This morning, while waiting for news on The Big Project (which is dragging on and on...will I ever get a go-ahead?), I forced myself to tackle a Little Project I've put off for decades: Sorting through a huge pile of tangled, jammed-together embroidery threads.
I made a start. But it's a scary one.
I am now mired in "Lower Slobbovia," as my family used to refer to any wildly messy space. Have a look (but you may want to look away quickly):
And here's the scariest part: I could not fit all of Slobbovia in this picture. Even when using the "Panoramic" option on my iPhone, this is only HALF of its length! The rest of the mess is unseen and continues to the right.
(Slobbovia is a very large place.)
This was a first fast sort, using the ROYGBIV method (Red, Orange, Yellow, etc.) and dumping all the white, black, neutrals and un-categorizable color mixes on the far right.
Now I have to move on with another task, leaving the Lower Slobbovia thread-mess parked on my desk. I deliberately put it there because I know I cannot leave it there long. I'll be forced to deal with it. I've been postponing this for decades (yes, decades) and it's just ridiculous to have let it get so out of hand. Hopefully I can find a system that will enable me to store and find colors much more efficiently for future punch needle embroidery projects.
Speaking of which, my good friend Patt reminded me that I had designed and made this punch needle piece back in 2004 for her wedding. I'd forgotten it and appreciate having this photo for my gallery. Thanks, Patt, for sending this!
Anonymous quote which I should adopt as a motto:
"My room is not messy. It's an obstacle course meant to keep me fit."
Apparently I would rather do anything but straighten out the ghastly mess of embroidery threads crammed together tightly in a bag (my so-called "method" for "storing threads" for punch needle embroidery). See my last post...Hah! It's all catching up to me now, and I'm avoiding, avoiding, avoiding...hence I'm writing two posts in one day.
I just finished this embroidery last week, but haven't begun to think about the framing for it yet:
I bought the pattern around 2011 from the Paisley Studio in New York state, and completed the bird that same year--and then dropped it. As I've been saying for a while now, punch needle embroidery projects are keeping me sane while I'm waiting to find out whether I'm going to be starting The Big Project (stay tuned for more on that). Since The Big Project will take up all my time for months to come, I'm afraid to start any serious textile work so I'm basically knitting and punching tiny pieces.
Thus I am finishing up all the half-done work from the last several years. Two weeks ago I pulled out this piece and began to think about a background. Below is Sarah's initial photo that came with the pattern:
I admired her technique and colors. I stuck to exactly what she did, with none of my usual tendency to make changes. The big difference is in the eye of the birds--my bird looks a lot more surprised than hers! That's the difference in how we each handled the eye. Her bird looks meditative--mine looks a lot less settled, right?
The work was so much fun, but once I had it complete I could see it needed a background around it if I were going to frame it. So five years after finishing the bird, I finally punched the background using Valdani cotton thread. I'm pleased with the results, although in my own photograph above I notice that many subtle colors in the background simply do not show. It looks like a much "busier" background in the photograph than it does in person.
Sarah has an Etsy site HERE. I don't see any punch needle embroidery patterns on it as I'm writing this, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still sell them. Check with her if you are interested.
I loved her title for this piece, "Through My Window," and enjoyed thinking about being able to see a bluebird out my own window as I punched. It would never happen where I live now!
To round this off, here are some bluebird quotes. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the last two...
A man who never sees a bluebird only half lives.
Edwin Way Teale
The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
Henry David Thoreau
An optimist is someone who figures that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's the bluebird of happiness.
The Bluebird of Happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the Chicken of Depression.
[While I am in an enforced rug hooking and tangling "lull" for a while, I've been working with punch needle embroidery because it's quick and most of the pieces are small. This is a post on rediscovering my first two pieces and on how I learned.]
Many years ago now--could it have been around the year 2000?--I learned to do punch needle embroidery from a very kind friend and teacher named Linda. I remember how desperately I wanted to learn when I saw her work! At the time, we were both visiting Shelburne VT for the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild annual show (still a fabulous, classic, not-to-be-missed show; it's huge and always has classes running at the same time).
I begged Linda for a quick tutorial and we met the next morning for breakfast at a now-defunct restaurant in Shelburne. While we were waiting for our food, she whipped out a sample and taught me in less than ten minutes. I will be forever grateful.
