May 29, 2013

In stitches

by Chris Vlahonasios

In today’s world when we think art we tend to think of painting, photography, film and music. However, we naively ignore one of the oldest, most skilled and dedicated art forms – the textile arts. It is a shame so few people learn and carry on these crafts; a celebration of colour, technique and talent. Fortunately, there are still some remarkable people who have preserved this tradition enabling the world to experience the beautiful complexity of their creations. Kyriaki Fuss is a student at the University of Adelaide studying Bachelor of Arts in History/Linguistics yet in her spare time as a hobby she sews and embroiders. Along with her talent she has a fascinating background.

Born in South Australia, she is the sixth generation of her family since her ancestors settled in 1846, just ten years after South Australia was proclaimed. Kyriaki has a rich cultural heritage of German, Cornish, Swedish and English ancestry. Raised an evangelical Protestant by her faithful family, Kyriaki converted to Orthodoxy at the age of 19 years and is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

I came to Orthodoxy through a combination of books, the internet, and some wonderful people I met as a result… [I was] looking for something deeper, and something that made more sense historically – I wanted a Christianity that had real historical ties to the early Church. Eventually I found Orthodoxy and the rest is history! I was baptised on Holy Saturday in 2008… [B]y God's grace I am living, learning and becoming more Orthodox and I hope a better person.

From a young age Kyriaki learnt knitting, sewing and embroidery from her grandmothers. This was her foundational base to the art. At the age of four her mother would teach her cross-stitching as they spent a lot of time on the road while her father gave scientific lectures at conferences across Australia.

She needed to keep me busy (and in theory quiet) although I learned to talk and stitch at the same time! I was good at it and kept it up, giving it up for a while in my teens because I couldn't find anything I liked sewing. [T]hen I discovered the patterns and charts online… and got back into it with a vengeance when I was 18. I can knit, but I can't crochet - I want to learn how, but somehow it just never happens in between my other hobbies.

Since then Kyriaki has expanded her skill-base into many different types of embroidery. Kyriaki is also a talented dressmaker creating a variety of different styles and fashions. From skirts to dresses she constantly challenges herself with ambitious projects creating styles not found in stores.

I get to do fun things like make a skirt out of fabric covered in sprinkles - it looks like a cupcake! I've made a few costumes, mostly medieval or period stuff, quilts, bags…Most of what I embroider is for display as framed art on a wall.

The creative and working processes are both complex and time consuming. With the knowledge and wisdom given to her by her grandmothers and mother Kyriaki has developed her own way of creating her own works of art.

The process begins with the idea. I take that design and gather my materials, often making substitutions or alterations from the original design although not always. There is usually something in each piece that is "me" and no-one else's. I gather my threads into a plastic zip-lock bag which will sit beside me on the couch where I stitch – or get thrown in my workbag when I take my embroidery somewhere else – along with a highlighter for marking my chart (pattern) so that I can mark off the work I have done and a pair of embroidery scissors. If the piece has beadwork on it then I collect the beads together in the same bag along with special nylon thread that I use to attach them.

I print off or photocopy my working copy of the pattern and put the first page I'm going to use onto the magnetic board attached to my stitching frame's stand, put the fabric on my frame and into the stand and start work! I also often have to cut the fabric to the right size for my work, always 4 inches more in each side than the design's size, so that there is plenty of room for the framer.

As I stitch I usually work a single area at a time, although sometimes that area will become tedious so I will start on another section that is very close by but different colour or stitch so that I break things up and don't get sick of it. When I finish an area I move my frame and start the new one, and eventually it gets finished. It takes a very, very long time to get much of anything done - to stitch a single word in cross stitch can take me half an hour to an hour depending on how complex the lettering is. It's worth it!

When I'm finished, I wash the piece very carefully and then let it dry on a flat surface, and then take it to my framer and we discuss mounts and frames. Then a few weeks later I get it back, and that's when I consider it properly finished.

Mostly I work in cross stitch, but on a very fine scale - most cross stitch kits are on 14-18 count aida (a fabric woven into squares) whereas I work on 32 count and up to 50 count linen which is an evenweave fabric. Fifty count means 50 threads to the inch in any direction. The threads are so tiny that I can only stitch under a good light bulb or sunlight!

With many years experience, Kyriaki has developed her own style and approach to her work, which showcases art of both religious and secular subject matter. Even from a young age she has always been inspired to do religious images and patterns. Some of her most recent projects include a work of Psalms 22 (23) – The Lord is my Shepherd – and Psalm 99 (100) – Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Currently, she is working on an icon of St Nicholas in petit point (very tiny stitches) and the Lenten prayer of St Ephraim. However, Kyriaki tends to take on more than time allows but this only helps fuel her enthusiasm.

