Monday 10 June 2024

Stitch Meditations on Being - The Patterns and Hues



“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf…….
                                                                                                                                                    - Philip Larkin



These words say it all, without revealing the gory details or gruesomeness of the wounds we all carry within us. Largely disguised in various ways but played out subconsciously. Most of the time we are unaware of why we do what we do and of the influences of the “soppy-stern…….at one another’s throats” that created who we are, beyond just the physical mating, but the why and how of our psychological make up.

When Larkin says “Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf” he evokes the patterns we form and re-create (subconsciously for the most part). Habits make it easier for us to negotiate life - such as driving a car or bike and even drawing, crochet, knitting and that ilk. But, it’s the emotional and psychological patterns that create the problems, where human misery “deepens like a coastal shelf”






Yet, as Larkin put it, it’s inevitable that we inherit dysfunctional ways/patterns and also play them out, passing them on generation to generation. Unravelling these patterns may or may not create the potential for change, but it’s interesting to do so for the purposes of understanding your own psyche/self. Beyond that, what can we do?

 

This was a dilemma that I faced and struggled with until I started studying the patterns on the molluscs along the Goan coastline. These patterns were unique, as inimitable as our finger prints. It was virtually impossible to find two clams with identical colours and patterns.






What was even more interesting was to learn that these patterns are created by virtue of genetic and environmental conditions. A neurological response for camouflage and survival. Even so, the radula of other species did manage to drill through and suck the animal out, and if not, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Wherein the holes they drilled, became another level of embellishment to the strokes of colour that decorated the exoskeletons.

I studied these patterns in various ways: through the camera, by drawing and eventually by zooming into the photos I took of each. This was fascinating because in pixelating the images, I found the patterns were a configuration of colours.




Colour, as we have seen through the ages, carries symbolic meaning that varies from culture to culture. Lisa Feldman Barrett, social scientist and author of the book ‘How Emotions are made’ asserts that our emotions also vary from culture to culture. Colour and emotions, have long been linked:  green with envy, yellow for happiness and joy, red for love and anger and more in that vein.

But, Feldman Barrett says there is no singular way to describe any of the human emotions. Each culture and person within it, experiences a variety of sensations within anger, joy, love and despair. The subtle gradations and differences between fury, rage, anger, frustration, being irked etc are just that - subtle variations.

In this zoomed in and pixelated photo of a clam shell, that’s what I see, subtle gradations of colour - so subtle that it’s driving me insane trying to reproduce them in thread.





I have two versions of the thread adaptations. The first was a cross-stitched replica where I mixed the threads - two to three different colours from over 400, colours of cotton floss, collected from various thread makers including Anchor and DMC. It took me a long time to complete one piece and the second is in progress. A slow process which I often abandon to tackle something else and return to until it is done. The first one took me a year.




However, the piece that I’m currently working on, isn’t just about getting the colour right, it’s also about patterns and how the same hue can alter with the pattern. The idea is to make a large crocheted and knitted piece instead of embroidery. The reason the colours are taxing both mind and pocket is that unlike embroidery threads, the colour range is extremely limited for knitting and crochet. At least in any one count of yarn to enable some symmetry in scale to join the 5  inch squares.

I had started the pattern blanket (for want of another term)with some vague idea, with regard to how I wanted to put theknitted and crochet squares together. It evolved over two to three years and I made the squares from all the colours I could muster but I just couldn’t figure out how to really work them together to create any visual that appealed to me. This resulted in my abandoning the project and the 300 odd squares I’d already made, not to forget the hours of painstaking knitting and crochet – often at the end of the day. It didn’t make me happy but I didn’t know how to move forward. I thought it was a failed project and hadn’t looked at it for over a year.




Then a couple of weeksdiscovered wood borers had inhabited my rather extensive book shelf which stretches across about half my apartment. I had to empty all the shelves and cabinets below that housed stationery, fabric and my stash of embroidery threads as also hundreds of books amassed over the last four decades and some inherited from my parents’ collection. Art magazines, old issues of Selvedge, Piecework, Surface Design, Embroidery and the now extinct Fiber Arts, Marg Magazines, India magazines (also extinct),BBC music magazine, piano scores and about 100 art magazines - a series I collected in my student days about artists - one issue on each artist (sadly none about Indian artists but focussed on western art history). And of course a collection of books - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, textiles, art, spirituality and more. Basically it was a lot to place around the apartment and at the end of it all, the only free space was my bed.

