A year of self-portraits
Having diverged into academia in the 2000s, I gradually returned to my embroidery practice. It has not been as easy as I thought. Interest in embroidery has resurged and the field is much livelier, with many more stitchers claiming and expanding the space. In the 1990s as a guest lecturer at the Australian National University’s School of Art, I tried to enthuse students to stitch was hard work. Students squirmed and were disinterested.
In 2016, I was very active in reinvigorating my practice. I did this by signing up to an online course run by textile artist and educator Jane Dunnewold. The key ideas I took was keeping a reflective journal, working with multiples of a single image or shape and the importance of ‘just turning up’ each day in the studio or working space each day. Dunnewold argues that simply becoming active daily by picking up a pen, cutting fabric, drawing, or collecting and arranging objects often leads on to engagement.
I also took an intensive five-day course with Australian artist Ruth Hadlow. This course also emphasized writing, as well as critical thinking in art making. I regularly return to the notes I took during this course. I also meets monthly with local artists who participated in Hadlow’s course to discuss ideas, visit exhibitions as well as venture out on drawing excursions.
In December 2016, I read an online article about the artist Hannah Claire Somerville’s ambitious 365-day project called 1 Year of Stitches. Somerville disciplined herself to post her stitching daily on Instagram.
On New Year’s Eve, I began thinking about a hand-stitching project for the year ahead. Initially that seemed easy enough, but coming up with imagery to be stitched and posted on social media for a year became daunting. Getting desperate by the late afternoon I remembered the maxim ‘start with something you know’. My face was one such thing. I quickly drew a self-portrait, scanned the image, reduced it and then pinned it onto a piece of linen to tack it out. It is old technology, but it works.
The first self-portrait was finished surprisingly fast, despite only stitching for 30-60 minutes each evening. The discipline of posting each day and developing an audience has been revitalizing. A second, then a third, fourth and fifth self-portrait appeared. Eventually fifteen filled the linen.
As a regular visitor to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, I had been fascinated by artists’ self-portraits. The intense gaze of the artists, how they stand, and how they communicate their ideas captivated me.
It became apparent that my followers enjoyed the daily and gradual build-up of imagery, leaving the detail of the faces till last. One follower commented: “It’s like a polaroid developing”. I am continuing with portraits for the rest of the year.
My portraits on Instagram are only one aspect of my studio practice. Machine embroidery, which explores lace-like structures emphasizing the delicate balance of the world we live in, takes up much of my time.