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.
Last Fall, a Patron gifted me a collection of vintage embroidery hoops, including some that were very old. One had a type of closure I’d never seen before. Instead of the usual screw to ratchet the outer hoop looser, you press down on the brass bar. This opens the hoop at the dovetailed joint. Fascinating, right?
It reminded me of the kind of old brass bar taps you see in an ancient Berlin gay bar, when you’re sitting at the bar drawing.
My plan is to gift it to a Berlin bear bar!
The boots are made of gold leather salvaged from a pair of gold booty shorts left behind by Miss Natasha Enquist when she left Berlin.
Always be makin’! Here’s me and Suzanne Wegh sitting in the air-conditioned library before we began our day of embroidering, sewing and drawing. It was 101 degrees in Berlin today!
A friend recently said we should refer to ourselves as “TwoZanne” when working like this. Awesome, right???
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!
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.
My mother was born in Scotland, and we are both wiry Scots thistles, determined and resilient.
As I was making this work, my first fully-scratch embroidery piece in a couple months, I was astonished at how much becoming interdisciplinary has improved my art.
Working in mixed media, textiles and sculpture has given me a confidence and freedom around using color in my paintings I never had before.
And working on all these different types of projects has allowed me a priceless feeling of flexibility and relaxation with my composition.
I was so rigid and so afraid when I first went to Parsons at seventeen. I used a six-zero Rapidograph to draw, and when I was supposed to do collage or sculpture projects I would stubbornly insist on making them figurative and realist.
Abstraction terrified me. It still does!
But practising disciplines of the decorative arts has given me trust in my own ability to makes shapes and patterns.
My mom watched me working on this and said, “You just sew it on there without any kind of pattern or reference?” I said, “Yup!” Artistic freedom is delicious.
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.
So I made this super gay rainbow dinosaur who is a powerful magic witch to celebrate!
She is embroidered on glitter galaxy mesh, which is overlaid on rainbow glitter vinyl.
She is quite detailed, and I couldn’t see anything I drew on the galaxy mesh.
So I had this embroideryhack idea.
I put the paper with the sketch for her right in the embroidery hoop, under the mesh, and used a tiny short needle to stitch the outline on. The little needle skids across the surface of the paper and comes back up thru the net easily!
You can see the original sketch above. Once I had a nice outline with my beloved Rico metallic embroidery thread, which behaves so much better than other metallic embroidery thread, I removed the paper. Then I could embroider as usual.
I am loving stitch art on net or mesh for its control and precision, and it is so easy on the hand/wrist.
I talk more about that and the techniques I’m using here and here.
Look at her terrifying teeth!
I don’t know if this kind of symbolist magic art has power in these dark times. I don’t know if I can do anything to help queer people of the world in the places where things are bad or getting worse. But I believe my intent, my love and hope for a better future, were stitched into this mighty gay dinosaur witch. I believe she is strong and fierce. And embroidery feels like a tactile, tender medium for this kind of art spell. I’m thinking about it a lot.
I amassed a huge stockpile of green bling, and bought a discounted Orchard Corset 511 to use as my base.
The green corset was one of the projects I didn’t get to before we left, so I packed all the green jewels and beads and appliques and trims up in a “project kit” and boxed it up.
I unpacked it with the other 400+ boxes last winter. Once my workroom was set up, I started opening project kits and finishing projects. I movedthroughthem at a pretty decent clip! I made the leaf crowns to go with the corset early on, last summer.
I took out the corset and got started on it last August. First I created a bunch of beaded and crystal-covered appliques with some pale green leaf-shaped Venise lace.
I tacked the lace down to netting in an embroidery hoop, then embroidered and bead embroidered it. Then I added velvet leaves (bead embroidered too).
This took about a million years.
Which never bothers me. I like to do textile art slowly, to balance how fast I draw and paint.
Once I had finished a bunch of appliques and had test fitted them on the corset, I modified the corset itself.
Otherwise the corset wouldn’t lace nice and parallel, and it would distort the embroidery and structure of the corset to have a big gap at the bottom.
Sloppily adding handsewn gores like I did is a good way to ruin the structural strength of your corset, but I knew I’d be adding thousands of stitches and layers over the gores. So I wasn’t worried.
When I’m done with one of these beaded corsets it’s basically a cuirasse, an armored breastplate!
It took several months to carefully sew the appliques to the corset, adding bead embroidery as needed to fill in gaps.
I used strong green nylon beading thread I got to make beaded fringe for a lamp in Berkeley in 1999.
I also used beading thread to make strings of variegated beads to sew down onto the corset in curving lines. Because I’m insane, I always sewed back through the beads on the string as I sewed them down, in case the thread broke.
And I think maybe I might want to lend the finished corset to a burlesque dancer or performance artist someday so it should be able to stand up to some abuse.
Panel from Swamp Thing 34, “Rite of Spring”, by Bissette and Totleben
When I started planning it I thought it would be all greens, but since then I’ve learned A LOT about color, mostly through my textile artmaking.
So as I worked on it I decided to add oranges and pinks and burgundies and browns. There are even pyrite-colored rhinestuds all over it, though they’re subtle as hell.
The oranges and warm colors make me think of the love story of Alec and Abby in Swamp Thing, and the orange yams that they shared. It’s a story that’s very meaningful to me, and the best story I know about connecting with nature and The Green.
I’m not a huge nature person, but I love natural symbology and motifs. Working with these colors and shapes really nourished my William Morris heart!
I’m pretty thrilled with the finished corset.
I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with it yet. It feels like a work about nature, and pagan things, and fae things, appropriate to Midsummer. There’s a Midsummer costume party at House of Red Doors in July, and I might wear it to that. I might loan it out for photo shoots, if I found someone trustworthy who wanted to shoot it and they had a model who fit it. I might show it somewhere if there was a show it worked for. Who the hell knows, I just needed to make it, and I’m so glad it’s finally done, almost ten years after I started planning it!
I’ll get better pix of me wearing it soon, with the jewelry and crowns I made to go with it 🙂
*everything you could ever need to know about buying and wearing a corset is here on Lucy’s website. This amazing young woman has created a resource for the corset community that is beyond price. There is info about the relative measurements of OTR and RTW brands, a corset database to guide you in your purchase, and so much more. We love Lucy!
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!
After last week’s feminist art salon, I was thinking about Pussy Power and the history of making vagina icon art.
I went home last Friday and started a pussy piece, and of course I was thinking of The Dinner Party. You can’t think about pussy art and embroidery without it.
It was sometime in the 80s that I first saw Judy Chicago‘s Dinner Party. It was as a black and white photo in the Village Voice, and I remember it so clearly. It was still shocking then; it’s still revolutionary now.
I have a lot of green materials around for the Green Woman project I’m working on. I had a sudden flash of inspiration for an image that would honor Annie Sprinkle and her Ecosexual work.
I became acquainted with Annie while I lived in the Bay Area and was exhibiting and drawing at Madison Young’s queer art gallery, Femina Potens.
We talked about my painting a portrait of Annie, but could never organize the timing. I still hope to, as Annie will be in Germany this summer!
I am going to raffle off this piece to raise money for Planned Parenthood.
Anyone who sends me a copy of their March $20 or more donation to Planned Parenthood (with your name, but personal details obscured of course!) will be entered to win the piece. As embroidery works take me a minimum of twenty hours, and this one took about twenty-five, it’s a chance to win a piece I would have to charge a lot for!
Calendar of Annie’s many world-wide feminist and ecosexual art activities here.