My knitting and crochet stash is housed in my bedroom, in various draws  usually by colour. This was not disturbed by the pest control requirement. So I decided to revisit the abandoned pattern blanket and changed tack by using the template I had already embroidered in cross-stitch. The 1/4 inch embroidered squares took me about ten minutes each to execute, with seven of those minutes to get the colours to match. In the knitted and crochet version, I am facing similar issues with the subtle gradations of hue, but more so because I’m not working with just cotton floss, but yarns ranging from wool, acrylic, rayon, nylon, cotton, wool and cotton blends, and also the counts are all different from very fine crochet yarn at a 40’s count to chunky 4-6 ply. Often, I have to work  differing counts together to try and approximate the colours.





It was a challenging week both with the rather smelly pest control, putting things back into place and this creative project. But I now have a template that gives me the direction I need. What I’m grappling with, in addition to the technical issues, is what I hope to achieve by engaging in this rather esoteric idea of replicating the colour boxes in both hue and pattern.

While working on the cross-stitch version, I marvelled at the numerous shades there were and recreating them helped me understand that there are so many hues to each emotion. It’s impossible to understand what another person is feeling because what they feel is unique to them - culturally, socially, experientially, genetically, environmentally and more. That was a great insight because one does tend to think we know how others are experiencing emotion or what they may be feeling, but Feldman Barrett also suggests that it’s not possible - at best we can imagine within the range of our experience, based on our own emotional shade card. Our emotions and the hue gradation of the occurrence is uniquely personal.




Most of our thinking comes from conditioning. And is the result of social constructs geared to create a sense of order with the existence of so many of us who inhabit this planet. However, through centuries of the existence of mankind, the ideas have evolved in a rather unthinking and dysfunctional way. In many ways much of our thinking could be deemed be distorted by ideas that most likely germinated through limited knowing and were handed down with incompleteunderstanding by those before us, who didn’t know better.  Quite like Larkin says in his poem. They fuck you up, …..They may not mean to, but they do.”

 

Patterns are prevalent throughout nature and also in our emotions and thinking. My professional training has been in textile design and patterns are nofirmly etched in my DNA. We were taught to create designs for fabric by dissecting vegetables like okra – a cross section with the seeds visible; drawing this and repeating the form in differing ways of  formal repeat patterns for printing motifs on cloth. The challenge was to ensure that the repeat wasn’t visible and also contributed to the visual outcome; trying to disguise the vegetable form through repeating the motif in creative ways. The repetition made almost everything pleasing to the eye because familiarity  is what enables a sense of well-being and makes something agreeable to the senses.

 




As I evolved into  a fibre artist, examining my own persona – a journey of self-actualization through my art, I started exploring the idea of mind-stains or ideas that cause us to feel less than good, feeling shame and doubt and self-cynosure. Initially I explored this through notions of tea stains on my saucer as I spilled the tea I was drinking. It was a long exploration of seven years, wherein I realised that one could still flower – fulfil the human potential despite these feelings that seem to hold one back. 

 




When I moved to Goa, I didn’t give up the idea of stains for they were very much a part of my inner explorations relating to  experiences that created these inhibitors. But, living along the coastline of the Arabian Sea, I went beyond human nature to study nature in her full glory and life by the seaside has been fascinating in this sense. Wherein colliding ripples of water, washing over mud adhesion ripples at the River Chapora estuary and further down the beaches of Morjhimand Aswem, with wind adding to the rippling effects and the diffused rays of sunshine at dusk – complimenting and complicating the patterns, I began seeing these patterns of colliding energies as incredibly beautiful. 

 




It was the complexity that appealed for it related to the intricacy of configurations that become our patterns of behaviour. Of energies inherent in the psyche formulated through generations of conditioning, one’s own experiences – of colliding with other energies, bringing out these patterns. Where we recreate them because energy draws us to others when we recognising something familiar. In re-creating we feel grief and anguish, become aware and the tendency is generally to view ourselves in a negative light. Something that needs to be changed. But the wisdom of the ocean suggests that there is incredible beauty in these engagements and that the tendencies may change through the collisions of energetic fields as we negotiate our lives, but the overlaying effects of these fields are intriguing, dynamic and awe-inspiring. If only one could look at the self as we see the natural world.

