Category Archives: Project 3 – Colour

Project 3 – Research Point

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For this exercise I chose this cross stitch tapestry that I stitched in my later teens – over 30 years ago.

“Mrs Chicken” features a jolly hen design surrounded by flowers.  I made it up into a cushion cover and it used to sit on the sofa in our living room, initially whilst I was still at home with the parents and then later in my own home.  When we moved house 2 years ago it was packed in a box with a lot of my fabric and yarns that I have only recently been able to sort out.  It needs a really good wash so I am waiting for a sunny day to hand wash it and hang outside to dry.

Every year from the ages of 7 to 17 (apart from 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to the Greek military backed coup) I and my mother spent 3 weeks of the long summer holiday from school staying with my Greek grandparents in a one-bedroom flat in Athens.  My father would usually join us for one of these weeks but no longer as he was working hard running his own shop and couldn’t spare the time away.  I, and my parents are only children and so these holidays were a bit boring for a child who couldn’t speak the language of the family she only saw for a handful of days a year and there were not many children of my own age to play with.  A lot of my time was spent reading.  My mother (who also did not speak Greek in those days) and I would fill one of our suitcases with library books to keep us entertained while the olds were watching either one of the two televisions stations of an evening.  I especially found the afternoon siesta tedious because I wasn’t used to sleeping in the middle of the day.

Amalia Megapanou’s tapestry design pattern books published in the 1980s.

To help combat the boredom my mother found some wonderful books when we visited the Benaki folk museum in the city centre.  I still have these books which are printed on glossy paper and full of colourful illustrations of cross stitch designs developed from traditional textiles in the Museum’s collection.  The designs from these hand stitched or woven household linens and clothing have been translated into detailed cross stitch charts for tapestry and Mrs Chicken was my favourite.  This design comes from Designs From Greek Embroideries Vol I by Amalia Megapanou [Benaki Museum 1981].  The book has a colour plate showing each of the finished tapestries but not the original inspiration for the designs, which is a pity.

I loved going into the haberdashery shop to buy the canvas and choose the correct colours to match the chart in the back of the book.  I couldn’t wait to start stitching.  I cannot remember how long it took me to complete.  Perhaps it was longer than it should have been because I might have run out of one of the colours and had to wait until we next visited Athens to match the correct shade or I might just have put it to one side as I had become bored of stitching the background, I’m not sure.  I do remember how soothing it was stitching the crosses one after the other.  I am one of those people who can get lost in a repetitve activity and my mind wanders off to who knows where, very relaxing.

Traditionally, until the lure of well-paid jobs in factories and tourism drew them away from home, Greek women would produce household textiles for their trousseau and this would form part of the dowry on marriage.  Women from wealthy families would spend a lot of their time sewing, embroidering and making lace and this was considered an appropriate activity for a maiden from the upper classes, as it was in this country 100 and more years ago.  Women from the labouring classes would also spend a lot of their spare time spinning, weaving, sewing and embroidering household textiles but they would be fitting this in with their chores looking after the family, the housework and farming.  My grandmother grew up in a rural community on the island of Ikaria, one of 8 children.  Initially she worked as an attendant in one of Ikaria’s thermal spa therapy centres. In the 1930s she left her island home to work in the capital, married and my father was born during the German occupation of Greece in WWII.  She would have bought factory made household textiles and clothing for her trousseau.  I remember the overwhelming odor of moth balls when she used to open her linen cupboard and let me play dressing up in a beautiful acetate rayon embroidered kimono dressing gown she must have had from this time.

My grandmother Lemonia holding my baby father and wearing the kimono (1943).

The tapestry comprises cross stitches (all in the same direction, I remember being very particular about getting that right and diligently unpicking if I made any mistakes) in tapestry wool on canvas.  Using the sewing machine I backed it with a cotton sateen furnishing fabric in a green to co-ordinate with the design and inserted a zip to get at the cushion pad.  The colours are, on the whole, muted blue-grey, mauves and greens on a cream background, with a vibrant pop of red and pink here and there.  I recognise now, after my recent work on this last colour project that this piece includes a lot of the colours in my chosen theme – so it is definitely those colours I am continually drawn back to.

