One of my favourite subjects has been and remains the human face (and
figure). What has amazed me is how really severe stylisation and distortion need
to be before we fail to read a face into a pattern. See The Elephant Man below.
Picasso taught us a lot. I'm still exploring. Some faces are realised solely with
freehand machine embroidery, others with freehand machine embroidery on fabric
collage (usually of hand-painted silks) under a sheer fabric.
The above images show a number of brooches which I made in 1999. The first two were approximately
3.5"/9cm high, the others 2.5"/ 6.5 cm and under. All were free-machine embroidered on a sandwich
featuring silk or gold lamé covered with a gold nylon organza. They were bagged out after embroidering.
I made the above pieces when I was exploring a cubist-influenced style. I find that many Australian
students (beginners) seem to want to do conventional pictorial embroidery immediately - usually the bush hut
and gum trees - without realising that, to do this to their satisfaction - even at that point , they would need to
have experimented and developed a repertoire of techniques. I wished to make the point that freehand machine
embroidery is about stitching and surface decoration, about playing with and exploring the stitches, not about
making "pretty pictures". Cubism, with its distortions and fracturing, seemed to be the answer.
I therefore made my Bloke III vest for the 1998 Art to Wear exhibition in cubist-inspired style. (Private
collection, New Zealand) The first image is the sample (now in a private collection in Wellington,
New Zealand) for the back of the vest. The second, third and fourth are the finished vest pieces. It might
be of interest - in terms of design and the creative process - to see both what has been discarded and
what retained and developed in the design of the back. The last image is a small exercise in extreme
distortion, jokingly called The Elephant Man. (Private collection, Australia/South Africa) All in freehand
machine embroidery on fabric collage under a sheer.
1. 2. 3. 4.
1. and 2. Cushion Covers (details), 1999. (Private collection, Sunshine Coast) Overall finished
measurements 18"/46 cm square; freehand machine embroidery on fabric collage under a sheer
3. Sibyl I (2000) - Encouragement award at Mittagong Forum 2000, commissioned by Bernina
Australia; freehand machine embroidery on fabric collage under a sheer.
4. Sibyl II (2002) - commission for a friend in Richland, Washington state, USA
5. 6. 7. 8.
5. Vest: The Three Cubist Graces (Flatness, Angularity and Distortion) (2000) (Private collection,
Winnipeg); freehand machine embroidery on fabric (lamé and hand-painted silk under a sheer.
6. Vest (2000) (Private collection, Launceston, Tasmania) A crossover/double-breasted vest; the
pupils of the eyes are the buttons. Freehand machine embroidery on fabric collage under a sheer.
7. Shawl-collar for Oread, Art to Wear, 1999 (photographed before making up); freehand machine
embroidery (hand-painted silk) under hand-painted silk georgette
8. Handbag (2000) (Private collection, Brisbane) (9" across the top); freehand machine embroidery
on fabric collage (hand-painted silk) under a sheer
9. Neck purse (2000) (private collection, Victoria) (6" across the top) and Two Brooches
All of the above show the development of the cubist influence: the faces are distorted and angular,
the planes articulated by shading; though the eyes are treated in various degrees of stylisation.
Freehand machine embroidery on a collage of hand-painted silks and lamé covered with a sheer.
1. 2. 3.
1. Split Personality (2000) (detail) (Private collection, Canada); freehand machine embroidery
2. Technical Sample (2002)for Jack the Lad (H 13.75"/34 cm x W 10"/25 cm); freehand machine
3. Jack the Lad (the Jack of Clubs) (2003) (H 28" x W 18") - my contribution to the Artful Deck
project in the USA. The entire collection of 56 cards (including front and back cover cards), each by a
different textile artist, did the exhibition rounds of the USA for five years.
Here, the cubist influence is waning. 1. retains the two-face style, 2. keeps the angularity, though it
is softening. With Jack the Lad, some degree of distortion was retained, but there is no longer division
between planes on the face. Freehand machine embroidery on fabric collage (hand-painted and
commercial black silk) under a synthetic sheer (some cutting back). The letter, envelope and quill pen
are separately embroidered freehand and assembled with the rest of the composition. The quill pen was
stitched on dissolving fabric; the other pieces on a sheer-covered white silk sandwich (vilene backing).
Their edges are finished with freehand off-the-edge stitching. No zigzag or satin stitch has been used!
(See Fabric Collage under a Sheer.)
Vest for Another Bloke (An Ace and Four Queens), Art to Wear, Sydney, 2003; freehand
machine embroidery on fabric collage (hand-painted and commercial black silk) under a synthetic
sheer (fine black polyester organza). I wanted to do a piece featuring the female court cards.
The symbols on their crowns, their earrings, their patches (beauty spots) and associated background
motifs all reveal their identities. The Ace (of Hearts, of course), representing the wearer of the vest,
appears top centre back. I completed these before Jack the Lad, and, while I enjoyed embroidering
the more subdued two-face style, it was working on these that made me decide to adopt a more
naturalistic style with Jack.
1. 2. 3.
1. Despite her finery, she sometimes felt she was sinking into the wallpaper (detail)
2. Though she loved a sunburnt country, she preferred to stay indoors (detail) (Private collection,
3. She often dreamed of life as a geisha (detail)
Here, I've returned to the two-face idea, only this time the halves of the face are radically different
- and more surrealist than cubist. The faces, as well as some other areas, are stitched in mossing, using
optical colour-mixing and, in places, layered stitching. All freehand machine embroidery on fabric collage
( hand-painted and commercial black silk) under a sheer fabric.
All of the above are icons from the Vest of my Bloke IV outfit, originally for Art to Wear, 1999. The
first Archangel was my technical sample to experiment with interpreting the wings. The second is as he
appears on the back yoke of the vest. All are freehand machine embroidery on lamé under a sheer, using
layered mossing with optical colour-mixing. The madonnas are small. The first, for example, is
H 3.25" x W 3" - before setting into the "window" frame [See Wearable Art.htm]. The others are smaller.
For an explanation of the above technique of fabric collage under a sheer,
go to Fabric Collage
Or, instead, go to Bark, Lichen and Fungi
or go to Layering
or return to Machine Embroidery