I took this photo in the main square in Cortona, Tuscany in April. We were visiting the city and enjoying the food and the shops and just wandering around – these two men deeply engrossed in conversation caught my attention. I’ve known from the outset this would become the basis of a wall art project.
Enjoying The Morning Sun
I started playing with the image yesterday – first I wanted to remove the other people, to isolate the companions. The blue-shirted gentleman is making a classical Italian gesture – thumb pressed to first and second fingers moving his wrist back and forth; in his other hand he has a cigarette. I want to bring the viewer’s eye to this man.
Morning Sun – Initial Steps
With the other people removed and just the shops behind, the men now stand out – I removed the advertising from the supermarket windows – I will do them in the same dark colours you can see through the open shop door. I intend to keep the partial bench on the right (having taken away the woman who is reading and smoking).
Looking at this image now, I think I want the men to be on the right side – it’s got something to do with the speaker being stronger in that position. I’m about to try cutting off the building on the right and repositioning it on the left, reversing the bench so it is cut off at the left edge – that will also allow me to strengthen the greenery growing on the stones of the facade behind.
It’s not enough that I’m taking on this project, I’m also working on a second. I took photos of some poppies in Marlene’s front garden this summer and these two oriental poppies are striking. I started by outlining the petals so I could do a tracing which I’ll use for cutting out red fabrics. They’re growing beside a light green hosta, with a taxus shrub behind and a darker hosta in the top left corner.
Tomorrow I will start looking for fabrics I can use to construct both these images. Generally I work on one piece at a time. For some reason both have been insistent I begin work on each of them.
One leaf done – a second underway and weeks of work left to do.
The question is why bother? Why didn’t I just fussy cut the flowers, fuse and edge-stitch them in place and leave it at that? Good question. The thread painting, in spite of the large amount of work involved, adds interesting texture and dimension to the fabric turning it into a piece of wall art. I probably should have thought more about the size of the piece before I began, choosing fewer elements, but this panel does make an interesting art object. So I committed myself to the work. In addition, the fabric raw edges are inclined to fray because the bark cloth is loosely woven – thread painting lets me densely edge stitch creating a sharper outline for the flowers and leaves.
I started with printed bark cloth given me by a friend – 4 one metre pieces with different coloured backgrounds. I chose the blue to work with here but you can see from the black piece just how clearly printed the flowers are. The fabric provides a lovely foundation for doing thread painting.
The first step is to choose a few flowers/leaves and cut them out. Next I apply a fusible web to the back of the fabric, pressing the whole thing flat, then fussy cutting before removing the paper backing from the fused web – the paper makes cutting out much sharper. Once the flowers are fused to a background fabric, thread painting can begin.
So that’s where I am in the process. It will take many hours to fill in the colour gradation of the leaves and flowers – I’m working to eliminate the grey using light values of the adjacent colours so “grey” won’t mean grey when I’ve done thread painting – there will be pale green, or pale teal, or pale pink where grey currently is found.
The flowers/leaves on the black backed fabric don’t have grey, instead the fabric has appropriate light shades for each element, making the decision-making process somewhat easier. But now, back to the teal leaf which I began yesterday….
You’d think because this piece has borders and piping that I’ve done all the thread painting – wrong! I started adding borders on the weekend because I was having the second session for the thread painting workshop and I needed to be able to show the gals how I finish a piece. I’d carefully marked (using a heat removable Frixion pen) a centre vertical line, used that to set up the inner border line. I kept all the markings visible as I partially bordered the piece. (Here are instructions for how I do borders with piping: creating borders). I marked locations and created a signature to show how I position the signature embroidery, as well.
Then I began thread painting – this is going to take several weeks – there’s a lot of fabric to cover – I did enough on the leaf on the bottom left to give an idea of how I shade the colours using two different but similar rayon threads through my needle eye. This provides a bit more texture than using just a single thread and lets me fill in spaces more quickly.
Thread Painting Underway On A Leaf
My plan is to eliminate the grey on leaves and flowers using other shades to in-fill spaces. In this leaf, I’ve used pale greens/yellow greens to stitch in the grey areas. I also did pistils on the anthuriums, flower stems, and leaf central veins while I had a specific thread combination on the machine. This is not my usual way of working but in order to share technique with the gals I did a lot of skipping around.
Now I need to settle in to resume thread painting; this weekend I plan on finishing this leaf and move on to the darker green one above. I also need to baste the edge of the outer border to the batting so I can more easily move the piece around while threading painting.
The last one is just finished (except for the sleeve on the back for a rod/dowel to hang the panel).
I’m happy with the results (in spite of the imperfections that pop-out at me). One thing for sure, in future I will use a fused stabilizer to keep the panels from rippling and then use fusible web to adhere batting to panel. It’s quite a bit more work, but I think the final panel will be the better for it.
OK, here’s the 4th panel completed with piping and binding/frame. I’m getting better at squaring the corners with the mitre meeting the point (some of the appearance of “skew” is my picture-taking skill with the iPhone – quite difficult actually to balance the position of the phone)
So that leaves just one fern panel left to complete. I’ve stitched the piping on, next comes the frame/border, then the muslin backing. I’ve got to run a couple of errands now, then I’ll sit down and finish that last one.
Next on to the “On Deck”:
On Deck – 2008
My plan is to lighten the overall colour, remove the boats, and position the woman on the right. I captured the photo on a Caribbean cruise I took in 2008 – gracious, that’s ten years ago, now. The ship anchored for the day so people could enjoy the Cayo Levantado Beach off the coast of the Dominican Republic. I stayed on board and happened to see this scene which reminded me of an Alex Colville image.
I finished this piece yesterday, including the hand sewing – the border corners, the opening at the bottom where I turned the piece inside-out, the sleeve for hanging on the back.
At first I wasn’t sure I liked how it turned out, but the more I looked at it (and the unfinished panels on the cutting table) the more it grew on me. The raw silk piping brings closure to the pieced panel and the border fabric definitely declares that the piece is pink.
I’ve done the prep work on the other four panels – I’ve created and trimmed the piping, cut batting strips to fuse to the border edges so I can enlarge the panel (that’s because I trimmed the panel thinking I would only apply the backing with a hidden binding), cut backing muslin, and chosen border fabric for each. Hope to get to them later this afternoon.
A fifth (and for now final) Abstract From Scraps piece — this one assembled from turquoise-ish scraps. I really have kept quite a few small scraps of fabric, boxes of them (all coloured coded: red/yellow/orange scraps, blue/green/purple scraps…). This is definitely a good way to use up a few of them.
I’m enjoying the process of selecting bits of fabric, piecing them (trying to use each fabric just once – although there are a few repeats where I decided to splice two fabrics in more than one spot), building a 10″ x 12.75″ block, then added a few appliqués, finally setting up and stitching out an embroidery.
For some reason, the “fern” seems to have worked quite well as a focal point for these pieces. I could see flowers, or other leaf shapes working quite well, too.
Anyway, this is it for now – although a grey/neutrals panel is kind of whispering to me. However, for hanging purposes 5 is probably a better number than 6, but maybe after I’ve finished the bark cloth appliqués I may come back to this idea and pursue it a bit further. Maybe….