From the Flickr Group

1. Lace portrait with cast shadow, 2. Untitled, 3. The Ladies of Aeschylus are complete!, 4. I Bleed, 5. For the Craftivist Collective’s bed-in quilt, 6. thank you note for my hosts, 7. Amyclae Commemorative Stamp, 8. Broke a Man’s Heart, 9. “You Are Cordially Invited”, 10. Untitled, 11. I was never fully comfortable…, 12. color test

Add your work to the pool! (If your privacy settings don’t let me share I can’t post your work here. You can still join the group, though.)

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!  I get 3 precious days off from school.  I plan on running 5K and eating my weight in pie.  I’m starting with this recipe.

The Identity of Recovery and Some Work from LUKE Haynes

[Gifts #12] Secret
[Gifts #12] Secret 

This piece by LUKE Haynes has been on my mind a lot lately.  Secrets vs. Revelations is an intriguing battle.    

You should check out his work if you haven’t seen it yet.  He is a quilter unlike any other.  His images are bold and photographic.  His lines are clean and striking. I haven’t seen anything from him that didn’t elicit an emotional response.  I love an image that holds you for a while.  (I can’t stand extraneous crap on artwork–the reason I usually don’t like “art quilts.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love quilts–just not “art quilts” with “quotation marks.”)    

He recently opened a gallery in Seattle but I didn’t get my poop in a group soon enough to direct you to the opening.  My bad.  Nursing school is kicking my ass.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about health lately.  I spent over 20 years of my life struggling with depression and now it’s gone.  (Actually, my first memory of depression is from kindergarten.  I remember thinking that my mom would be happy if I died.  Then I cried until I fell asleep.  This is one of my earliest memories.  You can see how deep these thoughts and feelings are rooted.)  I’m so grateful to be healed that I often start crying with relief and joy when I think about it.  I am different now.  I am better. 

Recovery is a strange process.  So much of my life’s work has been to understand the identity of illness and bring awareness to psychiatric disorders, using my life as an example.  Who am I now that I’m well?  The memories of my depression are still twitching and kicking like a phantom limb.  The disease has been amputated, but my body can’t forget the pain.  How much longer am I going to wake up in the middle of the night scratching a leg that doesn’t exist?

I know that I must learn to identify myself as a well and healthy person to stay that way.  The devil I know is only 6 months in the past.  The devil I don’t know is the future.  I refuse to go back, so I need to accept that the future could be great–that the other shoe might never drop.

The irony of all of this madness is that I’ve found out recently that a lot of my depression symptoms were caused by endocrine problems–it wasn’t all in my head.  Correcting insulin and adrenal hormones fixed me.  I’m really not sure what to think about that.

Here is another LUKE Haynes quilt.  Go look at some more.

Giggly Mama

Free form

Shannon has long been a friend of this blog.  I’ve written about her before, but she deserves a little more praise than I’ve been giving her.  Shannon is an amazing person.  She kind and smart and creative.  She’s sweet and it’s not saccharine.  She’s just plain adorable.  I’m really lucky to have her as a friend.

Free- form embroidery for Mama Sass

Art therapy doesn’t have to be literal, though that’s how I do it.  When Shannon feels bad, she makes these abstract designs to self-soothe and release.  You don’t have to use special images.  This isn’t voodoo.  The act of moving one’s hands to create something is an act of beauty and self-care.

Swirly Whirly

She has tons of other exciting things to look at on her blog.  She has fabulous portraits of cult classic heroes, art deco pieces, 70’s funky owls and birds, etc.  You can see them all together on her Flickr stream.  Stop by and say something nice to her.  She deserves it.

Kate E. Burke

White Button Embroidery Pendant
Double Layer Embroidery Pendant

I found Kate E. Burke on Flickr a while ago.  I admire her embroidery skills and the wonderful textures in her work.  She is the owner and curator of  The Honeytree Gallery in KC, MO.  I grabbed a little blurb from her webpage about her themes and motivation:

Kate E. Burke is a textile and graphic artist that explores themes of juxtaposition: the private with the public, individual with community, internal against the external. She captures fleeting emotions and thoughts into permanent reflections of daily life using drawing, watercolor, beads, sequins, fabric and embroidery.
Racing Mind

I love her aesthetic.  Some of her work reminds me of my 1980s childhood.  I’m not sure why, but I get that achy longing feeling.  The narrative of her embroidery is very adult, though–stress, racing thoughts, the unending “game” of grownup life.
Racing Mind Detail

This is one of my favorites.  I love the texture of the sequins and tears.   I hope you go look at Kate’s stuff.  You’ve got to see the larger photos to appreciate it.

