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 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.
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.
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!
Here’s a crazy little bug embroidery piece I made during 20 hours of waiting around the hospital while my hub got a cyborg upgrade.
I embroidered this on a cut-open green netting bag that some holiday ornaments I bought at Anthropologie for 75% off in 2001 came in.
Unbelievably, when I unpacked the holiday ornaments for our first Christmas tree here, these never-used items were there, still in their bags.
My materials hoarding seemed insane for so long. But now I have better health, a perfect workspace and the support of my Patrons.
I’m whipping through all my old art supplies and long-awaited projects!
I am like a cross between Smaug and Divine.
i got this rainbow glitter vinyl for a Pride project but it did not arrive in time. That is ok! I will still make a thing with it!
Embroidering on net, mesh or tulle is wonderful because it’s so easy and restful on the hand. Since I was working with the demon metallic embroidery thread, that was important!
Most metallic embroidery thread, including these two greens that were leftover from my Green Beaded Corset project “kit”, frays as it is drawn through fabric.
It frays and breaks and makes you crazy. Waxing it is supposed to help but I’ve always feared the wax would attract dust after or not be archival. However using it on netting is a breeze. In the picture you can see I’m cutting the completed bug free of the netting. I glued some extra layers of netting on the back after I finished embroidering to add structural strength.
The outline is done in my beloved Black Pearl Rico Metallic Stickgarn, which never makes a fuss and behaves impeccably on any fabric.
I have been incredibly inspired by the couture embroidery work of Lyudmila Plotnikova, a Russian textile artist.
You can see her work below. In addition to being technically skilled at a level I can only dream of (in my dreams of going to grad school for textile arts), it is much subtler and less lurid than my efforts! Her eye and hand are equally exquisite.
Jewelled embroidered insect brooch by Lyudmila Plotnikova, June 2017
She does things with materials that constantly innovate and extend the form.
She has brilliant new ideas about embroidery in three dimensions, like Michele Carragher. You can buy her art here, and hopefully someday I will! Many of her signed, unique pieces are designed to be worn as jewels or brooches. I think of the great European design and craftwork traditions, like Art Nouveau jewelry, when I see her work.
Gallery of bead embroidery art in progress from the Instagram of Lyudmila Plotnikova, 2017
Ms. Plotnikova is also incredibly generous with her process, sharing photos of works in progress. Being able to follow other artists on Instagram is so exhilarating, as much as I hate giving clicks to that pig Zuckerberg.
Here’s a couple good pieces about how women artists connect emotionally with creepy crawlies!
I made this embroidered beetle to lift my heart and give me the strength that working with color and sparkle does. It was part of my automatic-writing-for-art approach this month, like the Monster doll armada.
I just reached into my textile materials drawer and grabbed some scraps and bits, and told myself, You gotta make something with these.
There are four different types of lacework fabric and delicate cotton paper layered on a blue felt base, bits left from the very first materials I bought at my earliest trips to the art store in Berlin.
The blue felt undersurface is left over from the backing of the Hearts Afire pieces I made for my Cake Level Patrons in 2016.
Plus bead overflow from the Green Woman corset I’m working on, which is related to the Green Leaf Crowns I made last summer! I planned that project back in 2013-14 and brought all the materials in the shipping container.
You can see my project kit* for the Green Woman project at the top of these pics; I just raided it for beads and bling! This is the mess on a day I worked for eleven hours straight, just fiending on colors and sparkle.
I learn so much from studying the work of Game of Thrones embroidery artist Michele Carragher.
She has really radical approaches to layering sheer or lacework materials and doing bead embroidery in three dimensions.
I look forward to exploring ideas I borrowed from her for the mantis, like a wire lattice for sheer wings. Maybe this summer!
I also learned from her to do my bead embroidery in a hoop, whether or not it’s going to remain in the hoop.
Much easier, stronger, safer and neater to embroider or bead embroider on a sheer surface in a hoop. If your threads aren’t meltable you can iron a light interfacing onto the back to protect the finished embroidery, cut around the embroidery design, then sew it onto your clothes or lampshade or corset or whatever.
If your threads are synthetic and meltable, but you’re really worried about the strength/structural integrity of the piece, you can wipe a thin coat of archival gel glue on the back. Like E6000! I touched every knot on the back of this beetle with a bit of Tacky Glue, just to be sure it’s heirloom solid. I have to charge a lot for embroidery pieces, since they take a minimum of 30 hours to make, so I like to be sure they’re for the ages.
*project kit: I have a half dozen project kits still neatly boxed up and waiting in my workshop cabinets. I organize all the materials and supplies I need for a project into a “kit” that makes it easy to bust into and tackle. All those 90% off post-holiday sales at Michaels and JoAnn’s, all those years of saving every scrap of ribbon from a present, every bit of wrapping paper for a shadowbox or decoupage! I’ve been blazing through projects, I’ve finished at least a dozen since I finished building the kitchen/workshop, but I brought a LOT in the container.
