This is the question I asked myself over and over again for over a week. For a month, I had gotten along quite well with this work until the point where I decided I was finished with it....then came the nagging feeling that in fact it was not finished. So what do you do when you've fulfilled your plans, you are out of ideas, but something remains "undone"?
In my case, I sat and stared at it...a lot, changed something, undid it, stared again, and so on, over and over. Though, allow me to start from the beginning.
Below: I've started laying out the wool for felting then I stitched the "back side" of the crystal as the first layer.
The wet felting process creates the strongest limitation of the dimensions of the work. Each piece begins at a 1.5 ratio, meaning that if I want a piece with a width of 30 inches, it begins at 45 inches. It is kind of back breaking work, as I have to work on the floor for hours. But I hope that over time I'll improve my strategy. Up to now, I've mainly felted smaller items, puppets, hats, etc. so I'm unused to the amount of labor such a large piece of felt requires.
Here's a stage where I'm about 75% finished but realize that the initial proportions in my sketch were not followed. So I made the man and the shadow taller. They are both needle felted - the man is black wool and the shadow is a mix of viscose and silk fibers. I understood that the crystal shape was also not in the correct proportion between height and width, but I wasn't able to successfully shrink the height in the felting process and I didn't want to cut the wool, as it would leave a different edge than the rest of the piece. I would later come to regret this!
After some back and forth with myself, I decided to use a silk gauze over the top of the piece. This was my plan all along, but in the end, it makes me a little sad to lose so much detail that is visible without it. But the softening effect also has its advantage. Here, I am closing up the piece with the gauze, kidding myself that the project was almost complete!
On the right, you can see how any stitched cloth will curl up from varying degrees of pull from many directions.
Well.....the process was not complete, I was to find out. There was something seriously lacking, which I couldn't account for. The piece didn't have the dimensional quality I had anticipated. But I didn't know what to do. I mostly feared that my mistakes were in the very beginning, in the foundation of the piece and too late to be changed. I tried doing things to the foreground, but none of them resulted in any improvement. I thought maybe I simply need to accept defeat this time around. But at the same time, if I simply forgot about this piece and threw it in a closet, how would that help me with future work? I'm realizing that not all the skills and perception I acquired with quilts translates to felted and embroidered work, so I decided that I needed to stick with this one and try to get to the bottom of my problem with it, to avoid repeating this situation later.
For starters, I decided that I wanted to fix the H x W proportion, so I removed part of the silk layer and trimmed the top point. With the silk overlay, the variation between the natural and cut edge is not so noticeable and I tried to make a wavier cut to mimic the original edges. I had to undo parts of the stitching, cut, and restitch to the new edge.
Back view of the work.
Then I needed to enhance the contrast for a better focal point. I added grey silk gauze to the man's outline. The fact that it's on the surface implies, I suppose, that he's somehow exited this system and is no longer trapped inside of the crystal. This change helped, but now it seemed more than ever like he was floating there. So I tried various things, adding gold around his feet like a platform, adding shadows, among other attempts. But this is really where I felt like adding to the surface was not the answer and this is an issue that really should have been planned out from the very beginning, lying underneath other layers of material.
I decided to move to the computer and digitally play around with the image in the hope of saving time. Digitally, I can try out a lot of ideas, undo them and compare them in a short period of time, compared to hand work. I had ideas for adding shadow "engraved" lines like a real crystal, which reflects light on only a few surfaces. This failed when I tried it with thread, and continued to fail when I tried it digitally. I just hadn't planned for it properly so it fit into the scheme of things awkwardly. At this point, of course, the composition was already basically frozen and no radical changes were possible.
I was trying out one last ditch effort to make an effective change, by adding another layer of white silk gauze behind some of the planes of the crystal (underneath the silk overlay). While trying this, the silk bunched up in such a way that it gave me the idea of using it to create a sort of "gateway" around the man. This was just the ticket, I think, because the piece was lacking a highlight. I felt myself finally satisfied, to an extent. In the end, I decided to tone down the contrast with the external lines of the crystal, and that was that. I called it good.
These pieces have definitely provided lessons for me which are different from lessons learned for quilting. I hope that in the future the process will generally be less fraught with confusion and go more smoothly.
Close up of the "gateway" around the figure.
"Collision", 2021, 20.75" x 16", wool, silk, silk thread, cotton and metallic threads, viscose, silk fiber
Contact me for purchasing information. Leave a comment if you'd like!
So, the journey has begun! I'm working on my first fine art piece in 2 years, and I'm not only adjusting to the materials, but also to the sometimes very annoying process. I had forgotten how when in the middle of a piece you can feel so lost and confounded, stuck in a corner you don't know how to get out of. I forgot how the thought of working on the piece can almost be nauseating due to it's riddles which can't be solved any time soon.
