Suzanne Forbes, an expat New Yorker in Berlin. Made possible by the generous support of her Patrons. https://www.patreon.com/SuzanneForbes. Former DC Penciller for Star Trek, former courtroom artist, painting portraits and teaching drawing.
I started my second Make-Cation of the year on August 1.
As a self-employed artist, I don’t really have the concept of “not at work”; I work, on some level, pretty much all the time.
But there is a type of creative work that feels like play to me, and that is bricolage and decoupage and textile art.
I had an assortment of projects planned, and started with embroidering a commercial floral applique to a silk velvet pillow cover I got at H&M for five euros.
I used my largest embroidery hoop to hold the applique to the pillow cover while I stitched it in place and then added oodles of beading, Swarovski crystals, and embroidery. I used a fine silver embroidery thread to stitch the applique down; it took a very long time!
Bead embroidering, the slowest possible art, makes me feel dreamy and relaxed.
You stitch the applique down and then cut away the excess netting with tiny scissors, which is super gratifying!
For some reason I stalled out on this bead embroidered moth on pink velvet a while back.
I was feeling unsure about the technique I was trying for its ruff, with bugle beads layered into a 3D effect. I did another six hours of work on it, finishing the ruff, adding pearls, crystal beads, resin flowers and metallic thread, and I feel more confident about the style now. It’s still not finished, but it’s coming along.
And I also “uplifted” this little metal bug clip.
I used gold wire to stabilize its acetate wings and then jeweled and microbeaded the hell out of them. Please ignore my grimy nails – it’s charcoal, not dirt!
I had several other projects I was planning to get done on this make-cation, but unfortunately I came down with bronchitis on the 10th and then it turned into strep! What the even hell. Most of this month since has been resting and doctor visits. So I am home sick, posting the stuff I made 🙂
I know some of you have been wondering, where is the bug corset, Suz?
Because of how much I like bugs (“Bugs are Nature’s jewelry! Put a bug on and you’re ready to go out!”) and how very, very many bug things I have made.*
And how much I like corsets and how many elaborate bead embroidered and embellished corsets I’ve created.
It does seem like a natural match! But for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened – UNTIL NOW!!!!
Oh dear heavens, bead embroidery is a time sink.
This is a commercial corset with a lace overlay, and at this point I have put about 150 hours into embellishing with bead embroidery, appliques and metallic thread embroidery. I watched two seasons of “Colony”, a season of “Lucifer”, and a season of “Supernatural”.
Shockingly, “Supernatural” gradually recovers its footing in season 11, after some bullshit fridging in Season 10 that just about made me give up.
But season 11 has representation, diversity, fan service, precious cameos (I yelped with joy!) and the focus on family and Dean being kind of an idiot that I love.
The bugs are commercial appliques I’ve been collecting for a while; they are coordinated by using colored Sharpies to tint areas that are too bright or plain white. I sewed them on with plain black thread, then used many shades of metallic thread to integrate them with the glittering beads.
I estimate there’s another forty-fifty hours of work to finish this project.
Since I have strep throat and I have to have surgery on my knee in September, I should have plenty of time. If the cat lets me! Morgan le Fay had surgery on a melanoma on her ear and is SO MAD about the cone of shame.
I just need to choose some shows to run in the background. Supernatural season 12 is on Amazon Prime here; after that I gotta figure out some other options. “Lucifer”, in Season 4, has descended into “Will they/won’t they” hell (ha ha) and I am just about ready to start skipping episodes based on spoilers. Or I might just bounce over to “Legends of Tomorrow”, which is so good and so gay and so weird and so dumb.
I looove pink. I decided to try something new, framing the piece under glass in a shadowbox. I got the shadowbox a while back and silver-leafed it at the same time as I was leafing the hoop for the last insect embroidery piece. Efficiency!
This God-Empress of West Berlin is sewn on a crushed panné velvet sock cut open. I get them on eBay for a euro, it’s so much cheaper than buying velvet yardage.
I used some vintage metallic pink trim for her layers of torso fur, and fine ombre silk embroidery thread and regular sewing thread for her ruff. I wanted to suggest its fluff without actually using a fluffy substance.
I did as much beading as the hoop allowed, then glazed the back with my favorite glue for fabrics so it wouldn’t buckle when I took it out of the hoop.
I glued the whole piece down onto the shadowbox backing. The velvet sock didn’t quite cover the backing – it had contracted from the heavy stitching, or I was sloppy when I checked the fit.
So I added some machine-embroidered floral applique bits I had around, already partly cut up. I’m actually delighted with the way the piece looks in the frame and may start framing them on the regular. The only other bug embroidery under glass so far is this one.
