Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Another Canvas, Another Approach......

I have moved on. I found it really irksome trying to cover the copper wire with thread. I was uncertain about using it in the first place and decided that I needed to give it a break.

Elaine made a very valid suggestion that a couching stitch[i] would be a good way to replace the wire and Livinder Singh, a friend of a friend [on Facebook] commented on Facebook that this particular type of copper wire that I was using was an enamelled wire which could break with the bends, which if it did, would oxidise and could destroy the fabric. I have used this wire before and knitted it which involved a considerable amount of such bends and perhaps more intense ones, and so far, in the last 6 years, I have not seen any signs of oxidising but I have been given considerable food for thought.

Couching requires a lot of control. The stitch itself is easy enough it is trying to keep the laid thread in place which wires me up. Using the copper wire did allow me scope to wander off on a tangent. It was difficult getting it to work with the softness of the material but......

Anyway, while I was debating this, trying to be disciplined about it, I expanded the repertoire of stains.


  It just sort of dawned upon me that stains are not confined to tea. I did however stay with the idea of stains, as in the accidental colour imparted to fabric through careless eating and stuff like that but, expanded this to include dyeing and doing some Shibori ( tie-dye) too.

I started with Jamun [purple fruit is the literal and only translation I have found. If anyone knows what the biological name is or any other please do tell] but even though I had loads of fun collecting the fallen fruit off the grass or pavement around the compound where I live, I couldn't get the fruit to dye any fabric that gorgeous purple-blue that it stains my tongue after eating the fruit. Maybe I needed a mordant? But I'm new to the whole natural dyeing process so maybe by next year I'll have figured it out. Yes, alas I shall have to wait a whole year for this seasonal fruit to appear again. Hopefully I will be prepared with my recipe for dyeing by next May/June to find a way to dye it, if indeed one exists and also if I am still working with the idea of stains in the same way.

Mahipal, who works in my household and assists me with various things including the dyeing of fabric, while washing the fruit with potassium permanganate [I use it for all soft fruits as a kind of disinfectant] he came up with the idea we may get a nice pink colour if we used this. He had been involved in the whole process of collecting the fruit [Jamuns] and the intense fermenting that I tried to do to get some results and was equally frustrated as I. I loved the idea and jumped at it, but the colour only stays pink in water.

I did get some unexpected colours though. They ranged from a deep umber to black on organza which I liked, and on muslin it created this dull green gold which was fascinating.

I loved the palette that was emerging. All different shades of black, greys and browns made me think of Rothko and his deeply contemplative sectionals. After all that rambling in the wire and thread piece now laid to rest, I did need to dwell upon the darkness it was bringing up in my mind.

Resisting effort doesn't augur well for continuation of anything so I wanted to explore these darker hues and felt the need for an organised form. Playing around with the various fabrics and the colours imbued I found myself veering towards this rectangular shape that you now see. 

It was exciting while I cut up the variously dyed bits and did this fabric collage, but once I had gotten over the initial excitement, it started looking too busy and tacky. However, I persisted, telling myself that once I had sewn them together - tacked them with thread rather than oil pins which held them together initially, that the appearance would be calmer.

And things did calm down. And while sewing, I felt calmer too. Each stitch, especially those multiple stitches that I needed to keep that finely shredded muslin’s threads in place, required patience. Holding each errant thread trying to escape the woven structure, aided in no part by my encouragement in taking them out one thread at a time in the first place, I too started to breathe easier and the more I worked upon this, the more I relaxed. And the more I calmed down, the more I wanted to quieten down the contrast - especially in the central squarish space.

And that is what I am working on right now. But, I am excited to share this new development.


PS: If anyone can give me tips on mordant for dyeing and that ilk, I'd really appreciate it.

[i]Couching is a technique in which yarn or other materials are laid across the surface of the ground fabric and fastened in place with small stitches of the same or a different yarn. In its most basic form couching is among the easier embroidery stitches. Essentially, the couching stitch is just a little straight stitch taken over some other thread (or ribbon or wire) to hold it down.


  1. Well Gopika, it seems at times, a good discussion leads to many other discoveries. Such as this one.

    Can't this be dyed like any other dye?


  2. I guess it could Julia, I would get many shades of black and brown according to choice if I sent the fabric to the local dyer. But there is charm in accidental discoveries and given that I am interesting in how stains emerge, I feel like working this way. They all start out as stains and then I use the 'stain' to dye the fabric for substantial work with them...... does that help?

    And yes Julia, discussions help and are an enjoyable way of self-discovery and finding an objective perspective...many thanks for being part of this one.

  3. Gopika, is this going to be a series? I'm assuming this piece is small or at least in my comfort zone range of appx. 4" X 6" ish! I could absolutely see this as a series of dye and stitch explorations and also of the unraveling of the woven structure and how you will redefine it with stitching. I have not personally used natural dyes (except using an indigo vat at UMsas) but I immediately thought of walnut stains to achieve those wonderful dark browns.
    Also, with my current piece (and with past pieces) I typically find my palette too "sweet" so I go back with a medium value color to blur and soften the colors. Now I just assume that I will do that which gives me permission to go strong on light and dark threads knowing that I will be softening the impact with a neutral color. Each pieces poses new problems and I enjoy that.

    One more thought on the couching (I think I'm obsessed with it or need to work in into my next piece!) - you thought it was a difficult process but are you using a hoop? I know your fabric is very delicate but if you loosely applied a hoop it would allow you to control the couching thread. My fabric is usually very taut in the hoop and when I've couched, I can take that thread anywhere I choose. The hoop also makes it easier to keep the securing thread and the couching thread from tangling. Anyway, these are my thoughts on my first cup of coffee this morning. I'm enjoying your stitch journal!

    1. Glad you are enjoying the journal Elaine. I did not start out thinking of a series but as I began work on the 3rd piece using theses similarly stained fabrics I realised like you did that there is a connect in the way that I explore the medium through my language using Kantha, ripping shredding and burning in some parts too.

      I don't use a hoop/ embroidery frame. I layer the fabric for the delicious quilting effect that Kantha/running stitch gives if there are enough layers and this is not possible with the hoop because I like to alter the tension of the thread - pulling a little more here and there to enhance the quilting and the hoop wouldn't give me this freedom.

      Re the couching, I just never know how to keep the laid threads in place. The technique I have devised is to thread this through the fabric using a needle, then couch it, which helps but somehow have never really enjoyed it. I will try it again at some point though.

      Would be interesting to see what you do regarding the colours. Why don't you write a small piece and email me with some images of the work in progress and I could post it here. Your work would provide an interesting counterpoint to mine....