 




Through the study of  clams shells, the sand bubbler crabs and their feeding residue and also the ripples of sand and water, I started seeing that patterns are formed by colour and the collision of energies in the elements. By extension I made the correlation that emotions seen as colour, in the human psyche, form patterns and vice-versa. Therefore adding pattern to the art work, going beyond mere colour became imperative.




However, this further complicated the process of trying to create the sublet hues uneven thread counts and a variety of ornamental thread configurations through crochet and knitting. At this point, can only envisage a blanket that’s an uncomfortable evocation of how we exist together with our unique experience and understanding of emotion, alongside others who feel and perceive these differently.

But, I’m a long way yet from being able to see this. I have under 100 squares when I need close to 640. I often rip out the squares because they’re either too big or I need to add a row or two if it’s smaller than I need it to be. Some are tight and sit awkward, others are delicately delightful. It’s going to be another task to whip them all together, possibly like one struggles to negotiate this world with the billions of others beside us….




 

 

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Golden Sands



I started this embroidery some weeks ago. An Instagram post with haphazardly laid slubby yarn inspired me to scour the Delhi market for some ghicha (tasar silk) which has a wonderful multi-hued (from dull gold to dark brown) texture that’s rough but soft to touch. 


Ghicha is traditionally made from wild tasar silkworms and produced in a variety of ways, one of which is by allowing the worm to emerge from the silk naturally, (without boiling them alive - now called ahimsa or non-violent silk) . The cocoons which are single-shelled and oval-shaped  are collected from the forest or rearing fields and dried naturally in the sun. The empty cocoon is then boiled to soften it for easier extraction of the thread. Ghicha silk fibres are short and coarser hence the silk is not reeled in a continuous thread like mulberry (bombyxymori) and other silks. 





There are several species of Tasar silk moths (family Saturniidae) in China, India, Japan, Africa and North America. The moths are large and have a prominent eye marking on their wings. The caterpillars are bright green, as wide as a man’s finger and they feed on a wide range of plants like Asan (a common herb also called Bijaka) Arjun - a large deciduous herbal plant (tree) and Sal. Valued for its natural golden to brown hues - said to be derived from the tannin in the leaves that the moth feeds on, the main producers of Tasar silk are the Jharkhand and Bihar regions in India.


Why did I find myself drawn to the slubby ghicha, is something that I have been preoccupied with ever since I embarked on this work. For so many years, I have worked with cotton fabrics, not really caring much for the quality of cloth and usually veering towards markeen or mulmul- not the fine muslin of yore, but mill-made cotton voile. I did use silk organza some decades ago, and that too has returned to my repertoire, but Tasar wasn’t ever on my radar. 


Anyhow, this Instagram post - I’ve never been able to find it again, set me on a purposeful journey to find ghicha fabric. The idea was to remove the yarn - ghicha is usually used in the weft, with finely spun Tasar or cotton for the warp and it’s easy to unravel.


I spent way too much money on this, buying all manner of silk - mulberry and organza included, adding muga tussar blends and silk cotton blends. Good quality tussar can cost upto ₹3,500/- per metre, organza around ₹850/- and gold tissue about ₹1,500/- per metre. Sometimes I bought a metre but usually only half a metre. Even so I ended up spending over ₹20,000/- on a single trip and there were more sprees.  Given that all I had were cut pieces that I was going to shred it really does seem like extravagance but when it comes to work, I never stint. 




As soon as I returned from my shopping spree I got down to work by taking out the thread. Some fabrics weren’t so easy to unravel so I got just the yarn length of the fabric width and kept them neatly together for use later. One of the fabrics was a dream: I could actually reel the thread off the fabric and create small balls of it. I use this for embroidery. I’ve been trying to get a spool or two of the finer Katia thread to work with, but as yet haven’t had much luck as the yarn isn’t made locally and suppliers are wholesalers. 


I then used some of these fabrics that I had drawn the threads from and rendered fragile, by layering them upon each other and trying to tack the loosened threads. The end result was a mishmash of fabrics quite large and unwieldy.  I liked some of the textures that stitching had created, and wanted to pursue that - make the work smaller and focus on the detail. 


So, I cut the whole into bits - just random bits. I then divided the organza and gold tissue fabrics into equal parts and got 8 rectangles from each measuring 9.5 x 11 inches each. Hence the series of 8. 




