Stitching

The Whale and I (detail) 2010

The Whale and I (detail) 2010

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m sewing and thinking about my mother as I stitch sheets of rusted banana paper to make a ‘Wagga’ rug. I love the sound of the needle pulling thread through rustling paper, it’s a bit like crinkling tissue paper to wrap a present or wrapping up something precious. You can watch a little video of it here.

I first started stitching paper by sewing machine in 2010, every day a new 10x0cm collage of paper connected together through zig zag stitching. One of my favourite machine stitches and one I used a lot for mending the family’s clothes when the children were small. Back then making clothes and wearable, useful things was my creative outlet. I never thought I would end up stitching paper which would end up exhibited in my first ever major exhibition at Tweed Regional Gallery in 2011.

Using a sewing machine is a completely different feeling to stitching by hand. I resisted this for many years as it reminded me of the dreaded tacking stitch. In my youthful impatience I just wanted to get on with the sewing and stitch the dress/shirt/curtains as fast as I could to get the job done with no tacking, just pins to hold things in place. But as my mother always said to me “the reward of patience is patience”. It’s only now that I understand what she meant.

I decided to take up hand stitching for my Visual Arts Honours project to collage thin banana papers together. The papers had been dipped into an indigo vat and often tore when I was laying them out to dry. So I resorted to stitching by hand, a very long but meditative process which I documented in my honours thesis and 2016 blog posts. This is what I wrote in my thesis Paper/Song

My needle becomes a drawing tool; through it I connect to my matrilineal lineage, a long line of embroiderers whose creativity was founded in the microcosm of the domestic. Stitching by hand was a slow activity, the broken lines of the tacking stitch are like the punctuations on the time line of birdsong. As I stitched I listened to birdsong, I became embedded into the landscape.

Making a paper rug returns me to hand stitching on a large scale. In the past I have carefully measured and marked the holes where I was going to stitch with pin pricks then punctured the surface with an awl. This time my needle took off with a running stitch, uncaring about perfectly straight lines or slightly wobbly mark making. It’s quite liberating and fun to see the papers joining together so quickly. I think my mother would be proud of me!

Paper Wagga rug (detail)

Paper Wagga rug (detail)

Heather Matthew