Small pieces

Each of my embroideries is enclosed in a box made by assembling vintage objects from everyday life, which help explain the message I want to convey. The embroidery is the soul, enclosed, intimate, protected, introverted. The box is the mind, walking in the world, looking outward, exchanging with each other, exuberant joy.

Mostruosità dell’eccesso – September 2021

On a strip of cotton, cut from a sheet from an old trousseau, I embroidered part of a dialogue from a short story by Borges entitled Funes the Memorious. Borges is a writer I adore; I mirror myself a lot in his twisted mania.

In the story Funes tells of discovering an original numbering system using words instead of numbers; on the strip I embroidered some of his words. The last one, “feel me”, is embroidered instead on a very light, almost transparent cotton cutout in which I wrapped a series of objects representing his disconnected and punctilious mind at the same time (control/not control).

I imagined, as I collected them, the “pathology of memory” through which Funes would view them.

The envelope is contained in a wrapping paper envelope with which I received spools from England. The envelope also has everything on it: a flat tin can, part of a wooden merry-go-round, a doily, a box of matches, gears from an old clock, proofs of oil paints on tracing paper, some drawings of my own, a rusty scraper, clippings from a tuxedo shirt, old black-and-white photographs depicting ordinary scenes, and a paper envelope containing a document from 1880, dealing with the cession of a burial niche in the San Giorgio a Cremano Municipal Cemetery.

Invece di aspettare che qualcuno ti porti fiori – March 2021

Linen handkerchief, about 20 by 21 cm. A large colorful flower surrounded by rays of white light, symbolizing the energy by which it is permeated.

I tried to convey the concept of fragrance, opulence, flower becoming fruit; to contain it I used a little box that is very dear to me, brought to me by my mother on her return from a trip to China.

The bottom recess of the box is filled with colorful wire cutouts. On the top of the lid I glued an old wooden juicer, a metal decoration, a silver pendant, glass beads, the teeth of a wooden brush, and an old filter from a sink.

On the box is a cage of silver-plated copper wire and a pen drawing of mine on tissue paper, depicting a series of insects, animals that in the collective imagination tend to escape the control of man, by whom they are persecuted, and that are becoming increasingly rare.

Saffron – Marzo 2021

This was the first embroidery for which I took courage and I finally used threads of a stronger color than all the previous ones. The fabric is a scrap of the ancient shroud of which I have often spoken; I left the side edges frayed, while for the upper one, which I then wrapped on a wooden branch, I used a machine stitch or double stitch.

I took inspiration for the design from an engraving found on a herbarium dating back to 1540, the Herbarum, Arborum, Fructium, Frumentorum, by German Christian Egenolff. I love ancient herbals, mainly those of that era, and I have a collection, obviously digital, which I often draw on.

The case is a simple cardboard box, on which I made a collage with some of my drawings, a photograph taken about twenty years ago with my Vigtlander Vito B, a mirror card, a cut-out of a colored paper lantern made by the children of a Waldorf school, and a metal plate belonging to an old elevator.

Inside, the little box is lined with yellowish tissue paper, and on the bottom are some saffron pistils from the biodynamic cultivation of a friend who has a farm in Umbria. On the underside of the lid is another clipping of the above photo, the title of the work written in crayon, a clipping of an illustration taken, if I remember correctly, from the wrapping of a package of organic eggs, and the label of an old cotton spool.

The embroidery, representing a saffron plant with its bulb, is wrapped around a sprig and stuck diagonally halfway up the box. My intention here was to depict the set of memories I associate with the scent and flavor of saffron; some pleasant, some uncomfortable. The two seemingly contrasting sensations are linked by a sense of slowness, boredom, and impatience that has been a part of my life before I came of age.

This small work is no longer available for sale and belongs to a private collection.

Giochi ogni giorno – February 2021

These little imaginary flowers are embroidered on the cuff of an old cotton shirt. I used, given the size, a single thread, gold/bronze color for the flowers, and orange for the signature. The cuff has two buttonholes, one in the middle and one on one side.

