I’ve been working on three new tiny fairy dolls. Well, I’m not sure as to what I want to call them. The first two of this series that I created I purposefully gave Finnish names to. I found the names Inkeri and Maija online. I’ve found different meanings and origins for each name. Inkeri is a Finnish form of Ingrid, and some sites say it means ‘Heros Daughter’. I picked it because I thought it was pretty. Maija is a variant of Mary/Maria, and could mean ‘bitter’. Again, I picked the name because I thought it sounded pretty. I also have a love for names that have Mary as the root. Marielle, Maya, Maia, Maarit, Marisol, you get the idea. I think it stems in part from the fact that Mary is an anagram for Army, which I think is pretty cool.
Continuing with the Finnish theme I have given to these fairy-like tiny dolls, I thought that maybe I could name the series in Finnish to perhaps ease my weird inner problems with calling them straight-up fairies. A Finnish friend suggested niittykeijuja, meadow fairies or metsäkeijuja, forest fairies. My spelling is in Finnish still isn’t fabulous, so these could be not spelled correctly. I like the idea of a meadow, since I did give them butterfly wings, so for now I’m leaning in the niittykeijuja direction. I had two other friends offer pixie and sprite as options as well. I like pixie, mostly because I’m a Pixies fan. Ha! I like keiju, because it’s similar to kaiju too!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the embroidery work I create. I’m largely self-taught, with help from other needleworkers here and there. Much of what I’ve learned I’ve picked up from YouTube videos and online embroidery sites. There are some amazing needleworkers out there in the world and I tend to consider myself a novice in comparison to many of them.
I started sewing by hand when I was very little, maybe around eight years old or so. Sewing fabric with needle and thread is very different from decorative embroidery. I think a running stitch and a backstitch were all I really needed to know at that time. I didn’t really learn how to operate a sewing machine until I was twelve or thirteen years old, in a sewing class in school. The only think I remember from that class is that I made a skirt I hated and that a boy named Larry sewed through his finger while operating his sewing machine. I didn’t enjoy the class at all, and learned next to nothing.
I come from a family of women who sew. Mostly on machine, using patterns for clothing and other useful household items, like quilts, pillows, curtains, etc. I own a sewing machine and do use it on occasion, mostly for sewing things like curtains and the clothing for some of the dolls that I make. I do like using a sewing machine, especially a well maintained sewing machine. I’ve gotten the chance to use some really chonky metal behemoth sewing machines here in Finland, like Husqvarna’s and Janome’s. I’ve even gotten to use some really nice newer model sergers too. If I had the want or need, I’d love to have any of these sewing machines.
But…there is just something about the feel of pulling a needle and thread through cloth. I don’t know what it is, but it just feels incredibly ‘right’ to me. I cannot adequately explain the sensation, but it’s just right. And in a way that machine sewing just doesn’t (please forgive my turn of phrase) do it for me. I think this is why I enjoy the embroidery work I create so much.
I was looking through my Instagram feed a few days ago and I came across a post by an artist I follow. She’d created a new sewing and embroidery pattern and had posted pictures of the project. I really liked the project a lot and the embroidery pattern was excellent. One of the pictures had a picture of the pattern for the embroidery and my brain just kind of clicked to the off position. I could imagine myself using her pattern to create the object, but somehow not creating the embroidery work.
It wasn’t because I didn’t like the embroidery work that the artist had chosen to use on her work. I think it had something to do with the use of the pattern for placement of the embroidered portions of the piece. I think what was being used was an embroidery stabilizer. The pattern in printed onto the paper and the paper then attached (temporarily) to the fabric being embroidered. I tried imagining stitching through paper stabilizer on fabric. I wasn’t sure that I could create what I would want to create using this method. Even within my own imagination it felt alien and weird.
I was then struck by the thought, “You mean people just don’t think of what they want to embroider and then just do it?” I know. This seems like such an ignorant thought. “There are people OTHER than ME that create ART?” Then my face would look like this:
Yeah. I sound like a total moron. I know this.
I started tugging at this thread to see what would come of it. I could imagine using someone else’s pattern for creating an object, but not for the embroidery work. Huh. Interesting in a kind of ‘what is wrong with me’ kind of way. I had to think about my own process for embroidery work and see how I couldn’t fit someone else’s designs or patterns into them. What’s my embroidery work process?
1. I rarely, if ever make any kind of in-depth sketches for the embroidery work that I do.
Yep. I’m more or less making everything up as I go. Well, no. That’s not totally true. I do make choices regarding color. This starts with the color of the doll, then the clothing, and THEN the embroidery work. I chose the colors I feel will work the best together, or will pop forward, or that will blend well.
The only stitch I know that I will do on every piece is the blanket stitch. I have this incredible unease about what I feel are unfinished edges. Especially regarding felt, which I use the most in my artwork. I start with a blanket stitch around all of the edges of felt. Without the blanket stitch along certain edges, I feel like the piece is just raggedy. I have no idea where this comes from. It’s just there and I go with it.
So, I plan the blanket stitch and that’s it.
2. I don’t know what stitches I will use or in what combination.
Once I complete the blanket stitch around the edges of the piece, I choose the next color or embroidery thread first, then think about the type of stitch I want to do. I have no idea what the final embroidery will look like. I just start working.
I tend to work from the biggest stitches to the smallest stitches in each piece I embroider. I sometimes know that I want to use a chain stitch to create a shape, but I don’t draw it down onto the fabric. I will evaluate the space I’m working within, and there are times in which I do pull a few stitches out because I made something the wrong size or decide I want the shape to go in a different direction.
What the final embroidery looks like is always a surprise to me and I kind of like it that way.
3. I embroider portions that I know will never be seen. I do this on purpose.
It’s a weird idiosyncrasy of mine. Part of me kind of likes knowing that it’s there and I know it, but no one else does. I think I started doing it simply so it didn’t look like I was avoiding spots on a finished piece, because I didn’t want to ‘waste time’ on portions that would never be seen.
4. I don’t like the reverse side of my embroidery to be a knot-filled mess.
Many years ago, when I was part of a local doll making club, I was working on some embroidery and appliqué work while chatting with a woman in the club. She’d had real training as a needle worker and had been working for several decades honing her craftsmanship. She told me that she’s been taught to keep the backs of her pieces as neat as possible. It made for easier repairs and/or additions. I took this to heart and can get positively anal-retentive about how the back sides of my embroidered pieces look.
As I said earlier, I consider myself a novice at embroidery and needlework. I use basic stitches, and change up the combinations, compositions and the colors. I learn new stitches here and there and add them in when I feel like they would look good, like a herringbone or bullion stitch. There are stitches that I know, but don’t use much, like satin and split stitches.
I know that the reason I can work with a kind of a ‘que sera sera’ attitude is due in large part to my own level of comfort and efficacy as an artist. I know what I know how to do and I just do it. If I mess something up, I know it’s not the end of the world. I can either fix it or disguise it. If I can do neither one of those, I know at least I can gain knowledge from the mistakes made. And I move forward.
I suppose that my inability to understand how to use a pattern, especially for embroidery work is because of two factors: 1. I want to make up my own designs and 2. How can I learn how to do something if I can’t possibly fail miserably? Again, this is due to my own personal efficacy as an artist.
Even after everything I’ve written above, those of you who read my blogs about my art, know that on occasion I do use other doll artists patterns as a means of making myself think differently and work with ideas other than my own. Even with those patterns, I cannot resist adding my own creative twist on the final products. I just can’t help myself. It’s what I do.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday.