Bark, Lichen and Fungi
I'm one of those people who go around photographing tree bark, moss, lichens and
fungi. I know I'm not alone.
The range of patterns, textures and shapes is endlessly fascinating. I also used to bring home
fallen pieces of bark and twigs covered with lichen. Now I live on acreage in Tasmania, I have
all the moss, lichen and bracket fungus I want right outside the door.
For well over ten years, I have enjoyed interpreting these items in machine embroideries,
and my interest has grown in making them more and more three-dimensional. Increasingly, I
like to make them appear as if they might just have peeled off the wood. They are, however,
artistic interpretations rather than botanical studies. Lynne Stone (Australia), on the other hand,
does the most wonderful 3-D botanical studies in machine embroidery.
Below are some of my pieces.
1a. Bark and Lichen I (1998) (approx. 9"/23 cm x 6"/15 cm) (Private collection, Darwin)
This was the first piece I made with three-dimensional lichens (the larger ones made on dissolving
fabric). The bark is in low relief, though overall only slightly curved. The tiny lichens and moss are stitched
by bringing up the bobbin thread (in two different grey-greens) to speckle the bark. Small-scale lichens are
suggested by seeding stitches and French knots and variations (hand work), in 20/2 hand-painted silk yarn,
and by machine whipstitch. Off-the-edge stitching is used to give a more naturalistic edge to the piece.
The pieces of lichen are stitched individually and then later assembled by hand. The process is similar to
flower-arranging: though the desired effect is naturalistic, the arrangement is conscious and deliberate.
1b. shows the piece of real lichen-covered bark which was one of the sources of inspiration. It's 6.5"
long. At nearly fifteen years of age, it's starting to look a little tired.
I took the piece in 1a to New Zealand on my first teaching tour there. I was
importing some emu feathers and a couple of other items incorporating feathers
or fish leather, so I had to declare them. Customs directed me to the area staffed
by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (known locally as Ag and Fish). A young
female officer attended to me.
The items were in my cabin bag, which was perched on the top of my
trolley/cart. I took them out as she inspected them. As she returned them to me, I
placed them in the bag and closed it. She was interested only in the feathers. They
would have to be fumigated. When the paperwork was complete, she asked:
"Have you anything else to declare?"
She looked affronted and declared: "I think you have! Open that bag!" I did so,
and she caught sight of Bark and Lichen I.
"You'll have to declare that!" she said indignantly. Removing it from the bag
and handing it to her, I protested that it was an embroidery, made of fabric and
thread. Her hand touched the "bark". She instantly realised that I had not been
attempting to smuggle a real piece of lichen-encrusted bark. Highly embarrassed,
she apologised profusely, saying that she had never seen anything like it. I
assured her that rather than being offended, I was highly amused, in fact, quite
flattered, and that the incident would make a good story. It has done ever since.
Below are more examples of my lichen, bark and fungi pieces, all of them in
freehand machine embroidery, with a little hand work.
2. 3. 4.
2. Bark and Lichen II (2000) (approx. H 9"/23 cm x W 3.5"/9 cm x D 2.5"/6.5 cm before mounting
on hand-painted silk) (Collection of Barbara Wenders, Seattle, WA)
3. Bark, Lichen and Fungi I (2000) (approx. H 8"/20cm x W 4"/10 cm x D 2.5"/6.5 cm before
mounting on hand-painted silk) (Private collection, New Zealand)
4. Both of the above before mounting.
These pieces are much more three-dimensional. As well as extra layers of Pellon and interfacing and
embroidering back into them, I have used both the shaping power of stitch distortion and further stitched
manipulation of the bark. The fungi are not made on dissolving fabric, but on a shape cut from a usual fabric
sandwich (but with the addition of fabric on the back of the sandwich).
They are freehand machine-embroidered using only one hand, and stitch distortion shapes them. The
scallops on the edges are formed by off-the-edge stitching - like tiny-scale crochet by sewing machine.
With Bark and Lichen II, I have also further manipulated the lichen by stitching the "plate" lichens by
hand on the back before applying them.
5. Bark, Lichen and Bracket Fungi I (2004) (H 8"/20 cm x W 4"/10 cm x D 2"/5 cm before double-
mounting - H 15.5'"/38.5 cm x W 10.25"/26 cm overall, mounted) This piece featured in Contexture,
an exhibition held in May, 2004 at Framed Gallery, Darwin. (Private collection, North Queensland)
6. The bracket fungi in 5, after stitching and before assembling. As with the other fungi, they are
stitched one-handed on pieces cut from a double-sided fabric sandwich. Shaping is done by stitch
distortion and off-the-edge stitching. The latter technique is also used to flute the edges. All stitching
is straight (running) stitch, hand-manipulated to become directional.