I tried tacking the randomly cut bits of tasar onto the organza overlaid on the gold tissue by hand but it was treacherous. I indulged in getting one of those mini sewing machines I’ve been eyeing for sometime now. I have a good enough sewing machine at home in Goa and didn’t need to add clutter to an already overflowing studio, so it didn’t make sense then. But I’ve been in Delhi since early November, with another two months (when I started the work) to go before I returned home, so I knew I had to get it. It’s reasonably priced and did the basics. Just about that too. The stitches were too large on the lighter end of the  fabrics (you cannot modulate the length) which ended up being a boon in the long run because I just ripped out the stitching once the embroidery had started and the loosened ghicha threads were more manageable. 




I’ve been in n Delhi, taking care of mum who’s ailing. She’ll be 92 in June this year, has Parkinson’s which has affected her swallowing mechanism. This means that she cannot eat. Beginning with a Riles tube, we had to put in a PEG tube in the stomach to feed her every two hours. This site got infected and the doctors  inserted an NJ (nasal jejunum - it goes deeper into the stomach than a RT). She’s pretty much bedridden with her severe osteoporosis and limited mobility plus has had a UTI almost constantly for the last 5-6 years. She’s alert, misses eating her favourites and once in a while asks for coke or chocolate or tea and we feed her licks or by teaspoon. It’s hard and she’s miserable. And, there’s a sense of gloom that pervades the whole place. Her home has been neglected or rather left to the staff to run, so almost nothing works and despite continuous repairs, it’s hardship living for us. 


Knowing the situation and that I was to be here for 4 months this time around, I decided to post most of my stuff and set up a temporary but workable studio on the large oval dining table that seats eight (half of it). I’ve been working regularly and it’s been my salvation. I had brought pieces that I had been working on and there were a lot of samples to be made for a 4 module workshop that I conducted at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Saket. But, sometimes, things can’t be worked to order and one needs some expression that’s more in tune with situation and circumstance of the present. In fact, I find that the chaos of life actually lends itself well to authentic expression. 




My exploration of life along the seashore in Goa, as a mirror to self has been a seven year journey thus far. I have explored and studied the shells and their markings - zoomed in on what scientists have said are neurological responses to the environment - with genetic traces too, to realise that it’s pure colour that make up these patterns. Subtle gradations of colour. I have a series of cross-stitch pieces that replicate my photographic recording and pixilation of these patterns that are fascinating in their hues. I’d been working on one of them, (they take a year to do each) when the Instagram post sent me on another track. 


But, it really wasn’t another track just another way of looking at neurological responses.  And, in studying the colour of these responses as I tried to match each hue - and it’s the most demanding thing I’ve ever tried for each square of 16 crosses takes me approximately ten minutes to complete: 2 minutes to stitch and the rest to match the right colour and tone, I’ve explored emotions in the human context and how we use them to respond to situation and circumstance. 




This led to the understanding that there is a geography of emotion. A terrain that isn’t linear but layered. Like patterns are formed in our subconscious behaviour, emotions also have patterns. How we respond to people is based on these patterns and hence they are referred to as the geography of emotion. 




In mapping this geography, initially I referred to my album of images from my weekly walks on the beach, when I’m resident in Goa. And I found the correlation quite fascinating. But, then my sister came to share the caregiving and running of house responsibilities and all hell broke loose. 




The cook who pretty much runs the house was going on leave and the two of us were to do this along with mother’s care. Our personalities are like chalk and cheese. While she externalises, I internalise. And, we haven’t lived together our entire adult lives - not since we were in our teens. Not only that, we have a troubled past too - I guess most families have their issues and we do as well. It was an ambitious plan that within days became nothing short of a nightmare. My head was screaming overload. I’m used to living alone and barely managed the numerous people involved in mums home and care till sister arrived and then to deal with her entirely different stress coping mechanism  - one that imposed on me, was impossible and that’s how these pieces came into being. But, it’s not just this that created them for I had started the initial work prior to my sister’s arrival. I was under stress and she just became the trigger for something visceral. 




Inspired essentially by the sand bubbler crabs whose radial feeding residue patterns create a lace-like pattern across the sand. These patterns are fascinating in themselves, but the story behind them is equally so - actually more so and lends meaning to what I’m attempting to do with this series of embroideries. 





