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My thread paintings are loop pile embroidery worked with a punch needle. The punch needle is a hollow tube with a beveled point and an eye, threaded down the tube and through the eye. I use the smallest size needle, which holds two strands of sewing thread. There is a foundation of cloth, which ultimately will be covered entirely with loops. Punch needle embroidery is worked from the back of the piece being embroidered. As you stitch, you push the needle carrying the thread through the fabric. Each stitch is completed by pulling the needle up to the backside, leaving a loop of thread on the front side.
When I started working with this technique, my need for sewing thread expanded. I noticed that older spools of cotton, from my mother’s and grandmother’s sewing boxes, had a beautiful silky sheen that new thread doesn’t seem to have. Among these old cotton threads were spools of silk that I had kept because of their remarkable colors, but never used because they’d lost tensile strength. I’ve discovered that I can use these glorious old silks with the punch needle as nothing ever tugs on them. Because color is so very important to my work, having available the palette of my stitching ancestors as well as all the thread colors of today allows me more freedom and possibility. I often include beads and sometimes metallic braids or ribbon in finished pieces.
People often wonder how long it takes to make a piece. This is a labor-intensive technique. I prefer a very densely embroidered surface. I make between 8 and 15 pieces a year. Each has a frame that is painted, and often carved, to be in harmony with its thread painting.
I call my work thread painting because my medium is thread while my approach to building the image is like a painter’s. I build the piece with thin washes of stitching, gradually thickening the color and clarifying the design. In working this way, I have fluidity of communication with the piece, and together we explore what it will become.
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