Back in the summer, while I was cat and rabbit sitting for my Elder Daughter in Plymouth, I popped into 45 Southside, which is a lovely little shop/gallery in The Barbican, and spotted some fabulous stitched paper art by Devon-based multi-media artist Helen Edwards. I like the way she is recycling paper, and that grid-like formation of squares – a little like Rosalie Gascoigne perhaps, but not so raw. Anyway, Iwas worried about taking photographs there, so I took pictures off a website (her’s, or the shop’s, or TextileArtist.org – sorry, but I didn’t take proper notes and can’t remember which).
They’re about 15 inches x 18 inches, and are created out of pages from books, mainly comic book annuals I think, but she also recycles things like music manuscripts. They consist of a series of squares, overlaid with other squares, which are flapped back at the corners to form triangles, turning the lower squares into diamonds. The layers are stitched, and on some of the works the threads hang loose. It is difficult to see exactly how the base layer is created – it looks as if it’s made from lots of square rather than a single picture, and the folded layer also appears to be constructed from lots of small pieces. Perhaps there is some kind of third layer under the other two, to stabilise everything. The flapped-back triangles make it three-dimensional – some of them stand upright, some lie almost flat, others are at an angle, and they create interesting shadows (though this may be unintentional, and probably depends on the position and quality of the lighting wherever they are hung). You don’t get the full effect from a photograph, but they really caught my imagination, and although I was still on Chapter 4 at the time, I thought they would tie in nicely with Chapter 5, so I did a bit of research.
I couldn’t find much about her, but there’s an interesting interview on TextileArtist.org in which she says: “I feel fortunate that I had the chance to train formally in Art/Design and Contemporary Craft in my forties, following a rewarding 21 year career as a Speech and Language Therapist. During this training I realised how much I loved texture, pattern and construction. I was encouraged to handle many different materials and this has carried through into my work today. The tactile quality of my pieces is as important as the visual quality.”
A member of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, she works with a huge range of artistic techniques and materials, including metal, textiles and ceramics. You can see some of her work at her website.
I thought I would have a go at something similar, but decided it would have to be much simpler, so I used a page from a magazine as my base, and this wrapping paper for my top layer, because I thought the squares were fairly regular and would be easy.
But the squares were not very square, and trying to stitch on paper that has a stitched design is a big mistake! Anyway, I left the magazine page base as it was, then used the embroidery foot on the sewing machine to stitch the wrapping paper to it around the edges, and around some squares, then used a small pair of sharp scissors to cut diagonal lines through the top layer of each square on the grid. It’s actually very difficult to pierce the top layer of paper without cutting the lower layer – the sample ended up much smaller than it started, because I mutilated quite a bit of it!
I tried another sample using little squares, and stitching each one on separately, which is also quite tricky, as the folded triangular flaps get in the way of each other, and the end result isn’t very straight, but I guess that doesn’t matter. I cut off all the loose threads because I was getting in a tangle, and I used the embroidery foot on the machine, because I thought it would be narrower and easier to manoeuvre than a normal foot, but I couldn’t get the tension right – I think this was ambitious considering how little experience I’ve had with machine embroidery, but I enjoyed trying.
It probably works better if you measure everything very thoroughly to start with and draw guidelines. And I think you need stiffer paper, with slightly more body to it than wrapping paper and a pages from a magazine. My efforts are bigger than Helen Edwards’ work, and it was still very fiddly. It was a real learning curve, but I have got ideas on how this could be improved.
NB: I’ve got notes and pictures in the sketchbook, but my samples are in a box, to stope them getting flattened. And I was struggling to scan in big pages, so I’ve keyed my notes in and downloaded the photos.