The sand bubbler crabs are tiny, shy creatures that run into their burrows at the sight of me. They dig these burrows and live in them until the tide brings forth the stuff they feed on. Then, they scuttle out of their hiding places and roll bits of wet sand in their mouths, digesting organic waste and detritus of animals, discarding the rest as little globules that dot the beaches. They work radially outwards from the burrow. And in leaving these globules they inform their tribe that this sand has been sifted and there’s nothing left to feed on. But, the part that I find most interesting is that in consuming the waste and detritus these sand bubblers actually clean the beaches. without which, there would be a stench. 






In these pieces, I’m using this concept of dealing with the detritus of one’s emotions to clean the environment. I started them, despite my beck and shoulders in agony. Finished two aided by a week of daily Physio therapy and then got a whopping cold. First, one side of the nasal tract and then the other with a really lovely chesty bronchial cough. All of which left me no choice but to abandon sewing and sleep it off. 




Not everything can be sorted by mere creative ideas. But, it’s all part of the healing process. If it hadn’t been for the rest, I’d never have cleared my head enough to write this! 




Hope you enjoyed this post. Stay tuned for more on the Golden Sand series - on why silk and gold have become emblematic of this series and other stitching stories.


Resources: 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tussar_silk

https://asiainch.org/craft/ghicha-silk-weaving-of-bihar/

Sunday 31 December 2023

Personal Threads: Perfection of Imperfection, Guest Post by Stephanie Fujii

I cannot look at fabrics without touching. The way they move by crumpling, folding, tearing, shrinking, fraying. They never stay the same and working with them is intensely personal.  



My approach to my current creative practise is meditative and intuitive but this was not always so. 

I was born and brought up in Manchester, UK in the 1960s and 70s. Manchester’s rich history of cotton textiles was unknown to me for most of that time even though I went through school showing a skill for ‘art’. In my school, this was what you studied – art. I had an excellent art teacher who made all my lessons stimulating and interesting, but the art exams we took were only drawing and painting, so that is all I did. I did this instead of studying other subjects, much to my parent’s chagrin, and I love drawing and painting to this day.   

My father was an architect, and he loved the architecture in Manchester. He had a passion for the watercolours of Russell Flint. Both my sisters are creative and skilled in drawing and one of my sisters and my mother are exceptional seamstresses. So, there was a definite creative streak running through my family. However, my parents loved history so, as a family, we visited museums rather than art galleries.  

I went to Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) to complete my art foundation course and then I studied Graphic Design and Illustration at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University). These were formative years when I discovered the joy of going to art galleries, which I still love to do, looking at other forms of art and creativity and learning about the influences of well-known artists as well as those of my peers. 

I was very lucky to gain a place to study Illustration at the Royal College of Art in the 1980’s in London where I had the privilege of learning from well-known illustrators at the time including Quentin Blake. I was able to experiment and develop my way of working, preferring to make layers of collage using acrylic paint, paper and fabric. I think my tutors were concerned that my style was a little too abstract and they supported me and my work. After leaving, I embarked on a career as a commercial artist for about ten years during which time I worked for design companies and magazines. At the same time, I was also developing my personal work as paintings following my own themes such as interpreting space and spatial freedom which I identified with much more. These themes continue to occupy my current work. I found the constraints of making commercial work and answering other people’s creative questions increasingly physically, emotionally, and creatively difficult to do. 

Also at the same time, I began to travel a great deal more to countries with wonderful, rich, cultural heritages such as China, Vietnam, India and Russia. This inspired me to become a teacher so that I could explore more of the world while working and creating at the same time. This was the masterplan – teach, create, move onto to another country. Travelling and teaching excited me very much and opened up new horizons. However, paradoxically, my creative work went into hibernation as my first teaching job took me to Japan where I met my husband and where our daughter was born. My life went into a delightful, sensory overload, taken up with looking after my family, learning Japanese and learning about the Japanese culture and way of life. My husband is from Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, steeped in history and traditions, full of gardens, the bamboo forest, palaces and shrines and the home of Kabuki theatre.  

Altogether, I spent five years living just outside Tokyo in the late 1990’s. My experience of Japanese culture and way of life was mostly of precision, order, and efficiency. A train arrives reassuringly on time at the exact spot marked on the platform without fail. A little more stressful is making your child’s packed lunch which must be done in a specific way. It took a lot of time for me to get to know, understand and adapt to all the details present in a different culture that I took for granted in my own culture. 