The hen design is naive but detailed and I was always fascinated by the strange, many-legged figure in the top left corner.  I don’t think the book mentions it but I have a recollection that it is supposed to represent a mandrake, the strange mythical plant later popularised in the Harry Potter stories.  The book states the design was developed from a bridal cushion cover from the Ioannina region of Greece.  I did stitch a couple of other designs from this and the other books in the series but this was always my favourite.  Now that I keep hens myself I can appreciate some of the detailed observation that has gone in to this design.  I particularly like the little spur on the back of the hens foot and the way the simple zig-zagged lines under the hen’s tail captures the softer downy-feathered area here.

Looking back and remembering how my grandparents doted on their only grandchild I know that they wanted to spoil me when I visited and that my mother would have been given a wad of thousand Drachma notes to treat me to something I would like.  So buying the wool and canvas for this project was a very special and expensive treat but it was also something that I had a part in creating and it has endured.  This makes it even more precious.

Me dressing up on my first visit to Greece, aged 7 (1971).

I know that I was reproducing someone else’s design so this piece is not particularly creative but just looking at it takes me on a journey back to the heat and dust, the crashing boredom punctuated by the occasional seaside visit with some distant cousins and the memories of my loving and indulgent grandparents that sadly I never learned to communicate with properly.  I would have loved to talk with them about their lives growing up in rural Greece in the mountains and on the islands.  My father has told me a lot of their stories but it is not the same as chatting to someone in person.  Being able to ask them about details that they would take for granted but that I would find fascinating coming from another culture would have been so precious.

Bittersweet memories.

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Project 3 – Review

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– Were you able to mix and match colours accurately?

I found this part of the project relatively easy in that I was able to mix colours to get what I needed and I managed to produce a good match for colours in my source material.  I especially enjoyed experimenting with producing greys from mixing the complementary colours through the colour circle.

– Were you able to use colour expressively?

Initially I found associating colours with mood and feelings difficult.  I think it clicked in the end but I found I was using very simple ways to express the themes.  For example, red for anger and passion, greys and blues for sadness, etc.  Perhaps this will develop on further exploration.

– Can you now see colour rather than accepting what you think you see?

Having done the exercises I find I am able to see the detail and ranges of colours better than I had before.  It is easy to assume you are looking at a particular familiar item and therefore assign it a colour but on looking closer the variation of tones and shades are apparent and I just have to practice using this technique for it to become second nature.

– Did you prefer working with watercolours or gouache paints?  What was the difference?

I used acrylics  for some of the colour experiments which seemed to be the easiest to work with and they cover well when used undilute so you are able to get a more uniform result when mixing.  I got good results using it diluted as well.  I used gouache for one of my colour wheels and some mixing experiments which worked quite well and ended up using it for the matching exercises since I had a larger variety of colours to choose from than any other medium.

– How successful were the colour exercises in Stage 5? How did they compare to the painting exercises?

I enjoyed the stitching exercises but find them extremely time consuming and this led to me becoming demotivated, unfortunately.  I think I was successful in producing a variety of samples showing how the different spacing and thickness of thread affects the interplay between the colours.

– Is there anything you would like to change or develop?

If I were to do the stitches work again I would like to attempt to produce the samples on a much larger scale, for instance, using a rag rug-style fabric strip crocheted through a loose weave or couching several strands of knitting yarn for a thicker, more textural result.

I enjoyed stitching with french knots but I found it very hard not to make them very close to each other.  This meant it took a long time to produce a small amount of work, again, de-motivating.  Perhaps I am too impatient.

I did find the exercises using a small coloured square on a larger coloured square hard to interpret but I think I managed it.

Project 3 – Stage 6 Combining textures and colour effects – Exercises

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Exercise 1 calls for a plain background fabric and I have chosen an ivory linen since it is a weight I find it easy to work quite a wide range of thickness of threads into.  I started by using yellow embroidery cotton.  Some of my materials are so old they lost their labels many years ago so I am not sure of the correct names but this is a quite thick thread and matte rather than lustrous like embroidery floss.  I made some french knot stitches close together, but not touching to start with and then more spaced out.  The resulting shape looked like an egg so I continued this theme with the rest of the samples in this stage.

