Tuesday 28 February 2017

My Pillowcase for Susan Aldworth's The Dark Self Exhibition

My pillowcase

Artist, Susan Aldworth, is putting on an exhibition about sleep at York St Mary's from June to September 2017 called The Dark Self.  One of the artworks will be an installation of embroidered pillowcases hung from the church ceiling.  These pillowcases will be embroidered by local people, community groups and schools in York and across the country to express to the world what sleep or dreams mean to them.  

The materials

A pillowcase and embroidery threads in dark blue, light blue and gold are provided to those who wish to take part. (In York you can get your pillowcase from the Lotte Inch Gallery.) The work has to be portrait in orientation with the pillowcase opening at the bottom and stitching in the colours of blues and gold, only on one side.  Otherwise you have free rein to do whatever design you like.  Every pillowcase has a number so your work can be identified.  Mine was no. 24.

My number

Here's how mine emerged.  First I wrote a haiku that describes how my dreams seem when I wake up:

A vivid dreamscape,
Remembered for a minute,
And then forgotten.

(Haikus are a form of traditional Japanese poetry that typically have 3 lines with the first and third line having 5 syllables and the second, having 7.) 

Original blurry pictures

Next, I wanted to find some imagery which suggested that dream vividness which disappears when you wake, leaving only a blurry memory, soon forgotten.  This I found from an unusual set of circumstances. It goes like this... after my Dad died, my Mum gave my daughter all his camera equipment.  One camera still had a film in and after much struggling we took it out and had it developed.  Whether it was the struggle to get the film out or the length of time the film had been in the camera, I don't know, but all the images were indistinct (see above)
Blurry blue image of original above

and you couldn't really tell what they were.  The above picture is of me but I don't know when or where it was taken.  They were slides too so it was even more difficult to see what they were.  They have been lying around in an envelope for years.  Anyway, this Christmas, I was given a slide scanner so for the first time was able to look at them properly and download the images to my computer.  I choose some that related to me, edited them and added some effects to emphasise their blurry nature and made them blue to fit in with the colour scheme.  This gave me the basis for my design:

Design on paper

Rather than hand stitch the text onto the pillowcase I decided I would machine embroider it.  So I matched the embroidery threads I had with machine threads,

Embroidery thread and machine thread

took my pillowcase apart and to one side ironed on some lightweight vilene to stabilise it ready for machine stitching.

Images ironed onto pillowcase

Next, I printed out the images onto Lesley Riley's Transfer Artist Paper which I got from Art Van Go and ironed the images onto my pillowcase.  (Note: this TAP paper has a shelf life, so my advice is only buy it when you need it!  Also you would normally reverse the images but I didn't because it didn't really matter for this purpose.)

Design with text on dissolvable fabric pinned in position.

Next I traced my text onto disolvable fabric and pinned it into position on my pillowcase and began sewing.  I started with a dark blue.  Everytime I came to an image I changed to gold and the second time I stitched the haiku I changed to the lighter blue thread.

Stitching in progress

Once finished, I ripped off as much of the dissolvable fabric as I could and soaked my pillowcase in water to get rid of the rest.  I had used a Sharpie for the text and it was still visible in parts so I put the pillowcase in the washing machine to more thoroughly get rid of the dissolvable fabric.  That did the trick although in future I won't use a Sharpie.  Once dry, I machine stitched the pillowcase back together again.  All complete - now I just have to deliver it!

You have until the end of March to complete a pillowcase, so if you want to join in, there's still time.  You don't have to do anything complicated and it can be hand stitched.  Why not have a go!


  1. I would love to join but Amsterdam is too far away I suppose!
    Your pillowcase is great, I think.

    1. Thank you - I can't wait to see them all in place. I'll blog about it so you can see them too!