Friday, December 24, 2010

Cut Shape Sew...Applique!

"The only place where housework comes before needlework is in the dictionary".

~Mary Kurtz, "The Needlework Times" April, 1978.

I'm not sure why I chose to learn how to applique before picking up any other form of textile art- perhaps it seems very straight foward yet still creative enough to keep me interested in finishing the projects. My first attempt was in university, and truthfully, it was a complete disaster.

First of all, I decided to sew directly onto an old cheap quilt someone had given me, making my thread disappear quickly and the hand sewing ridiculously hard in areas where I actually lost the needle in the stuffing! Then there was the fact that I chose the materials from the remnant bin at the fabric store so the whole thing couldn't be washed anyways for fear of shrinkage and what not. So I gave it away, much to my mother's lament.

The first applique blanket I ever made. I guestimate it took me about four months to make this one. I will most likely never make another like it! Inspired by Turkish tulips designs.

In fact, she lamented so much, when I moved to Shanghai and visited the Shanghai Fabric Market with friends on the weekends, I got the idea to make blankets in my spare time. The taffeta was beautiful, machine embroidered with gorgeous slightly Asian designs, and not too expensive considering I was buying it in the country where it had been manufactured. My first attempt was an appliqued blanket for my mother, which, took months to complete. I was happy to hear my parents went to Arizona that Christmas, as it gave me an extra month to finish it!

Anyway, a little history of applique. Applique is a technique of sewing one piece of cloth on top of another piece of cloth to create a pattern, as opposed to quilting where the fabric lays side by side. The oldest surviving example of applique is a canopy found in Egypt (surprise!) in 980 BC. Applique comes from the French word "appliquer" which means to "put on" but most likely originated in Asia and travelled to Europe along the Silk Road. Applique was used for decoration but it was also used in patchwork to mend holes in clothing clothing, saddle blankets, ceremonial objects, tents and everyday items. Early symbols used in applique were amulets and symbols protecting the user, family crests and depictions of animals.

Applique is a pretty basic technique and can be found in many cultures:

First Nations Button Blanket. Original Source here.

First Nations Peoples of Canada used applique in clothing and the creation of button blankets, Gujarati Indians in India appliqued their tents and textiles used in ceremonial rituals, royal costumes and umbrellas.

Original Source here.

The Fon tribe of Benin created ceremonial appliques when friends came together at a loved one's funeral and appliqued the story of the deceased's life.

Mola Applique. Original Source here.

The Kuna tribe of Panama created their own style of applique work called "Mola" which was based on body paint designs and created out of multiple layers, fine stitches, cut outs and embroidery.
The backside of the Long Life Blanket.

Since I was living in Shanghai, and the fabrics I bought from the fabric market were Asian in style, I decided to applique Chinese Characters onto the fabric. All I can say is Thank God for fusable hemtape (easily found at any fabric store.). It comes in a gauzy roll of tape which is tucked under the hem and them ironed, where it turns into a kind of glue which holds the fabric together as you sew. It's perfect for applique work and without it, I'm not sure I would have been able to complete these projects as I did.

Double Happiness!

The second blanket I made went to my sister for her birthday, but I liked it so much, I made one for myself! We both love the double happiness symbol, and since it's made up of straight lines it was easy to applique. (Curves are hard to fusable hem tape!) Double happiness is usually reserved for weddings in Taiwan and China, but since I'm not married, I like to think about my sister and I both being happy with our twin blankets!

Long Life!

The next one I tackled was the symbol for long life. This one was a little harder to do because of the curves and the intricacy and symmetry of the character, but with a little work and a few tossed out pieces that weren't perfect, I finally got it. To make these patterns, I'd draw out the character on a large piece of paper and the cut out the shape in the pieces I would need to create and applique. I'd often keep the original and make a template in case I wanted to make another blanket in the future, I wouldn't need to make another template.

The planning stage!

This week I finished an applique project that has been sitting in a box here in Canada not doing much of anything while I've been abroad. I started this project one summer when I was home from the Emirates, and snapped a picture of the planning stage so I would remember what I had planned to do when I had the time to take it out again. (This is always the messy fun part, throwing fabrics around on the floor to find the best possible match of colours!)

Fusable hemtape and the underside of the olive Long Life/harmony appliqued design.

This design appealed to me because it's not just long life, but you can see two ancient 'swastika's' incorporated into the design. In The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su- meaning "good, well" and asti "to be" svasti thus means "well-being." The suffix -ka either forms a diminutive or intensifies the verbal meaning, and svastika might thus be translated literally as "that which is associated with well-being," corresponding to "lucky charm" or "thing that is auspicious".

The beaded trim I bought in Istanbul last year. You can see the detail of the hand sewn stitching between the strands.

The finished front! As it's winter and the light isn't very good inside, I actually laid this on the snow for a perfectly white backdrop!

And the back!

I know it seems crazy to have sewn all of these blankets by hand, but I actually enjoy the meditative repetition of hand sewing, and the simplicity that all of this can be created with a needle, some thread, some material, an iron, some trim and some fusible hem-tape, and above all, time. It was made while watching movies, or watching TV, or listening to the radio. I admit I'm not a very good TV watcher. I don't like to sit still for too long without having something to keep my hands busy!

Next up! Embroidery!


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