By Wendy Tremayne
My friend, textile artist and blogger Heather Cameron of True Stitches, says of crafter Gretchen Elsner, “Writing about Gretchen is like trying to remember a dream that keeps slipping away the more you try to capture it.”
The dream that I am having of Gretchen Elsner is one populated by archetypal creatures. At the busy intersection in which Gretchen stands, she stitches worlds together. Strewn about are handwritten script letters that scratch out quick-witted phrases as they dance along colorful stuffed fabric. The letters are as bridges, connecting a bounded reality to one not yet known. An eyeball, Victorian vanity, bird, slug, wooden shoe, they delight in crossing over. They are composed of heaps of thread, colorful, tangled, wild and free.
Gretchen, the one who gives them life, traverses an imaginary field wearing a textile pop-up book of her making. The story spills from it. Gretchen is the story. We are reminded that not all tales ought to appear in books made for children. “Come on in,” we think we hear, “but careful or you might get lost.” Just as the colorful fabric scenes seem to finally join together and resemble something familiar, the dream slips away. It is just as Heather warned.
Idiosyncratic clothing designer, performance artist, electronics maker, mother, builder, and dream weaver (to name a few), you’d be hard pressed to separate artist from art in any of Gretchen’s works. Today she whisks by to lend to us a quirky, fresh vehicle of self-expression that she stumbled upon and then nuanced. It is a way of creating image using cotton threads or whatever is lying about.
Gretchen recalls how she stumbled on the find, “I felt stupid throwing away all the loose ends of thread that are left over when you cut the piece away from the machine, they all looked so pretty all wadded up.” When she began using the technique she laboriously hand sewed the wads into shapes, then she discovered a product called Solvy which modified the process into what she offers us today in the form of a DIY.
Fabric or any material that can be sewn
Water soluble stabilizer embroidery backing
Sewing machine optional/preferred
Long straight pins
Step 1: Start off with a piece of stabilizer paper that is twice as large as the finished work is going to be. Use one half of the paper to draw your image. Draw in outline form so that the lines are wide enough to be filled in later with thread (Note: Marker may bleed through the sheet).
Step 2: Arrange threads into form on top of the drawn image. Use thread colors as your color palette.
Step 3: Fold the stabilizer in half. With the drawing side facing up, use straight pins to hold the threads in place between the two halves of the sheet.
Step 4: Sew over and around the drawn lines. Also sew through the body of the piece to give it greater resilience and longevity as well as character. The sewing thread is another opportunity to add color.
Step 5: Remove pins and soak piece in water, agitating slightly until stabilizer dissolves. What remains wil be what is held in place by the penetrating glue and the stitching. As the water becomes saturated by the dissolved glue, it can also be used to dip pieces that you wish to have more stiffness. Removing the piece before all the glue has completely dissolved will also produce this effect (without creating stickiness).
Step 6: Place the wet piece, finished side up, on either a screen or towel and let dry. A hair dryer can be used for faster drying.
Step 7: Cut away the excess material that is outside the sewn lines, to redefine the shape of the piece.
More of this process can also be seen on Gretchen’s blog, Egretion.
About the Author:
Wendy Tremayne is an event producer, conceptual artist, and yoga teacher. One of her projects, Swap-O-Rama-Rama, is a community clothing swap and series of DIY workshops that she created as an alternative to consumerism. Wendy lives in Truth or Consequences, N.M., where she is co-creating an off-grid B&B. Find out more on the Holy Scrap Hot Springs blog. Learn more about Wendy at gaiatreehouse.com.