Garden Diary - October 2021

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The Art of Leaf Embroidery
Thursday, 21 October 2021

image courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden
copyright Hillary Waters Fayle, all rights reserved

The New York Botanical Garden's Education Department has a diverse array of classes. As you might expect it features botany, horticulture, gardening and landscape design, everything from one day personal enrichment to certificate level programs. But there is more: The current catalog has an unexpected image, of leaves used as the foundation for embroidery. Why? Because as well as classes on floral design, horticultural therapy, crafts there are also classes for botanical art and illustration.

image courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden
copyright Hillary Waters Fayle all rights reserved

There's a webinar wherein we can "Join Hillary Waters Fayle, the textile artist whose stunning embroidered leaf designs grace NYBG Adult Education's Fall-Winter catalog, for an engaging conversation about her artistic process. She'll share insights into how she chooses her plant material, which sewing techniques are most effective, the variety of ways her designs evolve, and the importance of sustainability in her practice."

An interesting hour. As a youngster Hillary was introduced to working with yarn by her grandmother, who was a knitter. There was a slim book, Silk Ribbon Embroidery, by Sheena Cable. And by the time Hillary became a student at Buffalo State she enrolled in their fiber arts program. Was it fortuitous, serendipitous, happenstance . . . perhaps it was fated.

As a junior, she had a year abroad at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, for a program on embroidery. She began working with insertion stitches, finding them both functional and decorative. Museum visits, art nouveau botanical imagery, William Morris.

images from Wikimedia Commons

There was a summer when she was working as a cook at the nature camp she had attended as a child. With time to spare, Hillary began looking for something on which to embroider. Orange peel, banana peel - no! Perhaps a paper bag . . . She was laying on the ground under a tree and thought, "Leaves!" Use joining stitches to work with leaves.

Over time she discovered some leaves need a stabilizer brushed on first, to provide the necessary strength for supporting the stitches. Bay leaves picked in California did not. Tough waxy leaves that are meant to winter over are sturdy enough on their own. Think rhododendron, camellia, English ivy. Tropical house plants such as a rubber tree.

image courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden
copyright Hillary Waters Fayle all rights reserved

Working tinier and tinier, technical solution to join leaves together, and
also just for beauty. Fifteen bay leaves . . . and over 3,000 French knots.

Hillary feels there is something beautiful about just using a leaf and thread. And she wonders, am I mending a leaf when I stitch into it, or maiming it. Recently she's been fascinated using couching stitches, where a thread is laid on the surface and held in place with occasional overstitch. Since couching uses fewer holes there is less tension. It is also the best technique for metallic thread which is not suitable for pulling in / out of the leaf.

So much to absorb and understand, in the space of an hour that passes quickly but never dull.

The poetry of plants, we are told, reminds us to have gratitude.

Gratis registration for this webinar was provided by the New York Botanical Garden

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