At the time she was running a small business and writing two books on the topic. I believe the books (superb) are now out of print but I've heard they may be coming back as e-books for Kindle. She had a number of patterns for sale and also made frames for punch hooking. I think some of her adorable patterns may still be available here. Although you will have to check to be sure. Fortunately, gripper frames and Morgan Hoops--which both work well for punch needle--are now widely available from other sources if you google them.
The above Crow Pattern--a lapel pin--was the very first punch needle project I ever did, and it's one of Linda's designs. Here is another one, done around the same time and also one of her designs. It's also a pin.
Linda's first book was called Miniature Punchneedle Embroidery and her second book was titled A Passion for Punchneedle. I highly recommend the first book for beginners and the second one for "experienced beginners" and intermediate-to-advanced punchers. Her directions are clear and well thought-out and you cannot find a better teacher in print. Secondhand copies of the books are often available. I would love to see them reprinted but at least the Miniature Punchneedle Embroidery (first book) is available as an ebook here. The instructions are superb, and it's packed with projects.
Meanwhile, I have continued punching away in spare moments, although my emphasis shifted to punch needle rug hooking for several years. Happily I reconnected with Linda recently. She's still punching, and is also a gifted rug hooker and calligrapher.
While I am waiting for a "go" or "no-go" on the Big Project (the one I'm not yet ready to talk about), my attention is scattered and I hesitate to start another rug. So, I'm working on punch needle projects on a tiny scale. After finishing several of these I was left with tools and threads in a mess and this morning I began a tidying-up process.
That's when I found these two pieces above. These tiny treasures I had completely forgotten popped out of a long-unopened box to delight me.
Big thanks to Linda for her teaching and friendship over the years.
And now...back to the challenging task of sorting out threads. Here is just a partial glimpse of what I'm facing. No wonder I can't find anything...Wish me luck!
Here is the completed piece I embroidered to cover the ugly logo on my fleece jacket. It needs a bit more tweaking and then I can take it off the frame, trim it, and sew it into place.
Until I do that, I won't really know if my idea has worked, so my fingers are crossed. Although I'm experienced at hand sewing, I'm often too impatient to do the best possible job, and this time I hope to go slowly and carefully and get it done right. I'll post a photo of it on the jacket once that's done by adding it at the end of this post.
With thanks to Hanny Waldburger, CZT, for her tangle Pearl in Balance, which enabled me to design this. The final size is 4.75" x 2.25" (more info on the tangle in my first post on this topic) and until I started working on it I wasn't sure if I could get the detail using punch needle embroidery, but it worked well.
In the spirit of the title of this series, "Traveling in Unknown Realms," I took the photo above and used it as the basis for two of my favorite iPhone apps. First is a photo from the Kaleidoscope App, a nice closeup of a rotated section:
I like the view of the individual loops in that photo, even though the design has been manipulated.
Finally I ran the original photo through the Waterlogue app:
Unknown Realms, indeed.
"Making art is like swimming underwater in a blindfold." --Darby Bannard
After two days of experimentation, I think this is going to come together. I think it's going to work. This is how it looks so far. There's a lot of tweaking to do and plenty of punching left to get it finished.
One thing I did not say in my post yesterday about the design process for this very small piece: Without my training in Zentangle®, I would never have been able to draft this design (which is a simple variation of Hanny Waldburger's tangle called "Pearl in Balance" as I mentioned yesterday). While I'm not claiming it's the world's greatest design, it is something that would have been impossible for me to come up with as recently as 4 years ago. Zentangle has really enabled me to wade into the Unknown Realms of the design process in a manner that I couldn't even conceive of before learning to tangle. I am grateful every day for what I am learning in my Zentangle practice. Not to mention how calming it is.
Time to sleep, but tomorrow I'll be back at this. Exploring, exploring.
I've ripped out and re-punched several of these tiny areas four or five times already.
"The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought." --Pema Chodron
Boy, doesn't that sound fancy!
Especially since I'm only sitting right here in my living room.
But in fact, I feel like I am indeed traveling in unknown realms, as I blunder my way towards a huge project I'm considering. I haven't yet said what it is, but it's something that most people have already done long before they reach my age. It's not my intention to be cagey about it, but at the moment all I'm willing to say is that it's going to take a long time--if I even take the plunge--and it's likely to use up all my energy for a very long time. Months, if not more. Sorry to be mysterious, but until I've decided, "I'm in!" I just don't want to disclose it.
