Inspiration From the Sketchbook: Recording Memories in Thread

Transforming Ideas From the Art Journal to Art by Melanie Testa

Luckily for me, I choose friends who inspire and motivate me. So more than a year ago, when Pat Gaignat showed me an object, sewn, folded, created as if it were actually a journal—though it looked nothing like one to me, I asked her, “You consider this a book?” She said, “Yes.” “You consider this a journal?” and again she responded, “Yes.” And in one short conversation my creative pot was set on simmer.

So began the idea of using stitch and clothing as a means to document and journal my life. The piece above is a vest that I brought on a Swiss vacation last year. The embroidered imagery pertains to my daily experience of Lucerne, Lugano and a day trip to Milan.

Off to the right in the above photo, you can see a swan, which references taking a photograph of a swan in Lucerne, I was so close and the swan was so tame that it reached out and bit my camera lens! Not wanting to forget such a charming memory, I got out a needle and thread and committed the idea to cloth right then and there. I included raindrops, which made us leave central Switzerland for the warmer climes of Lugano.

And, of course while there, I had to stitch what would become memories of coffee, graffiti and bird sightings. What better way to document and take in life-altering experiences than to commit them to a creative endeavor right away? And honestly, if you see something, then experience interpreting it through drawing (with pencil or thread), you will remember that moment so much more clearly in years to come.

I recently made this oversized white blouse, and while it may appear to be a store-bought blouse because there is a tag sewn into it, it’s not; I sewed it there. I have been deconstructing clothing I don’t want and reusing the items that really float above the fray. When I came across this label, I immediately tried it out against this blouse and it fit like a glove. I used perle cotton to stitch the label in place at the back neck.

And now my experiences have brought me to the point of being able to share with you on CreateMixedMedia what I have done and seen. I have always wanted to dress in a way that I have never seen before. I daydream of perfecting a blouse pattern and making it in several color ways or fabrics. I often want to reconstruct clothing that I own but do no wear for whatever reason, and I also daydream of surface designing existing clothing to suit my whim.

What better time than the present to start on a project like this? And why not consider my clothing to be akin to a journal? A place where I can express myself, embellish to my hearts content, find and use inspiration to adorn myself? What can clothing say?

In the next few months to come, I will be using my journals, photographs and several different techniques including, but not limited to, embroidery, to explore this topic here on CreateMixedMedia. I will also create stamps, inspired by my journal pages, explore resist techniques, use dye and paint . . . I don’t know exactly what all, but it will be a fun journey and I hope you will join me. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to sew clothing, but I hope to inspire you to find uses for your own art journal and photographs and to help you make the leap from finding inspiration to utilizing it in your own artwork.

Sewing anything by hand takes longer, so, to make the experience extra special, I made a pretty pouch to hold my scissors, embroidery floss and thimble.

I will be posting here monthly for the next six months or so. I invite you to please check out my blog and leave a comment on the most current post, telling me that you have arrived from the Create Mixed Media site. I will send you a PDF of the pattern I created to make this pouch!

This photo, taken in a mall in Milan, keeps capturing my eye, so I plan to embroider a likeness of the scroll along the button placket. I think the embroidery will be white on white, because I really like this blouse and don’t want to change what it is ‘saying’ so much as improve upon what has already been said. Tune in next month to see what I come up with!


Melanie Testa, an accomplished textile and quilt artist, is the author of the recently released North Light book, Dreaming From the Journal Page: Transforming the Sketchbook to Art. She is also the author of Inspired To Quilt: Creative Experiments in Art Quilt Imagery (Interweave, May 09). Melanie often begins her work by sketching in journals using paint and pens, then interpreting her ideas into her fabric works of art. She teaches workshops at major art retreats and other venues nationwide. You can follow Melanie on her blog.


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2 Responses to Inspiration From the Sketchbook: Recording Memories in Thread

  1. Jeannie says:

    The scroll will be beautiful on your blouse!

  2. cristyjones says:

    just one word for this …beautiful