On the bottom edge I sewed one by one (i.e. not connected to each other) a series of safety pins of various sizes. When the embroidery is lifted it sends back a faint metal noise, almost musical, vaguely reminiscent of wind or flowing water.

The box I used is an old case for Chinese brushes.  On the lid I glued a piece of wood from a trunk of an arbutus tree from northern Sardinia; the box is then fixed on two square wooden strips that I used years ago to raise the canvases on which I painted in oil, compared to the base of the easel.

Between the smudges of color I wrote with an ink fountain pen the first lines of a poem by Neruda, which I studied when, almost 18 years old, I began a theater course that then followed for a couple of years.

On the sides of the box there are two rusty old boxes of candies that I think I bought during a trip to Miami; one is filled with seeds of melliferous flowers that particularly attract pollinating insects, including bees. The other is filled with juniper, coriander and allspice seeds. To open the box, click on the center of the lid and to close it, squeeze the sides with two fingers.

In the space between the little box and the wooden laths, I attached a hemp string that stretches out on all four sides. At the ends I stuck four old rubber dropper pumps, which I found in a glassworks in San Lorenzo located in an old pasta factory, which struck me so much both for the decadent beauty of the place and because it was full of incredible craftsmen, including glass blowers and molders.

Inside, the lid has a red pad on which I glued an old purse mirror. The embroidery is lying on a cutout of that beautiful shroud I’ve often told about, and under the cutout are some dried leaves and three Chinese coins with a hole in the middle.

I miei sogni sono come la vostra veglia – February 2021

The base of this small work is the cut-out of a rather elaborate tuxedo bib shirt front. On the bottom edge I applied 13 droppers of different sizes, from the tip of which peeps out a small green glass bead, like a drop about to fall.

Moving the embroidery, the droppers send out a gentle, crystalline sound, like water. On the shot I stitched a cut-out of a very light, almost transparent fabric, on which I embroidered a sentence from Borges’ short story, “Funes, the Memorious“, to which two other works, “Il Memorioso” and “La mostruosità dell’eccesso” are dedicated: “Allora vidi il volto di quella voce che aveva parlato tutta la notte. Ireneo aveva diciannove anni, era nato nel 1868.” (“Then I saw the face of that voice that had been speaking all night. Irenaeus was nineteen years old, he had been born in 1868″).

Lifting this flap, one can see another small cutout, taken from the shroud of which I have often spoken, on which is embroidered a passion flower, mentioned in the incipit of the story. On the back of the work I embroidered signature and date.

The embroidery lies in a small tin box covered with tissue paper. On the lower part of the lid is glued a piece of fabric to which I sewed a rusty iron wire to symbolize the twisted mental paths of Funes. The lid is covered with a cutout of an old drawing of mine on tissue paper, made with ballpoint pen and colored chalk, representing the tip of a wing. Over the drawing are glued two silk threads of different thickness, in two shades of blue.

The bottom of the box is lined with a neat array of dried chickpeas, expressing the almost autistic maniacality of my beloved Funes.

Il memorioso – February 2021

For this piece I used the border of a vintage bed sheet; I believe it is a somewhat thick and slightly rough cotton fabric. On this strip of fabric I embroidered a phrase from one of Borges’ stories that I love the most: “Funes the memorious”. I used an orange ground for the phrase and a magenta for the signature and date.

On the bottom I sewed a series of buttons and mother-of-pearl buttons, all very different from each other; given the material, some on the back have wonderful iridescent colors, and coming from the drawers of old ladies still retain an unmistakable antique scent.

On the two ends of the strip I sewed two very small snaps, so you can, if you want, fasten the strip of fabric to your wrist or to the support you prefer.