Interview with Penny Nickels

Aluis- Hand embroidery, 9″x12″

I recently interviewed the amazing and talented Ms. Penny Nickles.  She kicks more ass with her little finger than most people do with both feet.  I think that’s why I like her so much.  Her work is conceptual and narrative.  She rips it right out of her guts.  Enjoy!

How did you learn fiber arts?

I got my first loom when I was 10 years old or so. I made a table runner that seemed to take months and months to complete. Then it accidentally got thrown in the wash, and it felted and shrank in different places because I had used all kinds of fiber. That kind of put me off it for a while. Then when I went to an arts magnet high school, and all freshmen students in the visual arts department had to spend six weeks in each studio to figure out what their concentration would be, one of which was fiber arts. That’s where I guess I had my first real lessons. But I was still wasn’t really taken with it and pretty much studied printmaking exclusively up through college.

I guess around 2002 or so I started knitting, and once I realized that I could do more than scarves, I started mainly doing sculptural pieces. Then I started spinning. I tried embroidery around that time, just to give it a shot. But it seemed like it was mostly about tattoo flash art and sparrows and pin up ladies, so that kind of put me off too. But I realized that the same way I had approached printmaking would easily work with embroidery, so I started stitching some of my early prints and voila! These days I work more in fiber and only occasionally go back to printmaking.

What are your artistic influences?

Literature is a huge, constant influence. Most of my pieces are illustrations of some kind. The work that I find most satisfying and authentic tends to be real explorations of the characters and motivations. Pieces that don’t gloss over our monstrous and mediocre qualities but still let real beauty shine through. Dostoevsky, Seneca and Céline are great at it, so is Brautigan, though unfortunately, most of his best books are out of print. I tend to be drawn to visual artists with similar sensibilities, and many of my pieces depict “morally gray” characters. When it comes to the less abstract, nuts and bolts of influence, I would say I spend a lot of time researching traditional, cultural arts. That’s where I go for palette suggestions or what we might consider unusual materials. But I try to be mindful of those traditions and their significance. Gross appropriation really annoys me. So I might look to mola or doga (central asian wards) for color schemes or stitches, but I would never make one. It verges too much on debasement for me.

Name some non-fiber artists that inspire you.

Like I said, I love artists that show human complexity and contradiction in a plain way, not gilded or romanticized. The ones that don’t shy away from common grotesqueness. So I’ve always been fond of Otto Dix, George Grosz, Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka… Basically those artists born at the end of the 1800’s and lived around Germany and Austria. I think I like the idea of the Vienna Succession and Der Blaue Riter more than I like the majority of those groups’ work.

What other kind of art do you make?

I still do printmaking and drawing. I can really only draw well from life, so I take a lot of photos and use archived photo references so I can draw the things I can’t see. I have some large sculptural pieces in progress, but they take so long to complete I fear I’ll be working on them for years.

Why is mythology so prevalent in your work?

I just think if you really, really look at those stories, they’re incredibly relevant even today. For example, if you look at the story of Medusa, she’s raped, she gets scapegoated and punished for being raped, her family is brutalized, and she lives on an island where all these men repeatedly flock in an attempt to “conquer” her. When they approach, she turns them into stone and they are unable to get near her in any way. And the rape was used as tool by someone who was threatened by her as a way of very literally demonizing her, and to set all these other injuries against her and her family in motion. It’s an example of really classical hubris, re-victimizing the victim in order to feel/become powerful. And it’s kind of classic power struggle stuff. If you want to discredit someone, typically you shame them and then use that as fuel and turn them into a monster while you knock down all of their supporters. I just feel like you can’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing a very similar story.

Or Clytemnestra. She’s often thought of as a femme fatal who cheated on her husband while her was away at war, and then killed him with the help of her lover when he returned. But that doesn’t address her full story. Agamemnon killed her first husband and murdered their baby boy, and then forced her to marry him. Then later, he sacrifices their daughter and leaves for ten years to go fight a war started because Clytemnestra’s ridiculous sister was abducted for a second time. And then when he does come home, he brings Cassandra as a concubine, part of his spoils. Seriously.

The whole thing is so bloody and absurd, one can hardly blame her fury. But I find it fascinating that commonly the events that make the murder of her husband understandable are rarely discussed. As if she’s only allowed to be a treacherous slut that killed the good patriarch. I think this kind of characterization and oversimplification is still prevalent today when we look at how modern cases are presented. Everybody wants everything to be black and white, these stories show us all the shades of gray.