I managed to find enough threads of the same type of yellow in my stash so that I was able to show a variety of textures.  This next sample was stitched densely using tapestry wool and introducing a bold blue so that the colours graduated from one to the other across the sample. 

Next, I chose a finer, slightly more lustrous embroidery cotton and interspersed it with some coton a broder in the same yellow and blue.  Here I have varied the sizes of the knots, along with the density and the spacing which has provided more texture.

In the next sample I introduced a third colour, red and tried to show how each pair of colours and then all three colours mixed together.  I used the embroidery cotton again and the blue was the slightly more knobbly coton a broder.

In the final sample of this exercise I stuck to yellow and red in a variety of threads.  The yellow is a mixture of stranded embroidery cotton and the matte cotton.  The red knots are made using stranded embroidery cotton, coton a broder, narrow satin ribbon and a narrow gauze ribbon.

At the beginning of this stage I was finding motivation difficult but as I pushed on I found I enjoyed the repetitive action of making the stitches and, reviewing the samples I now find I am more impressed with the results than I was when I was producing them.  I particularly appreciate the texture that was produced by using different thickness and types of threads, especially with the ribbon knots.  I can see I might use that technique again in further work.  Also, although it is not easy to see in the photographs, the difference in the way the light plays on the matte and shiny threads makes for an interesting effect.  I must say, though, this is not really appreciated unless viewing close up.

Exercise 2 asks for a sample using pastel colours.  I had plenty of tapestry wool in soft colours so I used those for this exercise and the egg theme was still bubbling away (I was working this over Easter and we had just got some hens that began to lay at this time).  I began to stitch knots in pink, then added a blue.  This was followed by a beige, then green and finally a mauvey-blue.  As I look at the sample I can see how the colours change depending on what is next to them.  This is especially obvious with the beige which starts off looking more rosey next to the pink and ends up taking on a more grey hue by the time it gets mixed with the green and darker blue.  The pink too, looks more grey further down the sample.  I like the way it has turned out.  I do seem to have kept the knots quite tightly together, perhaps it is an inner tension that makes me less able to leave gaps.  I do find I work in a similarly close way when hooking rag rugs and it makes them curl up a bit too much.

TIME OUT

For the final sample in this exercise we were asked to look through our sketchbooks for a drawing using pastel colours.  I looked through what I had and couldn’t initially find anything that looked suitable.  It was at this point that my motivation took a nosedive into the depths as I was finding keeping up the momentum on drawing or mark making for the sketch book impossible.  I took time out and turned away from my studies to concentrate on making my workspace more usable.  This re-grouping took longer than I would have wanted but it enabled me to come back to the course less critical of my work.  I knew it was going to be difficult to find time to spend on the course but I hadn’t realised how much more difficult it would be to overcome my lack of self esteem as an artist.

Artist has never been a word I would use to describe myself and as I grew up my creative energies gravitated towards textiles rather than art because I felt I was more technically able in that field.  I remember enjoying drawing at school and doodling away on pen and ink sketches and copying fashion illustrations for fun but somewhere along the line I must have got disheartened by comparing myself with other, much more talented fine artists, my contemporaries at school and college who seemed to be able to bring their drawings to life much more easily and skillfully.  I find myself doing the same thing when I look at my lovely daughters’ art work.  I forget they have no responsibilities, except to themselves to do well at school and college.  They are not bogged down with jobs, housework, money worries and the rest of it and they can spend as much time as they like on their creative pieces.  How wonderful it would be to have that mental space.

Last week I pulled myself back on the rails after rationalising my work room (ongoing, but much better than it was) and spending some time making small items to sell at a craft fair in my local village.  By taking the pressure off myself I made space to remember why I was doing this course and remind myself that I should stop comparing myself with others.  I made a poster for my workroom wall that says “Good Enough”, just to remind me that I am not trying to achieve perfection, and not just in my studies!  This time out has helped a lot in all aspects of my life and it meant that I was ready to continue with the course in a much more positive and creative frame of mind.

BACK ON TRACK

When I came back to looking at images in my sketch book to use as inspiration for this last sample, I returned to a drawing I made using crayons and a plastic food net that I ironed on and melted so that it made an interesting grid pattern. The main trouble I had looking for a suitable image was that most of them are bold in colour.  This image is more muted than most, but probably not exactly what the exercise called for.

