The More I Know, the More I Know I Don't Know

Scene from the Kama Sutra, 2014. Hand embroidery on cotton, silk, 15 1/2x12"
I'm on my second glass of wine. Yes, I know it is not wise to drink and blog, but I've just come off a four day stitching marathon, and I'm throwing caution to the wind.

"What prompts this excess?" you might ask. Let me back up a bit. Every year, around Valentine's Day, the local art gallery hosts an open call Erotica Show. Now, I have had an idea kicking around in the back of mind my mind for a few years now, that it would be fun to do a stumpwork (raised embroidery) version of a scene from the Kama Sutra. Since Adam and Eve figured prominently in stumpwork pieces, it's not much of a leap to picture a somewhat racier entwined couple in the same technique. So, voila! Erotica Show= Perfect Opportunity to Realize My Idea.

Okay. I've never done stumpwork before, but I have read quite a lot about it and it makes sense, just a lot of detached buttonhole stitch and thinking in three dimensions. I found an image from the Kama Sutra that I thought would work - it was a miniature, so had the added advantage of being small. (Famous last words!) How long could this take? I figured 10-15 hours, easy.
The original image. I figure it was about 5x3" originally, so details are fairly minimal.
Two weekends ago I prepared my materials. I wanted to go with sumptuous all the way, so selected some silk taffeta for the background. There was a lot of gold thread in my stash, so, great, throw it into the mix. Never mind that I have never done goldwork - I've read up on it, same difference.

Hah. The stitching goddesses have a finely honed sense of humour. Needless to say, I persevered all weekend and only produced snarls of thread and much unladylike commentary. Oh well, it's only the beginning of February, I should go back to the Codex birds, which are THIS close to being done.

I don't know what happened to last week, but on Friday there was an email reminder that the pieces for the Erotica Show were due Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. Gahhh! Okay, Plan B. Enlarge the image 200% for less arthritis-inducing finicky-ness. Maybe don't strive to reproduce the image exactly. Use more amenable materials. Oh, relax and have fun. This isn't meant to be serious.

Four days and twenty-six hours of stitching later, I am humbled. I bow down to those who have gone before me. Subject matter aside, this was no walk in the park. Let me summarize my lessons:

- if you have not planned out your piece, anticipate about double the time for testing threads, decision-making and UN-stitching.
- if your husband has a job interview the morning of the deadline, schedule a certain amount of time to help remove dog hair from his dress pants. Try not to curse while doing it.
- avoid putting in a twelve-hour day. Any progress will be negated by back and shoulder spasms that require heavy-duty medication, meaning one sleeps later the next day and wakes cursing feverishly.
- remember that any positive, soothing effects that stitching brings will be counteracted by the stress of working to a deadline. Things that normally happen, like the loop of thread getting caught on one's thumb and pulling out of the needle, will become major catastrophes, with subsequent cursing.
- before yelling frantically to your husband that you can't find your purse as you prepare to step out the door, look down. It may be in your hand.

Finally, an hour before the piece was due, and I was still putting on the binding, I cajoled James into phoning the gallery and telling the curator I would be a half hour late. Sweet man that he is, he not only did that but cut and sanded a hanging dowel for me while I put in the last stitches. He wouldn't hear of me driving myself to the gallery (probably very wise given my frenzied state of mind) and I presented my work with fifteen minutes to spare. The clerk took my pertinent data. Whhhewww!! Done!

Suddenly time opened up, expanding leisurely and with great generousity. We asked if there had been many submissions. The clerk said, "Well, most people drop them off tomorrow."

"What!!!! Tomorrow?"
Sigh. I forgot about island time.

Hence the wine. I think I will have a third glass.

P.S. The piece is for sale through Gabriola Artworks , 250-247-7412. The price is $320.


  1. well, I must say I am impressed; congratulations are in order: for the racy result and the speed in which you managed to accomplish this piece; for delivering it before time, for posting a post with alcohol imbued fingers and mind! (I haven't had a drop for a while now and would probably be under the table during the first glass)
    I had to google 'stumpwork' and now know I have seen it for real (Bayeux tapestry) and realize even more what an incredible feat that was.
    thanks for this enlightening post, I will show it to the husband on Friday;-)

  2. After all the laughing at this entry--WITH you :), not AT you ;), i think it was worth the pain! Deadlines can be our best or worst nightmares, but ya shone, Babe, ya shone.

  3. I really like your piece, Heather! I think it was worth all your extra efforts. Too bad you didn't know that the deadline was more of a guideline though, huh? Hope the wine helped!

  4. Anonymous10:51 AM

    oh my, there is nothing like a deadline to drive one to drink! wonderful work, enjoy the drink - who knows what will come after 3 glasses?

  5. After that you surely deserved a whole bottle of wine... ;-)

    Wonderful story, if one is to read it, not to live it.


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