Shizuko Kimura: The Poetics of Form (detail) from here
Shizuko Kimura - from here
I remember first seeing a small nude by Shizuko Kimura in the New Ashgate gallery in Farnham, in the 90s, and being astonished to learn that she stitched from life with no preliminary drawing. I had always thought how difficult this must have been, but not being particularly interested in reproducing the technique myself, did nothing more to explore this thought. Until now.
The teacher announced that this week we would have the same pose all morning in order to explore techniques in depth, so I decided to put aside pencil and paper in order to try needle and thread on cloth.
Well, my admiration for Shizuko Kimura has increased by leaps and bounds. This is what I tentatively produced for the ten minute warm-up pose:
The model is sitting with her back to me, and I just managed to think about her body's left profile. The size of the muslin is 16 x 13cm, and I used black quilting thread because I thought that perhaps the stiffness would help. It was extremely hard work translating the looking to the stitching action, and felt no direct link between eye and hand today.
When the main pose was set up I knew that I had no hope of encompassing the whole body, and so, knowing that we had a coffee break in the middle I decided to isolate two areas to attempt - one before the break and one after.
I started with the easier area: the hand.
I was sitting to the left of the model, and her left hand was resting on her left thigh. Unfortunately she had a cough today, and kept lifting this hand to her mouth and so it moved quite a bit, not helping with my measuring and comparing by eye. Well, that's my excuse, anyway!
I discovered just how difficult it is to stitch the marks left to right (being right handed) - it is all very well to try to gauge distance and relationship by looking from model to stitched work when stitching right to left. But when pursuing the line round the corner and back we turn the cloth round - unfortunately the model stays put. So I had not only to look and gauge, but also then turn what I'd seen round in order to reproduce it. This hand took me an hour - the size of the muslin is about 13cm square.
Not that I had mastered anything 'easier', I decided after the break to go for the more difficult head with hair all swept up. Hey ho!
The head stitching is about 6cm square. I decided this time to keep the ends underneath because they were distracting me. This made the stitching tighter, and even smaller, which meant that I wished I'd made the whole thing larger in the first place. I became extremely tense by the end of the hour, and my fingers were sweating - and I was definitely relieved when the class came to an end.
I was glad to have tried the experiment - my admiration for those who work this way is great. It was interesting, but I shall not be pursuing this particular technique further.