Guest Article by Roxanne Lasky
My stitch work has run the gamut of techniques, from the machine variety of free-motion quilting and embroidery to traditional hand embroidered stitches like those that embellish crazy quilts and back pockets of blue jeans. Chain and feather stitches and the simple Kantha of running threads in straight lines of hand quilting or varying their arrangement into shapes and rows of texture.
With the final seven feathers, I would need a lighter touch, a minimal approach to express the airiness of the feathers and preserve the dye prints beneath. I would need to withhold thread to express a feather’s true nature – the asymmetry, the tussle of environment on fragile wisps, the endless variety of this iconic form.
The type of stitch used is especially important to the outcome, with generous lengths freely woven in, or precise back stitches to express a downy curve. The mechanics of embroidery floss force some decisions. The way the needle goes in and comes out of the fabric and the number of layers it penetrates, often determine the turn and flair of the thread.
Long stitches are vulnerable to catching, so I positioned couching tack stitches in obscure spots, weaving over and under to secure them to the surface. All of them must appear as organic as a series of seed stitches do to create texture: variety of angle and length of floss, with no exact duplication. This part of the project required placing one stitch at a time.
Rather than mark the cloth with an outline, I used my collection of gathered feathers for direct observation. Sometimes I would lay the slack thread ahead of my line of stitches and follow along with the needle at quirky and organic angles. I experimented a lot and removed stitches when they didn’t seem to be working. (generally a no-no when I work) I relied on different weights to capture nature’s nuances – three strands for most of the long stitches, outlined with two and a single strand for couching and highlighting.
Pushing through a larger project has afforded time to contemplate such things. Stitching feathers has reminded me to consider what is not stitched, like one could erase a stroke of pencil, or smudge it. The negative space between and around holds critical substance.
You can also purchase her book ‘Design and Stitch: the art of everyday patchwork’