If you don’t work from embroidery kits or books, then you probably come up with your own designs. What inspires them? Throughout history, artists have taken their inspiration from many sources – from nature, from religion, from life and all aspects of life.
When it comes to embroidery and needlework, looking around at all the brilliant designers and stitchers out there, I often find myself somewhat dissatisfied with my comparative lack of inspiration. But there are a few things that do inspire me, and occasionally, there are those little moments when something bursts upon the eye and lights up the brain, screaming, “You want to embroidery me!” The fat robin outside my window right now… the frozen tulip in the corner of the yard, encased in late-season ice… the twiggy branch covered with pale green buds that’s scratching on my window; the design in the carpet at my feet; the colorful engravings on a piece of foreign currency… these things catch my eye, and I think they would make interesting subjects for embroidery.
But, to tell you the truth, that’s about as far as they go. They catch my eye, they spark my interest, they suggest a design. But they rarely materialize.
Why not, I wonder… Part of the answer lies in my lack of drawing ability. I would like to be able to draw better than I do. Stylized patterns and motifs are fine, but realistic sketching is not a skill I’ve remotely perfected. Another part of the answer (and probably the greater part) lies in a lack of concentration or focus on creating, due to the lack of time and the overabundance of other responsibilities. Without the “leisure” required to attend to artistic pursuits, it is difficult to hone in and take perception to fruition in a completed project – or at least to do so while the inspiration is vivid. In fact, it’s often difficult just to take the time to really see things and get inspired!
But inspiration doesn’t have to come from the “raw,” and, in fact, as far as actually working a project goes, I take more inspiration from other pieces of art – already done, already realized in another medium – than I do from nature or other raw sources.
I’d like to show you an example of what I mean. Lately, I’ve been musing and stewing over stumpwork. Do you know what it’s like when an idea, technique, or project begins to gnaw away at your imagination and consume all your thoughts? That’s how I’ve been about stumpwork lately. You’ve actually seen some of the consequences of this stumpwork obsession in my recent posts – my re-awakened interest in the Plimoth Plantation jacket project; the kits I posted the other day; the links to Thistle Threads (with that beautiful museum-licensed box project!); Jane Nicholas’s Stumpwork Embroidery book review; the book review on Embroidered Flora & Fauna – all of these posts are related to my recent stewings!
More than anything else, though, two books that are not embroidery books have occupied my mind. I’m not writing a book review here! Rather, I want to show you how one art form can directly inspire ideas for another.
This isn’t a new connection, though. Illumination (painting or drawing to embellish a written work) and embroidery have developed side-by-side throughout history. But take a look at these two books on illumination, and you’ll see where my thoughts are going as far as stumpwork is concerned.
The first book here is Beasts Factual and Fantastic by Elizabeth Morrison. This is a beautiful little book full of colored photographs of different illuminated works throughout history. The author concentrates on the animals (both the realistic and the fantastic) in illuminated manuscripts and books. From bunnies to bears to gargolyes and strange mixed breeds, somehow, they all found their way into illumination.
This picture in particular captures my embroidering fancy. The bear is a study for padding and French knots. The hives, for couched gold on felt padding. The monster bees, perfect for turkey work and wire wings. Further additions of flowers and grasses could cheer the scene up a bit. While there’s something about the picture that borders on grotesque – the long claws of the bear, the more “human-like” form of his body, the insanely disproportioned bees – there’s also something charming about it, and it could be made really charming with the addition of a little brightness. I like it! It’s morphing about in my mind! Will it result in anything finished? I don’t know yet!
The second book is The Medieval Flower Book by Celia Fisher. This book explores in particular flowers as embellishments of manuscripts and books.
The close association between illumination and stumpwork can certainly be seen here. I love this dragonfly and the bright red poppies.
Again, another illumination that begs for a stumpwork interpretation! The blue flowers, the thistles, the butterflies, and the little hairy petals that surround the painted pearls are all perfect for interpretation in embroidery.
It’s funny how, when looking at the page on slant, the butterfly is so perfectly rendered that its wings seem to be lifted up off the page!
These two books have provided my night-time reading lately, as well as my lunch-time book browsing. When I see something I particularly like, I note it down or put a marker in the book, so I can come back to it later and consider it from the point of view of the embroiderer.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, really. Right now, mine is definitely coming from a variety of books that I’ve been reading. As the weather warms up, perhaps there will be more of an opportunity to get inspired outside, but in the meantime, I’m completely besotted with these two books and the ideas they’re fueling in my head!
What inspires you?