Sunday, August 28, 2011

GeeGee's Needlework

 This piece hung in my grandmother's farmhouse when I was a little girl. My gram passed away when I was in elementary school and thankfully my mom loved this as much as I did and made sure to take it. It has hung in the entryway of our house ever since. I'm pretty certain that my gram's mother made this. We called her Gee Gee and I have a few things that she made. Most notably an apron that my mother wore when she was a toddler in the 1940's. I'm not really sure when this embroidery was made but my guess is the 50's, perhaps the 60's. Gee Gee also died when I was pretty young so my only memory of her is a Muppet Baby version of Nanny. I remember being at her old and creaky home watching TV on the floor with my brother and having a pair of orthopedic shoes in thick stockings serve us Hydrox cookies and milk on a tray. I always thought the tray was a nice touch. I also remember her funeral being the day I found out that my family has a tradition of kissing the person in the coffin goodbye so my second memory is my mom guiding me towards an open coffin and telling me to give Gee Gee a kiss on the cheek.
I really wish I would have known her better than this because the stories I heard about her later where all tales of her being quite the prankster. When she worked at the local sewing factory she stuck a pair of mannequin legs in a vent and then hid nearby. Whenever someone walked by she would yell for help. My favorite photo is one where she decided to practice the layout for her funeral. It has an 80-something year old woman flat on her back in the grass holding a lilly with her eyes closed and a slight smirk. She really knew how to commit.
And with that we're back to the embroidery. My mom said it was loosely based on their daily life at the farm. She always had the chore of feeding the chickens. They had a lot of chickens and they enjoyed pecking her legs so she was not a fan of them. The only other person she ever pointed out was that my aunt was possibly the girl feeding the ducks (and thus once again getting away with not doing any of her own chores). I always assumed my grandpa as the wagon driver with one of his many trusty dogs following behind. The last dog my grandpa had was a gray toy poodle named FiFi. FiFi would ride with my grandpa on the tractor while he plowed the fields and looked after the horses and the sheep. He also took FiFi to the groomer's once a week for a wash and color-coordinating nails and bow. FiFi was also a boy. I was used to most farmers I knew having little dogs they took along with them during their work but none were like FiFi. I also assume that my grandmother is by the house in the upper left hanging out the wash. An uncle (the twin to my mom) is fishing. My other uncle (twin to my aunt) is loading up the apple cart. And I'm totally lost as to who the other man in the orchard would be but I'm guessing it would be my grandpa's father who was the previous owner of the farm.

I never really attempted embroidery until I was in college and did an independent study course in Fibers one semester and taught myself. I hadn't thought about this piece in ages but quickly realized that it was a pretty big influence on me and my obsession with having large scenes that you can dive into and find intimate details. Embroidery also tapped into my love of neo-impressionists and of course, pointillism. I still remember having my little mind blown in second grade when we had a class on the paintings of Seurat. I couldn't wait to have my turn to look at the print up close. It was fascinating going near and far to see when was the precise moment that the splotches started to work together to convey a recognizable image.
When I returned from college after my first attempts of embroidery I had a whole new appreciation for this piece. I love that she rarely used anything but a straight stitch to convey shapes which I find I do as well now. I know so many stitches but I really love just sticking to simple dashes, satin stitching and of course the lovely colonial knot. Sometimes I'll work in a fancy stitch and then pull it all out because I find it distracting. It's also great to see how few stitches she used to convey something that you can instantly recognize (like the ducks and the crows.) I really enjoy how she used white to pull everything together. I think these objects could easily look like blobs if it wasn't for that.

Every time I walk into my dad's house this is the first thing I see and I am so happy it survived to be passed down along with plenty of tales of GeeGee.

note: all of these photos are pretty big so you can click on them and zoom in. You can also find some more shots here. I had to take all of these shots with the embroidery still under glass so sorry about some of the glare. Speaking of this still being under glass- the back of this is just as fantastic as the front. I love all of the bits and pieces she used in the framing.

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