Category Archives: Process

Sketch to Stitch

I am not absolutely sure this piece is finished, but I’m very close. I’m going to sit with it for a while to see if any changes reveal themselves…a phenomenon I’ve learned is not all that uncommon. There’s often a bit of a dance between pulling out the necessary information without overstating it — and I’m trying to decide whether or not I’ve met or overshot that mark.

Meanwhile, these photos will give you a window into the process as it unfolds. I think it’s worth noting how helpful photos like these can be in moving a piece forward. Sometimes information stands out in a photograph that is harder to detect in the flesh.


Plate and Spoon














Plate 12

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

“Palaces of Self-Discovery”
I hope you will be able to carve out time this summer to spend with some really good books. With that thought in mind, take a swing through Thibaud Poirier’s striking images of public libraries around the world…true cathedrals for bibliophiles.

Seasonal Change as Incentive

After weeks of chill and rain and oogling other folks’ pictures on Instagram of gardens and trees that have long since come to life, the leaves are finally filling in and spots of color are beginning to bloom on our hill. I think it’s safe to say that, almost five full months into 2017, spring has finally taken root in Vermont.

The external changes of the seasons also tend to have an impact on me internally, so seasonal change-over invariably becomes a time for re-evaluating and rebooting work patterns. While posing the question of whether there are ways to improve isn’t a guarantee of definitive answers, I still think it’s healthy, and invariably productive, to at least take stock of studio habits at several points during the year. Juggling various goals and aspirations is an ongoing process requiring a certain level of flexibility, so there is much to be said for working to build habits that can improve efficiency, leaving time for change.


Stacked     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                       Though not yet framed, this piece is complete.

If you haven’t already read Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Businessit’s worth picking up from your library. The case studies he covers, both corporate and individual, are fascinating in their own right, but of course the real value of the book is in understanding the possibilities for applying his findings to our own habits and the ways we might want to change or develop them. What I found most compelling is the importance of belief (that the habit can become fully established) and the necessity of community, even just one other person, in fostering both the essential element of belief and, ultimately, success.

When I decided to recommit myself to drawing at the beginning of 2015, the most helpful advice I received was to incorporate it into my routine as a habit, relying on a self-determined trigger to spur myself into action at a regular time every day. Starting slowly with very short sessions allowed for gradually expanding both the time and scope devoted to each sketch…to the point where now I miss drawing and even feel something of a sense of guilt on the days I can’t fit it in.

Stacked, detail

Stacked, detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                   If you compare this to the last shot from last week’s post, you’ll see the predicted changes I couldn’t resist.

If you are trying to make regular time for a new element in your creative practice, check out Ingrid Sundberg’s video, a step-by-step outline about building an early morning writing habit. While Sundberg’s recommendations are geared toward writing, her method is very similar to what was recommended to me for committing to daily drawing, and can easily be adjusted to fit whatever habit you may want to develop. Both approaches coincide with the core of what Charles Duhigg suggests in The Power of Habit.

Is there something that you’ve been wanting to build into a new habit? If so, take advantage of the change in season and give it a shot.

A Good Puzzle

Even though the individual works in this coffee cup series may at first glance seem repetitive, in actuality they are anything but. All have been challenging in their own way, offering plenty of hurdles to puzzle through. I like the word “puzzle” because it has positive connotations. Figuring out how to stitch each new image is a bit like picking up the latest mystery by a trusted author: the overall structure and style are comfortably familiar, yet the details and storyline are ripe for new discoveries. Nuances of light and form make each piece in this series unique from the others, every one a riddle unto itself, waiting to be solved.

Cup 1

©2017 Elizabeth Fram


©2017 Elizabeth Fram

This stack of two cups has been particularly sticky and so far I’ve probably spent just as much time backtracking and restitching as I did laying in the initial pass-through. Color is such a crucial consideration in trying to capture the definition and curve of the cups’ forms. Combinations of different threads and variation of stitches make the possibilities virtually limitless, which also opens the door to plenty of near misses. It’s often the case, as I wrote about in this post, that even the slightest change can make a huge difference. As you scroll through these process shots you can see the many, often subtle, changes I’ve made as I’ve reassessed and redone in an effort to get it right. And I can guarantee that what you see in the final shot here will be changed again before the piece is finished.

