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.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Here is my self portrait. Some yarns are hand spun and dyed. The rest are commercial crewel wool. It also contains hand spun buffalo down in the hair. (I collected it from tree trunks while camping in Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.) The bottom half is covered in English paper pieced hexagons of repurposed ABU pixelated camo. They were scraps from my husband’s USAF uniforms. (The insides of pockets are sometimes cut out and sewn flat to give a neater, more professional appearance.) This measures 11″ by 14″.

The juror in a local fiber show gave me a stinging comment about my bad design. I know the formula for a perfect composition. I’m pretty sure that most high school freshman art students know it, too.   Edit:  My point is that I choose not to follow rules and formulas.  I make what I want to make. 

I hope that you can see a sharp disconnect between the head and the “body.” That disconnect represents the friction of being a military spouse. The heart and the head aren’t together. The head must soldier on in real life while the heart must stay flat. I hope this is making sense.

Soldier on, friends.

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.

Anybody want to see my impression of Richard Saja?

If you aren’t familiar with Richard Saja, he is a fine artist who often works with textiles and embroidery.  He is often known for his altered toile scenes–French livery with mohawks and punk clothing, pastoral barns on fire, etc.  He’s actually quite a bit more interesting than that, so I recommend that you visit his blog and search the internet articles about him.

This bit of embroidery is a Father’s Day gift for my dad.  We don’t always see eye to eye, but that’s only because we are equally stubborn.  We have the same birthday, the same crappy skin, the same sense of humor, and the same horrible neck problems.  I decided to sew a neck pillow for him because I know how helpful mine is.  I hope he likes it. 

The fabric came from Hobby Lobby.  It’s nothing big, but the man is getting an Alexandra Walters embroidery piece for the low, low price of being my dad for 36 years. 

Before you start thinking that I’m a good daughter, let me tell you that I still haven’t mailed it.  I’ve been very sick for a few weeks and just found out that my thyroid quit working.  My doctor can’t see me to prescribe anything until after July 13, so I am functioning of 12-14 hours of sleep a day.  I manage to get nothing done except feed the kids and keep the house from becoming a health hazard.

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″

Crochet Pattern: Stethoscope Cozy

Crochet Stethoscope Cozy

With the original author’s permission, I am posting a crochet version of her knitted stethoscope cozy.  Thanks, Kim!  You can find her on Ravelry hereEdit:  Kim has taken her pattern off the internet due to abuse.  People were making and selling them.  Not cool.  If it isn’t your pattern, you need permission to sell it, even if you made the item. 

I’m celebrating a new start to a new career and I want to share my happiness with all of you.  Stethoscopes are expensive and need protection from skin and hair oils or they break down.  Also, I find that the tubing pinches my neck and pulls my hair like crazy.  Plus, as a lifelong crafter, I was peeing my pants to think of some nursing-related projects to make.

This pattern would make a great gift for heathcare workers who have given great service to your family and/or pets.  (It’s hard to find a way to thank people when they aren’t allowed to accept gifts of monetary value.  When I worked in the laboratory, we weren’t even allowed to take popcorn buckets or boxes of candy at Christmas.  I’m pretty sure most hospital administrators would allow and handmade yarn present.)

Fraternal Twins

Use washable fingering weight yarn!  I used sock yarn.  I have many leftover balls around the house from knitting socks.  For vegans and wool allergies, there are some adorable cotton yarns for babies in fingering weight.   My gauge was 5 sc per inch.  I used a size D (3.25 mm) hook.  Gauge isn’t too critical, but I’d go bigger rather than smaller. 

This is the cheap stethoscope from my husband's old EMT kit.  It's the same size as a Littman, just with a slightly smaller bell.  This cozy should fit most scopes.

Anyway, here it is:

Chain 16 and join to form a ring.  Single crochet in each chain.  Don’t join rounds, just work in a spiral until you’ve reached the desired tubing length, approximately 18 – 20”.

To shape for Y-bifurcation in tubing:
Flatten crocheted tube and place open ring stitch markers on the two edge sc.  (Approximately stitch 1 and 8, but we didn’t keep track while working in a spiral.)  Increase 1 stitch before marker and once stitch after marker by sc twice in same stitch (4 stitches increased.)  Work one row of sc, moving up markers as you work.   Continue increasing in this manner on alternate rows until you have 32  stitches in total.
To finish with a snap: 
Work even until piece measures 2.75 inches from the first increases.  Work several slip stitches to even out your spiral work.  (You don’t want an abrupt end to the single crochet stitches.)  Fasten off and weave in ends.  Sew a snap halfway across the wide end of the tubing.  Since crochet isn’t as elastic as knit, you may need to pop off the bell of the scope to get the cozy in place.
To finish with a button:
Work even until piece measures 2 inches from first increases.  Midway between increases on one side, create a button hole by chaining 1 and skipping one sc.  Work even for another 0.75 inches.  Remove hook and flatten tube again.  Across from your button hole, count over 3 sc to the left as the work is facing you and place an open ring marker.  Work to marker  in sc.  Turn work and sc 6 .  Turn again and work 6 sc.  Work back and forth across these 6 stitches until tab measures 1 inch.  Fasten off and weave in ends.  Sew a button that fits your hole in the center of tab. 
Don’t forget to include washing instructions if this is a gift!  I’m off to play Barbie dress up with my stethoscopes. 
Snap placement

If you have any questions, I’m always here:  Let me know if the directions make sense.

