Using Text in Your Work

We recently had a really good conversation on Facebook (if you haven’t joined me over there, please do) about adding text to art. People had all kinds of ideas about words and text, mark-making and ways of both obscuring text and highlighting it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I want to add text to garments, and I can’t quite figure out how I want to go about it.


For me, words have always been at the center of what I do. I grew up writing poems and telling stories (out loud, in my room by myself). I’ve made Journal Skirts

Freeman-Zachery Travel Journal Skirt  2



with whole stories stamped on them (the one above has less text because it’s still a work in progress).  My latest experiment is stitching a Mary Oliver poem onto a Jumpron. I printed out the words and then began stitching over them with a backstitch:

Freeman-Zachery text

While I love the texture of this (the backstitch is much more tactile than, say, the split stitch) and love having my favorite poet’s words on something I’ll wear, I don’t know if I want to do more text in the same way. Do I want people to feel compelled to stand and read the front of my clothes (most people are too polite to quit reading once they’ve asked about it and will stand and read every word even though their curiosity has been satisfied and they’d really rather not stand there and squint at your clothes). Would I like the words to be there, for my own joy in them, but maybe not be so demanding of others, not yell, “Read me! Read me!”? There’s also the issue of trying to thwart my seriously anal-retentive nature and become looser, and this kind of text-adding certainly isn’t “loose.” Do I want to try looser handwriting, or do I want to do something else entirely? I don’t know yet.

The things people discussed in the conversation we had over on Facebook were these very issues: when you add text to a canvas or a collage, a quilt or a garment, how much to you want to share, and how much would you rather just hint at? Do you want it to be completely legible, or is mark-making enough for what you’re doing? Do you add text and then deliberately obscure it so only you know what lies underneath? What intrigues you about using text: the words and their meaning or the shapes of the letters?

Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


U3040_CM_InnerHeroArtJournal.inddFor more thoughts about using text in art journaling or other projects, try Inner Hero Creative Art Journal by Quinn McDonald.






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