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Completed 1st Full Embroidered Portrait

There's truly nothing better than making concrete an idea in your mind. It seems quintessentially human, but what do I know --maybe other animals do it too? 

In any case, I'm sincerely satisfied with the outcome of this piece. Below is an illustration of the process with mostly pictures. Read the captions for tid bits from me.

Feeling out lines and areas...
Here you can see that I divided the canvas into 24 squares. The idea was to give myself some pacing structure: complete 3 per week & finish in 8 weeks. (But that's not really how it went down!). The other thing you'll see here is my reference image. I made it black and white so I'd only think about value, rather than color. That way I'd feel freer to select any color that called me.
Now I've done a lot of the face and am feeling daunted by the idea of matching the other eye, since I've forgotten quite how I did the first one! 
Here goes...!
It works out! They're as aysemmetrical as eyes are. I felt like I was tenderly coaxing my Mama onto the canvas in a weird, familiar way. Note the lines defining her chin & neck --I really like these. They're sort of gestural in the sense that they are so minimal & simple, but they say a lot about a person's years on the planet.
I'm dismayed by some of the things happening in the newly filled cheek: I don't like the rusty colored sideways "Y" and I have no idea how to fix it. In fact, I feel at this point that the whole thing lacks cohesion, and I spend a lot of time asking my mind how to make adjustments... What I do like, though, is that I've captured my mother's proud and dignified way in the world. Hanging on to what I DO like while also wondering about how to change the things I don't like together occupy most of the available space in my brain. Oddly, the idea that comes to mind, like internal knowledge or something, is to cut up my mom's old sweater - the one Lucia knitted for her when I was a little kid, and somehow integrate it into the piece. It feels like it will take courage...
But I did it! Amazingly, mom was able to locate it right away, and - since, like a true Buddhist, she has no attachments, so she willingly (happily, even) donated it to my project. Lucia was the mother of my dear childhood friend Paz. They moved back to Spain, their homecountry, when Paz and I were maybe 8 years old, and we lost touch. But every christmas, ALL these years, I have always put out the stocking Lucia knitted for me, with my name diagonally stitched on its face, and my mom has worn this sweater-blouse so often, it sort of represents her in my mind. It's what she's wearing whenever I think of her. I LOVE that I thought of immortalizing it this way. It doesn't fix the lack of cohesion in the face, but it boosts my morale, and I know I will find a way to fix that part later...
But somehow I have to make mom be wearing it! I try a bunch of different strategies to put it on her, so to speak...
I got the solution: somehow, adding the contrasting color & texture of the blue sweater underneath gave me a way to anchor the gray one on top. I start thinking about stuffing the sleeves to get a more 3D effect. A little seed is planted at this point --something for a future body of work. Something actually sculptural and fabric and portrait-like. We'll see if anything comes of that later...
Here I am fixing the face...I figured out how to do it: use the same "couching" strategy I used in the little, round embroidery (see the 1st blog post above). This requires a deep breath, and then just putting my head down & jumping in. The decisions I have to make are about color: which color will push this part back and pull that one forward? Do I want to set this part away from the others visually, make it brighter? Or do I want to blend it in, and make it softer? Do I need to warm up this spot? Or cool it down? But once a decision is taken, it lasts for a while --long enough to listen to a whole podcast. I made about 500 such decisions at this point, and so finished all the podasts on offer!   
Here's the process up close...
And here you can see the difference between the areas where I added layers of tick marks and the areas where I hadn't yet.
Adding background detail (our woven deck chair)
The hair needs beefing up...
But first, Mom poses next to the piece in traditional Ethiopian clothes. 
Then I add about 10 trillion strands made from yak hair yarn! But the process is fluid and meditative. I enjoy it. (Why yak hair, you ask? It wasn't important that it was yak hair; rather, it was the texture that was important, so I chose the yarn that was shiniest and stiffest among those that I had on hand. They behaved better than the soft ones, holding the curls better). You can see here that I added some blue wool threads to create some of the shadow I saw in the reference image --darker blue near the ear and neck, lighter blue in areas at the top and side. 
This detail shows the hairy fibers!
Close up of one eye...
And boom! It's done and hanging in an exhibition called Deeply Rooted at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago! What a thrill!
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