Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Canopy and its fiber bedposts ... the start!

(Above: Stitching the giant canopy! Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

One of the major reasons why Studios Midwest attracted me was the opportunity to work on a large scale fiber installation. The residency program encourages such work, provides a large space for exhibition and work which also has a smaller studio space attached to it. I've been wanted to make this canopy for over a year. I've been collecting vintage crochet, lace, and household linens for even longer.

(Above: My makeshift ironing board ... ironing the crayon-on-fabric rubbing made from the quotations chiseled into the stepping stones around "Remembrance Rock", the final resting place of Carl Sandburg on his birthplace's property. This was done before I could move into the large exhibition space.)

Steve and I used to have a booth at Terrace Oaks Antique Mall just outside Charleston, South Carolina. We were dealers for about twenty years. Things change. Life moves on. Gas gets expensive. Vintage textiles don't bring much money. In fact, some of the doilies I brought to Galesburg still had 50-cent price tags on them. They'd been in the booth for over a year ... and still no sales even at such ridiculously low prices. It pained me. Obviously, I saw all these pretty things for the time it took to make and for the joy of bringing beauty into a home. Some of these pieces were undoubtedly kept in a hope chest, a special drawer for "when company comes", and were cherished for their expert needlework skill.

(Above: My latest grave rubbing art quilt on the floor near the kitchen area of the large exhibition space. Genevivie Waller's artwork is still in the rest of the space ... but this was in the early evening when no one was around! I used a vintage bed sheet with lace insets for the reverse. I brought this piece with me ... stitching while Mathias drove me here to Galesburg. The piece is now finished!)

Unfortunately, things change. Families can't always cope with a house full of "treasures" when a relative dies. People don't use fabric tablecloths and lace doilies much. Damage and discoloration is a problem. Few families iron anymore. Loads of vintage textiles are piled into box lots and sent to auctions ... where I buy them only if no one else really wants to bid. Frankly, I'd be ashamed to write how little I generally pay for the countless hours of some anonymous woman's handicraft.

(Above: Four thick upholstery cords suspended from a pipe in the studio space ... getting ready to create the four fiber bedpost for the canopy.)

Something had to be done with all these things. I envisioned a giant canopy. With Studios Midwest, I actually have the place to construct it. At ten feet by eighteen feet, it is larger than my studio at Gallery 80808. This is exciting ... even when the temperatures hovered just under 100 degrees in the location that isn't air conditioned.

(Above: Cutting the strips of lace and crochet trim into 12" to 20" lengths in preparations for stitching them to the thick upholstery cord.)

First, however, I created the fiber bedposts. Why? Well, the large exhibition area was still showing Genevieve Waller's work from her July residency. For the first week, I was in the small studio space. I sorted all the linens into various stacks. I finished the grave rubbing art quilt on which I was working, ironed the rubbing I made at the Carl Sandburg birthplace, and then did the prep work for the four bedposts. All the lace strips and crochet trim were cut into 12" to 20" pieces and divided into four piles. Thick upholstery cord (each three yards in length) was suspended from a pipe.

I started stitching the lengths of lace and trim to the first cord while standing on the floor. Then I stood on a folding chair ... and a small, six foot step ladder ... and finally ...

...I found a very heavy, tall table on which I first put the stair and finally the step ladder.

The chair became my "material bin" ... until I had to use the fold down paint can ledge of the ladder.

I worked up and up ... one after another ... until all four were complete.

It was truly beautiful to see my vision become a reality ... even in the stifling heat!

(Above: The large exhibition space knows as "The Box" ... once Genevieve Waller's work was deinstalled and my "doll" photos were hung ... and the canopy was started! This is the view showing the kitchen area and the doorway to the small studio space.)

Well, last weekend the large exhibition space became available to work in. First I hung all thirty-five doll images on the wall. Although slightly creepy, it is almost like having some company in the room!

(Above: The tulle and netting for the canopy ... in layers ... taped to the floor. This is the view from the kitchen area/small studio entrance back across the space toward the foyer and door.)

Last Sunday was the first day to start the canopy. It began with ultra thin bridal tulle and heavier netting. The tulle isn't quite ten feet wide. Thus, I lay it out folded with a "gap" in the middle. The netting is less wide. I lay it out overlapping in the middle. Therefore, the entire substrate has either two layers of tulle and one of netting or just the opposite ... and in some places ... all four layers. The white tube in front is the PVC that will eventually hold the canopy aloft.

