Happy New Year!
I started this beaded corset project last fall when I got a great price on a used lilac 426 Standard mesh corset by Orchard Corset. It was always my intention to have it finished for the Motzstr. Festival, a special Pride event in Berlin in July.
But I wound up taking an entire year to finish it, and I think that’s good. Because I made it to affirm my fundamental identity as a queer woman, and I stitched that identity and pride and love into it thousands and thousands of times.
Last summer, while writing this post, I realized I’d developed a lot of internal biphobia over the last thirty years.
As a person who has been married to three men and who has almost only dated men in sobriety, I felt like a “retired” queer person. I stopped thinking of myself as bisexual.
And as a “retired” queer person, I felt so much safer.
It’s terrible to know that, to realize I took some comfort in the reduction of my vulnerability that living a straight life meant. Because I never for a minute stopped being aware of the consequences and dangers of living an out gay life.
I knew I couldn’t blame my cowardice on my upbringing. When I was fifteen and my mom opened the door to my bedroom to see me and my friend Jenny in bed naked, she asked if we wanted to go out for brunch. She accepted my girlfriend Pam into our home for years without question.
And I am no fan of my father, but he took me to Stonewall and told me what happened there before I was ten.
So my change in identity wasn’t about shame, it was about fear.
I felt guilty about living in the Bay Area as what appeared to be a straight person. I felt guilty about the privilege that accorded me. But it seemed like compared to the people around me, I was functionally straight. When you regularly attend sex parties where you draw a trans man fucking a trans woman while she gives oral sex to a nonbinary person, being a married cis-femme seems really conventional.
Plus, as a portrait painter who often asks women I’ve just met to come to my home and pose for me, I felt less creepy identifying as cis-straight-married!
Then I moved to Berlin.
There was a jump-cut that happened when I left New York at 22, in 1989, to go to treatment.
I moved to St. Paul, where the halfway house was, for six years, and then to Hartford, then to DC, then to the Bay Area.
In all those places I drove a car everywhere, lived in wooden houses, people were polite in the stores… It was like a different world.
I had all these adventures in this different world, and then in 2015, I got on the subway and went home.
Or so it feels. To live in a big apartment building, take the subway everywhere, walk the city streets at 3 am, eat a slice of pizza in a doorway just out of the rain, be yelled at by a shopkeeper – this reconnects me to my fundamental self.
And of course, even though married and cis, my fundamental self is queer as fuck.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
til next time, my dears!
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.
Some embroidery projects I made this month!
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!
I have had almost no time for embroidery this month.
I drew at so many events, we had an art show where I did live painting, I made the Trans Dino-Witch, I finished a big new portrait. It’s been glorious and exhilarating. Yet I really wanted to get some thread and bead time in, for the energy and comfort it gives me.
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.
I didn’t do much bricolage or embroidery this month, as I was super busy with life drawing and a new painting.
I did however drop a bunch of hours into this one project. I had been seeing these embroidered motorcycle jackets at mainstream stores, inspired by last Fall’s fashion shows.
I found one for under forty euros (in case the whole idea went badly) and ordered a bunch of commercial appliques from eBay.
Then I researched the process of sewing on appliques, learned about invisible thread, and ordered some of that from Amazon.
All of this took months of course, so it was summer by the time I finally started sewing. And the sewing on of the appliques itself took a solid thirty hours.
I just laid out the jacket, which had some embroidery on the sleeves and a little bit on the front, and started collaging appliques onto it.
I cut them up, moved them around, and tacked them down with pins.
Then I sewed them on, very carefully and slowly. It was relaxing actually. Except, to my surprise not all the collage designs worked once sewn on. Sometimes the applique was too thick and deformed or distorted the thin PU fabric, and in some places it just didn’t look cool.
So sometimes I had to use my handy stitch picker and cut off a section I had laboriously attached.
Because it didn’t look right! On the bottom right of the back I had to try three different applique pieces to end the pattern in a way I was satisfied with. I love how it came out, though, and that mine is completely unique.
This is a project anybody could do. The only specialty skills I brought to it were a tiny bit of embroidering here and there to unify pieces and my personal aesthetic. I used colored Sharpies to tone down brights and unify colors in the applique pieces as needed. Objects we own aren’t permanent, and we get to fuck with them like we want to!
Pride month is July rather than June in Europe.
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.
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.
Wow, this was a big project!
This bead embroidered, velvet leaf-covered corset is the second to last of the now-finished project “kits” I brought in the shipping container from the Bay Area.
(The Golden Jubilee insect carriage was the very last of the dozen or more projects! They’re all done!! I am amazing!! Sometimes both life and art are long!)
I saw Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephen’s EcoSexual wedding clothes exhibited at Femina Potens gallery years ago.
I got the idea of a pagan-y, Green Woman kinda Ecosexual corset.
Then cosplay exploded in the media, over this past decade, and so many people did amazing Poison Ivy corsets.
I enjoyed them so much, and decided to take my own pass at a leafy, viney, flowery corset.
I made some sketches, and then I got consumed with my Winter Queen/Snow Queen/Mermaid corset embellishing projects. So I didn’t get around to the Green Woman project til 2014. I spent months ordering beads and velvet leaves and green metallic rhinestuds and green Swarovski crystals from all over the world.
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 moved through them 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.
The Orchard Corset 511 is a reasonably curvy OTR, with a 10″ “hipspring” or difference between waist and hip; I just added a 2″ gore on each hip to push the hipspring to 14″.*
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.
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!