The thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

—excerpt from “Hope” is the thing with feathers – by Emily Dickinson


It started with single strokes of ink on small squares of watercolor paper…trying different brushes out to see which ones made good feathers in one swoop. Got some nice shapes…lovely puddles of gathering color.

Then: what if I stitch the barbs (using feather stitch, naturally) with thread to form the vane?

Encouraged by this, I tried the process out on small stretched canvases, adding some shading to the original ink stroke with acrylic paints and a rigger brush. The central calamus and rachis was worked in stem stitch. The thread is a variegated DMC coton a broder.
Nice, but the feather stitch was hard to keep neat over so wide an area, so eventually I abandoned the feather stitch altogether, and just used straight stitches to work the barbs. Alternated between long and short straight stitches, as well as between coton a broder and a synthetic iridescent thread.
I first got the idea to embroider on top of painted, stretched canvases when I was 18 or so. Never finished the huge tree of life that I started then, but the idea of over-stitching a painting has been with me a long time. I dug the idea up again in 2009 when I added cross-stitched roses to my oil painting of a 19th century Filipina in traditional dress for my exhibit Encarnación.
I’m very fond of this stitch-and-painting mashup technique, and think I might be using it more often from now on, because it gives a dimension of texture and structure to a painting that I haven’t been able to get from using paint alone.

P.S. The feather paintings/embroideries are for a series that I’m putting into the TactileARTS (The Crafts Council of the Northern Territory) Members’ exhibiton this April. The theme is Birds.


30 thoughts on “The thing with feathers

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