Tag Archives: modern freehand embroidery

A tribute piece to two women artists I admire, Judy Chicago and Annie Sprinkle, and a charity raffle.

By Suzanne Forbes March 8 2017 tribute JudyChicagoxAnnieSprinkleBy Suzanne Forbes March 8 2017 tribute JudyChicagoxAnnieSprinkleAfter last week’s feminist art salon, I was thinking about Pussy Power and the history of making vagina icon art.

By Suzanne Forbes March 2017 tribute JudyChicagoxAnnieSprinkle WIP

I went home last Friday and started a pussy piece, and of course I was thinking of The Dinner Party. You can’t think about pussy art and embroidery without it.

It was sometime in the 80s that I first saw Judy Chicago‘s Dinner Party. It was as a black and white photo in the Village Voice, and I remember it so clearly. It was still shocking then; it’s still revolutionary now.

By Suzanne Forbes March 8 2017 tribute JudyChicagoxAnnieSprinkle CUI have a lot of green materials around for the Green Woman project I’m working on. I had a sudden flash of inspiration for an image that would honor Annie Sprinkle and her Ecosexual work.

I became acquainted with Annie while I lived in the Bay Area and was exhibiting and drawing at Madison Young’s queer art gallery, Femina Potens.

We talked about my painting a portrait of Annie, but could never organize the timing. I still hope to, as Annie will be in Germany this summer!

I am going to raffle off this piece to raise money for Planned Parenthood.

Anyone who sends me a copy of their March $20 or more donation to Planned Parenthood (with your name, but personal details obscured of course!) will be entered to win the piece. As embroidery works take me a minimum of twenty hours, and this one took about twenty-five, it’s a chance to win a piece I would have to charge a lot for!

Calendar of Annie’s many world-wide feminist and ecosexual art activities here.

Teaching resources for The Dinner Party.

The Dinner Party long-term installation at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

Something beautiful for a sad month: bead embroidery!

beetle embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I made this embroidered beetle to lift my heart and give me the strength that working with color and sparkle does. It was part of my automatic-writing-for-art approach this month, like the Monster doll armada.beetle embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

I just reached into my textile materials drawer and grabbed some scraps and bits, and told myself, You gotta make something with these.

bead embroidery appliques Suzanne Forbes 2017 1There are four different types of lacework fabric and delicate cotton paper layered on a blue felt base, bits left from the very first materials I bought at my earliest trips to the art store in Berlin.

I used them in my mantis project our first summer here, and in some bug embroideries with sheer wings.

The blue felt undersurface is left over from the backing of the Hearts Afire pieces I made for my Cake Level Patrons in 2016.

beetle embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017Plus bead overflow from the Green Woman corset I’m working on, which is related to the Green Leaf Crowns I made last summer! I planned that project back in 2013-14 and brought all the materials in the shipping container.

You can see my project kit* for the Green Woman project at the top of these pics; I just raided it for beads and bling! This is the mess on a day I worked for eleven hours straight, just fiending on colors and sparkle.

I learn so much from studying the work of Game of Thrones embroidery artist Michele Carragher.

bead embroidery appliques Suzanne Forbes 2017 She has really radical approaches to layering sheer or lacework materials and doing bead embroidery in three dimensions.

I look forward to exploring ideas I borrowed from her for the mantis, like a wire lattice for sheer wings. Maybe this summer!

I also learned from her to do my bead embroidery in a hoop, whether or not it’s going to remain in the hoop.

Doing bead embroidery on the surface you plan to display it on – especially clothing- is for suckers. It’s like melting chocolate in a double boiler.

Much easier, stronger, safer and neater to embroider or bead embroider on a sheer surface in a hoop. If your threads aren’t meltable you can iron a light interfacing onto the back to protect the finished embroidery, cut around the embroidery design, then sew it onto your clothes or lampshade or corset or whatever.

If your threads are synthetic and meltable, but you’re really worried about the strength/structural integrity of the piece, you can wipe a thin coat of archival gel glue on the back. Like E6000! I touched every knot on the back of this beetle with a bit of Tacky Glue, just to be sure it’s heirloom solid. I have to charge a lot for embroidery pieces, since they take a minimum of 30 hours to make, so I like to be sure they’re for the ages.

*project kit: I have a half dozen project kits still neatly boxed up and waiting in my workshop cabinets. I organize all the materials and supplies I need for a project into a “kit” that makes it easy to bust into and tackle. All those 90% off post-holiday sales at Michaels and JoAnn’s, all those years of saving every scrap of ribbon from a present, every bit of wrapping paper for a shadowbox or decoupage! I’ve been blazing through projects, I’ve finished at least a dozen since I finished building the kitchen/workshop, but I brought a LOT in the container.

