Stitching, embroidery and telling stories with thread

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Stitch is a gentle and impactful manner to tell stories, create imagery, and spend time. 

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Take, for instance this graffiti, a snapshot taken while in Barcelona, Spain, just over five years ago. I love birds, and am smitten with the quick, illegal stroke of the graffiti artists’ hand. Combine the two, and I definitely feel the need to snap a photo and go on to figure out how to use it in my own work!

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While most of the imagery I use in my work is drawn by myself, I don’t really feel badly about recreating a graffiti drawings in my work. I receive graffiti as an issue of the public domain, perhaps I am wrong in my thinking, I do not know. Beside which, I will not be selling any work with that bird in it, it is for my own enjoyment and personal use.

That trip to Spain was quite pivotal to me as an artist. I saw some graffiti that bowled me over and made me seriously embrace upon how to go about multicolor printing. That trip caused me to change course artistically.

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It made me start using stitch differently too. I began to use stitch as a means to journal, to use cloth as a place to store memories, thread as a medium to impart color, to draw and even to write. It made me start thinking of stitch as my own personal form of graffiti. Even if I am not doing it illicitly. 🙂

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It feels good to settle back into embroidery and stitch. In the next month or so, I will be creating content for my newly renovated teaching web site, The Clever Guild (there have been some behind the scenes updates and I am still fiddling with the particulars-but it is coming together, finally). I will be working with the idea of Journal Stitching and hope you might be interested in taking a class with me.

In the meantime, please read my rambles about the process here!

Loving Goodness

 

Testa Family

Happy Holidays, all. May peace reside within each of us, this year, this day, this moment. Life is short. Let’s all enjoy every minute of it.

We have just returned from a holiday visit with family. We ate great food. Lasagna, salads, bread. Ham with all the sides. Nuts, a cheese ball. Shrimps. Hugs, family, TV and talk. We took a walk with my brother and Sister in Law. And received great gifts. A great cooking pan, a bracelet I have been wanting for a very long time. Some tank tops from Buy Me Brunch. And I am happy to say, my brother and Sister in Law will be visiting Brooklyn quite soon. Life is good.

I would like to Thank You for your support and encouragement this year! I have begun blogging again and am enjoying sharing my artistic progress with you. Thank you for coming here and checking in. I am thankful to be able to teach at Craft NAPA, and I plan to blog about my adventures. I hope you will stick with me and enjoy it with me. If you want specific pictures or info, comment please!

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This week, I walked to Public House 61 and had coffee while stitching. I spent a couple hours enjoying myself, one stitch at a time. These last few weeks have been oddly stressful. After pulling a muscle in my back, I had an oncology appointment and, of course, my Dr. ordered scans, the first in the last 5 years. I knew it was nothing to worry about, but it did also worry me, to think this might well be cancer related. I was diagnosed 5 years ago, January 11. I do have fear of recurrence, so stitch, which slows time down to a single movement, a small action, that piles up and reveals itself over time, is meditation. It is the perfect antidote to stress.

And! No evidence of Disease at this time. I have a herniated disk, which requires much walking. Deal!! I will take it. 

The coffee shop is one mile away, they open at 7:30 A.M. So, I Gather my Sew-plies!! purses and a project, and go sew for a cuppa. And then walk home again. Win! In the photo just above this video, you can see my project bag and preferred stitching notions, wax and needles. 

I am working my newest Gather your Sew-plies!! purse. It is a class sample. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

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Plastic paint (I mean acrylic).

I am project surfing to be sure. I am doing a bit of this, some of that, and enjoying myself. As I have said previously, I don’t have a lot of experience with acrylic paint. No problem there, it just leaves the playing field open, allowing me the freedom to try new things. I am looking forward to replenishing some of my supplies, which will give me a chance to check out mediums. Fun.

   

At the moment, I am at a cross road. This painting of a Green Heron is a nice start. I have placed my lights and darks, the details are missing, the bird is overshadowing the background. Whenever I come to a crossroad, no matter the media I am using, it is time to take a photograph. This is the ultimate way to compare and think about the image. It allows me to look at the work as if I am seeing a thumbnail sketch. Comparing the snapshot to the painting helps illuminate value differences, shows drawn inaccuracy, it is just helpful.

  

What caught my eye when comparing the photographic inspiration to my painting is the value difference between the bird and the greens it flies among. My painting appears much more stark, with the bird being a heavy force, on a light ground. I am not so much interested in the color green, as I am wanting to merge the background with the bird in my painted rendition. I will start by working with the lower right corner of my painting. I envision some decorative elements placed there.

 

This will give me time to figure out how and what detail will help the Green Heron really pop and will help place those wonky bird feet!

for the birds

The small quilt sandwich seen above is an accomplishment of conversational prints! It is a pun, do you get it? 

Armchair Birder. 

Total geeky cackle over here, this is great birding humor! 🙂 I got into textile design because I fell in love with conversational prints. So, I particularly like this combination of fabrics.  But I am also an armchair birder. My bird magazines come and it really is all about the pictures!

I mean. 

