The Last Thread: Sue Carrie Drummond’s Darning Stitch

August 30, 2017 by

There came a point where, when most people would see cloth, Sue Carrie Drummond saw scars. A fraying seam, a rip in a shirt were scratches on an outermost skin. The most loved, often held garments would be the ones riddled with snags, irreparably stretched and faded. 

First Sue Carrie would draw these marks in paper pulp and prints, wanting to render the subtle accumulation of life’s wear and tear. She turned to her own wardrobe to find the metaphorical marks they told of her life. After learning to puncture sheets of freshly pulled paper with water using the blowout papermaking technique, she could make these abrasions rather than record their residue. In WSW’s papermaking studio she continued to wear down sheets of cotton and abaca fibers for her artist’s book, A Darning Stitch.

Sue Carrie’s practice is tangled with the vernacular of textiles, using lace, tattered, and mending in conversations of handmade books or series of prints. Given her focus on the corporeal relationship between a figure and frock, this language often forgoes the creation of an object (a swatch or shirt), favoring when existing garments diminish and are resurrected—the craft of repair.

“I look for processes that take an exorbitant amount of time,” she says. “They’re painstaking and time-consuming because there’s an obsessive need to bring things together or piece together what has been broken.”

Darning, the process that inspired her Artist’s Book Residency Grant project, is a sewing technique to reweave threadbare areas of cloth. Using matching threads from the hem to strengthen a patch of fabric, the sewer suppresses a breaking point in which the surface will collapse. This held Sue Carrie’s attention, who adds, “You must be vigilant using this stitch. I read that as precautionary—almost as a self-help book. Mend from the inside out.”

A Darning Stitch, a two pamphlet stitch casebound book, collates sewing instructions between a narrative of a strained but ultimately rescued relationship. Sue Carrie wrote the text after listening to accounts of marriage from her mother and other women, then based the darning instructions on vintage craft manuals. Letterpress printed on handmade paper over screenprinted fabric imagery, these two voices run the entirety of the book.

From the blowout method, the paper bearing the narrative is ruptured to mimic unraveling cloth. Sue Carrie pulled multiple sheets of overbeaten cotton paper, placed them under protective plastic cut-outs, and hosed away the remaining pulp. Between these she layered translucent sheets of overbeaten abaca paper; the gaps are accentuated by the overlaid silkscreened images. On the other hand, the sewing directions are only printed on translucent abaca paper, allowing the diagrams respond directly to the underlying spreads. 

Underscored by what Sue Carrie calls the “almost clinical” tone of darning, the text articulates a deeply personal—but quasi-fictional—moment of reflection; the artist is interested in the broader experience epitomized carefully in the soliloquy. The running fabric imagery could be, she suggests, a dress or tablecloth, as she’s drawing attention to the nostalgia-driven impulse to keep and protect. With this book and her most recent work, Sue Carrie’s exploring exactly whose time and energy is spent mending. As a darn may quell, but not eradicate, existing fragility, she looks to whose sentimentality employs the stringent indifference of the repair process.

As this line of Sue Carrie’s practice, having started with her own clothes, becomes more general, it also finds itself gendered. There’s a long canon of historical associations with women and cloth–from Penelope at her loom to a dowry’s hope chest–and Sue Carrie’s finding, “There’s a sensitivity or gentleness coming out that will continue.”

Hundreds of sheets of handmade paper, giving tactile form to life’s gradual erosion, are folded and bound into an edition of 47 with 44 delicate pages. A reflection on safekeeping, both material and personal, A Darning Stitch is (as the artist points out) scaled similarly to a photo album. There’s a lightness found in the pages and a tender way to hold it–a keepsake in itself.

Head to our Newest Titles page to purchase your copy of A Darning Stitch!


Sue Carrie Drummond is Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. She was both a studio assistant in papermaking at Penland School of Crafts and the artist-in-residence at Minnesota Center for Book Arts during the summer of 2015. See more photographs from her residency on our Flickr!