My embroidery and creative stitching experiences.

1. Herta Puls (1915-2013)

Herta Puls introduced western society to reverse applique through her association with the Kuna Indian women.

The Kuna Indians of Panama make molas which are traditional blouses or tops worn by the women. Early molas were also worn as dresses by girls.(ref p 30, textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama). These tops are traditionally hand sewn and designed using 3 – 5 layers of fine cotton fabric. They use a technique for applique which was studied by Herta Puls and is referred to in module one as reverse* applique. On her travels with her husband in the 1960’s Herta Puls visited the San Blas Islands off Panama, to study their work and was inspired to write about these people and their creations in the books The Art of cutwork and Applique andTextiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama. A mola is made up of a front and back panel of applique which is attached to a yoke and sleeves as well as band around the bottom and is vibrantly coloured. Early designs were of religious symbols which were believed to have originally been painted on the body. These developed into geometric shapes, stylised objects from their environment, and developing over time to include story telling scenes. Fish and birds regularly feature in designs as well as the sun. Fish is important to the Indians as it is a natural food source. Birds can signify good and bad omens and some are thought to ward off evil spirits. The work reminds me of naïve art because of the simplicity of the forms in the designs (that is not to imply the work is simple), and Aboriginal art which is also heavily symbolic and meaningful to the indigenous people. 


traditional mola

A 1970’s mola showing stars and moons.

Early Kuna Indians did not really welcome ‘outsiders’ and were able to hold on to their traditional techniques and designs without e.g. European influences. However over time this changed. Men had to travel further for work and families moved to cities. These places influenced changes to designs and they began to include numbers and televisions! Also sewing machines could be used on parts of the designs. These factors have influenced further changes in designs which now cater for the tourist trade as well as their own needs which I think is rather sad!

Independence day mola

‘Independence Day’

Learning how to do reverse applique was an eye-opener to me as it was not as easy as I thought it was going to be, in fact if I remember correctly I had a couple of false starts and I only did 2-3  relatively small pieces!  The women who design and create their own garments are to be admired and, as well as being interesting to learn about, were an inspiration to me to persevere, if they could make a whole blouse using this technique then I could make a small patch!  Although it is not a technique I would choose to use very much, learning about a variety of techniques helps to give variety to your work and opens up lots of possibilities for future designs.

*referred to as ‘reserved’ technique p59, Textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama.

2. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)

Wassily Kandinsky attended art school in 1896.  He was influenced by impressionist artists, especially Claude Monet who used colours and light to describe an image rather than doing fine detailed painting.

By 1913 Kandinsky was producing early abstract images using lines, colours and shapes. References to the real world can be interpreted in these early works but later on he was much more interested in these forms for their own sake and abstract art was truly born.

His love of music must have influenced his attempts to get away from painting real, physical things. Many of his paintings have titles relating to music, e.g. “Compositions” which are more planned and geometric or “Improvisations” which are more free-flowing with little conscious control over mark making. He refered to his paintings as ‘colour music’ before they were called ‘abstract’. Kandinsky used primary colours in a lot of his paintings, often against a white or light background with flashes of bold black lines. (Cossacks, 1910-11), or he would place irregular shapes inside regular shapes. (Colour study: Squares and circles, 1913).

landscape with rain 1913

Landscape with rain (1913)

the black square 1923

The Black Square (1923)

He liked to work with circles, semi-circles, lines, curves and triangles.


Merry Structure, (1926.)

Around the Circle 1940

Around the Circle, (1940.)

He was  a prolific artist and there are many interesting images which are  bold and colourful where others are quieter and delicate looking.

I was interested in “Merry Structure” because the inverted triangles and simple straight or curved black lines suggest movement like tops spinning . The lines also suggest solid supporting structures for the tops. The red squares give a sense of distance too which has cleverly been supported by the changing shade of the yellow -orange background colours. He has used colours to suggest objects receding , e.g. the darker ‘top’ and coming forward , e.g. the lighter ‘top’.

I was  ‘Around the Circle’ because it reminded me of the work I am doing at the moment. The small circles seem to be  falling away from the bold red circle in a swirling motion as if they are falling off and away from something . Things in this painting seem to be growing or disintegrating.Kandinsky has cleverly thought out his composition and the influence the colours would have on the viewer.

As a textile artist looking at the works of great artists and designers is important in understanding how colours and shapes can be used to give the impression of something else whether it is real, imagined or abstract.

3. Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

dance. II . 1910.

Dance II (1910)

 Henri Matisse was born in France in 1869. He studied law but found it boring. When he was ill he was given a painting set and this started a long artistic career.

His early paintings were similar in style to the Impressionists although he was not part of their movement at that time. Later he and some friends decided Impressionists were too slavish to nature and wanted to explore bright colours instead of light and shade in their art. This became known as Fauvism. (Fauvists = wild things!)

Matisse was a master with colour. He used it to draw before painting. He was very skilful at placing the right colours next to each other to create an object or scene. (‘Open Window’ 1905,’ L’escargot’ 1953)

He also felt that one should work instinctively, as a child might, and loved to use bright colours, simplified forms and flattened plains in his work.

He painted landscapes, still life, portraits and nudes. He was especially interested in the human form and he began to change this in his work to it’s simplest form until it was more abstract.

He used papier-decoupe (paper cut-outs) to help with the design of a large mural he had been commissioned to do. He continued to use this technique as part of his design process and in his art for the rest of his career. It started because removing the paper from it’s support was easier than removing marks made with pencil or charcoal.

He would generally hand cut using a small pair of scissors and use both positive and negative shapes.

Matisse whitetorso blue torso211

Forms, White Torso and Blue Torso. (1943)

He would then place the pieces on his walls to be altered and manipulated until he was happy with the compositions. He had not given up painting, he simply called it painting with scissors.

Matisse was not just a painter. He was also a sculptor, and worked in other areas of the decorative arts such as printing, tapestry, glass and set design for a ballet . He also illustrated books, his most famous being ‘Jazz’ where he used a series of brightly coloured screen-prints based on earlier work he had created using gouache and paper cut-outs. His cut-out technique was also used to create images for other goods such as scarves, wall hangings and rugs.

Matisse. The fall of Icarus 1943

The Fall of Icarus. (1943)

In Icarus (above,) he has used the near complimentary colours of blue and yellow while contrasting white against black and a splash of bright red (his heart) adding interest and balance to the composition. The yellow representing suns I would thin , shine brightly against the blue, and suggest closeness to the viewer and the black centre makes the body look as if it is falling into a void.

Matisse’s work relates to the techniques I have used in this module in many ways… His understanding and use of colours, his mixed media approach to his art, his early use of paper to aid his compositions, seeing the artfulness of both positive and negative shapes, printing and his progression from impressionistic art to more abstract and colourful forms. As well as this I would say his versatility and diverse artistic interests are also worthy of mentioning as this module has included a good variety of techniques used for making a multitude of craft and artistic items.


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