I decided to ease myself into this new body of work by choosing a piece that was on the small side and which I thought would be relatively simple. I'm not sure why I thought that, because as soon as I began I was already saddled with questions and experiments. Had I been quilting, I would have put aside my cloth before even starting and saved it for another time or another piece. But the nature of using felt as a backdrop is that I must make it at a specific dimension for a specific piece, without adjustments, as I will not cut it. The size it is is the size it will always be, in other words. So even though I felt the desire to stop before I started, I was stuck. So I plowed forward through the first few obstacles and decisions.
(cutting out a shape in the felt for a silk organza reverse applique)
But then the difficulties really began, starting with these new materials. The silk was way too thin and I quickly realized that my initial plan needed to be reworked to reinforce the artwork. The small pieces of felt which I had cut out also needed protection to keep them intact. This set up an unexpected challenge. I realized that I would need to cover the piece with another layer of translucent silk. With this decision in mind, I began the detailed hand stitching which I figured would ultimately become a faded background underneath another set of stitched designs.
(phase one - background stitching)
But when I ultimately put a piece of grey silk organza over all of this work, and spent days stitching it down and adding more designs, I just couldn't be satisfied with it. I couldn't make it work no matter how hard I tried. It was just too faded and whatever I put on top was also faded and seemed to conflict with what was underneath.
Therefore, after days of working, I decided to change the direction and undo nearly all of the work and start from scratch. That meant taking out most of the thread I had already stitched. I was not super happy about this but knew it was the right decision.
That left me with other questions with no answers and in general the whole sense of this piece is that I was wondering around in the woods from one small trail to another, never knowing where it was going to lead. And hand stitching is slow. It takes time to find out where your going and if it's the right direction. It's sometimes exhausting and frustrating because it's easy to lose confidence in yourself and make yourself go through the motions of trying out yet another idea. There were days when I took the piece out of eye sight because I just couldn't stand to look at it. I needed to clear my head. I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but when one is trapped in the middle of a process they can't get out of, it's frustrating. I can't toss work away, ignore it while it sits somewhere indefinitely unfinished. I must finish all of my pieces, to some level of satisfaction. It just sometimes comes with great difficulty, though most cases are relatively smooth going. I think I've just been pampered for so many months with my hand puppets which are fairly predictable and easy start/finish projects. Now I've been faced with a much more complex activity and with new materials and techniques. But I'm nearly out of the woods, and within a few days I expect to be finished and ready to call the piece complete.
(This image shows the piece back to being mostly felt but with the grey silk appliqued over the flower and root system. I restitched the green lines and cubes and at this stage was testing out different ways of completing the flower petals - a very frustrating task which required days of rest in between to settle down and regroup)
Ultimately I went with the pink petals, but the dense stitching was strikingly different than the feel of the rest of the piece, and it was distractingly bright. So I added a layer of the grey silk on top to tone it down. It made a big difference! But ultimately I wish the flower could be more complete, however in my initial planning I thought I would need a felt border to provide stability to the top where it will hang. I'm not sure if it looks like there's a border or if I simply didn't finish the flower on a whim! While it's not my favorite work, I'm content enough to be done with it and chalk it up to experimentation. I have to say that I did learn things which will help me with the next work, and that's not nothing!
Finished work. 17 x 14.5 inches
For purchasing information, contact me.
This piece is a departure from my usual work. I only really feel comfortable with my work when I know that it is sturdy and nearly unbreakable - hence the reason I like quilts. You can throw them around, fold them up, be generally quite aggressive with them and they'll recover with just a few simple tricks. And not only do I like quilts, but well-stitched quilts, where all the elements are securely fastened, and if they are fragile elements, I really prefer putting them safely under silk organza, like putting a fragile specimen under a glass dome. I've never been comfortable with those few pieces which seem vulnerable to my typical style of working.
But then we have this piece, which, while not really fragile at all, gives the impression of fragility.
I actually don't remember making this piece very well, but I can puzzle the steps back together using the pictures and making educated guesses.
I began with a background of soluble fiber sheets which I stitched together. I then stitched a portion of the swooping lines. In this picture below, I've cut out my human forms and have them in the position I want them.
Next, I've added the wall which will go between them. This wall was created by stitching on thin silk organza with the aid of a soluble sheet so that it would be more manageable. Of course, at some point I cleaned up those loose threads. I detest loose threads in my work.
I don't have a picture in between these two steps, but basically I layered silk fibers over these elements, sandwiched it all with another layer of soluble fiber and stitched some more with black thread, and then stitched even more with transparent thread. Here you can see that I've already washed away the soluble sheets and am left with a web-like structure that was a bit of a mess at first. But, all fibers can be organized with pins! So I laid it out, stretched it where it needed to be stretched to maintain it's proportions, and pinned everything until it dried. I was a little nervous about getting the paper people wet, but mostly just because I wasn't used to dealing with more vulnerable materials.