Alas, I can hardly think about anything else, and that's pretty limiting.
But that's not the only unknown realm I'm traveling in. In an effort to keep some creativity going despite the distraction of the Big Project, I've been working on very small textile pieces, all of them punch needle embroidery. Today I was attempting to design a 2.25" x 4.25" piece that I want to use to decorate a fleece jacket. I want to embroider something that will cover up an ugly logo that's currently on the left front side of the jacket.
Design is always an Unknown Realm for me. Always.
This was my first idea:
And my second idea:
And then i played around with the first idea:
So then later this afternoon I decided to pursue the first idea and see if I could turn it into a pattern. I spent the last hour or so doing just that. I want the motif to be slightly to the right of center. All punch needle embroidery is done backwards, so a pattern needs to be reversed.
Here's the resulting pattern. Now the big question is: Can I actually pull this off, or is it just too detailed?
The bottom line is I don't know if I can make this work, and won't know until I try punching it.
Which brings me right back into the Unknown Realm, where I am eternally a rank beginner (just as I am with the Big Project) and where everything is an experiment. Just like life.
Life is 'trying things to see if they work.' (Ray Bradbury)
*** The Pearl in Balance tangle stepouts are HERE. Thanks to Hanny Waldburger!
Making this piece was quite the challenge. I started on it in 2008 or 2009 and got as far as completing the face, but then was waylaid by life. It sat on a frame for another seven or eight years (!) and haunted me.
Although I was determined to finish I was also intimidated, because while I was punching the forehead, the foundation suddenly collapsed and my needle plunged all the way through, leaving a large hole in the fabric.
Yikes. What to do?
What I did do was put it away for the next several years. I couldn't fathom how to fix it because the spot was too tiny for a patch. Finally about a month ago I took it up again and closely examined it, realizing that you couldn't really see the hole.
So I left it there and finished the piece, hole and all.
You have to look really hard to find the problem spot (though it probably cannot be seen in a photo; likely only in person).
Lesson #1: Use the Right Materials
This was one of those major learning pieces. Whether I like the end result or not--and I'm still trying to decide how I feel about it--I learned a ton from doing it. For one thing, the foundation was the PITS. I am guessing it was cotton muslin rather than the sturdy weaver's cloth normally used for punch needle embroidery, and that is why it collapsed. It was sold to me as weaver's cloth; the lesson learned is to pay attention to my own instincts--it felt flimsy right from the start. I should have listened to intuition and returned it or thrown it away.
Lesson #2: Make Notes
Another lesson was to make notes, extensive notes, if I am going to put a piece away for awhile. How many strands of embroidery floss had I been using? How had I adjusted the length of my needle? What exact shade should I use to continue? Any other notes I need to make in case I don't get back to it for awhile? I didn't do any of this and had to reconstruct everything when I started work on it again.
Lesson #3: What Would You Do Differently Next Time?
A third lesson was in the use of values to convey visual planes. I would do this quite differently now, but I needed to work through this portrait in order to learn that.
Lesson #4: Revise!
And then there's the lesson that hair is hard to do well in embroidery. Such a different format from pencil and paper! A friend told me my initial efforts made the portrait look like a photo of Dilma Rouseff of Brazil. She was right, and I had to rip out the "over-hair," but at least I was laughing as I did so.
I could go on... In the end, it was a challenge but it was fun as well, and now I am eager to do some additional portraits.
"My nose isn't big. I just happen to have a very small head."
I'm a textile artist (traditional rug hooking, punch needle rug hooking, and other textile arts), long-time meditator and coach, focused on learning about the interplay of art, creativity, and mindfulness every day.
NEXT INTRO TO ZENTANGLE CLASS:
No immediate group classes scheduled (I'm open to hearing about a good venue in Western Massachusetts. I am always happy to teach 1-1 and/or in a small group in your home.
Come and amaze yourself!
SITES TO WATCH:
Insight Meditation Society
Oxford Rug Hooking School
Zentangle: The Official Site
Green Mountain Rug Hooking
Massachusetts Tarot Society