Cup 3

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Cup 4

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

The necessity of working with, rather than fighting against, the dyed ground is probably the greatest lesson this piece has held for me to this point. The area around the image is so very dark and deeply saturated that I’ve had to make adjustments, recalibrating from what was becoming comfortably predictable in the previous pieces, all of which have a background of a relatively mid-range value. But that’s not to downplay the enjoyment to be found in the challenge of discovering ways to mesh the variation of light and dark within the background, unplanned as those values were when dyed, such that they support and enhance the definition of the image that is stitched on top.

Cup 5

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Cup 6

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yes, at times it’s frustrating, but for the most part this process of seeking a solution is tremendously gratifying, exactly like a good puzzle.

For those of you who share my weakness for books and puzzles, I know you’ll agree it’s fun when the two come together. I couldn’t resist buying Chasing Vermeer when it came out, ostensibly for our kids, but in all honesty, just as much for myself. And one of the more memorable elements of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, was the hand made miniature city Marie-Laure’s father crafted for her to develop her sense of touch, each building a birthday puzzle with a gift to be discovered inside once the puzzle was solved. With that in mind, wouldn’t you love to get your hands on one of these amazing creations?!

Step by Step

This week, in lieu of all the usual writing, I am giving us both a break. Instead, I am posting photos of this latest piece as it has evolved. Your questions are welcome.


The first step is creating the Shibori pattern on raw silk. This particular pattern is called “Mokume”, which means wood grain. It is not an exact science – just rows and rows of closely spaced running stitches. Still, I’m sure you can appreciate the resemblance to its namesake. Look closely to see the dots of white along the right edges of the pattern. They mark the placement of the knots of the threads that were used to gather the fabric before it was dyed.

Photocopy Map

I use photocopies of my original sketches as a map of sorts, to help me translate the image into stitch.

Stitch Variety

Using a variety of stitch patterns, weights, and colors gives a sense of form, and also adds an abstracted quality that I quite enjoy.

Gold Thread

Once I added the gold thread to that inside right section of the cup, it began to come alive. Sometimes a very small change can make a huge difference.

Keep Going

When I got to this point I began to see the minimal stitching on the saucer as an interesting composition in itself and I gave serious consideration as to whether I should just stop, leaving the saucer mostly blank. Of course I decided to keep going, but seeds have been planted to investigate this idea further in a future piece.


Not only have I made the choice to keep going by filling in the saucer, I’ve begun to work on the background as well.

Getting the saucer right

Getting the saucer right was a bit of a challenge. You don’t see it in these photos, but it took several tries to get each section so that it rang true. Such is the beauty of working with thread; it is so easily removed and restitched.


The background is now a major consideration – and I have removed most of the stitching to the right that had appeared before. Deepening and outlining the shadow below the cup strengthens its definition.

Background evolves

The background continues to evolve.  At this point I realized I needed to figure out how to tone down the lighter section to the left of the cup so that it didn’t stand out quite so starkly.

Quiet Moment     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                Finished! Now to decide on framing…

Quiet Moment, detail

Quiet Moment, detail     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Quick note: most of these photos were taken at the end of the day, in sketchy &/or artificial light, which explains the color differentials.

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                           

This week marks the opening of “Fiber Expressions, a group show of the Vermont members of the Surface Design Association.  I have 4 pieces exhibiting. I hope you can check it out if you’re in the area. Here’s the scoop:

Fiber Expressions
February 20 – March 31, 2017
Living/Learning Gallery, University of Vermont
633 Main St., Commons 205, Burlington, VT 05405
Exhibit Hours: Mon – Fri: 1:00-8:30pm    Sat: 12:30-4:30pm
Gallery Closed for Spring Recess March 11-19; Open by appointment only

Decisions, Decisions…

After posting the photos of the the first cup and saucer piece, one of you asked if I would talk more about the decisions I made when “framing” it with its Shibori border. What follows are some of the things I was thinking about — and continue to think about as I work on this series.

