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Jayne Blog 1: Blackwork Embroidery and Circuits

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To set off using making as a place and mechanism for thinking I started to stitch some blackwork embroidery patterns as they felt very relatable to early circuitry imagery and ideas of structure, repetition and digital materiality.

The first two images are my starting place and the third image is from Justin of a circuit print that he owns. There are clear similarities in aesthetic terms and also in linkages and clusters. Encouraged by Justin to just play and explore more I started to develop more samples and play around with shading – the shaded patterns suggestive of things like sound bars, for instance, and if stitched with conductive thread possibly a way to suggest how someone could touch the embroidery to increase or decrease volume or other outputs.

Tim Ingold’s work felt like something that needed to come into things here so I spent time reading – Ingold, T., 2016. Lines: a brief history. Routledge. His writing on threads and traces as two significant classes of lines became useful ways to think about firstly the thread I was stitching with, secondly the very ordered patterns of blackwork embroidery and then how this can be used as a lens onto data, the internet or connected IoT objects. Threads writes Ingold are strands or filaments that exist in space – they can entangle and connect but they aren’t drawn on surfaces. Traces conversely are enduring marks left in or on a solid surface – they can be additive i.e. drawn on, or reductive i.e. scratched into something. It seems to me that traces are perhaps more difficult to remove than a thread also.

In making the sequence of embroidery sample patters, some copied, others improvised the outcomes started to feel like physical metaphors for things that are on one side very orderly and on the other very chaotic.

There’s clearly something relevant here for what we see when we interact with the internet or IoT and all of the complexity that is behind the scenes. I was also thinking about how the thread itself is, unlike a printed line (a trace), never wholly on one side of the fabric or the other – it travels between the two to create the pattern – it is both part of the ordered image/pattern and also the chaos of the reverse of the fabric. I was working to get a good section of this made in the hope that it became something we could talk about, but more importantly talk through or think through on our days away at the Sill and Hadrian’s Wall.