Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Odyssey 3

I had deliberately made my map smaller than my piece of canvas, to keep my options open for finishing.  I decided I liked the fringey torn edges, so I tore the sides to give me a similar border distance as the bottom of the work.  The right side tore neatly, but the left side didn't want to get started.  Maybe I hadn't cut enough of a starting point; I cut a little more.  Still resisting, so I grabbed both sides of the cut and gave it a really good yank.

It tore quite nicely, but not the whole way across.  When I released my whole-fist grips on either side of the tear, I was appalled to see what had happened.

For some reason, the tear, coming down from the top of the piece, took a right-angle left turn halfway across the canvas and extended a good six inches into the map!

What now?

The old Kathy would have probably
freaked out, and indeed that's what I started to do.  But I am happy to report that within seconds the new mellow Kathy who embraces accidental effects decided this was not a deal-breaker, it just required mending and people could just wonder what that was all about.

Fortunately I told my dear friend and art pal Uta about my mishap and she emailed back, thinking maybe there was a stitch I could use that would reference Odysseus.  And then I realized -- DUH! -- how about referencing Penelope, who took out her weaving every night?

So I mended the tear, leaving the long threads in the center intact, using just enough machine stitching to hold the piece together.  And here's what it looks like.

Like the mythical Odyssey, this journey ended up with more twists and turns than originally planned or anticipated.  But it's finished.

PS -- coincidentally, the canvas is technically a "Penelope canvas" -- that is, it's a plain weave but two threads are held together and used as one.  Perhaps that structure explains why it was so hard to tear.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Odyssey 2

The first problem in my mapmaking of the Odyssey came when I finished the stitching, pulled all the loose threads to the back of the work, and proudly showed it off to my husband.  As I displayed it, I realized that while the map showed the entire Mediterranean, it was hard for me to orient the part that is now Turkey to the world map in my head.  Except for the tuft of thread marking Troy, I couldn't figure out what I was looking at -- where was the Dardanelles?  the Sea of Marmara?  where was Istanbul?

I realized that for me, at least, I needed the Black Sea on my map to help me know what I was looking at.  Fortunately there was enough room on the canvas to add it.  So I went back to Google Maps and printed out the sheets to paste up (a brief dead end when I found that my printout was at the wrong scale).

Again, I cut out along the shoreline, positioned my template against the already-stitched sections, and added the seas.

How to get the complicated route onto the piece?  I didn't want to put any visible markings on the front of the work, and I also wanted the route to be more prominent than the background map.  I solved both those problems by flipping the canvas over and marking the route on the back in pencil.  I put a heavy thread in the bobbin and stitched from the back.

I added lettering to mark Troy and Ithaca, the two end points of the journey, and the title "Odyssey."  It looked pretty good. 

But wait.  Stay tuned for my final adventure in fiber art.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Odyssey 1

My daily art project for this year is maps, and I have finished the first large one that required several days' work.  It came about as a prompt from my art book club that never reads books: "myths and legends."  I'm not much on myths and legends per se so I thought maybe I could kill two birds with one stone and do a map of a myth.

The obvious choice is the Odyssey, a myth in which the hero spends 20 years going to and fro.  Since it's a myth, many of the locations are mythical, although scholars and archaeologists have put considerable research into trying to pin them down.  Some of the locations are clear: Troy, where the war occurred is still there (we visited it a while back) as is Ithaca, Odysseus' home.  Scylla and Charybdis are on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily.  Ancient Carthage is modern Tripoli.

But other locations are less certain.  I looked at several maps and chose the one where Odysseus traveled the farthest west, making it to the coast of Spain, because it would spread the route farther out on the map and fill the entire Mediterranean instead of just making a knot of lines in the eastern part of the sea.

I printed out the maps from Google at a scale that was big enough to work with and small enough to fit on a piece of canvas that was waiting on my work table.  This took several sheets of paper, which I pasted together to make a single sheet.  Then I cut out along the coastline and used the shore parts of the template to stitch around, carefully with a free-motion foot.  I cut out the larger islands from the ocean and pinned them to the canvas for templates.  I marked the 14 stops on the journey with tufts of turquoise thread.  Finally I cross-hatched the water in blue, still with the free-motion foot.

But, like Odysseus, I ran into problems on the way.  I'll tell you more in subsequent posts.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Tension headaches

Our fiber art group just scored two huge garbage bags full of old doilies and tablecloths in a variety of techniques -- crochet, tatting, hairpin lace, cutwork, bobbin lace, embroidery and who knows what else.  As we sorted through, contemplating what we'll do with them, I noted how some were obviously made at less-than-expert level craft.

And I thought, as I have so often in the past, that in every single fiber art, the key to mastery is control of tension.

Check out this cute little crocheted doily, made in granny squares.  The white is tighter than the pink, hence the 3-D effect.

When I first learned to crochet, taught by my mother-in-law, I made a fairly large afghan.  I was proud of how neatly it was done, flat and even -- until I finished and tried to fold it up.  Oops -- one end was a good six inches longer than the other!

What had happened, of course, was that as I got more comfortable with the yarn and the stitch, I eased up on the tension and the finished fabric got more expansive.

I have taught many beginners how to crochet, sew and embroider, and have watched myself try to learn knitting, weaving, felting, macrame and many other techniques.  In 99% of the cases beginners' work is too tight.  We clench up on the needle or hook or whatever tool we're using, we pull too hard on the thread or the yarn, we hang on too tight to the underlying material.  We grab that quilt in a death grip and resist the pull of the sewing machine; we wrap the french knot so firmly that we can barely pull the needle through; we tug the weft through the weaving so hard that the selvages bow inward. 

(Weavers may correct me on that last remark -- I think some beginners err in the other direction, leaving the weft too loose so the selvages are uneven and loopy.  But that's the other 1% of tension headaches.)

The problem usually disappears with practice; we relax, we learn to let the yarn flow easily, we develop muscle memory so all the stitches have the same tightness throughout the whole work.  In knitting parlance, we automatically maintain the right gauge without having to stop and measure all the time. 

That's not to say we can stitch in oblivion.  It's still good to stop every now and then, lay the work out flat, check how it's coming along.  Note whether your afghan is still the same width as when you started.  Check that the second sock is the same size as the first one.  Make sure your seams are smooth, not drawn up in a ruffle.  Look at the back of your work and see that the threads are well-behaved, not forming tangles and knots. 

It's not just the sewist that can have tension problems -- the machine can too.  In my experience, Bernina sewing machines, which I love, adore and have used exclusively for almost 30 years, have one achilles heel, and that's tension control.  I have had to learn tricks to keep them from spoiling my work: avoiding threads that the machine doesn't like, making sure the bobbin thread matches the top thread so if it's pulled up too far, it will be less visible. 

All these issues are part of mastering the craft of our art.