In this fourth piece I fell into the trap of having a vision beyond what my fabric art technique was capable of creating at that time. For starters, I decided I wished to make this piece much larger than any of the previous ones I’d made, forgetting just how long it took to create even small pieces using the techniques I’d developed. I selected gauzes for the sunset sky, cotton, flannel and knit fabrics for hills and fields, crops, bracken, vines, trees, fence and pathway, and gray corduroy for trunk and branches of the foreground maple that was to be the largest element of the scene.
O that maple tree! What a passel of trouble those tiny foil maple confetti leaves I’d found made for me! These little leaves seemed absolutely perfect for the scale of the tree and for the scene so clearly visualized in my mind and I bought several packets – though not, as it turned out, as many as I should have. First I had to work out how to place the little leaves on the tree branches, and I knew they would have to be sewn on somehow, not glued – if glued, with their slick metallic surface they would start falling off far too soon. I’d bought pale peach gauze for the sky, so decided to put the lightest, sheerest iron-on backing on some of this, then cut it into shapes which I could use to sew on groupings of leaves. Before I did any sewing, however, I had to pierce each of the hundreds of tiny confetti maple stems with a needle – a time-consuming task that made fingers sore and turned out to be the most tedious chore of this entire textile piece. Only after this was done could the leaf clusters – some only three leaves, others as many as nine – be attached to the gauze with fine peach thread. These leaf clusters came out looking exactly as I’d hoped – the peach backing and thread was hardly visible and when they were glued onto the corduroy branches the leaves appeared to be hanging by their stems.
I worked away at the scene beside and behind the maple, creating hills, hedgerows, clusters of trees, grass and ivied banks, a winding path into the distance, a stream with a waterwheel attached to a small stone house modeled on Welsh farmhouses, a pumpkin field, and near the front a field of late grain and bracken autumn-bleached to pale tints. Shiny black fabric that suggested the sheen of feathers for the crow/raven shapes I planned to have in the sunset sky, flying to their night roosting place, was pounced upon with glee; I backed it, but discovered this stuff frayed so badly, even backed, the only way to get the birds to resemble the ones I wanted was to draw corvid silhouettes on heavy black paper, cut these out, glue these silhouettes to the backed fabric, and only after this cut out individual birds, glue-edging them as I went. Even so, many of these shattered as I worked with them. As with attaching the hundreds of maple leaves to the tree, this one job turned into a hugely daunting task as I knew I’d need a minimum of 70 to 80 corvids in graduated sizes with some very small to appear distance diminished. .
For over a year I persisted with this Monster Piece, getting sky and hills backed, cut out, and glued to the board, and finished and placed hedgerows and banks – I often employed my ‘double pinking’ technique on selected hills and banks. This involves a first cut with pinking shears, then going back and cutting the pinked edge again to create a finer jag edge. The maple tree and its branches were shaped, with trunk and quite a few limbs padded behind with extra corduroy for dimension, and I worked away at the canopy of leaf clusters, and drew and cut out lots of crows on the stiff black paper, though only half or fewer of the ones actually cut from the fabric pleased me as being correct corvid shapes. With my finest needlework scissors I cut out tiny ivy heaves from a cotton print to make foreground bank and edging along the path and also placed ivy on the maple trunk to suggest its tendrils winding round it; I made a split rail fence for the right side of the path and from another cotton print cut golden bramble leaves with red berry clusters and twined these through the fence – this created an effect I especially prized.
But as I continued working away at the endless leaf clusters for the big tree, I became aware the gold foil metallic maple leaves were beginning to run out. There were still plenty of red and red-orange leaves and lots of useless black, but I was coming to the end of the gold ones – and the leaf clusters for the entire lower third of the tree were by no means finished – even using the using the remaining gold leaves sparingly there’d not be enough to finish the bottom part of the tree’s canopy.
Absolute crushing dismay!
This was back in the day before so many craft items were available online. My husband ran me around to fabric and craft stores on my county and the next one and we found packets of these little leaves here and there, but all had wretched orange and black plastic leaves with some red and bronze metallic ones – but none had any foil leaves in the desired gold.