Sandra E. Finan

This lovely lady was my husband’s commander the day we got married.  I met her that morning at an orientation for new military spouses and liked her quite a bit.  She’s loud and had a huge presence.  She’s a part of my history now, not just David’s.  She’s like a great Aunt I barely remember.  She’s a part of my extended family.

I added a tiny bit of khamak embroidery to her uniform.  This type of embroidery originates in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  I was struck by how much their embroidery style reminds me of quilting blocks.  I added it, not to insult Ms. Finan, but to better understand the women of Afghanistan.  I want to know the women of the Middle East, who are as powerless to stop the war of their husbands as I am to stop the war of mine.   This touch of embroidery put Sandra Finan in context.   She was responsible for many troops during this war.  She ran the missile fields in Montana, Wyoming, and California.  I’m not attaching blame or glory.  I’m just saying…

I made a new Kindle cozy.  I use my Kindle for a medical dictionary quite a lot.  My old cozy had a pocket that covered the buttons.  The new cover keeps all of the buttons handy and doesn’t need to be taken off to charge the reader.  Plus it was a good excuse to use an old embroidery of mine, circa 2008.  I lined it with 2 layers of Timtex to make it sturdy. 

I really love my Kindle.  I know that you can get apps for other devices to read Kindle books, but it isn’t the same.  Kindle feels like a book, doesn’t hurt my eyes, it’s light to carry, I could go on for days.  I love this little thing.

Mini 'Zac

 I’m also making a mini Prozac.  My large work sold last year and I want a little mini buddy for myself.  I bought a kit to make a miniature pin cushion and promptly threw away the floral pattern suggested by the manufacturer.

Little white lies like I was there.

This amazing piece landed in my Flickr group. I have to share it with you. The blue words look so much like sutures from a distance and I love the clotted texture of the reds. It makes you wonder about The Accident.

Here is what the artist said:

There are some unwieldy things I knew deep down that The Accident made me acknowledge.

1. People get away with heinous crap every day and never have to pay for it. The person who crashed into my mother’s car continues to rack up citations — civil and criminal — but never seems to suffer for it.

2. You never know how attractive others think you are until they make comments regarding a facial disfigurement. And now I must cope with that and looking 1/16th Klingon when I stand in good light.

3. I have ceased to be a patsy under the guise of anti-litigiousness or the desire to just let things rest. I still don’t like that change in attitude, but this is entirely necessary until people change theirs regarding how much concern they should have for others.

Flickr streat for l33tware is here: (Or click on the photo for a closer look. It will lead you to l33twave’s photos.)

We are changing this art form

, originally uploaded by Drucilla Pettibone.

I’ve been on vacation and I have some catching up to do. I want to show you this amazing embroidered and appliqued fox by the talented Ms. Drucilla Pettibone. She combines commercial and handspun threads as well as vintage fabrics. (Handspun!)

I hope you click on the photo to see her Flickr stream. She is passionate about her work with rescue dogs. She’s also a damn nice person. Here is her blog:

So many amazing artists are out there challenging and changing embroidery. I’m constantly amazed by the new subject matter and techniques. Invent your own stitches! Invent your own materials! This is a great time to work in fiber. It’s time to shake off the image of fiber artists producing nothing more than overworked, overbusy quilts. Our art form is powerfully emotional and visually exciting. Go make something right now!

Just to update everyone, I got into the nursing school that I wanted. I feel as happy as I did when I found out I was pregnant. I’m scared, but I know this is going to complete me.

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.

Mission Accomplished

I’m done with Norman.  I really like how he turned out.  I’ve been worried lately that I’m all technique and no substance.  Doing a bunch of portraits doesn’t exactly help. 

I’m especially proud of how thick and tactile my stitches are.  They actually cast little shadows.  The reason I don’t use glass in my frames is that I’m inviting people to touch my work. 

I used woven stitch on his clothing.  It was fun.  I know it’s very literal, but I think it identifies my work as stitched rather than painted. 

I think the portraits say a lot more as a group than they do alone.  Thanks for sharing this experience with me.

Waiting for Norman to Dry

Bathtime, originally uploaded by alexcateye.

The entire time I’ve been working on these military portraits, I’ve had the lyrics to “Uncle Alvarez” stuck in my head. You can buy the album here:

Uncle Alvarez
Liz Phair from whitechocolatespaceegg 1998

There’s a portrait of Uncle Alvarez
Hangin’ in the hall
Nobody wants to look at it
But Uncle Alvarez sees us all

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
Better send a postcard and keep the family quiet

He’s not really a part Cherokee Indian
He didn’t fight in the Civil War
He’s just Eugene Isaac Alvarez
We feel sorry for the wall

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
You’re gonna make ’em sorry when you die

And it’s a long way down
You’re hoping for a heart attack
Runnin’ around
Investing in this and that
And your beautiful wife keeps your life on a shelf for you
Safe in the bedroom
Where there’s no dust or mildew
And it’s hard to believe you were once a beautiful dancer

Better just to shake it off
As you write your resume
Don’t think of Uncle Alvarez
And the price he had to pay

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
You’re gonna make ’em sorry when you die

Oh, oh, oh, imaginary accomplishments
Hey, hey, hey, you visionary guy
You might even shake the hands of Presidents
Better send some money to the alma mater

I went shopping for openbacked frames today and I can’t wait to take a picture of all three gentlemen together. I’m just waiting for Norman to dry.