Looking at artists – Maggie Grey; and making a sample using her techniques

Maggie Grey is the editor of Workshop on the Web which is a quarterly online journal of workshops by textile tutors.  A review of her CV on Magstitch shows a long career as a textile artist and tutor with more than 10 books in print, numerous international teaching events and exhibitions.

A key feature of Maggie’s work is the use of the computer to create textile designs which are transferred onto fabric or other materials and then distorted, stitched, melted, cut or used with a myriad of techniques to change the surface.

I have one of Maggie Grey’s books: From Image to Stitch which focusses on printing onto paper and fabric and using the result as a starting point for further work.

Taking one example from this book, on page 23 there is the following piece:

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The description is “A digital photograph of a ruined chapel wall was used for this design, printed on heavy watercolour paper.  Slits were cut in the paper and a further print was woven through one area.  The print was then sponged with black gesso for added texture, and hand stitched.  Eyelets were then added”.

Looking at this piece the following features stand out:

  • In terms of composition, the woven section is not centralised but is offset to one side; some of the woven strips extend beyond the border of the piece, breaking up the rectangular shape and providing more interest;
  • The woven section includes larger items (pebbles) that stand out from the background providing variation in the scale of the image;
  • The stitching is done in a thread that matches some of the colours in the photo. Blanket stitch has been used to edge two of the strips and uneven cross stich is used  as well;
  • The woven strips are inset into the background rather than going edge-to edge, this produces a contrast in the smooth and woven areas of the piece;
  • The colours are subtle and from a limited palette.. The additional embellishment with stitching and gesso has picked up colours from that palette to blend the additions to the original photo; and
  • The eyelets are a contrast in their geometric nature and the evenness of their spacing but the matt metal picks up on the coppery background colour in parts of the photo so they fit in the overall colour scheme..

I feel this piece is successful in the way it blends different techniques and the development of the piece can be followed through each stage.  There are a number of learning points that I have picked up from looking at this piece which are:

  • To sample different layouts and not be limited by preset boundaries;
  • To think about whether stitching and embellishment is to be subtle and pick up background colours, or whether a more dynamic contrasting effect is desired;
  • That stitching or a technique does not have to cover the whole work but can be limited in its application.

Maggie’s blog includes free tutorials, one on the use of shrinking plastic and the other called Oiled, Crumpled and Stitched.  Oiled, crumpled and stitched gives step by step instructions for taking a printout, photocopy or drawing, crumpling it and then using it as a basis for stitch.

I decided to try this technique and selected a photograph of a mixed media piece that I made a few years back as it had a pleasing selection of colours and a slightly metallic sheen that I thought would work well oiled.  This is the original piece:

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I printed the picture onto matte photo paper, then crumpled it. I stitched into it using silk threads, choosing silk because of the sheen that would pick up on the metallic in the photo and the oiled look. I did some French knots in dark blue, running stitch in a brown/bronze thread and chain/detached chain stitch in lavender thread.  The I used lavender and green threads to work some areas of overlapping Cretan stitch. I applied a little bit of gold Pearlex powder to the ridges between the gold coloured areas to act as bridges, linking the areas together.

Following from the learning point above as to not being limited by existing boundaries, I decided to extend the stitching off the sides of the paper.  I mounted the paper on a piece of felt for padding, then onto a piece of bronze coloured silk dupion to pick up the metallic colours.

Then I continued the French knots and Cretan stitch from the paper onto the dupion in a few places. Finally I edged the paper with blanket stitch to hold it onto the backing fabric.

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It was interesting to try a technique that was new to me.  Stitching on the paper was tricky as it was easy to tear.  Although Maggie Grey says to stitch the paper before mounting the piece on card or felt I would use a felt backing before starting to stitch as this gave more substance and helped stop the paper from tearing.  I was also limited by the size of silk dupion I had in the right colour otherwise I would have extended the stitching further, particularly the blue French knots as I liked the way these continued the raised texture into the framing.

As well as these tutorials, Maggie quite often includes detailed information on her blog as to how she has created a textile piece.  Her Birch Blog series in February 2015 shows how she created a piece of work and includes examples of her initial sampling with making leaves in metal, Vilene treated in different ways, paper and a combination of these techniques.  This is interesting as it shows the importance of sampling even to an established artist with years of experience and experimentation behind her.

As a student starting out on a degree course it is interesting that Maggie Grey does not have educational qualifications and, in an interview on artbysusanlenz.blogspot.com.au says:

“Little by little, I’m learning that a degree doesn’t define one’s quality. Looking inward, exploring oneself, expressing those discoveries with attention to craftsmanship and concept does determine quality. That’s exactly what I strive to do and I didn’t need a degree to do it.”

This is an interesting quote and makes a very strong point that having a degree (or other qualification) does not necessarily mean that quality work will be produced.  Instead she advocates attention to craftsmanship and concept which can be seen through her work in sampling and exploring different techniques and themes.

References;

Grey,M, 2008, From Image to Stitch, Batsford, London

Lenz, S, 2009. Art in Stitches: Blog. Available from http://artbysusanlenz.blogspot.com.au/  15 September 2009

Grey, M, Magstitch:Blog. Available from http://magstitch.blogspot.com.au/

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