Today I've been doing some machine embroidery sampling. When I last took embroidery seriously, about twenty years ago, I became very interested in achieving a flat, tapestry-like, pictorial effect. For some time I was convinced I was in the wrong discipline and wished I had studied woven textiles instead, like Lynne Curran, whose work I deeply admired. I even got into trouble for producing my first year project on the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, because it wasn't a 'proper' embroidery technique.
In the end I adopted needlepoint as my chosen method of working, and the piece in the photo above is from that era, one of the few pieces I still like. Much of the work I produced at that time seems to me now very stilted in design and lacking subtlety of colour.
However beautiful needlepoint is, though, like all hand embroidery techniques, it's slooooowww. I found that my ideas were developing and moving faster than I could implement them with needle and thread, and several never got finished at all, like this piece for an ecclesiastical embroidery competition.
The obvious solution of course was machine embroidery, and this was the eventual direction I took for my degree show (no photos of this period to show you as they are all on slides and I don't have a scanner). At this time, that is, the late 1980s, people like Alice Kettle and Jane Poulton were producing wonderful flat textile pieces using the machine in different ways, but despite churning out quite a volume of work, I was never really happy with it.
I have always struggled with the process of using machinery in my work other than as a practical necessity. As I have documented many times before, I love handstitch. I love the rhythm, the way your thoughts get sewn into the piece, the way time passes. When I decided to start embroidering again a couple of years ago, it was to handstitch that I turned.
But there is still the problem of how to produce enough work so that the creative energy can continue to flow. Handstitch doesn't allow this to happen for me, but painting and drawing doesn't satisfy my need for fabric and thread. So I have decided to begin again with machine embroidery, to see what it can do for me and whether I can get it to do what I want. I'm following the guidelines I set myself in this post earlier in the year.
All I'm doing at the moment is working with simple shapes and blocks of colour, looking at textures and tensions, embellishments and edges. Documenting what I'm doing and pushing through some of my misconceptions and prejudices. Beginning again. It's been an enjoyable afternoon.