Bat Monster Woman!!

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017It’s a gray day in Berlin but this gold and bronze Bat Monster Woman I just finished is glowing.

She is inspired by my beloved Archie McPhee Monster Women rubber toys, a gift from my oldest friend Victoria.

I used what may be my last scrap of silver velvet, some old-gold colored wired organza ribbon that I bought with a coupon at Jo-Ann for my first wedding, and gold tulle.

Plus my favorite Black Pearl metallic thread from Rico Design, which is the only good metallic embroidery thread available in the world.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017And two citrine Swarovski crystals for her eyes, some brass rhinestuds, a scrap of teeeny gold dollmaking braid trim, and plain dark green cotton thread, doubled, carefully stitched around the border of the design.

Using a fine dark thread to go around the edges of important shapes really helps me control and refine the line, I highly recommend it.

It’s especially great where a regular back-stitched embroidered line butts up against a satin stitch area. The tiny needle you can use for a single strand of floss or regular thread means you can stitch into the satin stitch without disturbing or spreading it, yet stabilize it at the same time.

I also added brass stud stars, both to reference Wonder Woman iconography and because I love studs.

When I was a child, about seven to nine, I had a babysitter I adored. Her name was Melissa, and although she was a hardcore drug addict and a total flake, she was so mellow and gentle with me. Some friends of her and her sister Nadine had a clothing store on 8th Avenue between 20th and 21st, a funky hippie store where everybody hung out. I don’t know if they ever sold anything but drugs.

Sitting on the floor in there under racks of fringed and embroidered and patched rocker clothes impacted my aesthetic so much.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017There was a barrel of studs for your jeans or jean jackets, all different shapes and designs, stars and moons and pyramids and other shapes I can’t quite summon. Like, a barrel- they must have bought them by the kilo at some surplus place. I would run my hands through them, gently so the points wouldn’t poke me.

I felt completely safe there. Years later the friends became famous Deadhead t-shirt silkscreeners, and I went to a party at their loft on 14th st. I came home drunk at dawn and gleefully told my mom about their huge ball python Clyde who had cuddled me. They were such nice people, and such incredible artists.

Everything you do or see or feel goes in the hopper for creative work. 

Everything I remember, here in this safe-at-last place, surfaces and turns and shines under the light. I don’t know where the synthesis will take me. Or what the meeting point will be between painting and drawing, the skills I trained a decade for and made a career in, and the making things I’ve always loved.

Making is my medicine: 40 hours of moth embroidery.

Grey Embroidered Moth by Suzanne Forbes January 2017I spent a week of my life this month making this moth.

Grey Embroidered Moth by Suzanne Forbes January 2017I don’t know if it was the best use of my time at this frightening time, but I do know I wasn’t capable of going out and protesting.

I’ve been barely able to function, this month.

Making something beautiful was the only thing I could contribute to the world. So I kept doing that.

Doing handwork, “Women’s Work.” Stabbing something 6,000 times.

I’ve spent a lot of time doing what I call “running background processes” this month.

Grey Embroidered Moth by Suzanne Forbes January 2017I’m working on a very hard to write piece about sexual violence, and the words tumble around in my head like stones in a polisher.

I can think about it for tiny snippets at a time, and then I turn to the comfort of sparkle and glimmer and applying tiny hematite crystals one at a time for hours.

Everything about the Cheeto “President” triggers me. I am constantly triggered. It sucks. I can’t sleep during the American news cycle, so I’m up from 6pm to 11am.

I don’t know the name of the woman who made this protest sign for the Women’s March, but she is a hero. A real live art hero.

protest embroidery

Beauty is my medicine: Making pretty things for comfort.

 Embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 Embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017This is the second large embroidery piece I started and finished this month.

I did this one mostly over the Women’s March Weekend.

 Embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017

It’s super pink!

embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 work in progress   embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 work in progress

I really need to make things of beauty at dark times, when I’m not personally depressed but the world is frighteningly fucked up.

embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 work in progressI’ve been posting snippets of my works in progress and moments in the life of a working artist, plus kitties, on my new Instagram account. People seem to appreciate seeing art a lot right now.

I hate being in the ecosphere of a Zuck property, but it’s the best place to keep up with my loved ones these days, and an amazing place to connect with what other artists are doing.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

October/November bricolage roundup: More Extreme Gothic Crafting.