The little burgundy cardboard box is a legacy of my husband’s grandmother, and from the writing on the inside I think it comes from a town in the United States that is part of Bristol County, Massachusetts, also known for being the jewelry artisan capital of the world. On the bottom I placed a rectangle of fabric cut from an antique shroud.

This piece can be washed in the washing machine as it is; I usually wash them all with whites at 40 degrees, obviously with ecological detergent and without fabric softener, and then I dry them in the sun; it’s better not to leave it exposed to the light for too many hours in summer otherwise the color of the thread might fade a bit.

Nel fosso – Settembre 2020

The third embroidery from the archipelago series differs slightly from the other two by the addition of a third thread, a dark earth, to the green and white, and the signature in red. The fabric is also very different from the first two: it is a real dishcloth, an imprecise cut-out (the long sides measure one 65 cm and the other 66, and the short sides one 29 and the other 30 cm) of a rather coarse cotton fabric.

Unlike Sottocosta, which depicts a calm and idle view, such as that of a sailboat moored at a short distance from land, and Naufragare, with which I wanted to convey the ingenuity, research and collection of resources when faced with an emergency situation, with this box I wanted to express the feeling that I have often felt during ferry crossings, when curious cast my eyes in the engine room, which in the jargon is called the ditch.

The case is a bit rusty cylindrical metal box . On the bottom I glued the blade of a circular saw that I found in the garden of a house in Sant’Oreste, a town in Lazio, near Mount Soratte. The box is covered with some photos taken many years ago on the Naples-Ischia ferry, which I sometimes took with my father, and is therefore tied to very strong memories.

On the photos is wrapped a wire mesh under which I put some dried seaweed on one side, on the other a rubber seal that recalls the life preservers placed here and there on these ships, and that as a child always transmitted a certain fear.

On the upper side of the lid I glued a metal bracelet in which I stuck the drain of a kitchen sink. On the inside I glued a glass jar full of salt water with whole sea salt, full of the kind of sea stones that have little attraction when dry, but become very beautiful when wet.

On the bottom of the box I recreated what I imagined could be the contents of a metal drawer in the engine room of a (Neapolitan) ferry: bolts, nails, metal gaskets and an old rusty key, an almost empty tube of glue, sea salt and a glass bottle that once contained tiger balm, filled with mineral engine grease. Opening it spreads that typical smell that in the engine room is mixed with the scent of iron and the stench of naphtha.

Naufragare – August 2020

This work is part of a series of three embroideries, which I have brought together under the name “Taking Control, Losing Control”. They are the only three works (so far) embroidered on fabrics that I have previously dyed, in this case with plant iron granules. I described the process in this blog post.

The three embroideries are made on three extremely different fabrics; for this “archipelago” in particular I used a very thin cotton cutout, washed and pierced in various points, measuring 45 centimeters high by 52 wide. I often took it with me during a period in which I went swimming both at the sea and at the lake; I like to think that the energies expressed by nature at that moment remain entangled among the threads.

The case is a true meeting of instinct and reason. I started from a small wooden box that originally contained the sticks of the game of shangai, which was then unwrapped and used as a pencil holder for school. The top of the lid is a blue-green, the bottom, which you can’t see because the lid slides horizontally but can’t be removed, is a magenta-red.

On the lid of the box I screwed a tangle of wire that I found years ago during a walk in Veio Park. Someone had fenced off a field with the wire and then left the remainder to rust hanging from a stake. I was intrigued by the anthropic aspect it had and the tactile experience it gave back, so I adopted it. On the end of the lid I glued a strip of cloth cut from the cuff of a tuxedo shirt, to make it easier to slide.

On the sides of the box I placed four glass test tubes, left over from the handmade favors for my first wedding. One is filled with porcupine quills found in a forest, another with whole sea salt (I have a bit of a sea salt fixation), the third with used or rusty nails and tacks, and the last with seeds from a certain type of antique tomato, scorzonera, spaghetti squash, and cucumber.