I zoomed in on one corner and did a sketch of some of the elements using wax crayons.  Looking back at it I am quite pleased with the way I have been able to find interesting shapes and colour combinations in the “noise” of the original image.  I must remember that I am using drawings for inspiration so my sketches need not be accurate or necessarily always detailed observations of an original.  I also like the way that zooming in on a digital photograph of my wax crayon drawing has brought out colours that you cannot see in the original image.  The computer puts it’s own interpretation on the data and pulls out interesting new details.  I have printed a small copy to use in my sketch book using an ink jet printer and the printed image is different again, presumably due to the quality and tones of the ink.  I like this surprise element and I think it will be useful later for developing designs.

From the sketch I produced this sample using mostly tapestry wool and some stranded embroidery cotton. I found that as I worked I was attracted to the more vibrant colours, but I managed to keep some areas more muted.

I am definitely drawn to this combination of colours.  It is very similar to those in the earlier colour exercise where we were asked to identify a colour theme that we were drawn to.  The combination of magenta, blue and orange is very attractive to me.  I have been collecting cuttings from magazines, cards and photographs that inspire me and it looks like a lot of them use these colour combinations.  The sample grew from the central red oval and I almost stopped at the stage where it looked egg-shaped but then I continued with the blue curve because I thought it brought more to the design.  Most of the central area have French knots that are quite tightly packed but as I was tailing off at the bottom I left larger gaps between each stitch and used less of the turquoise thread which, I think, finished it off nicely.

Project 3 – Stage 4 Colour moods and themes – Exercise 2

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I produced a collage of magazine cuttings to illustrate my chosen colour theme.  I love this combination of hot pink, red, orange, yellow, mauve and turquoise.  It is hot and sunny, vibrant and bold.

It might appear to some people as quite a childish mix of fully saturated primary colours but it makes my heart sing!  There is something very Mediterranean about the strength of the colours.  You need colours this vibrant when there is a lot of bright, clear light, especially when the sun reflects off the sea.

Here is my colour bag which includes buttons, knitting yarn, embroidery and tapestry threads, ribbons and felt.  A little bit of the warm sunny south in my dull, wet northern hemisphere work space.

Project 3 – Stage 6 Combining textures and colour effects – research

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I came across this artist’s work via Mr X-Stitch on Facebook recently and I think it illustrates well the object of this stage.

Cayce Zavaglia is a painter using crewel embroidery wool  on linen to produce these wonderful portraits.  She normally works in oils and often refers to her textile pieces as paintings.  She has used the mixture of coloured stitches, which are layered in different directions to give depth and form, to produce the required tones and colours.  The work is incredibly detailed, see the close-up below.

She has worked in a way, as you would in oil, so that the whole of the background fabric is obscured with the stitches.  From a distance you would assume this was a conventional oil or acrylic painting since the eye mixes the colours in the same way as in impressionist paintings.  It is a good example of how many different colours go into producing a particular tone.  Amazing work!

Impressionist Painting and Pointillism

Pointillism is a technique of painting small dots of colour in a pattern that the eye blends into a new colour.  It is a similar technique to that used by modern colour printers mixing minute dots of magenta, cyan and yellow with black on a white background to produce an infinite array of colours on the page.  Impressionist painters such as Vincent Van Gough, Camille Pissaro and Georges Seurat were proponents of this technique

Seurat’s Grande Jatte (Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884-1886) is a lovely example of this technique.  The painting is a view of the river bank on a Sunday filled with people enjoying the sunshine, picnicking, sailing or just promenading.  (Images from http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/jatte.html)

I managed to find some close-up images of this painting which perfectly shows the dots of colour painted in patterns to give the effect of other colours.

This detail from the shadow area above the dog,s back is painted with dots and dashes of blue, red and orange, greens and mauves, and the grassy bank is painted in complementary cream, yellow, orange again, browns, greens and greys.  Looking at this detailed area you do not get the same optical effect that is produced when you view the whole painting from a distance.  When you look back at the original your eye makes the grassy area more green because it is taking in the areas of colour surrounding it.  The shadowed area adjacent also looks more green from a distance.  It is difficult to use images produced by photography and computers to make a real study of this sort of work as the reproduction is not always completely accurate but it is wonderful to be able to see the sort of detail in close-up that you wouldn’t be able to see viewing the work in a gallery.

