has work in private collections. She is the author of 'Surfaces for Stitch: Plastics Films and Fabrics'. 7 of 7

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