Monday, November 12, 2007

A Stitch In Time

When I was a child, my mother taught my how to sew by hand. Over the years, the skill has been useful to repair worn-out clothing, alter thrift store finds, or tailor the odd original item without a pattern (my mother also taught me how to place fabric on the body, pin it, then sew, adjusting as I went).
I began using sewing in my artwork a few years ago. It began with a few beads to accentuate an area of watercolour on paper. Later, I used thread, sequins, and beading to define a different kind of line. I like how sewn elements carry emotional connotations. A hand-stitch can look like a suture or it can echo a tradition of decorative or illustrative embroidery. It can also form an invisible structure, making transparent beads look as if they're suspended on a surface in a way that's much more refined than using glue. I like the subtle texture of thread, whether it's 'finished' in symmetrical patterns or broken and left hanging.
Sewing in art is mostly seen as a feminist reference, blurring the line between art and craft – art being regarded as male, craft as traditionally 'women's work'. Ghader Amer's erotic scenes, embroidered with frayed, coloured, hanging threads, are always argued as 'feminist', with her choice of medium being fundamental.
I don't see it that way. Yes, I learned sewing as a tradition passed from mother to daughter - although like every good, '70s feminist mother, she taught my brother as well – but whether it's a stitch or a suture, when I use threads in my art it is so intensely personal as to be almost spiritual. Sewing is a female act of making that can carry memory into the very fabric of an artifact – the power of which is something the voodoo mambo understands every time she crafts a fetish or a curse doll.

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