A fibrous self-portrait

Over on Aquilino Arts, we planned to lend some personality to our site by creating an artistic version of a photograph of ourselves. As the crafter of the group, my medium was fiber. I’m quite pleased with how it came out.

photo of fiber self-portrait

The photo it represents actually came from this blog, from the post discussing the creation of the hat I’m wearing in it. Here it is for direct comparison.

original self-portrait photo

We did not end up using this for the team page as originally intended; the idea sort of fizzled out. I wanted to show it off somewhere, though, and in case you’re curious, I have for you some material lists and process photos.

Visible components:

  • Fabric
    • satin (sky, glasses)
    • fleece (white part of jacket)
    • home dec type (dark green trees, gray part of jacket)
    • netting (overlay for gravel)
    • cotton and/or cotton-poly (everything else)
  • Sewing thread
  • Bulky acrylic yarn (hat)
  • Fabric paint (lips and teeth)
  • Blanket binding (frame)

Invisible components:

  • Flannel (to pad up my nose-cheek-chin region just a tad, though I think it ended up being irrelevant)
  • Heavyweight nonwoven interfacing (face/head, line of trees on left, glasses, two full-size backings)
  • Fusible web (glasses, mouth)
  • Tacky glue (glasses)
  • Fray-Check (glasses)

The first two photos are the back view of the piece that formed my head and neck, and a partially laid out background. I used the head piece to help align the background pieces.

photo of back of head/neck piece photo of partially completed background with head/neck piece laid on top

Next, a shot I call The Invisible Bozo, and a taste of the oddness of cutting up three or four copies of your face to do a project.

photo of completed background with head, hair, glasses, and jacket photo of in-process hat

The back, before and after I covered it with a second layer of interfacing and with calico.

photo of finished back without decorative cover photo of fully finished back with decorative fabric layer and binding

Finally, a shot of the finished item lit from the right instead of the left. It really shows how much dimensionality the piece has.

photo of finished piece lit from right instead of left

This isn’t a project I would have done without someone telling me “hey, you should to do this,” but it was an interesting challenge. I don’t know what I’ll do with it now, but my rationale for backing and binding it was that if I was going to put as much time into something as I did into this (I didn’t keep track, but 10 hours give or take) then I was going to finish it properly.

Blackwork-appropriate embroidery alphabet

Remember the blackwork map of my local area that I spent so much time designing and stitching last year? I’ve added to it.

annotated blackwork map

Title, compass rose, and attribution. Since I did the vast majority of the work last year I used that date. And since I am me, I designed the alphabet myself, all the letters in upper- and lowercase, and digits although I ultimately liked the look of the Roman numerals better.

Since blackwork was popular over a long stretch of time I had a lot of options for an era-appropriate script. I found a website called Medieval Writing with lots of examples of scripts and was able to observe my lowercase options pretty thoroughly. I decided to create a blend of 15th-16th century English chancery hand and 15th-16th century French and Italian humanistic minuscule, with an eye to legibility for modern readers. Well, it turned out more to be based on those scripts in the way that TV movies are based on true stories, but I think it has the right flavor. I made the uppercase and numbers by looking at assorted typefaces and online calligraphy lessons, and the ampersand right out of my head. My favorites are the old-looking a, dramatic d, and potbellied U.

I have for you a blackwork alphabet PDF that includes the laid-out text for the map (aside from my name, which I didn’t think would be of much use). I thought it would be useful as an example of kerning the letters even if you wanted to use this for a different project.

blackwork map drying

After stitching, I washed the map and hung it from a deck chair out back, before I remembered I needed to block it on the ironing board with six or seven hundred pins. Next stop: the frame shop. I’ve never had any of my embroidery framed, so this will be an adventure.

Blackwork embroidery

beginning of a blackwork map It was time for a tutorial on the local fibercraft blog I co-write, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for a locally-themed project, the kind I would worry was uninteresting to most readers here. I settled on a map of the area in blackwork embroidery and set to work. Over there you’ll find information about blackwork and stitching this pattern; here I want to discuss the design process.

Originally I wanted to partition the map into what we really think of as towns, which are smaller, more numerous, and more irregular than what the state governments regard as towns. The large boxy shapes date back to at least 1860, though, and I determined it would take me months to draw other boundaries. Drawing my own borders would also result in many arbitrary decisions about what was in or out of town.

I also didn’t intend to include 46 towns in the final map, but again, restricting would have required arbitrary decisions. The towns I included comprise the beat of the local newspaper, so any arbitrariness to the boundary is well in the past now.

To make the town outlines I imported an area map into MacStitch (of which I still owe you a full review) and traced the edges with backstitch. Deleting the cross-stitches was easy since none of them were black, so I was able to simply remove each color and its stitches from the palette. I then adjusted a number of the edge lines so all town corners would be at grid corners, in case anyone wants to make their own arbitrary exclusions.

I asked for and was granted permission to use fillings from Kim Brody Salazar’s wonderful blackwork fillings collection, but between asking and receiving I had the idea to make fill patterns out of the initial(s) of each town, and couldn’t let go of it. That meant 46 different fill patterns, 7 of which had to be built from the letter C. That is not a letter that has much difference between upper- and lowercase, or print and cursive. Also difficult were 3 Ws plus WF and WW. Oddly enough, the solitary F and E gave me more trouble than, say, the 4 Ss. Many evenings of sketching while watching the hubs play Skyrim passed as I designed letter fills and then slotted them into their locations.

A few more evenings passed while I stitched the beginning of my sample, shown above. I don’t have time to continue to be so dogged about this, so it will be some months before I’m done, but you’ll see it again then. I’m working on 32-count linen (over 2, for an effective count of 16) with a single strand of black embroidery floss (DMC 310). The stitching I’ve done is all six strands of a 2–2.5 foot length of floss.

There are a few useful links in the pattern post that are also now on the ideas and inspiration embroidery page, halfway down, where I’ve added a blackwork entry to the slowly growing directory of embroidery techniques.