What is Stitch?
Alison Hird-Beecroft takes us on her journey through stitch, and embarks on a passion which has become the driving force to her remarkable creativity.
I was preparing a piece of work for an embroidery exhibition. I had woven a piece on a peg loom in colours and textures that I was pleased with and used my embellishing machine to add areas of interest, which seemed to work, but then I realised that there was no actual ‘stitch’ in it and wondered if it would be accepted, so I decided not submit it in the end. .
A few years ago I submitted two large three dimensional pieces to another embroidery exhibition. These were pieces I had spent a good deal of time on and had been exhibited in London so was surprised to get there and see no sign of either. I assumed they didn’t display them as they were made of pleated translucent plastic that had been manipulated with very long threads held under tension. I thought at the time that maybe plastic was not to their taste, but now I look back and think that they didn’t regard the threads as stitches. It now clearly states on the form that there must be some stitches in the work. It set me thinking about what defines a stitch.
The dictionary definition says that a stitch is a loop of thread resulting from a single pass or movement of the needle in sewing, knitting or crocheting. All the definitions of stitch seem to involve a needle and a material to pass through. I don’t know if the action of the multiple needles on an embellishing machine, pushing one layer of fabric through another counts as stitch as no thread is involved. By the same token, if a thread passes around something and not through it and a needle is not necessarily involved, can it count as ‘stitch’ or ‘embroidery’?
When I began City and Guilds in the early ‘80s I enjoyed learning all the different embroidery techniques such as black-work, canvass-work and pulled thread that used stitch in an interesting way. At some point I began experimenting with stitch on paper which I had folded and cut. I found that not only did I use stitches to be decorative but they started to be used to shape the piece I was working on. I then used stitches to join components together so I no longer had a background. I wound thread around the components instead of stitching through them. The stitches got much longer and formed a mesh which held a structure together under tension and pieces became three-dimensional. This is what I am doing today, with the meshes becoming more complex as I gain experience. The long ‘stitches’ overlap each other and form patterns that move when you look from different angles. I sometimes call my work ‘structural embroidery.’ A friend asked me “when did you stop doing embroidery.” I didn’t know I had!