Sunday, 31 May 2009

needle-felting is like creative writing

My sister is working on a needle-felted landscape based on a photo of a riverside path along the Yarra. Tree ferns line one side of the winding track.

She laid down fibres with her needle-felting machine but put it aside because she didn’t know what to do next. Then she decided on some hand-stitching and embroidery to give it more depth and make it look more like the concept she had in her mind when she began.

It’s been weeks now and the project sits on a bookshelf where she can look at it from across the room and assess how it resembles the original photo. She keeps adding layers. She sews over it and dulls it down. When a spot doesn’t look right she removes it by sewing over it again. She needs to highlight the brightness of the sun on the tree fern leaves. She needs to bring the sunny spots into sharper contrast to the shadows on the winding path.

It’s like writing.

I've been watching a series of videos of Robert Olen Butler, the Pulitzer-winning author, as he writes a short story in real-time. Thirty-four hours of watching his creative process. Seventeen two-hour sessions.

His method makes me think of my sister's needle-felted project, because he writes about three hundred words each night; and then reads them over next evening, and adds to them, and changes them, and re-arranges them, and perfects them, before moving on.

It's amazing and inspirational to watch.


Janet said...

I have always wondered whether creating textile art is like writing a PhD thesis. I have written a thesis and experienced the laying down of words and then rewriting or rearranging those words and paragraphs. It is a long process which one excepts as that at the time.
When I came to textile art I was and have been less patient with myself in the process, as if I needed to produce the piece immediately. Maybe this is because although I could unpick stitches or paint over sometimes it was impossible to change the textile piece and I had to start again. The process seems longer than that of writing. It also seems less forgiving.
Maybe I am wrong about this and I would welcome further discussion.

parlance said...

Hi, Janet

As a writer and not a textile artist, I did think that your art was quite unforgiving. But having seen Mary sew over, add or deliberately obscure details, I've come to see there is a lot of leeway in it.

On the other hand, from what I remember of my University days, writing in that style is dictated by the logic and structure of the essay, so you don't get as much leeway as for instance a fiction writer does.

Mary said...

Hello Janet & Parlance,
I remember doing essays on the electric typewriter and having to rewrite pages and pages if I wanted to add to or delete from a paragraph. That seemed extremely unforgiving. Word processing, using computers, has made the process much easier but you can still have to throw out the writing and have to start all over again if you have played with it too much. I am currently doing a textile and design course and am finding out that mistakes can usually be salvaged, they can become design elements, or they can be worked over and made to disappear. I think it has taken practising artists to show me that there is no fixed method and that the result is often in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder is usually more forgiving than the creator. They don't know about the mistakes, they just see the work, not its history.

Hackpacker said...

Ah, parlance, I do like how we seem to be visiting each others blogs in the fashion of a Jane Austen novel and leaving each other calling cards to return the visit...
I love the idea of writing old school on a typewriter. I interviewed Paul Auster ( and he talked about how he still writes on his beloved Olympia typewriter and when he re-drafts he types each page out again. Such a dedication to craft. Can we return to painting on cave walls to encouage more considered writing?

parlance said...

Hackpacker, I like that image of the Jane Austen calling cards.

I decided long ago that if I were to do blogging "I'd do it my way".

More fun for me that way.

Hackpacker said...

Absolutely do it your way. It's the reason for democractic publishing. Suggestions about cave painting were just joshing.

parlance said...

Hey, if in forty thousand years someone pays to read what I wrote here, I'll think I've made my mark on the cave wall.