Splash : Stitching in Time
Embroidery is an ancient art form, traditionally it is a slow meditative process. Embroidery was used for decorative additions to clothing or hangings and is usually made up of images steeped with symbolism. Embroidered items of significance both religious and domestic can be found in Europe, the Middle East and China. I have collected various items including a highly intricate panel embroidered as part of a baby carrier made in Guizhou Province, South West China, it was given as a gift to the mother of a new born baby and it’s design is loaded with symbols pertaining to the life of the new child. In what was Persia, miniature embroidered illustrations can be found much like those of illuminated manuscripts, in Europe items of clothing were often embroidered with foliage and flowers or family emblems, all of which had symbolic significance, these are seen recorded in paintings from as early as 1300 in both portraits and religious scenes. In modern times embroidery has been used largely for branding, labeling or tagging. This varied and long lineage provides visual references which lend depth and interest to the medium.
In my embroidered works, I have used a 15-needle digitized embroidery machine to create large stitched hangings. I find it exciting to combine contemporary computer-generated technology with an ancient handmade technique. I first make paintings on paper using abstract shapes which form patterns. These patterns are inspired by nature and express the underlying structure of things and suggest a homage to nature and the synchronicities of the universe, they are a call for humans to honour and respect Nature as a guide to navigating existence. I then convert these paintings into AI files and import them into the embroidery machine and stitch them to the canvas in a fairly organic and intuitive way. I feel this juxtaposition of technology with shapes made by spontaneous natural patterns, which are then stitched in a repetitive and mechanical manner by a very sophisticated machine, creates an art piece which has depth and is also both surprising and dynamic.
I was inspired to start using the digitized machine when I assisted Johann van der Schijff, who teaches Sculpture at Michaelis School of Art at UCT, on a project for his exhibition last year, where we stitched digitized versions of photographs on a Bernina sewing machine.
The Ricoma 15 needle machine which I am now using is generally used to stitch thousands of logos onto sportswear or uniforms. I first saw one in action at Jacksons Workwear in Montague Gardens in Cape Town and was excited by the application it could have in making art.
I like the contrast of using a technique that has become highly mechanized to make something unique, there is something in this paradox that is exciting and echoes the paradoxes in all our lives.
These works can be seen as contemporary embroidered tapestries, following in a long line of stitched art that can be traced back for centuries.
I am starting small, but each piece seems to be a bit bigger than the previous one. I am excited about the size one could go to and how playful the process can become as I become more familiar with the machine and the digitizing process. Most works are hand finished in some way as a gesture and a reference to where the medium stems from but also so as to create a handmade juxtaposition to the machine stitching, making each process sing in harmony with the other.