In this magnified detail of the dots of paint you can even see the texture of the paint.  This texture forms part of the final image, as the subtle hollows and bumps make tiny shadows and brighter areas which all adds to the eye’s perception of the final image.

Project 3 – Stage 5 Coloured Stitches

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For this exercise I used a black linen mix fabric and a variety of knitting yarns and embroidery threads in yellow and red.

I tried stitching a variety of samples.  The first was lines of chain stitch alternating in red pearle and yellow embroidery thread, starting with a thick line made up of several rows of one colour and then thinner lines using one row of stitching.  I find that the red colour recedes on this black fabric and the yellow is very prominent.  Where the rows of chain stitch get thinner the red seems to retreat even further.

In the next sample, I used chunky acrylic knitting yarn and couched it on to the background fabric using standard machine sewing thread.  This gives a large expanse of yellow with dashes of red.  At a distance the whole disc seems to become a slightly more orangey yellow and you don’t really see the red threads.

In this sample using cotton threads I have made an area of solid backstitch which opens up to show more of the background black.  I have done the same with the red in a curved shape which means there are solid blocks of colour to start with which then grade into more open stripes.  Where the yellow is solid against the black it appears more vibrant and then where you see more of the black ground through the colour is toned down and recedes slightly.  The same happens with the red threads but here you also see the yellow threads, along with the black behind and this mixes the red and yellow a bit more.

Here I have used cotton threads in a slightly darker red with the yellow, beginning with a more concentrated area of fly stitch on the right which opens up a little towards the left showing more black fabric.  Where there are more areas of black showing the red appears darker and where the yellow stitches touch the red they seem to brighten it.

In the sample below I used some red ribbons along with the embroidery threads to give areas of solid colour to base the yellow stitches on.  I have used couching over some more chunky knitting yarns, cross stitch, running stitches and french knots.  Where I have cross stitched over the transparent red ribbon the stitches appear toned down because they are quite spaced apart and, I think because the background black shows through the red ribbon.  Contrast this with the French knots on the same ribbon.  Where the knots are close together the effect is bright and where they are less frequent towards the bottom the yellow is less bold.  Also, where the yellow running stitch has been placed over a red ribbon, although it is spaced out the yellow appears more vibrant than where I have done a couple of lines of running stitch directly onto the black background to the left.  Here the yellow stitches recede, even though they are slightly closer together.

Project 3 Colour – Stage 4 Colour moods and themes – Exercise 1

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I am having a lot of difficulty with this Project and it has taken a long time for me to get motivated to move on to the next part.  I am not sure why, but I do find it particularly challenging expressing emotions in a creative way like this.  I have tried to gather words that evoke the emotion to help me but they may have drawn me away from the focus on colour a little too much.

Sad = low, dark, depressed, blue, rain, trapped, grey.

Happy = sunshine, yellow, orange, glowing, calm, pretty.

Bright = fun, colourful, bold, shiny, sparkling, illuminated, primary colours and variations.

Dull = grey, boring, matt, repetitive, same, subdued.

Active = busy, movement, bright, contrast, lively, reds, blues and oranges.

Passive = autumn, muted, soft, background, mauves, browns.

I had a break after this part of the exercise and came back to it some days later.  I was still lacking inspiration and asked my older daughter for her input.  She suggested looking at magazines and cutting out images that gave the right feelings so I have added those to my interpretations of two more pairs of evocative words.

Angry = red and orange signifying the heat of anger, black and grey echoing the destructive power of the emotion.  I think there should have been more darker hues but I wasn’t angry enough when I was producing this so it didn’t come out as strong as it could have.

Calm = blues, greens, mauves, pinks in soft tones and natural forms.

Boring = similar depth of colour, not very bold and pale, greys, muddy colours, lacking definition.  Perhaps this was a bit similar to dull from earlier on.

Exciting = passion, movement, bold colours, patterns and shapes, hot orange and red and the complementary turquoise and green.