Between Halloween and the Orange Catastrophe, I never posted most of the things I made in October.OctNov Bricolage Suzanne Forbes

And of course I’ve been making more in November, because handwork is my safe place.

Suzanne Forbes crazy quilt mantel scarf Halloween 2016I worked on the beaded crazy quilt mantel scarf for quite a while after Halloween, once I finally got my sewing machine working here.Suzanne Forbes crazy quilt mantel scarf Halloween 2016

You need a step-up step-down transformer to operate a US sewing machine in Germany.

However my machine is a computerized one with great automatic thread tensioning and I was terrified that the sheer power of European wall current would fry it. Finally I nerved myself up, plugged in the transformer and it was fine. The transformer gives off a bit of a chemical smell as it heats up, but that kind of thing never bothers me.

I’m still a raging helpless amateur on the sewing machine, anything I sew looks like wombat knitting.

Of course, I’ve spent a lot of time around extraordinary couture seamtresses and costumiéres, and I know I’ll never be even a regular competent sewer. But I don’t care. Using the machine makes me feel powerful and capable and it’s just so magic and fun.

My plan is to take the mantel scarf out before Halloween every year and add more beading, embroidery and quilting.

Halloween mini top hat project Suzanne Forbes

Halloween mini top hat project Suzanne Forbes

 

This hat is one of my “Uplift” projects. I found it in a 75% off bin at Michaels the fall before we left, coming apart, and threw it in the “Halloween Crafts on Arrival” box for the shipping container.

I love to carefully glue crappy things, and fix their carelessly made bits, and then add hours of careful crystal decoration and a vintage jet bead. I had these rooster feathers that precisely matched some scraps of sequin in the sequin trim scrap bag I got at Discount Fabrics for $5 years ago. Isn’t that nuts how they match?

black-horns-suzanne-forbes-2016black-horns-detail-suzanne-forbes-2016

I also spent a lot of time adding Swarovski crystals to a deer skull.

gilt horns Suzanne Forbes 2016And gold leafing another skull. I used this weird star-patterned variegated gold leaf I got at Idée for super cheap; with my usual fingerpainting leafing technique, it didn’t really show.

After I leafed it I varnished it with acrylic glaze, then rubbed the still-tacky glaze with this pure bronze pigment powder. I bought the jar at the art-school art supply store in college in 1990 ’cause it was in a discount bin; I’ve still barely made a dent in it and I have used it for SO MANY THINGS.

Daria thought the black crystal-decorated skull was a little passé. Like, so gothsterday. Ah well, there’s no pleasing the young.

I also cleverly framed this creepy eye I painted back in February in this creepy frame.Eye painting by Suzanne Forbes 2016

passementarie-embroidered-pillow-editedCreepy, right? And I did the first test of using my machine to add passementerie trim to one of my pillows that for some unknown reason, did not already have trim on it.

I had been feeling bad for this poor, undecorated pillow for years.

target-halloween-talking-old-time-radioAlso, I got this incredible animatronic talking vintage radio at Target in the US in September, and carefully brought it home.

halloween-haunted-radioHowever, it needed work; both Daria and I felt that the way the lights flashed around the top was overkill and not so nice.

So I painted the white faux-Bakelite strip black, applied varnish, roughly gold-leafed it with the same cheap variegated leaf, then used the bronze powder on it. And then Daria distressed it with more black paint, because she said it was still too glitzy. She was right, of course.

making cupcakes Suzanne Forbes 2016I probably would have made a lot more stuff in October, but I was really busy baking for Halloween.

And in November I was so stressed before the US election and so gutted afterwards that I lost a lot of creative time. And Leonard Cohen died. What the fucking fuck, 2016.

I’m trying to catch up.

At least cats are on hand to supervise.Halloween cupcakes Suzanne Forbes 2016
cat-supervisors

Beadwork in Progress- Halloween crazy quilt mantel scarf and leaf corset.

Halloween spider bead embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2016When we got back from the US last week I yanked the box marked “Halloween Craft Projects” off the shelf and tore into it.

Halloween spider bead embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2016I was basically crazed from exposure to American craft store Halloween displays.

The first thing I wanted to work on was beading this mass-market Halloween mantel scarf or banner that I bought at PierOne during an after-Halloween sale for my usual 75-90% off.

This is what I call an “Uplift” project, after the science fiction novels by David Brin.

I have never beaded anything as fast in my life as I did this project.

I love taking commercially made items that I bought for almost nothing and investing hours of meticulous labor in making them more beautiful.

Halloween spider bead embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2016It’s obviously fraught to buy mass-produced items in the first place; I always think of the person who made them.

