The road that led me to work this way started with free-motion machine embroidery, which led to free-motion machine quilting, but it was not until I realised that I could combine machine and hand stitching that things fell into place and I felt I’d found my place in the world of art quilting. I feel that hand stitching is a wonderful complement to machine work, and above all it brings life and depth to a surface in a way that machine stitching can’t mimic. It is slow work, yes, but satisfying on so many levels.
So after I’d finished all the machine work, it was time to hand stitch the flowers. I’d already tried out my stitches on a sample so the outlines were pretty straightforward: 5 strands of embroidery floss for the flower heads and 3 strands for the stems. I really enjoyed stitching the flower heads and I made good progress.
See me hand stitch a flower on Instagram
When it was time to do the stems I hit a wall, though. It was mind-numbingly tedious to stitch seemingly endless straight lines and I had to figure out rewards for myself to keep going.
The long-term reward was the thought that as soon as I’d finished the stems I would be allowed to use the threads I’d dyed for the background.
The instant reward was that I allowed myself a break to think about the middle of the flowers. I did one flower, but wasn’t happy with how it looked, so I printed a number of flowers on paper, drew different versions of how the stitching could be done and auditioned them on the quilt.
See me audition the flowers on Instagram
This helped me decide how to deal with the flowers. The bottom version is the one I chose.
I can sometimes be extremely finicky with details, and in the following case I didn’t like the angle of the stitches on the flower to the left. So I unpicked them and tried slanting them the other way. The difference is subtle, but the one to the right feels right to me.
When the flowers were finished it was time to think about the hand stitching in the background. By now I’d realised that I was going to do a lot more hand stitching than what I’d originally planned. Partly because there was a bit too much unquilted surface after the machine quilting was finished, and partly because I’d come up with an idea that I was really excited about: I was going to stitch tiny seed stitches with black on black that would represent ‘dark matter’. It is believed that 95% of the universe consists of dark matter and dark energy. It is called ‘dark’ because no one really knows what it is - yet. I wanted the dark matter on the quilt to be almost invisible too, so that you could only spot it when it caught the light, or if you touched the quilt.
Dark matter is more easily spotted if you sneak up on it from behind
As I said, I was really excited about the idea of dark matter, but it was hard going. It was even more tedious than the flower stems and pretty hard on my eyes and neck. And of course, when you work on something like this and reflect on the fact that you spend so much time working on something that will hardly even be noticed, you start questioning your own sanity, and why on earth you do certain things… So I took another break and worked on what I called ‘background radiation’, where I could use more cheerful colours and the stitching was easier. Head over to this post on Instagram if you want to know more about cosmic background radiation, but in just a few words, it is leftover radiation from the Big Bang. I wanted to depict it as lazy wavelengths that went diagonally over the nebula in the background.
When the background radiation was finished there was nothing else to do but to roll up my sleeves and finish the dark matter. By now I’d had time to think about my situation, and one thing that I’d come to realise was that the reason why I love to work with textiles, even though it’s so much slower than if I’d paint the same motif on canvas, is the tactile nature of fabric and fibre. It feels good in my hands. I mentioned my eyes earlier, and being a visual person the thought that I may lose my eyesight one day pretty much freaks me out. Working with the dark matter, though, suddenly brought a sense of comfort. Hand stitching on fabric can be like braille, and if there comes a day when I can no longer see what I stitch, I can feel it instead.
And just like that the last particle of dark matter was in place and all that was left was to square the quilt and finish the edges. When I make art quilts I like clean edges and therefore I usually finish them with facing strips. And, of course, I wanted the facing to complement the quilt, so I spattered white paint on black fabric for stars before I cut the strips.
Finally, I attached a hanging sleeve, and I will soon design a label with the title and date as the final detail.
So that was it. It’s been a long journey and I will have a short break before I get started with the next quilt. But I already have plans, and those who follow me on Instagram and Facebook will know that the theme for my next art quilt will be ‘Black Hole’. I’m very excited to find out where that will take me.
Thank you so much for following my journey! I’m not sure when I will write the next blog post, but I will continue to post regular updates on Instagram and Facebook, so I hope to see you there!
All the best,