Sometimes I just have to lean into my femme-ness and go full pink!
Some new decorative art projects for this month. I finally made a bug box with labels!
Rather than look for a vintage typewriter font I dabbed the inkjet printed paper in patches with water to smear some letters and rubbed it with a bit of pastel for quick aging. For the curious, I use tinfoil molded into squarish shapes around the pinbacks of the jewelled bug brooches.
This allows me to glue them onto the backing securely and keep them straight. Then I just paint the glue and foil a matching color.
I buy the brooches on eBay with the simple rule: no more than 2 euros including shipping. It means I bid on a lot of auctions, but it’s not like there’s a rush!
These machine-embroidered bugs are from EmbroideryMoks, a wonderful, ingenious etsy/eBay seller in Ukraine.
The artisan who runs it, Julia Yevzhenko, is brilliant. She has come up with some really clever ways to use her embroidery machine. I tacked these bugs down to the felt with flexible glue, then put the felt in an embroidery hoop and used black, gold and metallic threads to add details and make the edges crisp. Of course I also had to add some beading!
I’m kind of like a drag queen in that my first question is always, “How would this look with MORE?”
I made these beaded insect shoe clips with two bug brooches wired to triangles of soft aluminium sculpture mesh lined with felt.
I probably over-engineered the fucking hell out of them, since it’s not like I’m a burlesque performer and I don’t plan to go jogging in these shoes. But entropy makes me furious and I like construction to be robust.
Once again I demonstrate my commitment to the creative protocol of buying cheap stuff and making it weird.
I was pretty limited in what I could do creatively after my drawing hand was injured in a bus accident this June.
Because I grip the pencil tightly and draw very fast and with a lot of force, I have been cautious about beginning to use my hand again. One thing I could start to do after the first two weeks was embroidery.
Embroidery puts very little pressure on my injured hand.
I had some new thread I wanted to try, too. I got this set of multiple metallic threads at Tiger for like two euros!
I love cheap art supplies.These are not precisely metallic embroidery thread (which is a known shitshow) but more like a superthin metallic polymer strand lined with a nylon thread.
It is very fine and fairly subtle in effect, but it doesn’t snag on every draw-through like traditional metallic threads.
I ran it over the finished satin stitch to add iridescence. I always think of the new Bay Bridge when I do that!
As I often do on textured fabric like velvet, I ran a single embroidery stitch in doubled plain black sewing thread around it to help it look cleaner.
And of course I added some beading! My hand control was somewhat impaired for most of this piece, and I wasn’t able to stitch with normal precision. It was humbling, and yet satisfying to be able to do something, make something. I am happy with the result, and so grateful my hand wasn’t more seriously injured.
Textile art is SLOW ART. I love that about it, because I draw and paint so fast. However, I have been so busy the last few months I haven’t had the deep time it takes to finish new embroidered pieces.
So I did the mystic eye piece you see above just to keep my hand in, using a rhinestone applique and surrounding it with a variegated fine rayon thread aura and some swarovski crystal beading.
Then at the beginning of this month I dug in and made sixteen hours’ time for this Lunar Moth in sparkly blues.
I cut up a digital galaxy print shirt for the backing and added a layer of my favorite galaxy print sparkle tulle. Tulle over stretch fabrics is such a great way to create a stable,precise surface.
I often, as I did here, embroider the outline of the design on the bottom fabric first. This creates a little extra depth between the base and the tulle.
I added crystal and pearl beading at the end, and some swarovski crystals and dark blue sequins.
Grey mohair for the fur was very last thing, as I am allergic to it and it makes me sneeze like crazy!
The eyes of this moth are antique mother-of-pearl buttons from the incredible vintage button lady’s booth at the Markt am Winterfeldplatz. I love embroidery so much, and hope to make some more time for it this summer.
Textile art, and embroidery in particular, is the most soothing kind of creative work for me.
The Lunar Moth was the largest piece I’ve done in ages, I’ve only used a hoop this big once or twice before. Here you can see it hanging with some similarly colored pieces from before we left the States, made in 2014.
More bug stuff, because it’s not like our house can have too much creepy bug decor.
I made this mantis shadowbox using some 1970s upholstery fabric I got in Berkeley in the late 90s, some vintage velvet flowers and little bees saved from the same era, and a machine-embroidered mantis from this amazing artist in Kiev, who is doing totally innovative textile art with the digital embroidery tech now available.
I’d always wanted an egg glossary display box.