The piece I'm working on the most at the moment is sort of abstract floral and geometrics, with different embroidery stitches from all around the world…I also have a piece which is based around things in Greece with four photo-realistic scenes from different parts of the country.

Given the nature of Kyriaki’s work and life journey so far one wonders how her Faith is incorporated into her work and how she expresses her Orthodoxy.

I make beautiful things to reflect the beauty of the world God has given us, and to use the talents He gave to me. I try to make my work the best I can and give glory to Him, and sometimes the work I do is obviously religious in nature as well, like the piece with the Psalms or my icon.

However, such beautiful work is not easily done nor is it a quick process. Some pieces take many months, sometimes years, to create depending on technique and size. It involves many long hours and days for Kyriaki who can only work on some pieces in the right lighting conditions, especially to avoid making mistakes. It takes great patience and a lot of concentration. Then, when a mistake is made, despite spending hours on a section, Kyriaki will have to carefully undo all that work. Yet, although this art form may discourage many, Kyriaki obtains a sense of satisfaction that is beyond the tiredness and aching pains.

Seeing a picture or design come together under my hands is almost like a kind of magic. In petit point especially, you sit there working on a very small area and lots of colours, and put in colour after colour and you only see the very small space for a long time - hours and hours. Then when you get up from your work suddenly that 2cm square block becomes an eye or a foot or a flower and it just pops out at you. It's wonderful! It's also very soothing and restful for my mind.

Although Kyriaki does sometimes accept commissions, she rarely does so. Due to the high detail and slow pace she has to work it takes a long time to complete a piece, depending on size.

Most people don't realise how long it will take for me to make the thing they want. As well as this, it's very hard to ask a fair price for the hours it takes - most people wouldn't pay thousands of dollars in a hurry, but that's what some of my work is worth even if I just charged minimum wage. [But] I love what I do, and I hope to keep doing it and increasing my skill. If I can sell some pieces occasionally that will be nice too, but if it can simply ornament the houses of myself, my friends and my family then that will make me happy too.

It cannot be denied this art form can be an excruciatingly and painfully slow process. Yet, people like Kyriaki Fuss are wonderful examples of how one can take on a challenge and learn to excel at it. Having mastered this skill Kyriaki has the ability to express both herself and glorify God through beautiful threads and complex designs so they can be admired by the world. May we be inspired by her work.


Gallery of Kyriaki’s works

St Nicholas icon
This is an icon of St Nicholas that's a work in progress. It’s petit point on the same scale as A Restful Night, just much bigger in total size. The shading is insane but so worth it.











A Restful Night
This is one of the first pieces with real detail that I finished back in 2009. It took me about a year and a half, and it's only about 15cm wide and 20cm long. It's in petit point, with 32 stitches in each direction to every inch. Tiny, and about 120 colours if I remember right.













Peaceful Paradise
This is the opposite in size! I think it's at least a metre wide. It's huge. It took me about two and a half years, I remember trying very hard to get it done in the dying week of 2009 so that I didn't have to change the date of when it was stitched (which is part of the piece) again (already done in 2007 and 2008) but I failed and eventually finished it on the 5th of 6th of January 2010. I duly fixed the date! The threads used in this are all hand dyed which gives it a beautiful rustic feel, as well as a lot of variation in colour. One of the nice things about it was that I could choose which section of the thread (as it was dyed different colours in different sections) to create certain effects, like the graded colours in the fire flowers in the bottom section. I probably spent TOO much time doing that bit...but it mattered to me at the time!

Around the World (work-in-progress)
This is the abstract floral with embroidery stitches from all around the world with embroidery stitches from the UK, Scandanavia, Russia, the Ukraine, Romania and Hungary. There is some cross stitch here, and the dark green borders of the sections are cross stitch, but most of what's used are much less commonly used, and most of them I hadn't used before or hadn't used in the variations found in this piece. I'm learning a lot and having a lot of fun. The colours are my own choices and I'm happy with the paster Easter-egg sorts of colours that I chose. It makes it very spring-like. Eventually it will be symmetrical, with the same geometric shapes reflected across the design, but different types of embroidery stitches within those shapes.


The OFA blog thanks Kyriaki Fuss for kindly giving up her time for this interview. OFA wishes her every success in her artistic endeavours.

You can drop a line at Kyriaki Fuss’ FB page

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