Sunday, July 31, 2022

A Week Stitching Cording

(Above:  The garage studio at the Rensing Center showing my stash of yarn ... except that I forgot to open the lid to the wicker chest.  It was also packed solid with yarn! Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last Sunday morning I headed up I-26 from Columbia to the Grovewood Gallery in Asheville.  By the late morning, I had successfully dropped off all sorts of artwork.  I'm so very proud to have representation in such a wonderful place.  I was also really happy that this was just the start to a fuel efficient, ten-day journey.  Instead of heading back home, I drove to the Rensing Center outside Pickens, SC.  The Rensing Center was, until very recently, a non-profit art residency. In the past, I've had three experiences there. It is in transition now.  The non-profit has been dissolved, and the various apartment units are being offered through AirBnB for long-time stays (as in at least one or more weeks).  Thankfully, Rensing Center alum (like me!) are still able to make arrangements for art retreats.  I was lucky enough to secure this past week. 

(Above:  Most of the stash of yarn.)

I wanted this time for a very special task.  My Fiber Vessels have once again been accepted into this coming November's Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. (My Found Object Mandalas were accepted too!)  So ... in anticipation ... I needed to stitch up a brand new supply of Fiber Vessels.  In order to do this, I first needed to zigzag stitch lots and lots of cording.  Basically, my Fiber Vessels are composed of just two things:  Yarn and thread.  Each Fiber Vessel is the result of a two-step process.  First, I stitch up the cording.  Second, I zigzag the cording into a vessel.  The inspiration for these 3D objects is simple!  It is based on one of those 1970s braided rugs ... a cord zigzag stitched in an oval or circle ... row after row.  The difference is obvious:  A rug remains flat and the vessel simply forms because my sewing machine base isn't flat for long!  When the circle grows larger than the width of the machine, it starts to curl!  (To see more, CLICK HERE for an early blog post showing the process.) 


(Above:  Looking down into the tubs of yarn.)

So ... the first step is the cording.  It is a rather boring task.  All I really do is pull nine to eleven strands of assorted yarn through my Bernina's cording foot while constantly zigzag stitching.  It is time consuming.  It is the sort of process that can otherwise be easily interrupted by any other daily task, unsolicited telephone calls, my "day job" cutting mats for custom framing, and anything else.  Being at the Rensing Center meant "no interruptions" and "no distractions" and nothing but twelve hours of constant zigzag stitching a day.  This translates into lots and lots of cording for future Fiber Vessels. The yarn and thread are sourced from yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, and through donations from friends.  Absolutely nothing used in the stitching of the cording was purchased new by me.  (Okay ... I admit it ... when stitching the actual Fiber Vessel, I do use new thread!  But all the cording is made from second-hand material.)

(Above:  Looking down on the stash of assorted thread.)

The stash of thread was almost as overwhelming as the stash of yarn.  None of it was bought new by me.  It all came from the same yard sales, thrift shops, auctions, and generous donors to me stash.  Not all of it is "good".  All week I had to struggle with this thread.  Some of it wouldn't zigzag stitch without either breaking or skipping lots of stitches. (The "bad" thread ... once tried several times ... was unceremoniously pitched.)  Yet like the yarn, all of it was once purchase by some anonymous person with the intention of being used.  This week was the material's chance to actually function as intended! 

(Above:  The first big ball of cording stitched.)

I arrived at the Rensing Center midday last Sunday and immediately set up my temporary studio in the garage area.  The first ball was actually started in my "One Woman's Trash Transformed" workshop for QSDS (Quilt and Surface Design Symposium) in Columbus, Ohio.  It was less than four inches in diameter upon arrival.  Now, it is quite large!

(Above:  Yarn being sorted on the garage floor.)

One the the advantages of being in a large garage studio is all the floor space.  After stitching all sorts of light blue and turquoise yarn into the first, big ball of cording, I started sorting the yarn into piles ... by colors.  The photo above shows the start of this plan.  Soon, the entire floor was covered.

(Above:  Nine different yarns being zigzag stitched into cording.)

