I’m fascinated by the use of personal geography in art. In this context, geography can make reference to an actual place in the physical world, an imagined location, a place on a map, a moment in time, an experience, a memory or our own bodies. They are all rich sources of experience and inspiration.
This month s Inspired to Stitch column features the artwork and thoughts of six textile artists who I asked to reflect upon the idea of place and personal geography as starting points in their own artwork.
Each artist responded to the identical question in widely different ways – with memories, with research, with process, with humor, with experimentation and with play. Collected here is a variety of approaches and works.
My question: Tell me about a time the inspiration to create a stitched piece came to you from a sense of place. This could be a physical location in the world or an experience of internal geography. (A city, a bus stop, a room, a journey, a particular experience in the world, etc.) What was the location and what did you make? Tell me about your process.
Mark Bieraugel CUIDADO!
Much of my work has to do with science, sex, and humor. It does not location in any way. However recently I was asked to participate in a poster show with the theme of gun violence.
My process involves thinking with a sketchbook. Drawing and writing and then drawing and thinking some more about an idea and working through early ideas which might yield something else or be discarded. I am a professional librarian so my process can include doing research on a topic. Looking and thinking brings up associations and reminds me of things hidden away in myself.
In researching and thinking about posters I came across a famous and unique sign posted on the US side of the US/Mexico border showing a running or fleeing family.
I was born less than 12 miles from the USA/Mexico border in the San Diego area, and spent most of my childhood in Chula Vista, about five miles from the border. Border patrol planes used to fly over my junior high school, and we used to buy spices, sugar, and tortillas in Tijuana.
This sign was not up when I was growing up in the area but the idea of people targeted, literally, for crossing a border, seemed like a poster worth making. Border states, particularly those in the southwest, now have citizens self-patrolling the border.
Meghan Willis The Hotel Pennsylvania
I work in the apparel industry by day and do erotic stitching by night.
Three months after our move to New York, I had secured a full time job.
This new job included my own office with a view – into the Hotel Pennsylvania.
Through out the day I would catch myself looking into the hotel, as some movement across the way would catch my eye.
One day, I noticed someone had hung her underwear in the window. The next day, there was a different pair of underwear in the window and I thought – this could be the beginning of an interesting series. Sadly, after the weekend, there was no new underwear; their owner must have checked out. I decided to commemorate my view by embroidering it.
I used linen for the base fabric, and 2-ply back stitch for the window and a 1-ply back stitch for the curtains, hanger and bricks. The underwear is leather, machine appliqued onto the linen, and then painted in acrylics. My artwork is usually nudes or women in partial states of dress. I like how the undies tied it in nicely with the rest of my work.
Annet Spitteler — Rope
When I saw (German textile artist) Anneliese s photo of ropes at an old farmer s house attic, I knew it could be a nice embroidery. There s no window on the photo, but I immediately thought of ropes hanging in front of a chicken scratch window.
First I made a sampler of black and white chicken scratch to see which variation I could use for my windows.
The windows behind the ropes are made from two chicken scratch variations and cross stitches. Then I stitched the ropes on top of the chicken scratch in a mix of chain stitch variations, Portuguese stem stitch, couching and French knots.
Jamie Mr X Chalmers — Festevil
It was inspired and stitched at the Larmer Tree Festival in 2010.
It s a nice enough festival, with some interesting bands, but I became increasingly irritated by the way it was geared more to people with money and so the piece contains a series of contrasting phrases, where the goodness I would hope for is somewhat tarnished.
It s quite curmudgeonly, I grant you, but it felt better for getting it out of my system.
Kathryn Simmons — Sunsets
I have lived in five different US states and two countries, but oddly enough, I really never get inspired to create something based on where I have lived. But a location or region of the world that constantly inspires me is the US Southwest it is where I m from.
It must be partly because of homesickness, but mostly it is the breathtaking beauty found there. I miss that beauty there so much.
In college, I took a course that was a 10-day trip down through Arizona to Puerto Pe asco, Mexico, and back. The purpose of the trip was to study the dramatically different life zones of the Arizona mountains, the Sonoran dessert, and finally, where the desert meets the ocean.
Even though I have never lived in Arizona, I still claim it as my home. Everything is so beautiful there, from the lush green mountains, to the stark Sonoran desert. In the Sonoran desert I saw the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. I have never seen sunsets that beautiful since. In a way, I think I have been searching for something rivaling those sunsets ever since. To this day, when I see a nice sunset it will always remind me of watching the sun melt into the desert, in one thousand colors, backlighting a Saguaro cacti field.
These sunsets are needle felted onto a pieces of 100% wool felt. Actually the background color of the felt is one of my favorite colors and always reminds me a little of sunset. I had bought the felt in a local store, based solely on the color, and when I brought it back I realized that it was far too bright for what I wanted to use it for. So I sat down with my drumcarder and an Ipad and started blending sunset colors based on different photos of sunset I found online.
Making a felted painting look like stained glass is very easy and fun. You can sit down and “draw” with the black wool to make random “shards of glass” designs and fill them all in with color later. Because sunsets are never just a gradient from one color to the next – I tried to reflect that in my pieces.
Olisa Corcoran Suga Belt
As I wrote in the intro for this column, the ideas gathered from our own experiences of geography are constantly shifting. Personal Geography can refer to real or imagined places or moments in time.
Suga Belt is a combination of memories, the geography of my body, an actual interaction in a small, North Carolina town and imagining texture stitched onto a map.
I made the piece after stopping in the economically depressed village square in Carthage, NC, after a day of hiking in the Uwharrie Mountains with my boyfriend. We found a shop called Suga that sold used urban streetwear. The little town was neither urban nor street, but it clearly had the longing for both.
The woman behind the counter surveyed us coolly. She was not rude, but she did not welcome us we were probably not her typical customers. I suspect we looked like city people come to gawk. For whatever reason, I made it my point to charm her, to be accepted by her in that place, in that moment of time.
I struggled to make a connection until I spied a tattoo on her round upper arm that read Suga. It was like a treasure chest drawn on a pirate map. I asked if she was Suga and the conversation took off from there., about her family, our shared NY roots, her much needed vacation to Florida. By the time we left the shop, where a bought the orange belt featured in the piece, she pressed her business cards into our hands and wished us a safe journey back home.
There was something about the way her name was on both the shop sign and on her own body that made me muse on the geography of her life. On the geography of my own life. Our bodies are our personal terrains, our minds our personal maps. So I stitched Suga s belt around my own waist.
For more about personal geography and map making, I recommend a favorite book of mine, You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by
Inspired to Stitch columns will occasionally feature round ups (or collections) of artists’ responses to questions about particular types of sources of artwork. If you’re interested in joining the discussion, be sure to let me know in the comments here; I may be able to include you in our next round up.
Olisa Corcoran is a stitch artist and blogger living in Durham, NC. She speaks fluent Nuyorican and always keeps her dial turned to 11.