My discovery of the aesthetic of wabi sabi in a variety of forms was extremely gradual throughout my time in Japan. I did not understand for some time that what I was seeing had a name. Wabi sabi has been described as ‘flawed beauty’ and ‘the beauty of the imperfect, the impermanent, the incomplete’. As art forms, it can be seen or experienced in different ways for example, in Ikebana (flower arranging), Japanese Zen gardens and Kintsugi (broken ceramics mended with lacquer mixed with gold) to name a few. It also includes Boro, or ‘rags’ or ‘something tattered or repaired’. This is repairing textiles by patching and stitching, and it was practised by poor workers and farmers in Japan who could not afford new clothes or bedding. They needed to repair them over and over again. I have seen many isolated examples over the years. However, more recently here in London, I saw a large collection of authentic Japanese Boro textiles including bedding, clothes, bags and shoes for the first time. 

The rawness of Boro, its simplicity and the organic way items are mended and assembled using this technique resonates with me. There are no rules. Yet, it was not until many years later back in my home country with my family when this began to permeate my creative thinking. I reached a point where my life experiences urged me to re-generate my creative voice and answer my own creative questions. To begin with, I think I was looking for ‘a place to go’ that was just mine to think, to heal, to cope, to make decisions and so on. There was and still is a great deal of happiness and fun, but it is the dark times in life such as death and illness that require an escape route. I had never stitched before, so this is how I started - I collected together different bits of fabric that I already had, created a simple composition, and began to stitch.               

I quickly understood that my intention was to use stitching as a mark making tool. I started by using a double thickness of thread but soon realised that a single thread was a base – it makes a sensitive mark on its own but it can also be built upon. Double and overstitch, couch, back stitch, blanket stitch can all be added to a single thread. Stitches are a language and when I see them emerge on the fabric, they have a very clear definition even when I am not sure what I am trying to make. 

In my mind, my first series of ‘stitchings’ was entitled ‘Somewhere to Go’ because these beginnings became my new place to go to find my peace and my freedom to create. Only a few of these pieces of work as I first made them still exist. Over time, I have re-examined them, deconstructed them, stitched over them, painted on them, added parts of them to later works …..and also hidden them away not to be found again.


‘Another Country’


I believe my work took on a more sustained meaning for me during the COVID lockdown when I made a collection of six hangings entitled ‘Another Country’. In the UK, we were allowed to go outside for exercise breaks and these hangings are tactile responses to the spaces I found myself in not so far from my home. Like most people, I had to think about the term ‘self-isolation’ which became an integral part of our pandemic vocabulary.  There is a solitude about each hanging, but they also have a connection to each other, and they can be placed in any order. I liked to imagine I was walking through each terrain alone with my own thoughts and wondering if I can cross this boundary or venture through these contours. In many of the hangings, I asked myself ‘yes I am allowed here but how will I get over to that side?’ This was also when I began to think about my work as physical and emotional maps. This is quite natural to me as, having spent most of my life living in big cities, I am interested in interpreting space and spatial freedom. As physical maps, I zoom out to show satellite-like images of spaces and zoom in to show close ups of details of stones or pavements. As emotional maps, I attempt to represent thoughts, worries and musings. At the time, I was certainly contemplating where we are going to find ourselves. 


‘Our Paths Don’t Cross’   


In this vein, I made ‘Our Paths Don’t Cross’ where I continued to look closely at my immediate urban environment and how we were now being asked to behave to protect ourselves. It is a space to walk and pass through, an open territory with hidden and defined boundaries but it also resembles a shroud - a very uncertain time for everyone. While I was making this piece, I was developing the freedom of printing and painting on fabric with acrylic paints, adding applique in the form of fabric tapes, offcuts and edges cut from other pieces of fabric and working with new textures such as the stiffness of the paint together with the soft fabric. My stitching responded accordingly. 


‘There is Beauty in the World’  


A further series of work entitled ‘There is Beauty in the World’ focused on the chaos and the order in my urban environment, such as broken tiles, cracked pavements, weathered wood, crumbling walls. I think the imperfections, accidents and mistakes that manifest around us show a frailty in life which is transient as well as a strength. I have favourite walls and pavements close to where I live that I like to look at. Case in point, spilt paint by a bus stop near my home which I have photographed many times. This paint spillage has inspired a wealth of pieces I have made using parts of shopping bags, remnants and my old clothes. For these works, I prepared many pieces of fabrics by painting, printing and staining. Then I spent a great deal of time placing them together before hand stitching. I am comfortable unpicking, cutting up and tearing off parts that do not quite work. The commercial artist in me has a need to create a composition.     


