I have a small piece of handmade lace up in a group show at Sargent’s Daughters right now. I’ve been playing with the process of needlelace for a few months now, but this is the first piece I’ve shown:
I had a bunch of people at the opening ask me how I made this work, and I sort of struggled to explain the process. So here’s an attempt to explain it better, by showing you a piece in progress. I’ll blog more as the piece develops, so you can see the variety of effects you can get with needlelace.
First off, I should mention that I’m definitely doing “experimental” needlelace. There are ways to do it so that your threads line up and make a grid; if you think of something like fishnet stockings, that’s a very easy texture to get using this process. But that’s exactly what I’m trying not to do – in some cases, I let grids emerge, but I really want a texture that is more obsessive, and more frenetic than that.
Secondly, everything I’m doing in these projects comes down to making hundreds/thousands of buttonhole stitches. A buttonhole stitch is the easiest thing in the world to do – if you imaging taking a length of string and taking the two ends and tying them together to make a knot, that’s essentially all it is; just a tiny, simple knot. But the beauty of needlelace (as is the case with so many fiber arts processes) is that beyond just this very simple gesture that you do, there are a million variables that come in and can change how a piece looks. The color of the thread, the thickness of the thread, the material the thread is made out of, how tight you pull it, how many knots you make per stitch – these are just some of the basic variations that can radically alter a piece.
Ok, let’s start by looking at this piece I’m making now. This is the upper right hand corner of the work; I need to divide the piece up into small chunks and work on them a bit at a time. (This isn’t something necessarily inherent in the process, but it’s something I have to do to remain sane.)
You start by doing a drawing on a piece of paper. In this case, this is an ultra-simple landscape – just a green hill and a white fluffy cloud in the back. If you look at the green part, you can see that the string is tacked to the paper – this is done by poking holes through the paper and stitching it to the paper with just ordinary thread. You tack it to the paper about every half inch, or more if it’s an intricate design. This design is really easy, so the tacks are spaced out a bit.
In this picture, you can see that I’ve started filling in the sky behind the hill. Here’s a closeup:
If you look closely, you can see what I’m doing is starting in the upper right hand corner, I’m tying the thread to the top bar of the string that frames the image. Then, I’m extending that thread over diagonally to the right hand bar, and tying a knot. Then, I’m working to the left, taking the thread so that it extends to the top bar again, but stopping along the way to knot it in the middle of the first loop I made.
Oh dear, does this make sense?
Do this over and over and over and eventually you come up with this. Remember, I’m making a particular effort to NOT have a perfect grid, which actually makes it trickier than if I was trying to make it perfect:
This is about 4″ x 4″ and took me easily four hours of work to do. The sky isn’t not even close to being done – I want those stitches to get way more dense before then. That’s for tomorrow. I’ll update when I have more to show.
(Oh, and the biggest question from the opening last night: “How do you have the patience to do this???” Answer: loads of exercise, a relatively quiet life, and knitting. Once you’ve made a scarf out of size 2 needles, you basically have the patience to do anything.)