Just sayin’.  😉 

Years ago, I found the Audobon’s list of 20 Common Birds in Decline during an internet search. I sat reading the article, tears rolling down my face. But just as strongly as the tears themselves was the belief  that I could do something to raise awareness for these birds. I felt resolved. I don’t know how this occurred, just that it did. 

I began scouring the net for information about the birds’ habitats and the needs of that habitat (and it’s inhabitants) to maintain symbiosis with these 20 birds. I decided to make artwork for each of the twenty birds on the list. Meadowlark’s bird fabric contains six of the twenty birds on Audubon’s list. I have tried to contact their corporate office to inform them of my project, but they don’t answer the call.I wish they would because I don’t want to unintentionally misinform, but, oh well. I will do my best.

Cancer treatment really made me a different person. It is a big deal to go through. But it has also served to motivate me. It gave me time to think about what I wanted and to daydream about how I might achieve it. It showed me how little time I have and that I want to make a difference.  As I lay in bed during treatment, I watched David Attenborough’s Life of Birds. I watched it over and over, except for the burrowing parrots. (Those birds are mean little birds. I didn’t watch that segment hardly at all.) But I lay there watching and wondering how I could do to help the birds that I so adore. I drifted off to sleep, came back, watched more. It was dreamy. But in viewing the show and thinking about what is important to me, I kept coming back to the list of Common Birds in Decline that affected me so deeply.

I have been exploring the imagery of The 20 birds in all media, paper, cloth printings combined with hand embroidery. So when it came time to start designing fabrics for release in my line, of course, I decided to feature some of the birds on the Audubon list. I hope to be able to create a fabric for each of the birds on the list, we will see. 

I will be blogging about these new works and the birds themselves in the next few months.

I hope you enjoy my ramblings on the topic of birds. 

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The Eastern Meadowlark is on the List, unfortunately.  It’s numbers have decreased by 73% in forty years.  Here is a good place to start learning about Eastern Meadowlark and what you can do to help this bird. 

And remember, I’m hosting a blog hop giveaway of Fat Stacks of the Meadowlark line, here is the list of participants (leave a comment on each posts related to the hop). Today is Leslie Tucker Jenison’s day to post and I must say, I love the ingenuity of her design! The quilt is more like a throw, it has a great ‘hand’, please go check out her post

Melly – June 2 
Vivien Zepf – June 2 
Chrissie D – June 3 
Sue Bleiweiss – June 4  
Leslie Tucker Jenison  June 5 
Jamie Fingal – June 6 
Lyric Kinard – June 7 
Jen Eskridge – June 8 
Jacqui Holmes Calhoun – June 8  <——-Jacqui will be guest posting here!
Stephanie Forsyth – June 9 
Victoria Findlay Wolfe – June 10 
Teri Lucas – June 11 
Scott Hansen June 12
Helen Eckard – June 12 <——-Helen will be guest posting here!

 

 

Working away

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 I have just 6 more birds from the list of 20 Common Birds in Decline to do. Today I printed 3 of 4 recently cut and mounted stamps, before I was stopped in my tracks for the lack of soda ash soaked cloth. And, while looking over the recent images, I think I should reprint two out of the last 4 anyway. I am at a stand still until the fabric hanging in the bathroom drips drip.

I love this project. I have never done anything quite like it before. Each image measures 2.5×3.5″. So they are tiny. I have not measured how big the cloth I am printing on measures, I just randomly chose a size and cut a bunch of squares. I left enough white so that when I begin to embroider them, they can have a border of white around them. I do fret about how they will wash up, so I am printing several of each image so that I have plenty of test pieces.

Yes, I am going to embroider, or stitch additional details on each piece. After the Deep Clean last month, I unearthed several of these stamps and dreamed up this project, so that I can utilize the embroidery floss I had been dyeing two months previously. I am happy to say that I am also restocking my studio supplies and I will be dyeing more threads, both DMC 6 strand and some silk embroidery thread I found off eBay, coming directly from China. I will let you know how it goes.

I have not forgotten that I am going to do a giveaway of Fuglies, and I do have a free class in the works, but my timeframe is much slower than it has ever been before. Please stayed tuned and enjoy.

Two Years

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Two years ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What a roller coaster this has been. Diagnosed, book contract, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, making art, writing about it, Switzerland, Dreaming from the Journal Page, getting used to being a flat chested woman. Oh, did I mention the love and care that I was showered with while doing all of this? No. Well, I was, and am, really. I often think that cancer teaches me that I am loved beyond my ability to grasp or comprehend. There is grace in cancer and this is the gift it gave me.

Today, this month, I am focusing on settling, releasing, accepting who and what I am now. These last few months have been filled with anxiety and depression, neither of which I handle very well. None of us do. So instead of focusing on what I cannot change, or even the things I can change, I choose to immerse myself in making. I am focused on The 20 Common Birds in Decline, because I love birds, they calm and center me, I have a physical memory of drawing their heads, wings, evaluating where light hits their eyes. Making helps me to relax and relaxing is what I seek. 

It takes a fair amount of time to let go of the intensity of medical need, appointments, follow up visits, managing side effects and I am not out of the woods yet, I still receive monthly shots, infusions once every six months (next week will be the 3rd out of a total of 4), and I experience the effects of medically induced menopause. Ugh.