‘The Discarded’


Similarly, I often photograph discarded objects such as card, boxes, wrappers and cord just as they have been left on the road, in gardens and on pavements. ‘The Discarded’ is a series of work I made based on all the ‘accidental compositions’ I discovered by chance. I can see shapes, tones and textures that inspire me to make something, and I am attentive to the beauty of their impermanence. I always have the hope they will not be there the next day and that I have managed to capture them in while it lasted. 


Stripes and lines


Almost all my work features some kind of attempt to make stripes in different ways, with tape, string, thread or print and I sometimes use cloth that is already striped. There are also many overlapping, tangled lines and contours in all of my pieces. When I am stitching, I think about breaking these lines, strengthening or weakening them, changing their direction and crossing the boundaries that lines create. When a line is broken, a new space opens up. 


‘Meeting Place’   


I use my sketchbook as a place to collect, store and process images and ideas I have found. I try things out, make compositions and write. What I do in my sketchbook is a starting point which triggers other things. I made ‘Meeting Place’ after looking at prints I had made using sponge prints washed over with inks on paper in my sketchbook. I usually like to cut organically and intuitively to make new shapes – but somehow, I found myself cutting up the paper into equal(ish) squares then made 4 rows of 3 squares each. When I adapted this idea to fabric, there were a lot of parts I did not like but I kept printing and staining and cutting until I made the composition I wanted. There are bold white streaks that are sometimes linked together by stitched clusters or couched lines. I have attempted to make some symmetry, but this has been intentionally interrupted by the patches and lines. The concentration of red and cream stitched thread and string in the middle is where we can meet but it is not contained. We can move about, and we can leave the space if we want to. 


‘I can wear what I want’   


I often use my own old clothes and clothes from thrift shops as a base for a composition. I am guided by the defined edges of seams, hems, cuffs and collars to begin with which I can contrast with the raw, frayed, cut up edges. The outline is always irregular. While I am making these pieces, I am acutely aware I have deconstructed a highly technical piece of work and I have wondered if I am reacting to the fact that I cannot make clothes myself. I enjoy looking at sewing patterns because they resemble maps, but they are also instructions which I am unable to follow. 


‘Tiles’    


I was inspired by the design of the tiles in the British Museum, London – a place I have been a member of and have visited for many years. I became interested in an arrangement of dark central tiles surrounded by larger pale tiles. But I noticed that, within this arrangement, no two dark tiles are the same, so I set about making my own versions using off cuts of stained and printed fabric. There are six pieces in all – I wanted to propose a deviation or a possibility of changing direction so, while four of the tiles are similar, two break away from this - one is in reverse and one suggests a corner.  I still have not decided whether they should be shown separately or together and, if together, which order? And should they be on the wall or on the floor?




                       

I am developing my own personal love of exploring fabrics to answer my own creative questions. A pattern is emerging. I choose and collect fabrics, mostly remnants, old clothes and found fabrics. I paint and stain them. Then I spend time piecing them together, constantly cutting up and positioning them until I have a composition I like. Finally, I begin to hand stitch. My stitching responds directly to the surfaces I have made, a relationship forms between them and, as time goes by, each part of a piece I work on begins to connect with another part of the piece. I often start to make many pieces at the same time, keeping them ‘on the go’ until I am ready to concentrate completely on finishing.

I do not have a large repertoire of stitches – only really using running stitch, back stitch, blanket stitch and couching. I often stitch clusters by using thick thread or cord as a base and a chaotic over-stitch with finer threads. I have recently enjoyed the effects of painting ink directly onto the compositions I make to watch the leakage emerge. There is an unpredictability in this approach which provides another dimension to how my stitching will respond. The possibilities are endless.

I have often read that textile work tells stories and there are many wonderful examples, old and recent, that I admire greatly. Currently, I think my work is narrating a story of sorts that might only be clear to me. I have yet to show my work in any kind of professional arena, so my plan is to continue to strive for the perfection of imperfection. 


Stephanie Fujii MA (RCA) is a textile artist and teacher based in London UK. After working as an illustrator in the1990’s, travelling, teaching, living in Japan for five years and having a family, she has embarked on developing new personal work using fabric, paint, thread and inks drawing inspiration from Japanese Boro, her urban surroundings and love of textures and surfaces.