(Above: 1600 pins.)

I purchased four containers of pins ... some normal length, some longer ... a total of 1600. This was only adequate to pin down roughly 40% of the canopy!

(Above: Piles of crochet, lace and household linens, tulle/netting substrata, and a paper plate full of pins.)

Once the substrata of tulle and netting was in place, I brought out piles of crochet, lace, and household linens.

When sorting these vintage textiles, I found a few pieces which I instantly knew how I'd use. There was a large needle lace edged piece (with a stain and a hole) for the center.

I pinned it down and removed the fabric. I had another piece that fit perfectly inside the circle. Various stiff, lacy place mats were spread out in a balanced way across the tulle/netting.

Slowly I worked to design the canopy in a fluid way ... sort of balanced ... especially with the darker tan and browned pieces ... implied symmetry. Holes were filled with vintage bridal gown lace pieces and smaller doilies. Before last summer my studio assistant Olivia carefully took apart a crocheted bedspread ... that was two different colors ... probably two different threads ... one which bleached and one with didn't! The little circles came in might handy as I went.

This design process and placing the 1600 pins took seven and a half hours. It was wonderful to do. I was so involved that I didn't notice that this meant I was sort of doing "squats" for all this time ... up and down ... up and down ... bending. Boy, the next day I felt the results. Walking was, well, really more of a hobble. Frankly, I thought I was going to die ... and the temperature was 97 degrees that Monday.

But, how could I complain. I just loved the resulting design. Now it was time to actually stitch this work to the netting/tulle substrata ... on the floor.

I spent Monday trying to keep my back erect while running a chenille needle through the layers. Thank goodness for my smart phone Pepto (Yes ... my phone has a name and a bright Pepto-bismol colored protective cover ... the only hue I DIDN'T want but the only one in stock.) Pepto has a timer. I repeatedly set it for thirty minutes. When the timer rang, I pulled myself off the floor and hobbled/walked around the room at least five times ... sweating bucket, drinking water by the gallon, and thinking I'd never be able to finish all ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT SQUARE FEET of this canopy.

(Above: Makeshift sewing table ... two glass bricks and an old shelf. A LIFE SAVER!)

That night I sort of moaned myself to sleep ... waking in agony with every passing train. There's approximately 120 trains running through Galesburg and one of the two main tracks is less than 100 yards from my provided bedroom. I was worried. I was scared. I was pretty sure I'd bitten off more than an embroiderer could do in without killing herself. I was also determined to figure out "something". I needed "something" to raise the canopy off the floor enough to ease the stitching. In a storage room I found two glass bricks and an old shelf. It was like a miracle!

Please notice the nice, upright position ... the quality lighting ... the easy expression of a stitcher with confidence! Mr. Johnson took the photo. His wallpaper business is in another part of the building. This was taken on Tuesday afternoon. Today is Saturday. I'm over half done. In fact ... the section on which I'm working in the photo above is now taped to the floor and I'm tackling the canopy from the other direction! Pepto is still ringing every half hour for me to "walk around the room". I'm no longer hobbling. The temperatures have dropped and I know this project is going to be successful!


Unknown said...

brillant where do you get your lace pieces from - they are so hard to find here in UK

Wanda said...

oh my gosh...You told me how big the canopy is but I couldn't imagine it. Now I know. It is absolutely stunning. Awesome. I think there are dozens of anynomous stitchers from the past all with you in that huge room, painsakingly (with actual pain) creating something from things they loved. Absolutely incredible. I love it. I love the idea as well. I have often wondered what was going to happen to my handwork when I die. I don't have any kids and I doubt the nieces and nephews will care. I guess it will be sold at some fleamarket or something. But I can hope that someone like you finds my treasures and that one day they will be made into a legacy like you are making right now. I'm glad you found a way to work so that your back isn't being completely broken every day. I'm also glad it cooled down. And the trains? I can't even imagine.

Roberta Warshaw said...

An amazing and beautiful feat. As usual you continue to delight! Thanks for sharing the process of this piece.

deanna7trees said...

i so enjoyed reading this post. i've thought about doing this with my lace collection but don't have the space or the place to make it happen. you did a beautiful job.

Margaret said...

I love to read about your processes, Susan...Can't imagine working on such a large scale, but the ideas! The ideas! Oh, wow!