The bark in this piece is particularly textural because it features informally ruched applied torn strips
of hand-painted silk. These are then embroidered into. Below are two pieces worked as class
The first is H 9"/23 cm x W 6"/15 cm (approx). Half was embroidered in one workshop, the other in
another. As you can see, the technique is consistent. The other is H 6"/15 cm x 4"/10cm (approx).
(On other pieces, I have also used pieces of nylon organza burned with an electric stencil-cutter.)
Here, low-growing, rosette-type lichen is stitched with an informal variation of whipstitch using two
different-coloured threads in the bobbin and bringing them to the top.
The final stage before mounting is to hand-stitch a turned-edge lining in black silk habotai to the back
of the piece. It is cut by eye (eyeballed) in situ without pattern.
7. and 8. Bark, Lichen and Bracket Fungi II (2004) (H 7"/18 cm x W4.25"/10.5 cm x D 2.25"/5.5 cm
When researching bracket fungi, I found a picture of these on the web (and of others, some of which I
have not yet tried interpreting) on the web. I thought the colours were amazing. Most of the area in these
fungi is off-the-edge stitching. Only the darkest grey near the foot of each is based on a fabric sandwich.
For bracket fungi, I use the same colour in the bobbin throughout. I tighten the bobbin tension (on the
Bernina, put it through the hole in the bobbin-case finger), which pulls the top thread slightly to the back.
That the combination gives an acceptably realistic look to the underside of the fungus.
Some stitched fungi. Yes, there are red and orange, red and purple fungi. I haven't yet done them to
my satisfaction. In fact, the range of colours in bracket fungi is incredible. The US quarter will give an idea of
the scale. (US and Canadian quarters, Australian and New Zealand ten-cent pieces are all the same size.)
It's not bark, but it shows how off-the-edge stitching can give, rather than a hard, artificial-looking
finish, a soft, more sympathetic and naturalistic edge. Below is a 3-D rose. It's a little tired, as it's travelled
widely. It's just over 2.5"/ 6.3 cm high and 2.375"/ 6 cm wide. It's solidly freehand-embroidered on a sandwich
of twolayers of painted silk fused to either side of Vilene (fibrous synthetic interfacing). The stitches form the
edges. The "stamens" began as a "fringe" stitched on dissolving fabric.
9. 10. 11.
Bark, Lichen and Bracket Fungi (V) (2010): constructed using the class sample bark as above and in 11.
12. 13. 14. 15.
Pieces done for the Tasmanian Craft Fair at Deloraine, Tasmania, November, 2013: in order Bark, Lichen and Bracket Fungi VI,
VII, VIII, IX and X. The last, a fantasy piece, is nearly twice as large as the others. All are mounted on hand-painted silk stretched
Different freehand interpretations of bark
1. 2. 3. 4.
1. A 1998 sample inspired by those trees like the Leopard tree, on which the bark flakes off
in plaques, exposing different-coloured bark underneath.
2. and 3. Part-worked teaching samples of the type of bark in which the top layer splits in vertical
fissures. 3 shows a variation of treatment on just one vertical strip.
4. Trees in landscapes, from the vest for A Bloke in the Landscape (2004). At the left, stitching
with tension variations (and contrast bobbin threads) on fused trunks in painted silk appliqué shapes.
At the right, dense mossing with three colours - two through the one needle (and one in the bobbin)
on the trunk and branches, and directional stitching in the foliage, where I tightened the bobbin
tension so that only the two greens on top would show.
I'm always delighted when students send me images of their
finished pieces resulting from a workshop. Some students in Into the
Woods! workshops in Sydney and Hobart have kindly given me
permission to include images of their finished pieces here (in
first-name alphabetical order).
Most are mounted on an inner, bound backing, which is then
mounted on another backing (here cropped) which provides a kind of
mount or border. Janine Hunt's and Elizabeth Roberts's are mounted
and framed. All are very impressive. Note that Carol and Kay have
chosen more naturalistic colours, whereas the two Elizabeths, Fera and
Janine have chosen fantasy colours.
1. 2. 3. 4.
1. By Carol Straus (Sydney workshop, 2005)
2. By Elizabeth Long (Sydney workshop, 2005)
3. By Elizabeth Roberts (Hobart workshop, 2004)
4. By Fera de Boer (Hobart workshop, 2004)
5. By Janine Hunt (Hobart workshop, 2004)
6. By Kay Haerland (Sydney workshop, 2005)
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