Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Biodiversity and a new kitten

(Biodiversity, 37 1/2" x 42 1/2". Recycled frame and vintage, crewel embroidered seat cushions with buttons and collaged letters.  Hand stitched.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Some ideas stew for weeks, even years.  This one, however, was instantaneous.  From the moment I saw the raw material (six vintage, crewel embroidered seat cushions) to the first stitch took about two days.

(Above:  Stitching Biodiversity with our new kitten, Ernie.)

The button hole stitching around all the elements took a lot longer but I had company!  This is Ernie, our new kitten!  My husband Steve and I had no intentions of getting a kitten.  We thought we wanted a people-friendly, adult cat who would greet everyone coming to Mouse House, our custom picture framing business (which is the first floor of our historic home in downtown Columbia.)  We went to a nearby no-kill shelter to "interview/audition" cats, but Ernie stole our hearts.  He is also stealing the hearts of every customer because he has taken to his new job like a champ!

(Above:  The seat cushions.)

So here's how Biodiversity came about!  I was gifted these six, crewel embroidered seat cushions from a close friend.  Her grandmother had stitched them.  Even though they became discolored and tattered, they had been dry cleaned and kept for years.  Upon sight, I wanted to transform them from antique household objects into an artwork with a contemporary message.  Within a minute, I knew the piece would reflect an environmental issue. 
(Above:  The six, crewel embroidered seat cushions before alteration.)

Arriving at an environmental message wasn't rocket science!  All these exotic plants and pretty insects automatically conjured up "nature".  In fact, the variety suggested "biodiversity".  It reminded me of an earlier work I'd made, A Picture of a Plant.  I went and looked at it.  I remembered researching global warming, plant extinction, deforestation, and land exploitation.  Although I had my theme, I had to figure out how to use these seat cushions to convey my ideas.  I knew I couldn't keep them on their linen backgrounds.  I would have to snip the embroidery away, leaving only about a quarter-inch of the material around each element.  They'd have to "go on something else", some other, appropriate, vintage material ... somewhere in my stash.
(Above:  Before and after tea dying the background fabric.)

As luck would have it, the first piece of fabric I found was this wool embroidered piece of upholstery material. It was too bright and too "white" but I had an idea.  I don't know where I got it.  (Probably in a box lot from Bill Mishoe's auction.) It was an odd shape.  I cut off the "extra" and put the larger piece into a jug of tea overnight. The wool took the tea very, very well.  The background didn't turn out as "dark" but I really liked the contrast.

While the fabric line dried, I tried to imagine the pieces of crewel embroidery on it.  It was hard until I decided to use an old frame (also from Bill Mishoe's auction).  I needed to visualize the edges in order to compose the individual elements.

(Above:  The fabric and frame on my living room floor ... where I arranged the elements.)

The gold painted, spandrel frame was originally purchased for its potential to become part of my Anonymous Ancestors installation. I thought I'd cut a multi-opening mat for a dozen or so anonymous images, but the fact of the matter is that I don't have another solo show scheduled for this exhibit. I'm no longer sending out exhibition proposals for it.  So, I don't need another piece for this show. The frame has been leaning up against my mat cutter for months.  Perhaps it was waiting for this project!  I played around with the embroidered elements until satisfied, pinned them in place, and stapled the background fabric to a stretcher bar.  The stretcher bar was cut to fit inside the rectangular wooden strips on the back of the gold, spandrel frame.  I installed two work horses in the living room and have been stitching every night ... with Ernie!
(Above:  Biodiversity, detail.)

Thankfully, my stash also includes a pile of Appleton tapestry wool.  For hours, I put button hole stitches around the edge of every element.  Some of the smallest insects required a minimum of sixty stitches.  With Ernie often sitting on the piece (usually asleep ... because he tends to want to chase the thread!), the work got quite loose on the stretcher bars ... but that was okay!

(Above:  Acid free foam-centered board inside the lip of the stretcher bars.)

When I finally finished stitching, I removed the piece from the stretcher bars.  Acid-free foam-centered board went inside the lip and was glued into place.  Then, I restapled the piece to the stretcher bars.  Then, I used heavy duty thread to stitch through the piece and the foam-centered board.  I stitched horizontal lines every few inches.  This was done so that no part of the fabric had to support more than a few inches of the whole. 

Then, the stretched piece was installed in the frame, the corners stitched closed, and 1/2" off-set clamps screwed into place.  I added a heavy-duty hanging wire.  As an extra touch, I stitched a ring of buttons around the edge of the frame ... directly through the foam centered board and the piece.

(Above:  Collaging letters to the frame.)

Before installing the artwork, I collaged words onto the frame.  At the top, it reads: Biodiversity which is flanked by the words Protect and Preserve.  Around the rest of the rim:  Plants are the backbone of our ecosystem. Habitat destruction, exploitation, and climate change are killing the natural world. Support conservation efforts now!

I keep individual letters in two containers.  One holds the older, black-and-white letters.  The other (the one I used here) has the newer, colorful letters from magazines. 

Today I snapped photos of the piece while it hung on the garage door.  The daylight was perfect.  It took about twenty minutes to eliminate the garage door from the final photo.  Thank goodness for Photoshop!  Ernie seemed to approve of the finished piece ... but he tried to knead it with his little claws.

To keep it safe, it got hung about the door between my sales room and my mat cutting room!  Below are additional detail shots!


Cindy P. said...

I just love your new kitten Ernie at the Mouse House! He’s just adorable and will steal the hearts of many who pass through your door I’m sure! I just love this new piece! It may be my favorite of all your work so far! The upcycle of the handwork, the dyeing of the fabric, the meticulous stitching by you, all the buttons, the wonderful old frame and needed/important message! Bravo!

Susan Lenz said...

Thank you, Cindy!

franciegass said...

Amazing! Thank you for sharing how you saved these embroidery pieces! I never would have thought to cut them into individual pieces. A stunning composition and I love the collaged words on the frame.

Grovenore said...

Love your latest piece! What a wonderful way to rescue the worn out seat cushions. Also wanted to comment on your crazy quilt featured in the Crazy Quilt Quarterly. I think it's wonderful but the article in the magazine does not describe the process you used to make it, only your general process for all your "resurrections". I knew about it from having seen and admired it on your blog. I hope someone like you rescues and uses all my needlework when I am no longer here to protect it!

Ann Scott said...

Wow, this is a beautiful piece! Wonderful to see the bits and pieces and amazing to see how you put them together into such a meaningful finish. Love seeing Ernie too, he's adorable.

Zohra Arastu said...

WOW what an amazing piece of art. Gives me ideas for the roses I painted on my sari some 53 years ago. I did cut them up as you suggested now I need to get busy. Thanks for sharing your process. You are an amazing person.

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

I hope your new Supervisor Ernie is being paid by the right amount of treats...he looks adorable lying on your work bench and of course smiling for the camera...
And yet again, here you are restoring an old piece of work into something new...

Shasta Matova said...

This is so beautiful! The frame sets it all up so nicely! I just managed to get some seat covers on Freecycle so it is quite interesting to see what you did with those. I hadn't even heard of seat covers!