Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Needle Pulling Thread.

Embroidered works by J Carpenter.

Tasty coffee is a pleasure I find hard to top. However, at a recent visit to Dames, the bestest little coffee and espresso bar in Hoboken, I found the art on the walls raising my enjoyment levels to above normal great coffee standards. Around the shop were small, rectangular, canvases featuring silhouettes of female bodies laying, standing, or floating on white backgrounds. From the view on the line to place my order, the pieces looked like drawings rendered in skinny black lines that filled the silhouettes with lace-like patterns or short, scratchy looking scrawls. But, upon closer inspection (with tasty coffee in hand) the canvases were actually pierced and sewn through with thread. The lines were in fact black thread stitches, either in pretty, lacy, flower patterns, or in choppy dashes. I looked close and could see the thread darting in and out of tiny holes in the canvas, surfacing and sinking, coming from under to go over. Something about embroidery is so romantic to me. I think it's the handiwork aspect, knowing that someone invested the time to "draw" something delicate with a tiny needle and a single string of thread. And in this case, that delicate something was one of art's best subjects: the female form. I snapped a couple of photos (above) and asked the barista for contact information. A few emails later I found myself in the live/work space of Jersey City artist J Carpenter.

Artist J Carpenter (note her beautiful 6-string tattoo).

It turns out that J's needle and thread skills are in her blood. Her family emigrated from Sicily and includes a line of seamstresses. J's Grandmother made her living stitching and sewing, and J's fascination with the delicate art of embroidery began there. Eventually tired of simply painting on her canvases, J took a needle to one of her finished pieces and strung it through with thread. From there her work evolved into the silhouettes that I saw on the walls at Dames. The women she stitches are based on photos of the females in her life, including herself. Her mother also makes appearances in her work, showing up as a stitched figure performing household duties, once upon a time known as "women's work": dusting, doing dishes, vaccuuming. The lace pattern filling the sihlouettes is based on a blown-up section of one of her Grandma's old headscarves. The peices are gorgeous little odes to the females in her life. Their focus on the craft of embroidery appeals to my appreciation for fabrication. Her other work appeals to the writer in me.

She Slept, 2007.

Emily Dickinson's poetic take on eternity was J's inspiration for the equally poetic piece above. Repeated in hand stitching, the lines "I went to thank her,/ but she slept" slowly drain like blood across six frames-- from a mess of overlaid repetition, to one single pair of mourning words.

We Must, 2008.

We Must is a white wedding day parasole stitched through again and again with the phrase "we must." It is a protective imperative spelled out over and over. The outside of the umbrella is a messy mess of undersided embroidery. Jagged lines, all choppy and kind of like chaos theory water drops dripping down the sides. J is currently teaching herself to tat lace. She plans on fabricating objects out of her finished product, rendering practical items useless but pretty. Very pretty, in fact, just like the rest of her work.

If you are interested in learning more about J's work, or want to inquire about details and/or price information email

Photos courtesy of the artist.

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