What inspired this series of masks?

I guess it started as a function of exploring my need for privacy. I lived pretty loudly for a long time, but it became exhausting and over the last few years. I’m at the point now where I’m just trying to regain some peace and privacy. So obviously, something that obscures identity is an attractive item. And masks have power. If you look at any mask tradition, they tend to be used for specific rituals. Also, if you look at decorative fiber art traditions that have been maintained consistently, they also tend to be worked and used ritually. So when I made the Invisibility Mask, I spun the fiber on a drop spindle (BFL) and plied it with stainless steel thread to make it “impenetrable”. I dyed it a watery color that I felt like was pretty forgettable. I shaped it with short rows and fulled it so it was extremely fitted. Then I covered it in shisha mirrors, which are still used in some regions to confuse and dazzle evil spirits, to make the wearer invisible. I think it’s interesting that it reflects everyone except the wearer. It’s play on how people see us or rather, how people tend to have rather unyielding ideas about the nature of someone. Like whether they’re “good” or “bad” or stupid or attractive or clever. It’s a caricature of the real person, and this mask is a literal play on that. It reflects the viewer’s expectations rather than the identity of the wearer.

The sleep mask, Dirt Nap, is fairly straightforward too. Again, I spun all the materials (baby llama and BFL) and dyed it variegated brown. I worked the collar in lace to reflect lacy nightclothes, and the poppies over the eyes are a nod to Hypnos and Thanatos. I have a sleep disorder that occasionally causes me to question what is real. It can be very disconcerting, and actively creating something that speaks to that helps me feel like I have some control. I’m working on two more, they’ll take months to complete.

What other themes run through your life and work?

I guess I’m fascinated with the gray areas, with liminal spaces. I’m interested in sussing out the layers. People work so hard to portray a specific image or attractive characteristic, and it comes off as really transparent. I’m interested in the mud, the authenticity. I use stamp motifs over and over in my work because of their connection to communication as well as commemorating events and people.

Tell me about spinning. What is it like for you to spin your materials for a project?

It’s absolute magic. To me, making your own materials really gives the piece depth. It gives it a weightier subtext. If you’re spending that much time and labor on something, you’re probably taking it pretty seriously. And that’s reflective of fiber art traditions as a whole. There’s a reason there’s a world wide, spiritual significance to this kind of work.

How do you want people to feel about your work?

I don’t really care how they feel about it, but it would be nice if they actually thought about it. Like, actually dug deep and used their brains. Particularity before making comments to me about it. Luckily, I’ve fallen in with a good crowd, (Like You!) and I can count on you guys to say something with thought behind it, good or bad. Instead of the usual, “You should use brighter colors and happier subjects… I’m going to copy that for my Etsy… ” comments I get from bores.

How do you know when a piece has crossed from Craft to Art?

For me, art pieces always start as art, and craft always starts as craft. I believe that art is the story I’m telling the viewer, and craft is the prop I’m making to enact a story. If I’m making something for someone I might think, “I’ll weave them this scarf and it will be really bright colors and they’ll laugh when they open it. They’ll wear it and people on the bus will smile at them.” The piece is a function of the story, a prop. It is not the story. That makes it craft. With art, it’s always about a story I’m telling the viewer. It’s a more personal dialog, even when I’ve rendered it in part with a craft method. For example, I did some pillow shams using my myth pieces. Now, aside from what those pieces are depicting, the use of craft, (quilting, pillow shams) adds an intentional subtext that alludes to nightmares and bedtime stories. The craft element serves to enhance the story. I don’t build a story around those, they are the story. Of course there are always people who buy art to match their wall paper, thereby turning art into craft/prop, but that’s whole other deal.

What is your process like?

It’s long and tedious! First I think about what I want to explore, and then I decide on the method. Then, by the time I’ve completed the piece it’s taken so long I have trouble telling if it’s any good. 🙂 I guess the creating the composition is almost as intensive as the actual stitching. Depending on the subject, I usually try to go with shapes, colors and arrangements that reflect the theme of the piece.

Why are you so awesome? Tell me, damn it!

I’m grown! I do what I want!

Any advice for the awesome-challenged?

 I’ll go with Céline- “People don’t deserve the restraint we show by not going into delirium in front of them.”

 Anything you want to say to the posers and haters?

