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A project taking shape. Half-remembered faces on gray flannel and natural muslin, embroidered with pearl cotton in dark grey-blue, light grey-blue, and a shifty shade of greyish mauve- the colors of darkening skies.  To be brought  together with more fabric, stitching, and quilting.

 

In keeping with that last post: here’s a current working song that gives me big feelings about the past, Neko Case’s “Calling Cards.”

Every dial tone, every truck stop, every heartbreak,
I love you more
Looking like you just woke up from making songs
Shooting satellites that blow up the pay phones
Saying we’ll all be together
Even if we’re not together
With our arms around each other
With our faith still in each other
I’ve got calling cards from twenty years ago

Cloudy recollections: a process post

Over the past few weeks, between other short-term projects (as seen on my Tumblr), I’ve been steadily building up a new embroidery project. The seeds of it were sewn a year ago, when I went on vacation and stocked up on embroidery threads in moody, rich colors- greys, blues, and purples, tinges of bronze and green and dust, the colors of a thunderstorm roiling overhead, the dim shades of a bruise fading over time. I didn’t know what I was going to use those colors for, but I held on to them anyway, cotton and silk and wool, just waiting for the right time to pull them out.

I’d also been mulling over a pile of old photos, wondering how best to turn them into something embroidered. It was sort of strange, I reflected, to stitch random people from my past without their knowledge. I couldn’t think of a good reason to do it- why would I want that project? What would be meaningful about it to me? The photos, dimmed on the computer and printed out, sat in a pile in a drawer in my studio with all my other half-finished- or even half-started- projects.

Moody thunderstorm colors and faded pictures of the past. When the click between the two finally happened, it felt totally natural.

When I was growing up, my mom kept hundreds of photos in shoeboxes, always waiting to put them into albums, but always getting behind. Now that digital cameras are omnipresent and it’s possible to take so many pictures without the fuss of physical film and processing, I find myself sitting on an even larger hoard of electronic images, stretching from now back to my first year of college.

Every so often, I find myself paging through them, looking for a certain image or trying to remember a particular time. When I was in college, I took pictures of everything I could find to take pictures of, and they are all still there, snapshots caught in time, just as they looked the day I took them. Friends dance at an impromptu art party, share food at a potluck, simply stand and look at me with my camera. Faces fill the screen; some have changed over time, some have not. Self-portraits abound, many shots taken to try and get the perfect angle to show off a new nose piercing or haircut. People I cared for very much and still care for even after so much time and other events. So many moments.

That was college- and that was years ago, now. College was a special time, a golden time. It was a time I made friends despite my lifelong struggles with social anxiety and shyness. It was a time for so many moments of discovery and growth, for stepping into a new world and encountering new possibilities. Those were the best years of my life.

Or were they?

Looking at old photographs now, during a time in my life when everything is changing and full of uncertainty, I recognize the temptation to idealize the past, and the razor-thin line between fond memory and consuming preoccupation. I dream of the past- old loves, places I called home- and wake up so troubled. I want to live in the moment- it’s important to my mental health and my future that I live in the moment. But the past calls to me with its siren song, begging me to get lost in memories that are no longer even sharp and accurate. My moments, my memories, are disintegrating, and I am trying to cling to them more than is good for me.

So I am stitching over old photographs, distilling them to their essential lines and gestures, remaking them in the moody shades of a stormy sky. When the guiding paper is torn away, what is left? Only an outline- only that sketchy, clouded, photocopied, dogeared memory, so far removed from the moment that it used to be. I am stitching slowly, forcing myself to immerse myself in memory for a little while. My stitches depict something, but as this project evolves they will also obscure with layering and quilting, adding depth and texture, clouding the image as memories are clouded by time.

Practically speaking: what I’m creating is a memory book, a photo album of sorts, but also the opposite: a forgetting book, a recognition of the passing of memory, a way of exorcising the things and times that haunt me so that I can better appreciate the present moment and the new paths of the future. It’s likely to end up in scroll form, rather like a long, skinny patchwork quilt covered in embellishment and embroidery- a book that rolls up like a sleeping bag, a book that can be neatly self-contained and set aside in a place of honor, a book that can be held and hugged and cried on if necessary.