I wonder how my buying these items at the end of their retail life, when they have basically become junk in the eyes of the retailer, impacts the commercial production cycle in other countries of Halloween crap for American consumers.

Halloween spider beadwork and beaded leaves by Suzanne Forbes 2016I don’t know the answer, but I do feel a connection when I do this, like my labor and the mystery factory worker’s labor is of equal value.

As if by adding hours of my highly trained privileged-artist love-labor to their object of work, I’m giving it more space in the world. A better chance of lasting.

As you can see I’ve also been working very slowly on the beaded leaf corset project.

I made the perhaps injudicious decision to individually bead some of the velvet leaves. And hand apply glass hotfix rhinestones to them. Heaven only knows how far I’ll go down that rabbithole.

I have an Instagram now, where you can see the delightful loot haul of green beads and crystals I recently obtained for the leaf corset!

WIP: beaded green velvet leaf pagan Mayday corset!

This corset is one of those projects I’ve been planning for years.beaded corset WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016

beaded corset WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016I brought all the raw materials for it to Berlin in the shipping container. It took a decade to collect all the velvet leaves, beads and leaf-shaped lace.

I have no idea what I’ll do with it when it’s done. Who cares, it’s the making of it that’s the incredible joy.

Maybe we’ll have a Midsummer dinner party and I’ll wear it, maybe I’ll get a red wig and go to some comic thing as Victorian Gothic Poison Ivy.

.beaded corset WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016 This is my third heavily beaded/embroidered corset project, and I’ve learned a few things. Such as to do the heavy beading on a sheer fabric on a hoop first, to save wear and tear on my hand/wrist and reduce the amount of crappy random stitchery on the back. (You can see the previous two corsets here. The blue mermaid one is the same corset model as this one.)

I learned this from the generous and amazing website of Games of Thrones textile artist Michele Carragher. She creates the incredible, breathtaking detail of the costumes for GoT and other productions.

If you have never looked at these works in detail I cannot encourage you strongly enough.

I love Michele Carragher’s work and the way she is so generous in sharing her process.

I love her story because although she has a degree from the London College of Fashion she also has had a somewhat meandering career and is suddenly achieving great success well into her professional life. I wonder if she has a helper like I do?beaded corset WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016 helper

An off-the-rack corset like this one from Orchard Corset has only a 10-12″ difference between waist and hips, so I have to modify it to add an additional four inches at the hips. That will be the next stage, after I finish seasoning it. I don’t usually bother to season corsets, because I’m lazy, I have a very corset-shaped body and I know exactly how to buy an OTR corset that fits me really well. (Don’t be like me! Season your corset!) In this case however I want to make sure changes in the shape happen before there’s additional decorative stitching, so as not to strain it. I started the beading first though, cause I needed its comforting, trancelike pleasure.

Although my daytime PTSD symptoms are much better now that the anniversary of Rob’s death and San Diego has passed, I’m still having sleep trouble. I have been kicking my husband awake fighting off nightmare assailants. I have to be very careful about how much I embroider since the tendonitis problems of 2013, but I’m clocking as much as I can.

I am so grateful I can work on this wonderful, soothing project. Hope you like it so far!

My workshop/mixed media studio, finally built!

In honor of National Week of Making, proclaimed by Obama!Workshop_Suzanne_Forbes_artist_2016

I don't love order so much as I hate chaos.

I don’t love order so much as I hate chaos.

tools2

Our apartment came with an enormous kitchen. An enormous, empty kitchen.

kitchenLike most Berlin apartments, it had no sink, stove, fridge, cabinets or counters. Just pipes sticking out of the wall. We bought an initial basic kitchen setup through a very kind gift from D’s grandfather.

I designed the overall kitchen wall, figured out what the minimum to start was, had the IKEA cabinets delivered and built them. Then a handyman named Tyler helped me install them.kitchen plan Suzanne Forbes 2015

That was only the beginning. I had never thought about combining kitchen & office & craft room, but the minute I did I was sold 100%.

So I came up with the idea of making the other big empty wall my workshop/machine room. Here’s the first rough iteration, made in November.workshop rough Suzanne Forbes 2015

Normally, the tools and appliances of an office and workshop look awkward as hell in any (Gothic-Rococo-Victorian Brothel) room I design.

But it happens I like a white kitchen, and our kitchen happens to have incredible lighting.

So it was the perfect place to put things like a printer and my sewing machine, and hopefully eventually a 3D printer and milling machine.

workspace table plan Suzanne Forbes 2015

I was enjoying doing my embroidery at the kitchen table, in the bright, even light, enormously.

