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Expression in Fibers



I. Facing Fears of Self-Expression

II.  Developing Confidence in Color Selection (my formula)

III. Interpreting Textures from the Natural World 

IV. THE STITCHES: Stem Stitch, Chain Stitch, Blanket Stitch)

V. The Inspiration Exploration

i - translating archetypes

ii - recognizing themes in your inspiration

iii - bibliomancy as creative tool

iv - the egg method


Facing Fears of Self Expression

In this section, we will play with existing forms, by learning to interpret the world around us. We’re moving from receiving information to attempting expressions based on this information. We’ll be choosing themes, and translating these themes into forms through meditating on them.

This transformation from input to output, through new modes of expression, can be scary.

So many of us have hang-ups around self-expression. Some of us are lucky enough to not have any worries in this area, but this doesn’t seem to be the norm. This session attempts to break down these fears by building up our reservoirs of inspiration. By recognizing the forms that light us up and the stories that infuse our lives with meaning, we can more easily discover our own visual ‘voice’.

This may seem obvious, but it’s necessary to break down this step as part of a longer process.

This recognition of forms can be done through collecting inspiration, through the form of nature, images, or stories. This fills our mental vessel and teaches us to be more selective.

I. Recognizing Themes

We’ll begin by collecting visual inspiration - from forms of nature, your favorite works of art, and the objects all around you. This is not about copying what you see, but blending the variety of what lights you up in order to find your own forms of expression.

The more we collect, the more our brains classify, organize, and see relationships and differences in shapes and forms.

We begin to better distinguish this from that, it is in the observation of these differences that we can find a fuller expression of self. For example, the mugwort plant looks much like wormwood upon first glance. As we study these forms, we notice slight but distinct differences. We see the slight curve here, or the crescendo of color there, that gives this form it’s distinct essence.

When we approach these forms with a sensitivity, we can translate them in a way our communities can better understand, and we can help others to understand and appreciate these differences.  

This is most effective when done in the physical world, so go ahead and print out images and photos, make copies of pages of books, create some sketches and put them all up on a wall. Like, actually physically do this. If you don’t have access to a printer, creating a folder in your “photos” on your phone will do, but I highly recommend getting into the real world with this!

Now that you’ve got your images, look for themes in color, shape, or texture. Spend time contemplating with these images, observe before making any marks.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, keep it to 5-10 pieces, enough to recognize themes but not too much that you get lost. Recognize the consistent themes that come up and record them in your notebook. See if you can find universal archetypes, or a general theme with these works.

Recognizing what you’re drawn to and inspired by can help to create your path forward in your work. Notice this is not taking details from each, but rather, finding the common thread of the work you’re naturally drawn to. 

ACTION: Take a look at the forms around you.


II. Building up Confidence in Color Selection

For most embroideries I like to keep the color options down to 4-6 colors, but feel free to choose as many or as little as you’d like. Whats important is that you spend some time sitting with the choices of color laying on the fabric.

The way a color is read by the eye depends on the colors around it, so it is important to see the colors you choose on the fabric you'll be embroidering. Unwind a few rounds of the embroidery floss so you can see how a small strip of the color will appear. It happens sometimes that seeing the entire skein of thread on the fabric may make the color appear different than seeing a single thread, which is more like what will be seen when you stitch.

Take the time, risk getting your thread all tangled, and do this step.

It’s really important to lay colors out in good lighting (daylight is always best). Just because you have a light blue, a medium blue, and a dark blue doesn’t mean they will work well together. Because each color has many ranges of hues (ex. a greenish blue can clash against a purplish blue) I always buy my embroidery floss in a physical store so I can see how the colors look together.

As you work with color more intimately, you start to develop a natural feeling for color combinations that “work” and those that might be more challenging. I find the following formula to be really helpful for me in times that I’m not intuitively picking up any ideas. 

I make sure I have: one light, one dark, one bright, and a range of 3 colors that form shading (the previous three requirements can exist within these shades). 

On the right are some examples of color palettes developed for the sampler patterns - for all patterns included with this workshop, I kept the color selection down to 5 colors, and you can see each one has at least one light shade, one dark shade, and one bright shade.