So I am making a concerted effort of focus on immersing myself in what makes me happy, content, able to look beyond this difficulty and to balance the crap with the fantastic. It is time to reset my outlook. Cancer sucks, but life, life does not and that is what I have now. Thank goodness.

Thank you for your love, care, appreciation and support. It has not gone unnoticed. I tend to keep the cancer narrative to myself, but I find I start feeling quite alienated by doing so. So there you have it. These last few months have been tough and I am ready to let it go.

 Phew. 

Four more for The 20

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I am plugging away at the images for The 20 Common Birds in Decline, in fact, I have 10 more images to go-I am half way there. But they are small, measuring 2.5×3.5″, so it won’t take very long. I am making them in groups of 4 and printing them onto cloth in one session. It is fun, in a very obsessive, compulsive way. I find a photograph that I like, I draw the image, scan and resize it, cut it out of Fun Foam, print it on watercolor paper, then using the printed card as inspiration, I print using procion MX dye on cloth. All while taking notes in my inspiration journal. 

Today I printed (from left to right), Little Blue Heron, Rufous Hummingbird, Common Tern, and American Bittern.

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This is an American Bittern, a private bird of marshy areas. Its coloring and mannerism can make it fade right into the landscape, making this a challenging bird to experience in the wild. I printed at least 4 of this image and I could probably print it again, to get it just right, the color is not fully realized. 

It feels good to work with images of birds again. I love birds and want to affect change in the way people think about them. This list was put together using citizen science by the Audubon Society. Chances are, you will recognize many of the birds on this list, if you are interested in helping them secure viable habitat, check this page out. Or maybe you have a bird feeder and would like to contribute to a citizen science project, check out Project Feeder Watch by Cornell or the Great Backyard Bird Count by Audubon (which happens in April and February respectively). 

Many of the 10 images that are in my future are tough birds to make images of, the like Whip-Poor-Will, a bird most often heard, but not seen, at night. And the Whip-Poor-Will is a primal looking bird too! So finding an image that will say, “Whip-Poor-Will” is a challenge. There are four Sparrows on this list, and I look forward to learning about and identifying them. Making art, exploring imagery that is interesting to me is a way of learning, I love taking out books, reading, searching the web and helping the data settle into my knowledge base. I have worked with so many images of birds, I now recognize them as I read my favorite birding magazines, because I am, for the most part, an armchair birder who longs for a feeder (and backyard) of her very own. 

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I have begun making my Deep Cleaning interview, but got distracted by The 20, so please-stay tuned, the interview/fugly giveaway will occur this week.

In the meantime, let me introduce the American Bittern. This bird is a marsh wader, from the Heron family of birds. This is a secretive bird, confident in its ability to camouflage itself by stretching its neck upward in a reed like fashion, the stripes on this birds body really help make it look reed-like. I am in knowledge expansion mode, and am keeping notes, drawing, perfecting the images I draw and documenting my process.  In effect, I am making a map, creating a learning journey for myself. Exciting stuff.

 You can also see that I am cutting a multicolor stamp (page 58-59 of Dreaming From the Journal Page). This is an ATC sized image 2.25×3.25″, as are each of the printed bird images seen in the last post. I love working small, so this too excites me. 

This American Bittern image is #7 out of the 20 Birds in Decline. I have 13 more birds to go. I really look forward to seeing all 20 images together.

More to come. I am going to be meeting with a friend today and need to workout, shower and get out of the house!

Small Work: Swan

I have been having some fun and experimenting. I am not ‘finishing’ the piece when I paint with dye. I am bringing the piece to an interesting place and allowing for the call and response of possibility.

I originally thought this might be a Sew-plies purse in the Inspired to Quilt style, but it says, ‘No’. Small work it is.

Where we began.

Earlier this week, I asked you to tell me how you began sewing. The comments are fabulous

I honestly think I was destined to work with my hands, I have always had an aptitude for it. I can close my eyes and visualize how something should go together. At a very young age, I remember my mom cutting a skirt pattern out, and I caught the fact that the plaid would not match up at the side seam. Also around that time, my mom had a friend who was into sewing and helped me make a vest. I sewed beads and trims by hand to the front border. It was meticulous work that I take pride in having done to this day.

I am so glad I had Home Ec in high school, kids these days don’t even know about it! I am showing my age!

I also think it is funny that so many of us who sew will hold onto a restriction, like fear of zippers and buttons.

Bernina 550, Mixed Media Painting by Melanie Testa Female magazine

When I was given the serger I spoke of, I took lessons in how to use it. It is a scary machine, having 4 threads two of which stay on the top, two that meander through the inner workings of the machine. If one gets broken, it can be a tricky, fiddle-worthy event. The teacher looked at me and reminded me that I was working with a machine and that I was in control. That bit of advice has gone a really long way for me.

It helps that this Bernina 550 replicates buttonholes with advanced and simple controls! Ha.

Check this and this out. I think I may have to look into Alabama Chanin’s books! Do any of you own one of her books? Can you recommend one? This one? Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe