Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thread Painting

One of the artworks honored by the jurors for the Techno Fiber show was Joanne Strehle Bast's thread painting, Marshall's Point Light.  I asked Joanne to tell us about her process for creating these wonderful pictures.

Joanne Strehle Bass, Street Scene, Portugal (detail)
Joanne begins with a photograph she has taken, usually while traveling.  She crops the photo and adjusts it using Photoshop to enhance the desired details.  She then uses her inkjet printer to print it on cotton fabric that has been treated so that the inks do not run when wet. She stiffens the printed cotton by backing it with canvas or duck cloth cut on the bias;  the edges are turned back to finish the sides.

Joanne then stitches over the image on her sewing machine set to free motion.  This means that the teeth that usually advance the fabric, the "feed dogs," are dropped and the usual presser foot is replaced with a darning foot.  This setup means that the motion of the fabric is completely hand-controlled.  The stiffening precludes the need for a hoop, which would be needed for free motion stitching on a single layer of fabric.

Joanne Strehle Bast, Window Box Geraniums
Joanne changes thread colors hundreds of times in the course of making one of these stitched paintings in order to blend the colors, just like changing pigments in a traditional oil, acrylic or watercolor painting.  She uses a thinner thread, either black or white, in the bobbin  to help prevent the build up of thread on the back of her work.  Texture can be produced by changing the thread tension, perhaps tightening the top tension to pull up thread loops on the front of the piece to suggest foliage. Changes in texture can also be achieved by changing the direction of stitching–back and forth, up and down, circular, or even zig zag. A certain amount of distortion to the size of the original picture is unavoidable due to these changes in the direction of the stitching. 

Joanne Strehle Bast, Lazy Sailboat
Joanne uses a copy of the photo on paper as reference, as the stitching soon obscures the original fabric photo. The photo is not an absolute, but may be altered as the stitching progresses. Changes are made to suit the overall effect desired.

When the stitching is done, the thread painting is steamed and ironed flat (unless flatness is not desired, as in the puppy dog's eyes) and stitched to a fabric-covered piece of heavy craft interfacing. The picture-interfacing ensemble is then stitched to a larger piece of fabric which is then laced around acid free foamcore and framed.  

Joanne Strehle Bast, Play with Me
I hope you've enjoyed this discussion of thread painting and can come to the Gallery to see examples of Joanne's work using this technique.