I took only one shot of yarn being fed through my Bernina's cording foot.  This was it.  Nine different yarns (some quite "fancy") were zigzag stitched into cording ... which is coming out the back of the machine's foot.  Doing this requires a strong grip and muscles to pull the cording out the other side. 

(Above:  A large tub of mostly white and "nursery" colored pastels ... things I knew I'd never use.)

I stitched until midnight on Sunday.  I stitched pretty much from 9:00 AM to midnight on Monday and Tuesday.  By Tuesday night, however, I knew that I would never stitch all the white yarn and the "nursery" pastel yarns.  I piled them into one, large tub.  The next morning I went to the Pickens County flea market.  I donated the entire tub to a nice husband and wife team.  They were as thankful to receive the yarn as I was to get rid of it! 

(Above:  The cording stitched during my week at the Rensing Center.)

After returning from the flea market around 11:00 AM, I stitched until 11:00 PM.  I stitched all day on Thursday and Friday too.  On Saturday, my left hand was swollen and sort.  Also, I was physically exhausted.  Why?  Well, it wasn't just the hard, physical labor involved in this task.  It was also because I was only getting about seven hours of sleep each night.  Many people have joked on social media, "Do you ever sleep?"  Well ... yes I do!  I generally sleep eight to eight-an-a-half hours each and every night.  So on Saturday, I was exhausted ... body and hand.  I just couldn't pull more cording. 

(Above:  A log bridge along the Hagood Mill Nature Trail.)

I had to take a break!  What did I do?  Well ... from here I'm headed to the Lake and Mountain Quilt Guild in nearby Seneca, SC.  I'll be giving a Power Point presentation tomorrow (Monday) followed by a two-day, sold out workshop on my melting techniques (Tuesday and Wednesday).  So ... I practiced my lecture.  I haven't given it since pre-COVID 19.  I added more images to do.  I applied for a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) juried traveling exhibit, caught up on my email correspondence, and then went to the Hagood Mill.  I visited all the rustic cabins, the moonshine still, the blacksmith shop, and the native American petroglyph museum.  I also took the three-quarter mile nature hike.  At one point, there was a little path off the trail.  I had to go down it.  I found a giant log over the creek.

(Above:  Me on the giant log.)

Despite not having the proper shoes, I climbed up and over the creek.  I took the photo above as proof that I did "something else" during the week.  I also had an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Pickens before returning to the Rensing Center.  I went to bed at 6:00 PM and slept until 6:00 AM.  Thankfully, the day away from the cording and twelve hours of rest meant I was able to work on my last full day for another twelve hours!  Tomorrow ... I'm off to Seneca ... the last leg of this mini-adventure!


(Above:  A bag full of empty thread spools.)

Before leaving, I will of course be cleaning my temporary studio.  This means taking out the trash ... which includes a lot of empty thread spools!


Sonia Tuttle said...

Amazing what you can do with some yarn and thread. Thanks for the blog. Makes me want to try it, but maybe only a baby bowl.

Jan B said...

Hi Susan,
I'm a big admirer of your work! I, too, have wondered if you ever sleep. Thanks so much for this detailed post. May I ask one question? You mentioned that you have to pull the yarn through. Does this mean that you have the feed dogs down during this process?

Best of luck with your future shows - I'm sure they'll be wildly successful!

Jan B

Shannon said...

I love that you use all of these discarded materials. It makes me happy that they're fulfilling their purpose and being made into something wonderful!!!

Artifice said...

WOW! So interesting to learn about your process! Thanks for sharing!

Susan Lenz said...

Thank you all for leaving such nice comments. Now ... to Jan B: The feed dogs are UP. They are doing their thing even though they don't really come into contact with the cording. I don't know why it is, but lowering the feed dogs is much, much harder. One really has to tug and pull at the cording. When the feed dogs are UP, it is easier but one still has to grab the cording and pull it along. If one doesn't pull, the cording remains in place ... and the thread, of course, breaks. It's just easier (for a totally unknown reason) to have the dog feed working. Thanks again ... to everyone! Susan