Somehow, I should be able to merge maps and clothing to represent who we really are: person and place, our physical being and what we're thinking. I keep trying to combine clothing and architecture, too - the idea of constructing ourselves. I keep attempting this, and have never truly succeeded - yet. These three pieces are based on my grandmother, my mother and myself. In each case, the apron-figure is overlaid with a map, a place that is entwined and stitched to the person.
Apron Excavation (50"h x 36"w)
I had dyed an apron dark brown, then rolled it, still-wet, into a white tablecloth. This gave me a print. Then I sewed it over layers of wool which had been cut to represent the streets of Warsaw. My grandmother came from Poland, I don't know where, so I improvised and just used a very stylized map of Warsaw. (If I was actually able to find a map of her town, it would probably only have one road).
Apron Excavation #2 (50"h x 36")
Another print of the brown apron, a bit lighter, and cut out of the tablecloth. My mother was born and raised in Bayonne, NJ, and those (very stylized) streets imprison her apron figure.
Her pockets are full of the minutiae and religion that made up her life.
Apron Excavation #3 (50"h x 36"w)
Here's the actual apron that was printed on the other 2 maps. Here, the section of Passaic where I live has been mapped onto my apron figure. The green (vaguely boot-shaped) section is the local park. And while my life is made of the same minutiae as my mother's, it has more color, and a lot more freedom.
Old kitchen calendar towels are such great bits of history: the year and months are represented in whatever style was popular at the time. Some are worn half to death and others are still stiff with starch. The findings from many garage sales were dyed a variety of colors, then used for the layout of streets (based on a vintage city map). The dark background is a dyed damask napkin. The days and months orient to the seasons, not the usual compass points. Which seems a perfect map of memories, as we each struggle to remember the where and when of long-ago events.
The tiny pink patches are phases of the moon.
Distribution Pattern of Imported Textiles (20"h x 15"w)
This was one of those stitching-on-the-road pieces. It began as just an accumulation of tiny patches, but it quickly evolved into a map-design. Not a map of any actual place, but mapping the old pattern of how goods would be delivered by boat, then make their way inland. The threads of the blue river here carry bright new fabrics along the dull brown riverbanks. Small white stitches show how some of these new textiles make their way further into town.
Of course now you can get any goods delivered overnight.
My husband is a brave man: he married a woman who sews in bed. One night, as I was stitching, he asked "what does that say?" I didn't know what he meant. "Oh, I thought those were letters." I was sewing small buckles under cloth, which he mistakenly thought they were letters. And a light went off in my head: yes, they do look like letters!
Strata Markings (17" x 17") was the one I was sewing in bed. The vertical line on the right side was what he thought were letters. I loved the idea that the small buckles, buttons, pins and hooks (which were ubiquitous in my grandmother's generation) could form their own hieroglyphic language.
Domestic Markings (32"h x 20"w) In this one, I was trying to suggest a gray stone tablet with writing. The gray background (barely visible around the edges of the frame) matches the gray dyed damask cloth. Look closely at the top, and you can see the pattern woven into the damask.
Domestic Markings #2 (23" x 23") In this one, I'm presenting the linen napkin of embedded letter-shapes (with just a tiny bit of the black wool underlayer showing) as a specimen on a substrate (which has it's own suggested writing stitches).
On Domestic Markings #3 (23" x 23") I veered off from the embedded letter-shapes, adding thermofax-printed text and images of the letters on children's wooden blocks. Not a great success, but it has one really cool feature that I want to share: the implied lettering on brown wool background. An artist in Maine - who makes hooked rugs- taught me this trick. You take 2 different colored pieces of wool and wrap them tightly together. Then you simmer them in water for an hour or 2. Pour in a cup of vinegar, and let the whole pot cool overnight. In the morning, some of the color will have transferred from one piece to the other. It's like slow-motion tie-dye for wool. So, in this version, I cut small pieces of dark wool and sewed them onto the lighter wool, then simmered and waited, and when I cut the small pieces, off, I had little markings (to suggest writing).
Sewing Strata (18" x 18") I think I made this one just before Strata Markings... we could consider it a pre-literate version. I do remember that this is the first one where I tried a really big gamble. After doing all that hand sewing, I painted on just a little discharge paste* and ironed off some color. It could have ruined the whole thing. And then, of course, I had to rinse it all thoroughly, and dry it between towels, and set it up with a barrage of fans to dry it. But it worked, I mounted it on a frame, and I used the same technique on Domestic Markings #2 to highlight some of the shapes.
* FYI: discharge paste is a noxious gelatinous substance that can be used as a controlled form of bleach. It will sit harmlessly on your cloth until you hit it with a hot iron...then it will give off disgusting, dangerous fumes, and removes color. If you touch the iron lightly, it takes out a little color. More heat= more color loss. After ironing, you must rinse out the cloth thoroughly. I only use discharge paste on my front porch, with a strong fan. In the winter, this is quite a joy.
I have an irrational fondness for this one. It has an implied danger, a stress (those 2 white glove-hands pulling in different directions, and the black glove gripping at her). This piece is very tightly stretched over a frame, with all those buttons (and keys, and keyholes) attached with bright red thread. There are paper pattern pieces, too: is she being constructed, or pulled apart?
My friend and fellow-artist Rayna Gillman called these my 'dead baby series' . She has a point.
Generational Fossil (46"h x 30"w) 2009
I continued making Fossil Garments, but now used adult clothing. In this nod to American Gothic, the man and woman are portrayed by their clothing and tools. The woman is an apron/clothespin bag, the man is work gloves and tool belt...and an instruction manual for his head. He holds the keys, the name plates, she has the kitchen tools, and the change purse - the petty cash, not the money.
When I was a child, I made clothespin dolls, so I still have some thought of them as representing people. She holds these clothespin-people in her mind, and in her body.
A few quick words on technique: the bottom layer of clothespins here are printed on cloth, cut and sewn on to the darker background cloth. Other clothespins have been cut in half and sewn over the printed ones, and the clothespin bag was sewn over it all. In the first Generational Fossil picture, you can see several pieces of leather. I soaked the leather, then used clamps to press the wet leather tightly over coins and tools, giving me the impressions in the leather.
Overgrown Fossil (68"h x 49"w)
This is the one that was on the cover of Fiber Arts Magazine in 2010. She started as a nightgown found in a garage sale in Nutley. When I started deconstructing her, I found that the sleeves had been patched several times...and as I took it apart, the patching opened up to resemble wings. Her nightgown figure is overlapping a man's sweater in a way that makes the neck opening suggest her head. So - is she flying out of the green crocheted-and-felted jungle, or is she sinking in?
At her very heart is an image of the original nightgown, with all the patched parts spread open.