30 April 2012

Embroidery - the back view

Following on from my recent fascination with the "wrong side" of embroidery, and the irresistible impulse to turn a piece of embroidery over to see the back, this piece by James Hunting deliberately uses the reverse. (Thanks, Shelagh, for showing some of his recent works.)

Maribeth Baloga's work from the late 80s is double sided. The only images of her work on the web, it seems, are the two sides of "Helen" on this blog, which to my delight waxes lyrical about one of my favourite books, Barbara Lee Smith's "Celebrating the Stitch". Published in 1991, it continues to delight. Copies are still available, at affordably low prices...

Smith says of Baloga: "She challenges our ideas of what is beautiful or perfect in embroidery, and what should be seen and what hidden from view", and "the time-honored tradition of hiding the 'wrong' side behind a frame or backing." Her interest in fashion history and experiments in embroidery came together as two-sided embroideries depicting figures from the past; as she worked she had the idea of the frame contianing all the essential information and the portrait itself being a blurred image - a reversal of the traditional role of a frame and portrait. During her research for "Helen" she chanced upon Ebikhil, an ancient temple guardian in Mesopotamia, wearing a sheepskin skirt.
The piece is 6 1/2 inches square, made with stranded cotton floss.

The work reveals process as well as product. Baloga says: "The back is kind of a skeleton of the front; it contains all the information that's on the front, but in a different fashion. It contains the essence of the front, and it can tell you more than the front tells you. It tells more about the rhythm of the stitching, about the pattern. I look to the back to see if something is out of whack in my composition. If I look at the front, the identifiable image gets in my way of seeing an imbalance or a colour that isn't working. I turn it over and see the blurred area of stitching, and things just pop right out and tell me what is happening."

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