"Stitch and Structure" Book Review

Today I'm bringing you another book review, but this one isn't specific about felting. In fact, it's about textile art, not felting, but I think that in order to push felting further into the realm of textile and fiber art, we must find ways to link them together. Not only that but in order to progress as artists ourselves, we must seek inspiration from a variety of sources, especially ones that have nothing to do with our chosen medium itself (in this case, felting).

Stitch and Structure by Jean Draper is actually a book I received as a gift from my brother a little over a year ago, when I first created the Star Magnolias Facebook page (but before I launched my website) and indicated my interest in finally following my dreams as an artist. It's published by Batsford, which have yet do disappoint in their choice of subject matter/authors for textile/fiber art, and I have a few other of their books on my wishlist. Seriously though, Jean Draper, sharing her secrets. I think she is absolutely amazing and love the fact that I have a book written by her.

Jean Draper - Aftermath Three of Seven Forms

Probably one of my favorite things about this book as opposed to most other books is how it has a section on how to find inspiration for your art. Think about it. Most books will give you plenty of examples of already made art to use as inspiration for your work (and there is certainly plenty of that in here) but it kindof leaves you hanging, doesn't it? When you're done with the book, then what? It's the whole "give a man a fish" proverb in art form. In fact it really reminds me of my days back in the architecture studio, when prior to starting the next project, we'd go on field trips with our sketchbooks to visit areas that were either the proposed location of the project or to look at examples of things that may inspire our project. My favorite of these field trips was when we went walked around Philly, visiting the mosaic community garden project, the Painted Bride, checking out a few galleries. OK, one of my favorites, because I also loved our class trip to NYC, but anyway... the professors knew that in order to succeed in our chosen field, we must spend some time literally going out into the world, sketching and collecting inspiration from anything and everything around us, before we could even possibly think to look at the project we were about to be handed. Usually when you look at a project, the first thing that pops into your head, you're kindof stuck with in one way or another. You keep coming back to it, or elements of it. We needed a fresh look at the world in order to come up with fresh ideas. Had we done that after looking at the project notes, our seeking inspiration would have been tainted. We just needed to focus on observation, visually consuming anything that caught our attention, sketching it, recording it, digesting it, etc.

If you don't take anything else away from this review, let alone pick up the book, at least try to remember that little bit I just wrote. That is the golden key to finding inspiration (it's just that most artists are naturally used to doing it already that it's an ingrained habit, and they have a hard time explaining it when someone is stuck on finding fresh ideas). Seriously, even hanging out on the weird side of youtube and scrolling through the articles posted on places like buzzfeed and boredpanda are ultimately helpful, though some fresh air will do you good.

Jean Draper - Rock Rhythms

Back to the book itself, this is anything but another stitching book. There are plenty of books out there on stitches and quilting and embroidery and sewing and what is essentially two-dimensional textile art. This book is all about thick, structural, relief or even full-on three-dimensional textile art, and I think this is where you'll find your link to felting. One of the things that draws me to felt is that it can be both a two-dimensional medium, as in wool paintings, or it can be three-dimensional as in felt sculptures or wearable items. With Stitch and Structure, you're essentially opening your eyes to look at thread (much like we did when we first looked at wool fiber in total awe) as something that is fully capable of creating a three dimensional object. Do you remember the aha moment? That first moment of amazement when you realized that this ball of fluff could become anything you want if you just stab it the right way? I had that moment again while reading this book. 

Now here is where it gets really cool. Have you ever looked at a fiber art book (like a coffee table book) and were just blown away by the beautiful art, wondering how they possibly made those coiled baskets out of cord and thread, or vessels, or just really visually intriguing wall art? This book tells you how to make those! It is no longer out of reach. It's not something that you have to spend days trying to figure out on your own, it's been figured out for you. I LOVE that she even included a bit about kantha stitching, which is something that has intrigued me for quite some time, and I was planning on making some kantha quilts for the summer out of silk sarees instead of the usual cotton ones (though I'll likely make cotton ones as well). 

If you figured out that I've been seriously drooling over this book (but not too much, because I don't want to ruin it and all), you are correct. If you noticed that I seem to do that with most of my book reviews, that is also correct. I prefer not to spend money on or take up precious shelf space with books that do not make me giddy (it's the whole Konmari "joy" thing... I've actually gone through my books a few times and whittled them down to only the ones I want to revisit on a regular basis). Do I recommend this to someone who is interesting in felting only as a craft or hobby, but otherwise has little to no interest in the art world? No, and I don't think that there's anything wrong with that; we all need to do what makes us happy! I just don't think that this book would speak to a felting hobbyist simply because it has nothing to do with felting. Do I recommend this book for someone who is interested in fiber art beyond just felting and wanting to expand their knowledge in learning new ways to use stitches in a structural fashion? Absolutely! I think that this book might inspire you to find ways to incorporate stitching into your felt art, not to mention new ways to find creative inspiration and take your art to the next level.