Back at the beginning of April, I went to a quilt show with my mom. Since her retirement, she’s taken up quilting, and she makes some gorgeous pieces. I’ve resisted having her make a quilt for my king-sized bed, partly because that’s a heavy bunch of quilt for my mom to be working on, and partly because I feel it’s a waste to give me nice bed blankets of any sort, since I share my bed with two fluffy gunky-assed cats and two big dogs. That’s a lot of fur and dirt, frankly, and my bed is always covered with a “dog blanket” anyway, so a gorgeous handmade quilt would be not only endangered but also simply never on display.
Mom has, however, made me some amazing quilted bags. I’m delighted with them, and she seems committed to making one per hobby. She made me one when I was learning how to knit, but the knitting didn’t “take” so it has become my painting bag (the “knitting needle holder” is now a “paintbrush holder”). The biggest bag is my bobbin lace bag, and it holds quite a large pillow along with all my supplies. Then there’s the weaving bag, which at present just holds a bunch of yarn, since weaving isn’t really a portable hobby (until I get a table loom!). I think I might empty it out and make it my “playdate bag” for hauling along the Supplies du Jour when I go out to make art in public or elsewhere.
Well, that’s not the point. The point is that even though I never really got into quilting (I kind of lost interest halfway through my third quilt), my mom was understandably excited about the quilt show, and I was easy to convince because I knew there would be threads and craft books and fabric bits for my own work. I’ve been planning a bunch of fabric art pieces for a while but I feel intimidated by some of the technical aspects (like mounting, or what kind of sewing machine foot to use, or what order to fuse the layers in) and techniques (like large-scale beading or couching). So at the quilt show, I was particularly looking for books that dealt specifically with these issues, with instructions and pictures.
Stupendous Stitching is one of the two books I got at the quilt show. Carol Ann Waugh does some gorgeous work, and the book also has a gallery of work by her students. The steps she uses to create her fabric art are outlined clearly, and she explains not only how but why things are done in a certain order and in a certain way. There are also some troubleshooting tips. Basically her work is based on a few simple steps: first you couch some cords or yarns or other materials along your piece from top to bottom in either straight or wavy or crisscrossed lines, keeping them at least a couple of inches apart. Then you use decorative machine stitches a quarter inch away from each side of each couched strand. Then you fill in the rest with hand embroidery (or more machine stitch, if you don’t like handwork). Waugh encourages the use of bright threads and cords, and talks about the use of colour. The steps are relatively straightforward, but when I look at the gallery of work, it’s kind of like saying the steps for painting are straightforward: true, but deceptive.
I appreciate this book for the clarity of instruction, the helpful tips and pointers to websites and videos (although I haven’t checked any of those yet), the list of resources at the back, and the fact that it does actually cover some of the things I specifically wanted to learn. Waugh is very enthusiastic about her work, and about the ability of people to learn how to create and enjoy Stupendous Stitching.
On the other hand, there’s kind of an infomercial feel to the book. Waugh has taken these relatively simple steps, created some fabulous work, and given it the name Stupendous Stitching. She uses the phrase a lot, and while there no actual “TM” after it, that’s the feel of it. There are many references to the Stupendous Stitching website, the Stupendous Stitching classes, the Stupendous Stitching techniques, the Stupendous Stitching starter pack (available now!), and how much we, the readers, are going to love Stupendous Stitching! She explains how Stupendous Stitching can be used for pillows! Jewellery! Wall hangings! Quilts! Home improvement! Gifts! Self-actualisation! World peace! (…yeah, okay… some creative license there…) I’m kind of torn about this, since I do think it makes sense for artists to be good at self-promotion, but I still didn’t like it. So maybe this is my issue and not the author’s.
I’m glad I have this book, since it does answer some of my questions. And I will definitely try a lot of the techniques in there. One thing I do like about Waugh’s Stupendous Stitching it that it is, in a way, a stitched form of some of the free-hand doodling I do, and so this book has given me some ideas about the practicalities of translating some of my drawings into wall hangings. I’ve tried to do these “translations” before through painting or collage, so it’ll be fun to see how it works with fabric.
Overall, a useful book if the techniques it contains are something you want to learn, but with a little too much hype.
Most of the type is on the larger side which is nice for reference, but the pages are so glossy that you have to watch the angle at which the light hits them. The images really pop, but there’s lots of glare.
Stupendous Stitching: How to Make Fun and Fabulous Fiber Art by Carol Ann Waugh.