When we got back from the US last week I yanked the box marked “Halloween Craft Projects” off the shelf and tore into it.
I was basically crazed from exposure to American craft store Halloween displays.
The first thing I wanted to work on was beading this mass-market Halloween mantel scarf or banner that I bought at PierOne during an after-Halloween sale for my usual 75-90% off.
This is what I call an “Uplift” project, after the science fiction novels by David Brin.
I have never beaded anything as fast in my life as I did this project.
I love taking commercially made items that I bought for almost nothing and investing hours of meticulous labor in making them more beautiful.
It’s obviously fraught to buy mass-produced items in the first place; I always think of the person who made them.
I wonder how my buying these items at the end of their retail life, when they have basically become junk in the eyes of the retailer, impacts the commercial production cycle in other countries of Halloween crap for American consumers.
I don’t know the answer, but I do feel a connection when I do this, like my labor and the mystery factory worker’s labor is of equal value.
As if by adding hours of my highly trained privileged-artist love-labor to their object of work, I’m giving it more space in the world. A better chance of lasting.
As you can see I’ve also been working very slowly on the beaded leaf corset project.
I made the perhaps injudicious decision to individually bead some of the velvet leaves. And hand apply glass hotfix rhinestones to them. Heaven only knows how far I’ll go down that rabbithole.
I have an Instagram now, where you can see the delightful loot haul of green beads and crystals I recently obtained for the leaf corset!
Our apartment came with an enormous kitchen. An enormous, empty kitchen.
Like most Berlin apartments, it had no sink, stove, fridge, cabinets or counters. Just pipes sticking out of the wall. We bought an initial basic kitchen setup through a very kind gift from D’s grandfather.
I designed the overall kitchen wall, figured out what the minimum to start was, had the IKEA cabinets delivered and built them. Then a handyman named Tyler helped me install them.
That was only the beginning. I had never thought about combining kitchen & office & craft room, but the minute I did I was sold 100%.
So I came up with the idea of making the other big empty wall my workshop/machine room. Here’s the first rough iteration, made in November.
Normally, the tools and appliances of an office and workshop look awkward as hell in any (Gothic-Rococo-Victorian Brothel) room I design.
But it happens I like a white kitchen, and our kitchen happens to have incredible lighting.
So it was the perfect place to put things like a printer and my sewing machine, and hopefully eventually a 3D printer and milling machine.
I was enjoying doing my embroidery at the kitchen table, in the bright, even light, enormously.
So I decided there should be a worktable in the center, where we could eat if we ever wanted to eat in the kitchen instead of in the library while watching Silicon Valley.
At New Year’s when we had friends cooking in the kitchen it became clear we needed a good-sized island as well.
I agonized over the aspect ratio and measurements before finally going with a simple design that could be both sewing table and food prep surface. The whole thing cost less than 130 euros in the end, but it’s very solid.
It will have nice cute handles like the machine wall eventually, I just ran out of money.
Then I designed the machine wall in detail.
There had to be a place for the ladder, and for blank canvas storage, and the, um, annoying amounts of recycling German living generates.
I needed big flat shelves to store drawings and shelves and lots of deep drawers for materials. And of course it had to cost as little as possible. Since food comes slightly before making stuff, I focused on the kitchen part first.
Kitchen side, not quite finished but getting close!
I found a great handyperson, James, an Australian fellow who has all the tools in the world, and we worked together to build the rest of the kitchen side wall. It came out pretty well! We haven’t had money for a dryer yet, but in time.
There will be cool newsprint curtains over the open shelves- I hate open shelving, no matter how hot it is on Apartment Therapy.
This month we finally had enough cash to buy the cabinets for the machine wall.
Ikea delivered them and then I spent five gruelling days building them. It was a lot of work but saved us easily 300 euros even at cheap Berlin labor rates.
James and Jason, another Ozzie, hung the cabinets and suddenly there it was, my workshop.
My organization of mixed media materials is very much inspired by my beloved friend/muse/patron Monique Motil, an artist who manages her studio space as beautifully as she creates.
This Thursday was the shakedown cruise. Daria and Ian came over and we ran all the systems- printing, drawing, ironing decals onto fabric, using every tool in every drawer.
Doll hospital and um, laboratory.
I can honestly say my design worked beautifully.
I opened the second leaf on the table and we all had room to sit and work, and any time we needed something- “Let’s cut the stickers with deckle-edge scissors!” or “Let’s see if we can use the decals to make pendants!” – I could just grab whatever tool or material we needed out of the drawers and cabinets.
When the left-hand leaf is closed, it’s a perfect setup for me to work alone- the drawers are in the right place for a lefty 🙂
We had the most incredible, exhilarating night collaborating in my new workspace.
I know we worked really hard to get to this life, but I still feel like we’ve been given a miracle beyond imagining.