Stitch Club: Comeau

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

TextileArtist.org‘s second workshop was hosted by Merill Comeau. Her work is very expressive and she uses bold colors and big platforms. In this challenge, she asked us to try her style of stitching, which is to meld fabric choices together through expressive stitches. I am not that great at expression in my work, so I opted for the “sloppy” appliqué you see, and rough cut scraps.

We were to choose a flower that in some way represented how we were feeling – maybe during the changes upsetting our lives because of the pandemic, or a personal experience relating to a past event. Her workshop came out a week after George Floyd’s death so it was a time surrounded by heartache, anger, a need for healing and justice – just lots of emotions everywhere about everything, really.

I chose a hollyhock, drawing inspiration from a photo over at JungleDragon. As I had a “big think” (I’m learning this is a popular UK expression!) about how to portray the flower in fabric, and how to put into the work all the emotions our communities were feeling, I decided to make a large-for-me piece with a background. I believe the meaning in this piece is universal; let me walk you through it a little bit.

The Sky

I began with the sky: orderly boxes blowing in the breeze of a clear blue sky. Orderly (the term used loosely here) because when things are tidy, I am my happiest. It is calming and peaceful. And a blue sky after a storm is always a welcome sight. It is a reminder, also, that when skies are grey, the blue sky is still there, only hidden, and it will come back again. In this way, the sky represents how “time heals all”, “this too shall pass”, and all those other clichés that are over done but still hold meaning.

{ The sky is rough cut rectangles of quilter’s cotton, stitched on with straight stitches. Lighter choices in the center, and darker around the edges.}

The Flower

The hollyhock in the photograph is a species that can lay dormant as a seed in the ground for decades. I felt that was really appropriate, on many levels. If you endure a tragedy, you might go a bit “underground” to heal and make sense of things. Or, take a look at how our BLM issues have been ongoing for far too long, but people keep rising to the challenge to make the necessary changes. In this way, the flower represents hope of the future.

Germination of the seed is also often spurred on by wildfires. Well, again, how appropriate for the United States (and now other countries as well), following the events of police brutality! The complete upheaval of normal day-to-day life with Covid restrictions. The personal tragedies that uproot our lives. And yet, the flower thrives after fire. It perseveres. In spite of the disaster and chaos, it will grow into beauty. LIke a phoenix rising from the flames. These are the reasons I found the hollyhock to be my flower of choice.

{ I used stem stitch to outline the petals, leaves, and veins in the leaves. The stems and pods were accented with straight stitches. And the center of the flower has some minimal turkey work. }

The Fire

So let’s talk about that fire. The fire is the chaos in our lives, or a past trauma that took everything from you, or the heat of anger you feel at the events in our communities. It is the rage at the meaningless and senseless acts of random events or other people’s thoughtless and cruel choices. It is the destruction of our identities. It is a force larger than we can stand, pushing at us and encroaching into our lives. It burns without hesitation, and without purpose. All the pain and raw emotion. We fear it. We hate it. We cannot hide from it.

{ On top of the triangular scraps of fabric, I used chain stitch to create some organic flames. At the base of the fire, I included a strip of shiny gold trim to represent the hot embers. }

The Ash

And of course, fire leaves ash. This will become the aftermath of devastation. Leaving the one burning question: W H Y ? This question is so open and encompassing all at once, so I stitched it into the ash rising from the flames.

{ I used a piece of crinoline leftover from my wedding gown that I first painted with black acrylic paint. I used straight stitches to create the letters, every which way. }

The Earth

Obviously, I needed to add the actual ground and this also follows the theme. The ground, in the earthy browns and greens, represent the support networks people lean on during tough times. Your friends and family keep you grounded, keep you level-headed, detract you from the ever present pain, or at least to distract you to other things that also matter, beyond the fires you feel in your life. These people will share in your pain, but aren’t affected as personally, and will see you through to the other side.

{ These were scraps already cut – I chose not to alter the shapes. I used mostly level running stitches to tack it all in place. Life goes on, whether you are in crisis or not, and it is represented in the stitch “ticking along” like the ticks of a clock. Also, this type of stitch, akin to sashiko, is stabilizing which was also an appropriate choice since this area represented the support networks. }

The Water

Now, let’s think about one other aspect of the humble hollyhock: this particular species, the globe-mallow, also grows along river banks. Rivers and water are often associated with positive energy and healing. And, a physical truth is that they reflect images.

So, in this piece, I chose to add water as the reflection we feel once the immediate danger has passed, or once we are able to move through mourning and look back at the events with a little less sensitivity. The reflection will change the memory in our minds, perhaps by us working hard to find the good or the meaning in it all. Perhaps to become better people, to focus on the happies, to share the wisdom we’ve gained by our own experiences to those who need it most. Reflection is a big part of healing, and this is why I chose to add the water element in this piece.

{ I used shiny fabrics from my wedding gown leftovers and pieces of items belonging to Boy’s late grandmother. I used a variegated quilter’s thread in circular and organic lines to represent the flow of water. }

Ending Thoughts

Ironically and unfortunately, this piece became quite personal while I was stitching it. In fact, it is one of the reasons I got so derailed on crafting over the summer. While the overall meaning was chosen in answer to Merill’s workshop, I was stitching it when Sasha began having trouble. I knew that she wouldn’t live to see it finished, and that this would be the very last stitching I did with her beside me. It was quite painful to lose her (still is, when I think of it) and I just couldn’t stop asking why. I didn’t want to sew on it or anything after she went in for the long nap, so I lost some gumption there, but all I had left to do was the watery reflection.

I suppose, when I was ready to remember her in good times rather than dwell on the forever that was before me without her, I was able to finally stitch the reflective pieces and get the healing process started. I am thankful how therapeutic sewing can be.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jess

    This is an absolutely gorgeous piece of art and your words are beautiful.

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