Finally finished my hand stitching project of self portraits. When I began the first drawing on New Year’s Eve 2016, I thought I had a project for the year. This work was to be completed outside my studio work and it was a way to re-engage with hand stitching rather than machine stitching which has become my mode of working over the last twenty five years or so. While I am the first to admit that not all portraits worked, they were a process of experimentation in both stitch and colour. The work measures 57 x 46 cm (22 ½ x 18 inches).
The question most people ask has been ‘why did you use self-portraits?’ When I began on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t think of what I was going to do for the year. I thought about the mantra – use what you know – I know my face. After the first portrait was completed surprisingly quickly, I then stitched a horizontal line while I took a day to think about the next thing to embroider. I quickly drew up another portrait, and then from then on, I kept adding more portraits until I covered the entire piece of linen. At one point, I bought linen to make a frame around this first piece to work further embroideries, but frankly I became a little bored. However, I persisted and continued adding more portraits. No doubt I will go back and overstitch some areas where I think the colour is not so good.
My list of rules included a new stitch everyday but that was quickly over-ruled as I found not all stitches were suitable. And often I was tired and resorted to ‘comfort stitches’ – stitches that I had learned while I was young and which I continually use. These include stem, chain, feather, fly and satin stitches. I wouldn’t include French knots in the list of comfort stitches: once I embarked on an area of French knots I usually regretted it. I would have liked to include more bullion stitch, but I felt there were few opportunities for this stitch. There were a few new stitches I tried from a crewel embroidery book I have, as well as those from other stitchers from Instagram. I loved layering stitches: fly over fly, chain over chain. These were experimentations of using layers of colours as well to give dense areas of colour.
The larger portraits were easier to stitch than the smaller ones. I tried to balance up colour, stitches and design, making sure the placement and sizes of faces were working well within the overall composition. Heavy areas of colour versus light stitching were one consideration. This was then balanced with light and dark colours.
I read up on portraiture and self-portraits. I also visited our National Portrait Gallery here in Canberra. One thing I am surprised by in self-portraiture is the different ways in which artists draw or portray themselves. Some use single mirrors. Many used two mirrors to get three quarter or side views of themselves. Photography as the basis of imagery is also used. I tried all these methods. All showed an intensity of gaze and this has come through in my own work. It takes concentration and time to draw yourself – portraying a smiling face is difficult. These are not ‘selfies’ in the sense of a quick image posted on social media.
Social media was part of the motivation for this project. As I noted in an earlier blog, I began this piece on the last day of December 2016. I read an online article by Sara Barnes on her website brownpaperbag http://www.brwnpaperbag.com/1-year-of-stitches-2017/ about the artist Hannah Claire Somerville’s ambitious 365-day project called 1 Year of Stitches. Somerville posted daily on Instagram her stitching during 2016. During the year, I have found many people post daily activities to extend their creativity such as drawing, painting, knotting, photographing and beading. Textile artist and educator Jane Dunnewold emphasises that her students ‘just turn up’ at their studio or working space each day: becoming active by picking up a pen, cutting fabric, drawing, or collecting and arranging objects. This activity usually leads on to something meaningful. This has become true for me.
Barnes not only encouraged others to follow this lead in early 2017, but set up a closed Facebook page for stitchers and embroiderers to post their work. With over 3,000 members rather than daily posts the group posts weekly on ‘Sharing Sunday’ which is far more manageable. I usually posted from my Ipad early on a Sunday morning with the last image I had taken. It is fascinating to see such a variety of work. The site provides resources such as Australian Sharon Boggon’s http://pintangle.com/stitch-dictionary/ and her Take A Stitch Tuesdays (TAST) http://pintangle.com/tast-faq/ .
I drew up a new image over a month ago before travelling to Spain as I really like stitching while travelling. However, finishing this portrait project took its time. Having some hand stitching is great to work on in the evenings and a contrast to studio work. The use of colour has spread into my studio palette.
One other question people ask is what am I going to do with it. It may go into an exhibition, but this work was more about the process rather than the finished work.