Two points to keep in mind: a) my goal is to find a way to bring my daily drawing practice and textile work together while celebrating and remaining true to the qualities of each, and b)I never know exactly what will happen until I dive in. Especially in the beginning stages everything is an experiment. I start with an idea, take a shot, see what happens, then go on from there with what I’ve learned.

It Isn’t That Simple      © 2016 Elizabeth Fram

Composition is my number one consideration, regardless of whether an artwork is abstract or representational. I have written before about my inclination to organize my drawings where the image hugs the perimeter of a piece and the subject often moves outside the field of vision. I am also partial to creating breathing room within the overall framework, enhancing a sense of balance and space. My preference is to walk a fine line between presenting a recognizable object while simultaneously pushing toward an abstracted view of shapes and values.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I like to keep in mind that when the subject lies beyond the boundaries of an image, it leaves room for a viewer’s imagination to envision what happens in that unseen space, deepening the “story” by encouraging participation. As a counterbalance, negative space provides a visual rest, an area where subtle stitching can supply interest by dividing the space without overwhelming the image.

It Isn’t That Simple, detail      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Figuring out how to frame a composition is just as important as how to crop it. It has to enhance the image, furthering what it has to say without merely becoming an edging on all four sides. Surrounding a stitched image with pattern created via stitched-resist Shibori forges a harmonious blend where both elements work in tandem, rather than one overpowering the other.


Respite, in process      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

For many years my pieces were made with irregular edges, a quality I still find intriguing yet which poses a dilemma when the work will be stretched and framed within a traditional floating frame. Because the Shibori pattern is created by stitching, I have flexibility to manipulate where the pattern will appear, the direction of its flow, where to squeeze in narrow gaps (essentially creating an area of escape from the small rectangular enclosure the cup and saucer fills) and where to open up wider expanses via a color field that pushes toward the outer edge, making a statement of its own.

Morning Musing

Morning Musing, in process     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Therefore, what may first appear as a “frame” is actually an essential element of the piece as a whole, serving to ground and engage the stitched image of the cup and saucer within a fully integrated exchange, rather than solely being a vehicle for separating and confining it. In fact, it’s important to remember that the Shibori patterning in these pieces was created first, making it a crucial consideration of the overall composition from the very beginning.

Many thanks to the reader who asked this question. Writing is a wonderful opportunity to give thought and substance to the ideas that float in the back of one’s mind, but which benefit immeasurably from being articulated. I encourage you to try it with your own work, and please, feel free to ask more questions any time.

For an intriguing take on presentation/framing, check out the work of Sondra Sherman, a jewelry maker who displays her pieces in the carved-out pages of the books that inspired their creation.

Needlework: ‘Redemptive and Rebellious’

It’s been snowing off and on much of the week which has been great for productivity. Does anyone else notice that no other light quite compares to that which fills a space when it’s snowing outside? Colors appear crisp and true, reading more clearly than usual.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                             Follow along with me as this piece progresses

As you can see, this week I’ve been concentrating on marks and the visual texture of stitches to pull out the form of a cup and saucer from the open section of last week’s dyed piece. I am still working to find a way to marry my daily drawings with my textile work without compromising either. It’s been a bit of a balancing act to keep the image recognizable while simultaneously leaning toward an abstraction of the forms’ shapes and cast shadows. By sticking with one color of thread, I’m relying on the direction of the stitches, their weight, and the patterns they create to define both the space and the image. I quite like the way they work in tandem with the dyed ‘mokume’ pattern. Before I began, I wasn’t sure how successful a partnership it would be, but I am encouraged by the way things are developing.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I found two thought-provoking articles from Brain Pickings this week that I’d like to share. They seem particularly appropriate since I’ve been totally consumed with needlework. The first, Stitching the Stars, centers on the nineteenth century astronomer Maria Mitchell’s theory of the needle as an instrument of the mind and why she felt it gave women an advantage in the field of astronomy. In turn, Brain Pickings’ creator Maria Popova posits that the mental space afforded via the slow nature of needlework has been a cornerstone in the “long history of thinking-by-hand in the intellectual life of women”. Bravo! Stitching is an art that is typically sidelined as ‘women’s busy work’; how absolutely satisfying and encouraging it is to see an acknowledgement in print of one of the most cogent hidden strengths that many of us who are actively engaged with needle and thread know to be true.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