Well, I think it’s mostly pointless to even speak to it. It’s like Dorothy Parker said, “You can lead a horticulture…” But you know, I’m also fond of this sentiment from one of the greatest thinkers of my generation

Clearly You Haven’t Earned Them Yet- Hand embroidery on hand dyed silk with pheasant wing 14″ hoop

Nightmare Diptych- relief print 6″x10″

not good enough

, originally uploaded by beefranck.

I’m nervously awaiting school applications. I’m trying to get into nursing school. If accepted, I’ll be 36 when I start classes. Here is my favorite fear stitched in my favorite font by the lovely and talented Beefranck.

Something about this embroidery makes me smile a little bit. It’s kind of like when I have a headache and my husband tells me it’s probably a tumor. That’s hilarious to me. Maybe it’s actually the opposite of Stuart Smalley.

Wish me luck!

Watercolor Eye Embroidery by Corrine B

wip: eye embroidery, originally uploaded by Corrine B..

I started a new Flickr Pool for artists who would like to be considered for writeup on my blog.
Please don’t be shy. Feel free to join the pool. Feel free to add me as a Facebook friend. I’m not a snob. Really.

One of the first contributions is this eye from artist Corrine B, a WIP titled Leadbelly. It’s based on a watercolor sketch from when her son was shot in the eye with a bb gun. See the post here.  I love the dreamy, washy look of this piece. There is a lot of emotion. She really has the look of tears and watercolor come through in an amazing way. 

Believe me, achieving a painterly look with embroidery isn’t easy. Go check out her Flickr Stream here.

By the way…I still hate my current WIP and I’m going to abandon it for now. I don’t feel like I’m losing or giving up. I feel like I’m free to walk away from situations I can’t win. It feels good.

194 eyes

194 eyes, originally uploaded by sekhmet17.

I don’t know much about this artist. The Flickr profile reads, “Jodie A. Currie is a Canadian who seeks healing from clinical depression, social anxiety, and complex post-traumatic stress through art therapy.” See more work at deviantART.

I’m really intrigued with these drawings. When I first started using craft as self-soothing, I used to crochet huge mandalas from any type of string I could find. It was the early 1990s and I was a poor college student, so I often used scraps of twine, plastic bags, strips of fabric, and cheap yarn. I’d work on them until they were heavy weights sitting in my lap, then I’d give them away. (Or throw them away, I was into purging back then.)

Maybe try a mandala. I’d love to see what you can do with the concept. How could you make it meaningful to you? I’m going to Flickr to stare at these mandalas a little more and try to get some inspiration.

An Early Mother’s Day Gift for You!

One of the floss winners, Ellen Schinderman, posted this project on Flickr and it really made me smile. It combines, drugs, embroidery, and handspun wool. Can’t beat that with a stick!

I really wanted to give out more floss, but it is really difficult to use, especially with tightly woven fabrics. It tangles and kinks up and misbehaves a lot. I can’t imagine anyone getting it to make readable text, but Ellen did it and I’m happy. (My handspun embroidery is very blurry and loose, so the material works well for me.)

If you like embroidered nekkid people doing naughty things, check out Ellen’s shop:
Her Flickr stream is here:
Her website is here:

She is never safe for work, so you’ve been warned.

Beefranck on Sylvia Plath

, originally uploaded by beefranck.

If you love embroidery, you probably know Beefranck. She shares a blog ( with some of fiber art’s most influential people.

Here is what she had to say about this piece:

“I’ve had this idea floating around in my head for awhile. It seems fitting that I finished it this week, which marks a year since I was laid off.

This is my problem with unemployment. If I’m not busy enough, I have time to think – and that never ends well.”

As much as I enjoy a snarky cross stitched quote, I usually just read it and move on. What I really love about Bridget’s stitching is that it holds you. Her quotes are pensive, her backgrounds are interesting, and I find them very emotional despite their geometric appearance.

You can just imagine her frustration as she stitches every bit of this background.

See her Flickr stream here:

Therapeutic Embroidery

Gigglymama is graciously sharing this piece with us.  I love the sense of fun with color and shape.  

One of the most wonderful benefits of art/craft therapy is the ability to self-soothe.  I can certainly imagine the comfort and joy gained working on this piece.

Soothing work from Gigglymama.
Soothing work from Gigglymama.

In her words:  I took up a random project that I had to get out of my system. It’s horrid, but I like it. I cut up piece of fabric, used excess embroidery floss, drew random shapes all over the fabric, and started stitching it, like a maniac. Yeah, I am a freak. I really want to get a giant embroidery hoop and do another one with well thought out colors and better shapes. I have a thing for colors with memory attached. I used one color in this project that reminded me of my grandparent’s old orange shag carpet.