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Book Review: Stitch Magic: Ideas and Interpretation

This is a book review that I originally wrote for Craft Critique. It appeared on that site, last month.

I recently had the very good fortune of taking a class from Jan Beaney and another one from Jean Littlejohn. These two Brits are fiber artists. I was so inspired by their classes, that I had to buy their book, Stitch Magic: Ideas and Interpretation.

The book is divided into seven chapters:

1. Beginnings

This section is basically a discussion of things to think about before stitching: will you use a frame? How will you organize your sampler? What are some ways to kick yourself out of a routine? Where to find inspiration? And so on.

2. Backgrounds

This is a discussion of techniques. The authors suggest a range of possibilities from using colored fusible web to melted cellophane.

3. Interpreting Stitch

Through text and photographs of finished work, the authors demonstrate how simple stitches such as couching and detached chain can be altered and used to great effect. Creating dimension is also discussed at length.

4. Unifying Stitches Within a Background

This chapter deals with using stitch to integrate your piece, whether it’s blending one fabric into another (even contrasting colors) or pulling objects you’ve placed on top of your background, back.

5. Combining Hand and Machine Stitching

The authors suggest using machine stitching as a grid underneath handwork or machine stitching on top of handwork to define and control texture. Also discussed in this chapter, is creating lace with water soluble stabilizer.

6. Using Stitches

This final chapter contains several suggestions for places to use your stitches. From joinings to creating landscapes, the authors discuss the possibilities of each use.

Stitch Magic also has the following sections: Foreword, Introduction, Historical Perspective, Stitch Diagrams, Glossary, Further Reading, List of Suppliers (U.K.), and an Index.

The book is beautiful, with wonderful full-page color photography. Each of the photographs (most are close-ups) has a label providing the name of the artist and some information about how the piece was created. I found the labels quite helpful in interpreting what I was seeing. The samples are breathtaking. Very inspiring.

I want to be clear that this is not a “how-to” book. I believe the subtitle is the authors’ intention: ideas and interpretation. Most of the writing is fairly academic. It doesn’t have the chatty quality of so many idea books. It’s a serious discussion of stitch. And as such, I believe the intended audience is serious fiber artists. There are some references to displaying your pieces in galleries and museums.

I own two books on embroidery: this one, and a very classic stitch dictionary. I thought about writing a review on the stitch dictionary, but none of the projects excited me. As a hobbyist, I feel completely lost and scared of Stitch Magic, but it makes me want to try. This is not your grandma’s tea towel. This is something freeing and exciting! What does that mean? Some examples:

1. In the book, the authors demonstrate how a single classical stitch, such as detached chain, can be transformed by varying stitch length and materials. It is eye-opening to see that one simple stitch can be used to create twelve unique textures. This is also encouraging to a novice like myself. With one stitch, I can create many projects!

2. There are absolutely no suggested projects in the book. I love this! Rather the book is focused on opening your mind to the possibilities and encouraging you to pursue your own artistic vision.

3. There are several pieces in the book that are placed directly next to photographs of the organic items that inspired them such as snake skin or tree bark. Next to the photographs, I can see the inspiration, but the art pieces are not representational. I have always found it difficult to create non-representational work, so this is deeply inspiring to me.

Here is a small project, inspired by the book, which I created over several days:

I am sure that I will continue to flip through the pages of Stitch Magic and find inspiration there. I highly recommend this book to any fiber artist or fiber-curious person.