The intentional thread: A guide to drawing, gesture and color in stitch

Brandeis, Susan
The intentional thread: A guide to drawing, gesture and color in stitch.

Atglen, PA, Schiffer Publishing, 2019
ISBN: 978 0 7643 5743 5
224 pages

Susan Brandeis is a Distinguished Professor Emerita and a member of an academy of outstanding teachers. As well as being a studio artist, she holds graduate degrees in both art education and textile art. So, as a writer, is she a good communicator? Does she enthuse her readers to push their personal boundaries? I am pretty sure I’ve not reviewed a book for AEG before, written by such a distinguished academic! How does her book stack up?

This is definitely not a project book but I do think it could inspire projects for anyone willing, and with the time, to truly explore the concepts and suggestions the author makes to stretch embroidery skills and grow confidence. The book is divided into two main sections. The first is entitled The Elements of Line. That sounds a bit scary but as I perused the chapters, found it not so daunting after all – some of the chapter titles are ‘Line Weight’, Line Direction’, ‘Large Scale Gestures’. This is just to give you an idea that elements of line is not an overwhelming subject but one which can be broken down into bite sized, useful pieces.

Part 2 is sub titled ‘Shapes and Spaces: Fills and Shading’. Here Susan gives easily digestible ideas about colour, followed by four chapters on ‘fills’ – transparent, opaque, shaded and textured. The book ends with a useful glossary but what I think is really useful, are the three appendices between that and the end of Part 2. In fact, having avidly perused this book, I would recommend reading those appendices first. They all start with ‘Getting Started’. The first is Getting Started: a guide to stitching. It’s a stitch dictionary for both left- and right-handed stitchers. The second is Getting Started: help from samplers and the third is Getting Started: matching expression and technique. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole book, you can learn an awful lot from these three appendices, which, if you put the suggestions into practise will greatly enhance your abilities to both design and stitch. By the way, there is no counted thread embroidery here but you will encounter much surface stitchery, both hand and machine.

To sum up, I think this is a brilliant book. The writing style is clear. There are so many easily followed instructions and inspirational ideas, accompanied with copious and beautiful photographs (mostly taken by the author’s husband) of examples which, if you practise them will absolutely enrich your embroidery and textile art. Every so often, throughout the book, is a page or more, headlined ‘Try This’. One example of these encourages the reader to abstract their own writing, to research and experiment with ancient scripts, to create a contemporary sampler after examining a traditional one. And that’s just one example of many. Be aware though, that this is abstract rather than realistic art. At $68 from Book Depository, it’s not a cheap volume. At the time I write this review, the book is not available to buy in New Zealand. However, you can borrow it from Auckland Libraries. I also suggest you look up Susan online where there are examples of her textile art which you can admire – or not, depending on whether her style appeals to you. It definitely appeals to me.

Erica Marsden