I simply couldn’t figure out how to make the piece work without gold leaves brightening the leaf clusters; as well I was becoming sick of the extreme fraying in the birds black fabric – even with backing and glue-edging the stuff proved near impossible to cut into small silhouettes without shattering. And I had begun to realize that even without the tree and corvid problems the piece simply wasn’t right and needed . . . something. But at that point I was too burnt-out to figure out what this was.
So when the piece was about a smidge over half-finished, I stopped work on it, wrapped it up and put it away. Maybe one day inspiration would hit and I’d know how I could complete the thing – or perhaps that would never happen – but whatever would happen with this, I was at that time done with it. I then went on in the next 12 years to create other, smaller textile pictures – but always, every year, as autumn items appeared in craft stores I’d find myself looking for the little gold maple leaves, but never found any; occasionally too I would search online – but, again, never came on any packets showing the desired gold ones.
Then three or four years ago, while searching for fabric for a new textile piece, I came on a bolt with darling orange foxes, and immediately thought the alert one sitting up would be perfect under the maple tree of my large, years-abandoned autumn scene. I bought a quarter yard of this foxy print and this landscape began simmering away again in the back of my mind; not too many months after this I came on a cotton print of mushrooms I thought would look good in the foreground amongst the ferns.
At this point I decided I should actually unwrap the scene and examine it to see if, in reality, these new fabrics might re-energize me regarding this picture – maybe even inspire me with ideas of how to actually complete it. Studying it anew after the thirteen year gap I immediately began to grasp the major problem that had stopped me before – beyond the problem of no more gold leaves and the difficult corvid shapes – the major problem I’d sensed but hadn’t been able to identify at that time.
I’d wanted this scene to depict a sunset on one of those quiet late autumn days when the world seems to hold its breath before the onset of stormy weather – what I suddenly realized was that I’d done was to create a scene so bleached out and pale – except for the tree – it was boring and lifeless, with hardly any oomph at all. And now I had improved my fabric techniques I could see a whole array of other problems – the padding behind the hills wasn’t thick enough to make them stand forth out enough, and there were multiple places where more trees and ferns could be stuffed and where beading would add pizzazz, plus a need to place a lake or two in the hills so the mill stream could be seen to run from there down to the house with the millwheel, and there was a great need for more dramatic orange-red gauze streaks in the sky – I also decided to use bright ribbon woven with metallic thread to create a sun with a glowing aura just setting behind the hills. . . .
If I was to attempt finishing this piece, the first problem to solve was that of the missing gold foil leaves – if I couldn’t manage that, there was no point in continuing. Gold leaves of the right size and shape were still nowhere to be found, and I decided I’d have to make do with the orange-bronze tinted ones. But first, with baited breath and careful water droplets on my slim-handle Exacto blade, I pried off from the tree several maple leaf clusters that displayed the greatest number of gold leaves, fortunately incurring only minimal damage to tree limbs which I was able to repair then hide by the new leaf clusters. I then snipped the thread holding the gold leaves on their backing and over several weeks spaced these precious gold leaves carefully among the new bronze leaf clusters I sewed onto the peach gauze then placed on the tree.
Next – with quite a few more held-breath moments – I took removed all the old clusters of leaves and berries from the fence without ruining its narrow rails and glued in new leaves now interspersed with berry clusters adorned with tiny clear red beads – this made the berries catch the light and stand out far better than before; I added more ivy to the plants already on the foreground bank and around the maple trunk, and with some stylized motifs in a sample book of curtain fabric given to me by a neighbor who was an interior designer made additional ferns clumps for the grassy area to the left of the maple and also along the path. I drew new silhouette patterns that showed several different shapes and smaller sizes of corvids so some would look farther away, then set my teeth and got down to the tedious job of cutting out and continually glue-edging the 40-plus more beastly corvids required to cross the sky and to create a vortex swirl of dark shapes behind the maple and look as if they were disappearing in the distance behind it.