You can also see in each of these the three color shade range (which often includes one of the previous requirements of light, dark, and bright)

I especially love the bottom palette - it’s a 5 color shade range that shifts from gold to copper to black.

I don’t always stick to this formula, sometimes all you need is one or two colors to make an embroidery impactful. Sometimes you need a dozen.

I do however, keep track of the colors I am really drawn to - I keep them in a notebook, with a few inches of the color taped down next to the number. This way if I need to, I can re-order without having to drive to a store (I live 40 minutes from the nearest craft shop!).

Over time, you’ll realize the shades that work really well with your style. Then you can start purchasing more colors in those ranges so you’ll have shading options in colors you love. This is how you develop your own personal PALETTE. If you really want to explore your own personal palette, you can go through your wardrobe or you home, picking out a few favorite colors and seeing how they work together.

Paint chips are a great way to create color pallettes for free: Go to your local hardware store and pick up a handful of colors you’re drawn to and think look nice together. (Afraid someone will think you’re “stealing” paint chips? Don’t worry, these are free samples!! If anyone asks, just tell them you are just looking at colors. It’s not a lie, and you also will have these references if you ever want to paint a room!)

Again consider the favorites in your home or closet to include with the palette you’re creating. If you are planning embroideries for your home and wardrobe, it’s wonderful to have a quick reference to coordinate your work to your world.

color palettess.jpg


General color theory states that choosing colors that sit across from one another on the color wheel, complimentary colors. I'm a little "whatever" about this, and I really enjoy choosing one color over from the complimentary color, in either direction. 

I find much harmony in playing with different saturations (or chroma) of the same color, or having three different values (lightness or darkness) of blue, or even showing subtle changes of hue (lets say, from a blue-green, to green, to a green yellow) these colors that sit next to each other on their scales naturally compliment each other, and when positioned with colors opposite them on the color wheel, can really pop off. 

Another superfun trick with the color wheel is to choose the color next to and above the color. So you’re moving in kind of a diagonal, getting lighter and changing hues at the same time.

 III. Interpreting Texture from the Natural World

Explore living forms. Expressions of life. Botanicals or cosmos.


IV. The Stitches

stem stitches.jpg

Stem Stitch

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chainstitch all.jpg

Chain Stitch

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blanket stitches.jpg

Blanket Stitch

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i. Translating Archetypes

(As you flip through the book, reminding yourself of the themes and concepts present, consider what universal archetypes you can apply to your own work. For example, one of my favorite books, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, travels through time encompassing basically all of humanity, highlighting most prominently the weird and unusual traits of the characters. I’m not pulling directly from his characters or illustrating scenes of the book, I’m digging for themes to draw from. )

ii. Recognizing Themes

Gather your favorite books, images, or pieces of artwork.  Everything is a possible source of inspiration for any art form. Keep it to 5-10 pieces, enough to recognize themes but not too much to overwhelm. Recognize the consistent themes that come up and record them in your notebook. See if you can find universal archetypes, or a general theme with these works. Recognizing what you’re drawn to and inspired by can help to create your path forward in your work. Notice this is not taking details from each, but rather, finding the common thread of the work you’re naturally drawn to. 



iii. Bibliomancy as a Creative Tool

Bibliomancy is a word used to describe the use of books as a form of divination. This process involves more free will than destiny, but can work wonders when you’re digging for some ideas or concepts. Using the dictionary is my personal favorite, but really any book can work. After a few deep breaths, open up to any page, pointing to a section at random. See if you can create a visual description or accompaniment to the word / paragraph selected. If you don’t like the one you picked, try again, but I do like to treat this like a tarot reading: You were meant to see this paragraph / word / concept, so at least spend a few minutes trying to make it work before moving on. If you find yourself 

iv. Expression Through Movement

Try the egg method (Adapted from Twyla Tharpe). Begin by curling into an egg in the middle of the floor. Now try and find as many possible ways to transform this shape and emerge from it. Don't just mentally understand the concept, actually try it, for at least a few minutes. For best results, put on a song you can really get into, one that echoes your creative style - could be upbeat and fast, could be ambient and experimental.