The Moon itself being finished was a big milestone for this project, but it is too isolated against the blue silk as it stands. Some fluffy clouds would add interest and contrast – and depth. With clouds in front the moon would recede to the middle distance and the raised edge of the Grecian twist wouldn’t appear quite so stark.
There are many different types of clouds, but for this stylized piece cumulus clouds were the way to go. I was lucky enough to see the moon rising through some perfect clouds at sunset a couple weeks ago, although the light didn’t last long enough to get a picture.
From the beginning I planned on using a related craft, needlefelting, to create the clouds. Needlefelting allows one to sculpt figures out of wool roving by using a special barbed needle. The barbs catch on the loose fibers and draw them down into the mass of wool a few at a time, so it is much easier to control than wet felting. It’s usually done very firmly, but for soft fluffy clouds, I wanted a looser approach. Too loose and they would fall apart and shed terribly, so a careful balance would be necessary.
The clouds would also play a large part in helping to define the style and mood of this piece. I gravitate very heavily to representational art, and with this piece especially I’ve been trying for a far more stylized approach than my usual ‘as accurate as possible’ one. For someone who literally makes things up out of whole cloth, one would think it should come as easily in the figurative sense!
I’ve mentioned the sweeping, defined lines of Kay Nielsen before, and I wanted to carry the same sort of storybook illustration feel through the clouds. Realistic ones wouldn’t be nearly as colorful (or as defined) but such strong colors in the background called for a bit more than whites and greys. I got out my hand carders as well as a few colors of wool and mixed up a palette of shades from a soft, warm pink to a medium-light blue. Although it seemed fairly bright while I was preparing it, against such a saturated background it looked almost steely. With each color I carded I added a generous pinch of a sparkly metallic. Even with a bit of sparkle, the clouds were still a stark contrast to the gleam of the Moon.
In order to bring more harmony to the Moon and the clouds, one of them would have to adopt something from the other – and at this stage, the Rabbit would not be changing. Fortunately, there were plenty of beads left over; not only the pearly white ones that feature so strongly in the silk ribbon areas but several other sizes and colors as well. Both the frosted and clear glass beads had gleams of iridescence that tied things together nicely. I had high hopes for the little silver ones, but they came off too strong nestled in the wool. None of the smaller crystal beads worked either; although I had planned for drifts of tiny beads both light and dark along the edges they looked overworked. If there was to be silver elsewhere in this composition, it couldn’t be in the clouds.
Unlike the silk ribbon areas where tiny beads and chips clustered abundantly, the clouds needed a far lighter approach. Each grouping could only contain a few beads, and because they were much larger, they had to be carefully selected. To anchor the largest clusters I used some lovely rock crystal beads – their matte luster and crackled interior added just the right amount of interest. The pearly white beads and rainbow glass beads grew out from there. Several times I had to dial it back before the clouds were overwhelmed.
When I found the quartz beads, I also picked up a string of tiny silver stars. I was afraid they might be a bit thick to stand isolated on the painted silk (the sudden height of beads being the main reason I rarely use them in embroidery) but with the much taller moon and clouds they fit better than expected. Being silver, they helped to draw the color of the moon out from its severely delineated circle, too. Deciding on where to include them was much harder than deciding to include them, however.
I tried scattering them over the surface from a height – they bounced off the clouds and puddled together awkwardly. I tried to scatter them evenly over the surface - no better. I tried looking up where the stars would be relative to the moon on certain nights and no matter where or when or what the cutoff for including certain stars was, it looked unbalanced. It took several days of muttering, tinkering, and research to find a layout that I was happy with. Once again I was thinking far too literally.
Once again I turned to my books – and found my answer in ‘The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain’. After several adventures the gallant soldier rescued the three princesses, only to be trapped by his companions in their former prison. It’s a familiar tale with several variations. When a mysterious key leads to a rusty whistle, help arrives on feathery wings – and the illustration accompanying it shows the flock wheeling against a river of stars.
The idea of arranging the stars in an intentional manner (and not just ‘intentionally random’) was one I hadn’t considered. However, it fit beautifully with the structure of the design. I scattered stars and sequins in a rough line and cut even more tiny chips to add depth and feather the edges of the sweeping line. I had to break this part of the chipwork into several stages; the combination of tiny silver chips against the deep blues produced a strange visual effect if I concentrated too hard for too long. Whenever the background appeared to recede and the stars began to float unanchored over it, it was time to take a break.
With a final scattering of crystals, the Moon Rabbit was complete. Though this inconstant Moon has gone through monthly (indeed sometimes nearly daily) changes in her circled orb, I think in many ways she has been improved by them. I hope to use several of the techniques pioneered in this piece in further work – and maybe one day a companion piece in the same style. This has been my biggest project to date in a number of ways, and I’m glad for the chance to develop a bit artistically. Most of my work falls into the ‘craftsman’ category in my mind – a good and necessary thing – but I do wish I could justify more of this sort of work as well. As much as I am honored to have this piece exhibited in the San Francisco School of Needlework, I am very much looking forward to getting it back and hanging it here in the studio.