Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stitcher-view with . . . Angela!

I've been lucky to find wonderful stitching friends.  In this feature, read about what inspires them when it comes to embroidery.

Today, we meet Angela, another Home Ec regular.  Angela's background is in photography, but she is also an avid knitter and, more recently, embroiderer.

Q:  How old were you when you learned to embroider?  Who taught you?
A:  My mother taught me to hand-sew when I was, oh, seven years old or so, I think--running stitches and back stitches and buttons and such.  I think about what I'm doing now as an extension of what I learned as a kid.  It feels the same to me as hand-sewing, but with fancier patterns, sort of like lace knitting is still a kind of knitting, but with specific arrangements of knits, purls, and yarn overs.  

Q:  Why are you drawn to embroidery as a craft? 
A:  Well, I'm obsessed with the Iowa State Fair.  I've gone at least once a year since I moved to Iowa in 2007.  Since I sew and knit, the fabric and threads division is one of my favorite places to check out (well, along with the butter cow and the smoked turkey legs).  I've always been impressed with the variety in the knitting, quilting, and crochet on display, but the embroidery seemed stuck in a very sweet, cherubs-and-inspirational-sayings, kind of style.  And I'm kind of a contrary person.  Every year I would think, "Someone should really shake this up!"  After a while I thought, well, maybe I should.  Now I have a set of tea towels to submit for next year, except instead of inspirational quotes they have excerpts from Sylvia Plath poetry.  And pillowcases that say "Ask me what I'm asking for."

Pillowcase embroidered by Angela

So I was first drawn to embroidery as a way to engage with both the literal space that it occupies at the fair, and the imaginative space it occupies in our culture.  I wanted to work with the context and the history and the assumptions that go along with it.       Once I got started on state fair projects, I also started to appreciate the qualities embroidery has to offer as a medium, and not just it's cultural associations.  I think embroidery lends itself really well to text, which is another interest of mine.  I've been thinking about approaching embroidery as a kind of calligraphy, a way of slowing down and focusing on the shape and space of letters and the craft of forming them just so.  (I still have a long way to go with that part!)     And, if I'm going to be perfectly honest, I often covet the awesome things people make around me, and I've been admiring Cassie's work for years.  So the idea has been kind of percolating for a long time.

Q:  What are your favorite and least favorite stitches?
 A:  The only stitch I use right now is chain stitch.  My absolute favorite stitches to look at are blackwork. 

Q:  What is your favorite thread and fabric? 
A:  The basics: plain cotton fabric and embroidery floss.  I suppose eventually I'll have an idea that would be better suited to other materials, but right now there are too many possibilities with just those things.

Q:  What types of projects do you like to work on?
 A:  Text, mostly.  I've been working with poetry or slogans that resonate with me.  I think written language is beautiful, not just in the imagery and emotion it can conjure, but the actual lines on a page, the shape and movement of letters.  I've recently started a year-long project--all 131 lines of T.S. Eliot's The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock--so it will be a while before I have a chance to think about what other projects I like.

Q:  Where do you find inspiration? 
A:  A lot of my ideas start out as "wouldn't it be great/impressive/funny/ridiculous if someone did ___?"  I make the things that I wish existed.  Either that, or I make the thing I wish were mine.  My current project started because I use a light table to trace my design onto fabric, and every time I do that I think about how beautiful the fabric looks when lit from behind, and what if that were the intended display?  What kinds of ways could someone manipulate the effect of the light through fabric? Someone should do that!  I'd already been thinking about the T.S. Eliot, and how ridiculous it would be to try to embroider the ENTIRE poem.  And now I'm embroidering the poem on fabric to make light boxes out of.

Embroidered by Angela
Q:  Are there any types of embroidery or skills that you would like to learn in the future?
A:  Some day I would like to make something with a lot of smocking because I think of hand-smocking as, like, the Olympic Gold Medal of hand-stitching.  People who do hand-smocking are the BAMFs of threadwork.  And some day I'd like to make the kind of Chinese embroidered "paintings" that I grew up with.  It's all long-and-short satin stitch, but the skill difference between my satin stitches and the ones in the tapestries is monumental.  So... I want to make a prairie bonnet and a Chinese tapestry.  :)  Some day.  Oh, and since I'm making light boxes, I need to learn woodwork.  I'm terrified of power cutting tools, so it's kind of daunting.  (My fingers are useful.  I would like to keep all of them attached.)  And I'd like to re-attempt the Master Knitter program and get further than three samples.  And weaving, and quilting, and getting back into calligraphy, and--

Check out Angela's other works in progress at her website!


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