Amongst a group of charms I purchased was a great horned owl – I thought this somewhat grumpy fellow would look right at home sitting on a limb near the center of the maple. As the scene came more and more to life, it seemed to me the front part of the landscape to the left of the maple tree lacked something – possibly another kind of critter needed to be placed here – Mr Fox’s designated spot was on the right side of the tree, and he gave it all the oomph it needed, but the left was still too bland. I decided a few wild hares would be perfect here if I gave them another grass mound or two where they could dig burrows and added in a few more ferns where they could hide. At the sunset time of day my scene depicts, they would be emerging from their homes to take the air and look about with pricked ears – and wrestle and play if they felt safe. I became determined to find rabbits that were the right size and with the right expression, but this proved surprisingly difficult and took several months. All the lstoresnea me had on their bolts were cutesy or cartoonish bunnies which weren’t at all what I had in mind, nor did I find online a single rabbit motif that came even close.
It took a get-away trip with a dear friend to Bellingham, several counties away, before I encountered my hares. As we traveled north we stopped in every small town along the way that boasted a quilt store and diligently searched, but it wasn’t until our second day in Bellingham itself and a ‘last chance’ visit to a little shop there that I found my hares. These were on a Dear Stella fabric posed among stylized flowers and leaves and tinted a pale blue color I wasn’t wild about – but the size was right, their faces serious and ears long. Home again I tea dyed sections of the fabric and the hares turned a grayish-tan color that was quite acceptable for the fur of wild hares; so they would show better in their grass mounds, I embroidered touches of white on ears and tail of the three selected. I also used the same trick here that I employed for Mr Fox and other critters I wish to emphasize: after backing the creature, I place them atop another identical cut-out of themselves, also backed – this gives the creature – whether butterfly, hare or fox – extra dimension and allows it to literally ‘stand out’ from the scene.
Amongst the spotted mushrooms by the foreground path and among the ivy and ferns are three ‘magic’ mushrooms – two charms with rose enamel spots and one dotted with white rhinestones. Charms are placed in my textile scenes by sewing them on a bit of fabric that blends with the background, then overcasting the charm loop in thread that matches this fabric color exactly; after this is done I glue the charm on its backing into the scene.
I also allowed a few late summer Vanessa-type butterflies to flutter in the foreground – this is a fantasy landscape, after all, and I thought they could be enjoying sipping honey from ivy flowers in the last rays of sun on this calm and warm autumn day.
Lastly, there had to be a backing made for the landscape larger than itself – I wanted a ‘looking through the window’ effect and I’d created the scene clear to the edge on all sides. This is a large and unwieldly work and I’d never have been able to do this without my husband’s help. Using a big worktable in the garage and some fierce spray fix – environmentally safe, by the way – we measured and marked, then cut heavy cardboard to a size large enough that a border stood out round the whole thing. After I covered the landscape with layers of tissue so we’d not touch it, Mark sprayed the gluey stuff to the backing board and we set the picture onto it; we had about a minute to make any adjustments but our measurements were so exact we shifted the picture only the tiniest bit. Then we put a stack of cardboard atop it all – not too much as I didn’t want to flatten the fabric – and to my delight the next day the picture was well and truly stuck down and I had a border the right size on which to construct a grosgrain window frame.
Mark then cut long widths of this same heavy cardboard, and I glued several of these atop each other for the four sides until they were higher than the landscape to create my window frame. Lastly I placed a marvelous deep rust grosgrain ribbon – backed of course – on top to the cardboard strips, mitered the corners, and turned the bottom one into a window ledge displaying a maple branch of the tree’s gray corduroy; among my stock I’d been thrilled to find among metallic maple leaves exactly like the ones on the tree, but slightly larger – perfect for leaf clusters on this foreground branch. I sewed these to the peach gauze backing, attached the clusters to the branch then positioned it a little right of center. After a long search for just the right bird, I finally found a darling English robin on some fabric online – from India, of all places – and promptly ordered it. I cut out several robins, backed and glue-edged them, glued two of the best atop each other, and perched the perky little fellow on the maple branch, where he enjoys surveying the autumn scene.
In June 2029, after a five month binge of obsessive cut-iron-glue edge-sew-paste, Autumn Sunset in Hill Country was at last finished. Whew!