The Inspiration of Limitations

Too often I trip myself up with a lack of focus in my work. I start with an idea that cascades into yet other ideas and, in the end, I realize none of them well because I try to do them all. I find I do better by putting metaphorical blinders on – to work only with certain colors, shapes, or techniques. In her 1965 book “On Weaving” Anni Albers said, “Great freedom can be a hindrance because of the bewildering choices it leaves to us, while limitations, when approached open-mindedly, can spur the imagination to make the best use of them and possibly even to overcome them.”

I have two long term projects on the go that have built in size and material limitations. Both are sets of squares, needle felted ones and appliqued roundish shapes that I call pebbles.

The former came about because I had wool roving left from a wet felting class and was given felted wool fabric scraps. I bought a Clover needle felting tool, read a book, watched a video and went to work. The work is limited to the colors I have on hand, hand embroidery, and 5 inch wool squares. At some point I may sew the squares together. So far I have 16 squares made and only a small amount of roving left. I’m undecided about buying more. Right now I’m concentrating on embroidering them all.

14 of my needle felted squares

The pebbles are a variation like this one on the classic Dale Fleming 6 minute circle, with my monoprinting experiments used as the pebbles and backgrounds of hand dyed mottled fabrics in green, blue-green, and turquoise. When I make just one inset circular shape I often use a single layer of freezer paper as my template. If I’m making several shapes, as with my pebbles, I iron two layers of freezer paper together to make a longer lasting template.

For my pebbles I used pieces of my monoprints smaller than the template so I could get more pebbles – 30 in all. It worked fine as I made sure the stitching lines wouldn’t go beyond the edges of my fabric pieces.

Here’s the pebbles I created with four different templates. I’m now out of monoprinted fabrics.

detail of my pebbles

I debated whether to go with a simple layout or try to concoct something more elaborate. I decided to surround each square with uneven thin lines, somewhat like a tile floor.

It’s brighter when the sun shines.

Next up is figuring out a surround. I’m working on an uneven border. After that is settled I need to decide whether to pursue a wild hair idea to turn my pebbles into talismans by crossing them with threads to make them look wrapped. I wouldn’t add beads and feathers, though.

I have saved all the innards I cut out of the framing fabrics and fused WonderUnder to them. Maybe I could figure a way to add them, or maybe not. At this point I should reread the first paragraph of this post.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under Commentary, Fabric Printing, In Process, Techniques

13 responses to “The Inspiration of Limitations

  1. Pingback: Work Slowdown | The Snarky Quilter

  2. Love the Anni Albers quote and how you have taken it to heart. You prove limits can be anything but limiting.

  3. I bet embroidering on the felted pieces is lovely. I do love to stitch into wool!

  4. Penny

    That’s a tough one about what to do with the felted embroidered circles, but the colors and textures are absolutely delicious. They’re like precious little jewels. Maybe each one should stand alone in some way rather than be combined? Or maybe in several long or short panels with each circle having a corresponding background based on the thread colors? I like the talisman idea for the pebbles, and I agree that no beads or feathers are required!

    • Yes, the felted pieces would be too much attached directly to each other. They need some quiet space between them. I do have some wool yardage in a cranberry color that might do for a background. First, however, I need to do the embroidery.

      • Penny

        Some of those felted pieces make me think of galaxies or nebulas, or something outer spacey. Maybe stitch on the background fabric ,in a constellation like manner with dots and connecting lines? As for reining in your ideas, yes, it’s often desirable to limit a palette or focus on a certain design element, and then if that doesn’t work, strike out in another direction. Just some lessons learned from designing lesson plans for teaching art with kids!

      • Interesting ideas for connecting the squares while still leaving some quiet space between them. And I seem to do best when presented with limitations, ie., I can use only scraps or what I already have.

  5. Jane Herbst

    I love where this is going, Joanna! Just one thought: the 2 greens near the center stop my eyes. Perhaps a slight rearrangement? I agree with Felice re trying the leftover printed pieces for the strings crossing the talismans. Alternatively, perhaps try some thread or yarn with texture for some dimension.

  6. Felice

    Perhaps the leftover printed pieces could be cut into thin strips and used for the strings crossing over the talismans.
    I’m loving it so far!

    • Thanks for the idea. I do have small strips of the monoprinted fabrics that could be cut up into 1/4 inch strips and fused in place. I tried a metallic fabric but it went dead against the background.

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