So that’s what I’m up to right now.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Things that inspire me, August 6

  • I’m inspired by the response I get from posting quick photos of my work and works-in-progress over on my Tumblr, which you can find at http://monikahschuschu.tumblr.com. It’s always nice to get a little visibility, and sometimes I get great suggestions- like recently, when I asked what titles I should add to my fiber-arts library. (Suggestions are still welcome on that front!) Thank you to all of y’all who follow me over there! I can’t follow back on that account, but know that I’ve read and explored many of your own blogs. :)
  • I’m inspired by our upcoming move and the upheaval it’s brought to our house. Not only do I get the prospect of a new working space to make my home- always a fun project!- I’m also remembering and rediscovering so much as I prepare to pack up my studio. It’s good to be reminded sometimes of the wonderful hoard of materials I’m sitting on, from paints to papers, glitter to beads, fabric to mysterious bits and pieces to half-finished projects waiting for a revamp. It reminds me that these things are meant to be used, not set aside as too precious.
  • I’m inspired by Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, a nature-focused memoir that’s a perennial favorite. Every time I read it, something new- some different phrase or passage- catches my attention and leads my thoughts in a productive direction.
  • I’m inspired by dreams and memories, and the way that the past appears when viewed hazily through the clouds of time. I’m working on an embroidery project based on photographs of times I remember fondly, a period of time in college that I now look back on as a sort of golden time, the early days of my relationship with my now-husband, stitching them in the colors of thunderclouds, dark and moody. They are stitched in outline, some details blurred or obscured, just as the memories they represent have lost their fullness over time and devolved into mere outlines of past feelings. I’m not sure where this project is going… perhaps sewn and quilted into a sort of photo album? But regardless of where it goes, I think it’s actually quite good for me to work out my complicated feelings about those memories through art.

Choices and changes

First things first: the past three weeks have been uncharacteristically busy for me, so I haven’t gotten much done in the way of making my own art. I did get to witness some, however. In mid-June, I got to see both of my sisters perform in their studio’s biennial dance recital, and brought them back to Massachusetts with me for a few weeks of concentrated sister time. They live several states away, so I don’t get to talk to them and watch them grow up as much as I’d like to, and it was great to have that opportunity. On the art front, innumerable paper dolls were made, pictures were colored, Sculpey and air-dry clay formed a play ice cream shop, and thrills were had in the form of getting to paint on actual canvas- “just like a real artist!” said my youngest sister. (I actually think the painting that resulted was pretty good!) Bringing two kids into a normally quiet, adult-only household was a bit of a whirlwind, but we got through it without any disasters. :)

Now that the dust has settled, I’m on to other things. I’ve decided to defer my entrance into my textile and fiber art post-baccalaureate certificate program until next year, meaning I’ll be entering in the fall of 2015. It was a difficult decision, but a number of practical concerns, especially about transportation, made it the best choice for me right now. I’m so lucky they allowed me to defer a year- that will help me get things in order to make sure that I get as much out of school as possible. Where that leaves me is trying to decide what to do with the next fourteen months of my life. It’s not an easy project, but I’m working on it, and working on finding the right ways to incorporate self-defined structure into my days.

To be perfectly frank, the past year hasn’t been easy for me, between health issues, the demands of the Etsy shop and craft fairs, and the concentrated effort to try and figure out what I really want and should do. Everybody has their time for discernment, I guess, and this is mine, and it’s complicated, as it’s always complicated. What happens when what I wanted and prepared for is no longer the right path for me? What should I explore when it seems simultaneously like everything and nothing is possible? And what do I do now that the process of discernment is taking much longer than I thought it would, and I find myself longing to be confident and useful instead of so confused? I’m glad I have a partner and a therapist and a doctor who are good at supporting me through that process, and I’m hoping that other parts of the equation fall into place soon.

One thing is (almost) for sure: in less than two months now, we’ll be moving into our very first home! That project has been under way for a little while now, but I haven’t talked about it here yet since it was still early days. We’ve decided to stay in the same town where we’ve been renting, the town we chose when we first decided to follow our instincts and move out of the city, and have since come to love. It’s just a little Cape Cod-style house, tucked away on a quiet street near the woods, but it’s going to be ours and that makes it special to me. The closing date still seems far off, but it’s still exciting to know that there is a little house a mile away, with tall rhododendrons and dogwood trees and an attic for my studio and room for us to grow, and that house is just waiting for us to arrive.

In six weeks or so, my life will be pretty heavily taken up by packing and moving, but for the moment, I have a break to sort some things out. Heaviest on my mind right now is the lack of a “big project” for the moment. I know that there’s no use trying to force an idea out and starting a project I’m not really into, so I’ve been sticking to small projects- an ongoing blackwork embroidery piece, taking up again the needlepoint of my childhood, a little crochet, a little painting on fabric to be used in future projects. And, of course, lots of reading, blog-following, Pinteresting, and otherwise seeking out things that inspire and teach me.

