On Saturday I attended a free workshop on embroidering photographs at the Cardiff Diffusion Festival. The workshop was held at Chapter Arts Centre to coincide with a Maurizio Anzeri exhibition held there as part of the month-long photographic festival.
The workshop was great fun. We were shown how to pierce a photograph using a drawn paper pattern to position the stitch holes, then lace the fabric to mimic Maurizio Anzeri’s style:
Now, here I must admit that I don’t like his work. Shocking, I know. The patterns he stitches over found photos mask the faces while suggesting a reveal of the subject’s inner (often dark) psyche. This is discomfiting when applied to adult images, and more so when applied to children and infants.
His latest work, exhibited at Chapter this month, is darker still. His new work uses black thread only, has introduced machine stitching which adds an element of chaos and which breaks up and distorts the paper beneath which, held together by thread, can come out towards the viewer creating a three dimensional form. In ‘Baby‘ (2013), below, the unstitched eye comes forward of the original photograph adding a macabre deformity to the mask.
Maurizio Anzeri, Baby, 2013
By all accounts Maurizio Anzeri is actually a very lovely, jolly man who just has a more Mediterranean relationship with death than me.
Stitching on paper doesn’t have to be so challenging or macabre. Before attending the workshop I had a mooch around the internet to see what I could find. I’ve put them all in my Pinterest account, feel free to go and have a nosey, but here are my two favourites:
A wonderful headdress / costume piece of embroidery on a found photograph, by Stacey Page
Who could possibly resist this amazing stitched and applique head dress by Laura McKellar?
There are many wonderful examples of embroidering photographs which don’t involve obliterating or disfiguring the subjects. (I believe Laura McKellar transfers the photographs to fabric before stitching, which is how she’s able to create such intricate and detailed work – but please don’t quote me on that, I might be wrong and I can’t remember where I read that.)
So, back to me. How did I process this quick research into embroidering photographs at the workshop? Well, I quickly turned my back on the idea of stitching over the subjects and didn’t want to plain ‘lacing’ on a photograph, I wanted to see whether more variety in stitches was possible than the running stitch, cross stitch or seed stitch you see in most examples. I found a copyright free vintage photo online that I could easily work with (not against), printed it out and took it along with me.
Once I understood the process we were going to follow at the workshop, I drew a very simple design on tracing paper then punctured stitch holes where I needed them with a brad or a needle, and after the initial ‘lacing’ style stitches I experimented a bit with French knots and bullion knots. I was surprised that they worked so well!
TOP TIP: If you tear your paper while stitching you can repair the paper with masking tape or sellotape and stitch again. In the same way you can stitch layers by taping over the back at the end of layer to give you a new backing surface to stitch. And you can secure your ends of thread with tape, too. HOWEVER. If you’re planning on using bullion knots, don’t expect to be able to draw the thread through sticky tape and make clean, swearing-free bullion knots. I’m afraid it won’t happen.
So, here it is – the result of the workshop, my embroidered eyes. This was 2 hours very well spent, I enjoyed the opportunity to explore photographic stitching and I’m pretty certain I’ll make use of what I learnt in future work. And it was free! Bonus!
I fancied leaving that yellow thread dangling loose – it seemed incomplete without it.
Not bad for a 2 hour workshop.