Holly Hall said...

That is breathtaking!

Cynthia Nicole said...

Wow Susan! Very interesting to see your process. Thanks for the details. Can't wait to see the piece.

Lynn Cohen said...

Oh Susan you and your stamina and determination and TALENT boggle my mind AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course you worked this all out, it is frankly amazing, as is every thing you do in fabric art, amazing AMAZING. Wonderful, beautiful, did I say AMAZING? AMazingly beautiful.

You are also a little bit crazy. You'd have to be to work in such conditions. But you do it. I am so damned impressed...AGAIN.

Those hanging things are gorgeous.
The canopy is gorgeous. Stunning.
You are a piece of work! Love you! and all you do.

I hope you can sleep soon and your body forgives you. Hugs from me. Siting here shaking my head.

Nancy said...

Susan, this is stunning work. And a real tribute to the artisans who created the vintage lace.

I am one of those folks needing to dispose of old lace and stitched treasures. Hope that I can share with an artist who will create with them.

Els said...

You don't stop to amaze me Susan !!!
What a giant work indeed. I hope you survive .... ! Clever to take these strict 30 minute rule of work and "rest" otherwise I don't think you would be able to complete this B I G piece ! Take care (and a good massage afterwards ;-) !!!)

Mosaic Magpie said...

I read this post with great interest, as I do all your posts. So enjoyable to read about your process and thoughts. Great use for Pepto, I can't imagine doing squats all day and trying to walk the next day.
Love the tribute to the past crocheters, tatters and other needle artists that created all those linens.

Julie said...

I am in awe of your dedication Susan! And also of your ingenuity :-) If you are not completely sick of the site of vintage linens I do still have the doilies and linens I intended to send you before and never got round to doing. I'm pleased it has cooled down a bit for you. I would have given up in that heat which is why you are achieving so much success and I am just puttering along :-)

Linda Laird said...

Dear Susan,
Marvelous work! What's next--recreating the Pyramids in crochet single-handed?! That just might work!!

Big and bold--that's where I want to go, and you have inspired me.

Many thanks,

Anne Larsen said...

Susan-- I imagined you would be machine stitching this, free motion. Was I ever wrong! Can't wait to see the canopy aloft!

MammawsDecorativeArt said...

This has to be the prettiest thing I've seen since I can't remember when! I hope to view the finished project and I also hope that you get to go to a spa and pamper yourself after all of this. Gorgeous!

Shawkl said...

WOW! Yes I'm impressed with your work ethic, and your stamina (or just plan stubbornness?). But, I am just emotional when I think of all the work of other women, that will be salvaged by your project. And, decades from now, your canopy will still be a treasure! Way to go!

Lorraine said...

Wow-- that is so stunning, I would love to see it in person if I were not so far away!

Unknown said...

I am in awe of your creativity and expertise...stunning, congratulations!

Leela said...

Love your work, Susan, and this piece is just stunning.Truly a labor of love and what a wonderful tribute to all those nameless lace makers. I have also picked up lace tablecloths for next to nothing at flea markets.Sent up a prayer of appreciation, but also felt so sad that this was where it had ended. I crochet, embroider and quilt and consider myself lucky that my 3 daughters treasure my work.

Kelly said...

Susan these pieces are on an amazing journey with you. thank you for your story. I can't wait to see the finished product. Thank you for recreating from these artists handiwork.

whippetloverjanet said...

What a beautiful, powerful and engaging piece of work. Your concept is wonderful and you have the stamina and creativity to overcome all the obstacles.
Congratulations and my sincere admiration for the work. I love that you are using these wonderful hand wrought crochet and lace pieces. Women's hand work from another era.

Jeri said...

An amazing work of art. Thank you so much for sharing your process and for giving new life to these hand made forgotten treasures.Your stamina and determination are inspiring and do honor to the work of so many unsung women. Thank you!What an incredibly lovely piece. I could look at it for hours.

wholly jeanne said...

Bravo for your resourcefulness, your tenacity, your creativity. You've put the doilies and antique table linens to very good use - I'm sure the women who created them are quite pleased. And I really like your artist's statement about The Canopy (I read it in another post). Canopies do conjure all sorts of memories and feelings, don't they?

Peter Ndagi said...

Wow! That was mind blowing work and high creativity. That piece can fit well in a Beach Canopy.