So I decided there should be a worktable in the center, where we could eat if we ever wanted to eat in the kitchen instead of in the library while watching Silicon Valley.
island rough Suzanne Forbes 2015

 

 

At New Year’s when we had friends cooking in the kitchen it became clear we needed a good-sized island as well.

islandI agonized over the aspect ratio and measurements before finally going with a simple design that could be both sewing table and food prep surface. The whole thing cost less than 130 euros in the end, but it’s very solid.

It will have nice cute handles like the machine wall eventually, I just ran out of money.

Then I designed the machine wall in detail. workshop plan Suzanne Forbes 2015

There had to be a place for the ladder, and for blank canvas storage, and the, um, annoying amounts of recycling German living generates.

I needed big flat shelves to store drawings and shelves and lots of deep drawers for materials. And of course it had to cost as little as possible. Since food comes slightly before making stuff, I focused on the kitchen part first.

kit2

Kitchen side, not quite finished but getting close!

I found a great handyperson, James, an Australian fellow who has all the tools in the world, and we worked together to build the rest of the kitchen side wall. It came out pretty well! We haven’t had money for a dryer yet, but in time.

There will be cool newsprint curtains over the open shelves- I hate open shelving, no matter how hot it is on Apartment Therapy.

This month we finally had enough cash to buy the cabinets for the machine wall.

tools3Ikea delivered them and then I spent five gruelling days building them. It was a lot of work but saved us easily 300 euros even at cheap Berlin labor rates.

James and Jason, another Ozzie, hung the cabinets and suddenly there it was, my workshop.

 

My organization of mixed media materials is very much inspired by my beloved friend/muse/patron Monique Motil, an artist who manages her studio space as beautifully as she creates.

fabric storageThis Thursday was the shakedown cruise. Daria and Ian came over and we ran all the systems- printing, drawing, ironing decals onto fabric, using every tool in every drawer.
bins

Doll hospital and um, laboratory.

Doll hospital and um, laboratory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

toolsI can honestly say my design worked beautifully.

I opened the second leaf on the table and we all had room to sit and work, and any time we needed something- “Let’s cut the stickers with deckle-edge scissors!” or “Let’s see if we can use the decals to make pendants!” – I could just grab whatever tool or material we needed out of the drawers and cabinets.norden-klapptisch-wei-__0104381_PE251365_S4

 

 

When the left-hand leaf is closed, it’s a perfect setup for me to work alone- the drawers are in the right place for a lefty 🙂

We had the most incredible, exhilarating night collaborating in my new workspace.

I know we worked really hard to get to this life, but I still feel like we’ve been given a miracle beyond imagining.

 

Moar Mixed Media!

My recent embroidery works involve pipe cleaner and plastic wrap, plus a return to French wired ribbon.

(In the early 90s I was obsessed with French wired ribbon techniques, making Victorian roses and shirred cockades. I love its sculptural quality and moiré grosgrain texture.)mixed media embroidered insects Suzanne Forbesmixed media embroidered insects Suzanne Forbes

I wanted something that would give the wings of the fly a really unpleasant, transparent quality.

(and wow, as I typed that I had another idea- embroidering latex. Now, latex is not archival, and normally I would never use a material that is not archival. It’s part of my training to maintain a covenant with the buyer of a work that the work will endure to the very best of my knowledge. But the decay of latex, the way it dries and melts and chips and shrinks, is aesthetically fascinating and intrinsically beautiful. Artists have done a lot of work with the way latex changes over time; it can be part of the value proposition for a work. It’s a natural material, like skin. If I embroider a portrait of a face on latex !??!? It could be like Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. She said, “But Pablo, I don’t look like that”. “You will.”)

Anyway, watch this space for embroidered latex.

So I decided to embroider plastic wrap!

embroidered mixed media fly Suzanne Forbes 2015I was concerned that making hundreds of tiny holes in the plastic wrap would make it essentially perforated, since plastic lacks the warp and weft of fabric. And I wanted more texture, so I added an overlay of lacy stuff.

The lace overlay holds the plastic wrap in place, provides additional structure for the thread to catch onto, and provided a raised surface for the final touch- a little gold paint!

I rubbed gold paint on my fingertips, then brushed them over the surface of the wings.

 

I’m quite pleased with the results.

This little guy got a gold-leafed frame, even though I usually only gold leaf the frames for works that have more than forty hours of labor, because he is so creepy. The fly was a popular Victorian naturalist motif and apparently a symbol for humility. Also, creepy.

He is for sale for $250 to Bay Area collectors- I can bring him on my trip next week!