The second article, which segues easily from the first, The Dinner Party: Artist Judy Chicago’s Iconic Symbolic Celebration of Women’s Heritage in Creative Culture, is so very pertinent considering the political climate we are facing. It is an all-important reminder that the message of Chicago’s unparalleled project is just as crucial today as it was in 1979.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Finally, I am quite honored to have been invited last month to join TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art list. As “a business community of entrepreneurs rooted in textile and fiber art products and traditions”, it supports artists, retail and wholesale e-commerce, cooperatives, galleries, organizations, writers, publishers, and collectors. The TAFA icon in the upper right of this blog’s sidebar is a link to my profile page. But more importantly, explore all of TAFA’s website to learn more about it as an organization and to see work from its over 500 members representing 44 countries. I have no doubt you’ll find something remarkable.

In process     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

And please stay tuned. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this piece will be finished next week.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Switching Gears

There’s no arguing that persistence is one of the jewels in our proverbial bag of tricks. But there are definitely times when there’s more to be gained from allowing yourself to switch gears, especially in the face of a wall that, for the moment, seems insurmountable.


In Process     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I have been struggling with too many false starts on this piece over the past couple of weeks, spending as much time taking stitches out as I have putting them in. While I am loving the colors and the swoop of the pattern as it rises and falls through the layers, I am having a heck of a hard time taking it to the next level. So it’s going up on my wall where I can live with it, allowing time and distance to work their magic. Having put it aside, I’m on to something completely new to give my brain an airing out, making for a nice change this week.


Stitching guidelines marked on raw silk


Stitching, stitching, & more stitching


Just slightly pulling the threads begins to reveal a beautiful pattern.

Although this form of shibori is named “mokume”, meaning ‘wood grain’, it also reminds me of Ansel Adams’ photographs of sand dunes.


Soaking the fabric in water allows me to pull the threads all the tighter.


The first application of dye


A mixture of red, brown and eggplant. I have to be careful that the dye gets into all the nooks and crannies.


Since this type of dye only adheres to protein fibers (i.e. silk, wool, etc), it doesn’t affect the cotton thread, which is a cellulose fiber. This makes it much easier to find the tight knots and to snip them without nicking the fabric.


Removing all the threads reveals this incredible pattern. It still takes my breath away each time.

And now to get begin the next stage…

Embracing Transition

I love September. Some may think I’m crazy, but I gladly welcome the cooler and grayer days, earlier evenings, and the sudden sense of sharpness in the atmosphere. Among other things, it brings a renewed energy to the studio.


No matter what the season, it’s always a treat to watch the colors change and evolve, but late August through November is special. Lower in the sky now, the sun casts everything in a richer light. The garden is beginning to wind down and in a month or so, after a couple of weekends of fall clean-up, I will be able to plant my garlic and call it a season, leaving more time to concentrate on stitching and drawing.


Detail 1

I am continuing to explore this idea of transition in my current piece (what you see here are detail images from it that are about 12 x 15 inches each). I am incorporating layers of silk organza that have been hand-stitched and then dyed to create lines and swoops of pattern. As the pieces are laid over one another, interesting variations in color and depth are appearing and the passage from one section to the next is becoming the meat of the piece.


Detail 2

I am at the point of starting to puzzle out how I am going to push this idea further — how to create an interaction between the dyed patterns and the embroidery that will be laid on top.

Stay tuned.

Small in Size, Big in Value

Every July I go to our neighboring town’s library book sale, and even though I try not to go overboard, you can be sure I never come away empty-handed. This year I hit a minor jackpot and found two valuable books on sketching. I had never heard of Dale Meyers before snagging her book The Sketchbook, but with a bit of web research I have since learned that she was a well-respected teacher at the Art Students League of New York and had a solid reputation for her watercolor work. As one reviewer says about the book, its “a little dated (but) still rich in knowledge and technique”.