No natural history, curiosity cabinet-themed library is complete without one! I used the 70s fabric again; a glue gun is my method of choice for stretching even wrinkled fabric smoothly across the particleboard backing of a shadowbox. Some of the little speckled eggs and the grapevine nest came from topiary ball displays I made for my first wedding, in 1993 or 4.
I have nights where I crash around the flat asking, “What would Tony Duquette Do?”
And the answer is always, “Glue gun, Passementarie, MORE.” I added a couple trims to this silk velvet patchwork upholstered bench. After the intensity of the first three quarters of this year, with teaching and drawing and painting and my hub becoming a cyborg and being sick quite a bit, I really need this November make-cation.
I made a display holder for some of the earrings I’ve sculpted, made and modified.
I just took the glass out of a deep frame and gluegunned fabric to the backing. I used a beautiful textured knitting yarn left over from some lovely crochet blossoms my mom made me; the texture keeps the earrings from sliding around.
And most significantly of all, I got one of my first adult textile art pieces back up on display.
I made this mantel scarf of crushed changeant velvet and celestial Czech glass buttons and bead embroidered wire and pleated ombre ribbon cockades in 1999.
I was living with my second husband in a gorgeous Craftsman fourplex in North Berkeley. It was the first place I ever painted like I truly wanted my home to be, in insane shades of aniline violet, quinacridone red, and chartreuse. It was full of built-ins I decoupaged with gilt paper Dresden trim, Victorian frogs and lizards, and accented in burnt orange.
We gave such parties there. It was such a beautiful home. I loved my second husband, or who I thought he was, so much.
This piece was in storage for a long time, and it hurt me every time I came across it in my increasingly desperate and disenfranchised moves.
When the Great Recession finally ebbed a bit and I moved in with the man who became my third husband, I thought about getting an electric fireplace, where it could be displayed. There just wasn’t enough room in the exquisite jewelbox Craftsman apartment in Oakland that I designed to showcase his Black Irish beauty.
Here in our home in Berlin, we have plenty of room.
I used my glue gun to apply an emerald botanical brocade to the top of the particleboard shelf I had attached to the top of the electric fireplace I got on eBay.
Again, using a gluegun and moving fast, smoothing the glue flat with my fingers as I go, allowed me to get a nice flat surface bonded to the mantel. Then I just gluegunned the mantel scarf onto the brocade and added a few tacks to stabilize. I’ll add some finishing gimp braid and brass upholstery tacks soon as I get around to making it to Bauhaus.
Sorry I couldn’t get a better picture in our dark haus but we like it this way :))
This embroidered bug was finished a while back, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Then i decided a shadow box was the way to go. I used lots of assorted bits of lace, beads and real plants plus a background of dragonfly satin and I love the way it came out.
This lightning heart was started at the same time as this piece.
It’s a callback to a piece called “Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart” that was purchased as a gift for a beloved friend-muse-patron by their partner.
I bought a jean jacket and embellished it with a collage of sequined appliques.
There are three pieces that make up the back, fitted together similar to how I did this floral embroidery leather jacket. The front has a sequined star, bullion stars, metal star studs and bug appliques I enhanced with black thread. I’m pretty thrilled with how it came out!
And I wanted to work with Sacred Hearts, the symbol of hope and faith.
I learn so much from beloved artist Monique Motil, aka @z0mbique, about how working with mystic powerful symbols gives you creative juice. So I used bricolage and upcycle principles to make these collage embroidered Sacred Hearts or Ex Votos.
The hearts in the center are beaded patches I bought on eBay for a couple of euros.
I sewed them to some of the last scraps of an iridescent blue-violet panne violet I bought two yards of in 1999 and have used for innumerable projects. I made the orange and blue flames out of the last pieces of some vintage velvet flowers bought at Lacis in Berkeley, also in ’99.
Then I embroidered around them with my favorite Rico Metallic thread, the Holy Grail of metallic embroidery thread.
I sewed on iridescent and AB Swarovski bicone crystal beads and added hundreds of Swarovski crystals in many, many colors. I attached some of my new blue oil slick iridescence titanium druzy crystal beads with invisible thread. I painted the frame by rubbing it with deep madder paint, then gold paint, then tapping silver leaf onto the still tacky gold paint.
The shiny red string was saved from a gift I received – I save all my gift ribbons and bows for projects.
Like the embroidery collage jacket I did last month, this kind of collage/bricolage embroidery is a low-impact, flexible project anyone could do. I love how in the top picture the fiery heart coordinates with my sketchbook-carrying sack, a 50th-birthday gift from Daria! I plan to sew a LOT in September, along with the million new events and teaching, so I’ll finish the blue flame lightning heart soon.