“To quote Jane McKeating, ‘Color drips off the needle every bit as richly as that from a brush’.” - the artist
I am a multidisciplinary artist, with a 50 year career, who combines a mixed media practice with embroidery across digital and manual platforms. Everything in our culture tends toward hurry. This work is about slowing down.
At the heart of the current process is digital embroidery, designing in the computer and stitching out on a computer-aided machine. This is not new. It has been used in the fashion industry and the promotions markets for many years. Digital machine embroidery is not a substitute for, nor a speedier version of, nor an imitator of handwork. It is a mindset and a media choice in and of itself.
A single stitch is made by stretching a thread between two holes. The line formed by it can be loose or tight. It can be thick or thin, depending on the diameter of the thread. It can be long or so short that it barely exists. But, it can never exist as more than a single defined geometric event, a sort of singularity. The combinations of these singularities create planes, lines, forms, and geometrical space.
For several years, starting with the support of a Jerome Foundation Project Grant for Textile Art in 2014, my intense media focus has been on digitizing for machine embroidery. There is an assumption that the machine dictates the outcome, doing all the work for you. The computer and the embroidery machines are the tools that allow me to produce my vision. To quote Jane McKeating. "Color drips off the needle every bit as richly as that from a brush."
The process is highly technical, using several software packages that can only be described as a non‑intuitive cross between Photoshop and Illustrator. Creating digital embroidery is limited by the geometry and the capability of both the machine and the materials. Needle and thread have real dimension and stitches can only be straight, joined together to suggest curves and forms.
Digital embroidery lends itself to hard edge geometry as well as biomorphic form. The combination of high tech with "women's work" provides a delicious contrast of hard/soft, nostalgic/current, objective/non-objective. It also lends itself to modular repetition and re-combinations. Themes can be played out quickly in the computer and then stitched and sampled oh so slowly on the machine; combined with and without mixed media in a wide-ranging exploration of forms in space.
In this chaotic time, digital textiles seem like a way to begin to bring order to the world. Order is, however, always unstable, a glimmer of a hope, cut off by random acts of chance or intent. It is no different in digital embroidery. In the computer, all things seem orderly, put together, and logical... as though the human propensity for chaos did not exist. In the production, chance operates: human error, flawed thread, broken needles, run out bobbins, high humidity, low humidity, fabric popping out of hoops and the panicked phone call from a friend. Repair savvy, canny attention and a spirit of wabi sabi is essential.
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