This and the other little thumbnails below measure about 2″ square…they’re tiny, but they pack a lot of information.

In the third chapter, The Sketchbook as a Manual, she talks about the importance of value study and how helpful it can be, before beginning a larger finished piece, to create a quick and tiny 3-value diagram that distills the subject into the simplest of geometric shapes.  By addressing not just the values, but also composition, one can solidify the basics of an image before committing too much time and paper to an idea that isn’t going to fly. There is also the added advantage that creating these little thumbnails regularly makes it easier to think in terms of value when working with color.


I like that this approach adds another layer of discovery that is one step beyond the simple viewfinder (written about in this post) I use to organize an image. Undertaken purely as practice, not solely as a preliminary to bigger work, it’s a way to effectively keep the wheels greased and efficiently gobble random waiting-time, wherever and whenever.


I have several softcover 3.5″ x 5.5″ Moleskine sketchbooks tucked into various pockets: in my purse, in my car, and even in the front of my life jacket for when kayaking. Yet they contain a lot of unfinished sketches because, due to the basic nature of trying to squeeze a quick drawing in between whatever else is going on while I’m out and about, I am invariably interrupted and need to move on before the drawing is complete. But, with Meyer’s speedy approach and 2 – 3 minutes at the most, I think just about any spare moment can become a learning opportunity.


Giving Intuition its Due

There are rules of ‘making’ that have been drilled firmly within our brains, often leaving us consumed and creatively tongue-tied by their prescribed boundaries. Yet I think it’s healthy to keep in mind, in an effort to access the core of what we ultimately want to say through our work, that selectively disregarding the paths laid out and trodden by those who have gone before, or even those who walk alongside of us, can lead to wonderful discoveries.


Boat Shed     © 2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                      It was busy in Maine last week, but there’s always time for a bit of sketching

In her “first person” essay in the Spring 2016 Surface Design JournalJuliet Martin discusses the Japanese philosophy of SAORIan ideology that “encourages freeform work — no patterns, no rules, (and perhaps most importantly) no mistakes”. Saori is a type of weaving devised by Misao Jo that ignores restrictions, giving voice to the expression of hidden personal creativity. Martin writes in greater depth about her experience with and exploration of Saori in her article  Unmistakable: How I Understand Saori Weaving on the Surface Design blog. Applying this mindset has had a fascinating affect on the way Martin approaches her work. I encourage you to read her post regardless of your medium, as I believe its core ideas swing open a door to greater creative possibilities across all disciplines.


Summer Grasses     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

At it’s heart, Saori celebrates working intuitionally and allows for the “happy accidents” that often elevate a piece beyond what might have been initially planned. As a way of working, it lends permission to set aside rules and to relax into one’s process, letting the actual act of making guide the way toward fortuitous discoveries. And I have to wonder, couldn’t all our work benefit from a little more of that?

If you are looking for a great art book to round out your August, check out McCloskey – Art and Illustrations of Robert McCloskeyEven if you didn’t grown up in Maine, I have to believe you are familiar with Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, or one of McCloskey’s many other books. And if not – grab a young friend and check them out from the library! His work is so iconic to me that, when we brought our daughter to Boston at the beginning of her college search, I made sure to find time to search out Nancy Schön’s bronze sculpture of McCloskey’s beloved Mallard family in the Boston Public Garden.


Lobster Boats     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

What I didn’t realize is that in addition to his fabulous illustrations which speak so strongly of Maine, McCloskey was also a wonderful painter who travelled widely, living and painting in Rome (he won the Prix de Rome during World War II), Greece, Mexico, and on the island of St. Thomas. The text, written by his daughter Jane (the baby in One Morning in Maine) is personal, not scholarly, and gives a comprehensive overview of McCloskey’s career while simultaneously sharing page after page of paintings and sketches that expose a depth of work that won’t disappoint.