What I really need to do is come up with a binder or notebook system that works for me, and be more diligent about writing down and fleshing out ideas as they come, then possibly setting them aside for later use- but not forgetting them entirely. With five thousand pins on Pinterest and innumerable saved blog posts, articles, and images, I need a way to organize my inspiration that’s better and more accessible than just folders on my hard drive or pictures pinned to the wall. I have some ideas, but I’m always open to more. Any suggestions?

 

Pulling out my 1979 copy of the Readers Digest Complete Guide to Needlework for some inspiration and instruction. Did anyone else grow up with this book as the go-to crafting guide? I have many fond memories based on this book, from learning about so many different forms of fiber art to teaching myself knitting and blackwork embroidery. I think it’s one of the first resources that made me recognize the possibilities of fiber and textile art.

(Photo from this Etsy listing- a pretty good deal, I think!)

Things that inspire me, July 5

  • I’m not exactly inspired, but motivated, by the realization that in a lot of my textile art, I’ve been using a fairly limited palette. For someone who loves color as much as I do, I’m surprised at how much of my work is all white, or black and white, or some other neutral palette. I need to learn how to better use color and more of it, how to better blend colors when needleweaving and otherwise working with fibers and fabrics, and how to make use of all the colorful yarn and thread I’ve collected for “someday….”
  • I’m inspired by rugs and rugmaking. I’ve never tried any method of making a rug before, but I don’t usually let inexperience stop me. :P I feel like making rugs could be one fruitful avenue for my fiber art, or at least something worth trying, something that could be displayed in my house in a different sort of way from the wall art I usually make.
  • I’m inspired by images of water and waves recently, and the many media in which they can be depicted- from media that are themselves transparent, like glass (check out Mario Ceroli’s sculpture “Maestrale“) and watercolor paint, to opaque paints and appliqued fabrics. Being someone who works a lot with lace, tulle, and layering, I’m always interested by transparency and opacity. And especially as someone who’s not a painter or illustrator, I’m always terribly impressed by people using opaque media to reproduce transparent effects, such as bodies seen through water- or the opposite, such as photographs of crashing waves that give the appearance of a solid, frozen mass.
  • I’m inspired by density of stitch- lots of little stitches coming together to form larger, textured masses- I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but check out the work of Japanese fiber artist Junko Oki to get an idea of what I mean. (I’m linking to a Google Image search because her personal website seems to be in Japanese, which I don’t speak.)

Things that inspire me, June 26

  • I’m inspired by the possibilities of quilting, and of all the elements that go into making a quilt, especially nontraditional and decorative quilts- the ways I can incorporate embroidery, beading, fabric painting, and other skills and materials I’d like to get more use out of. I definitely want to make more small art quilts soon.
  • I’m inspired by stretched, open knitting, like that of Christina Gohli, who I recently found through Pinterest. I can knit, technically, but I don’t much, and I’d really like to experiment with more netlike or lacy constructions in finer threads.
  • I’m inspired, as always, by hexagons- the way they fit together, the ways a hexagonal network can be pulled and distorted while maintaining its tiling, their connection to nature as they appear in the work of bees and wasps. Hexagons are absolutely my favorite shape, and show up often in my work and even more often in the pages of my sketchbook.
  • I’m inspired by handmade clothing and the process of making garments. It’s been over two years since the last time I made a piece of clothing- my wedding dress- and I’m beginning to feel the hankering again, spurred on by the work of friends and by the handsewn clothing of Alabama Chanin, which you should totally check out if you haven’t. I wonder about the possibilities of clothing-formed textile art- things conceived and built on my dress form, but meant for viewing and display on a hanger or form rather than for functional wearing. I wonder if I could use pins and a blunt needle to weave 3d items directly on the surface of my dress form. I wonder about what is meant or could be said figuratively by a garment that is impossible or not meant to wear. If something is shaped according to a human form, or sewn using the techniques of the garment industry, does that imply a wearer, and where is the wearer if not in the garment?
  • I’m inspired by book art, a field that’s new to me and that I’m learning a lot about. Who knew that so many different methods and finished products could fall under the heading of “books.” Of course, the connection between bookbinding and sewing drew me in, and I’m also intrigued by the possibility of combining textile and paper art, as I have before with my embroideries on watercolors.

Right now I have family visiting and other obligations and haven’t had much time for art, but I hope to get back to more regular practice soon- by which I miss it dearly and it’s very difficult to do without. I’m trying to at least keep abreast of Pinterest and the art/textile art blogs I read, storing up information and ideas for later use.