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???
This project took an entire year! About 200 hours of work! Dang!
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.
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.
Living in Berlin has connected me to my youth and my New York identity in so many profound ways.
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.
So over this year, over 200 hours, I made this corset, beading and sewing and hotfixing crystals. I will wear it with Pride at Folsom Europe next month, and I’ll get some pictures of me in it!
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.
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!
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.