On the left side I glued a piece of wood brought from the sea, and on the right a strip cut from an old photograph of mine, taken with my Voigtlander, which depicts the gangway of a ferry to Ischia. On the two sides of the photo strip I fixed two old coins: one is a Yugoslavian dinar of 1968 (my year of birth); the other one is 20 cents of lira of 1910, and represents the “librated freedom”.

Inside, the box is all stained with colors, so beautiful and random that I wanted to leave it as is. On the base I glued 21 of the wooden spools that I put aside when I finish the various threads. I usually drizzle a little olive oil on it and let it soak in; the wood takes on a gorgeous color and becomes more elastic.

Sottocosta – July 2020

The first embroidery of the three that are part of the series of Archipelagos; the peculiarity of these pieces is that they were made on fabrics previously impregnated with water and iron granules, then left in the sun for a couple of days spread out on a table, and finally washed.

The base of this work is a heavy cotton napkin, created in turn from a sheet from an old trousseau belonging to the mother of a dear friend of mine, originally from Sabina. It measures about 42 inches wide and 38.5 inches high, and unlike almost all other embroideries has a hemline of almost 3 inches on all sides. It is a rather sturdy fabric, the exact opposite of the one I embroidered right after, “Naufragare”.

The starting case is a normal white cardboard box, purchased about ten years ago. At that time I colored the outside with watercolors and glued on the lid a series of mini shells, coming, along with many others of various sizes and shapes, from a box found at the home of the grandmother of my ex-boyfriend, after his departure. I left it there, incomplete, until a few days ago, when I decided to use it for the first archipelago of the series.

On the sides of the box are, counterclockwise: a tin of mackerel filled with pebbles, on which I glued one of the shells from the box I wrote about above, whose provenance I could not find; a series of twigs brought from the sea; a half-worn wax candle and three small crystal salt holders filled with fennel, black cumin and coriander seeds; an old, slightly rusty mint box containing pieces of a particular type of shell with dark red hues, to which I attached an old, rusty hook from a glass preserving jar. Under the box I glued a carved wooden tile that I think is Thai, which I owned for a long time and of which I do not remember the origin.

On the inside of the lid, which I painted with honey, blue and yellow watercolor, I glued a photo from 1967, depicting an ex-boyfriend of mine when he was a child; a man who has always had a close relationship with the sea, and with whom I spent a few months in Raf Raf, a small village in Tunisia, fishing for groupers (he fished them, I ate them). On the right are two pods of Sebasnia Punicea, a leguminous plant native to Argentina also known as the “rattle tree” because of the sound the pods make. If I remember correctly I collected them in the garden of a retired Dutch gentleman who lives permanently in northern Sardinia. In the lower right corner is a sticker from an Indonesian sarong, a traditional men’s garment, purchased in Malaysia in the 1990s.

Below the embroidery, on the base of the box, are other pieces of shells, some small wood collected on the beach and two egagropiles (aggregations of fibrous residues of marine plants).

Anche se non voglio – June 2020

I let this embroidery depicting a bird on a branch with leaves and berries sit for a long time without finishing it. I often get stuck on a piece of work waiting for inspiration to come and lead me to complete it, which then happens quickly and unhindered mentally.

In this particular case I went over the whole design with brighter threads, which express much better the concept I have of this kind of birds, and I used white thread only for the leaves, as I did also for this one, embroidered on the same kind of handkerchief, which in this case measures about 19 centimeters in width and 18 in height.

The case is a solid wood box that was given to me as a gift, which was once meant to hold some powder, of which it still retains some of the scent. The lid was slightly cracked; I filled the cracks with natural transparent wax, in homage to the wonderful Japanese technique of Kintsugi.

On the lid I glued a branch brought from the sea that is very reminiscent of the elegant way birds rest when they rest. In front of the branch is a small silver box with the letters E and F engraved on the lid (I don’t remember where it came from, I had it a long time ago). I filled the box with shavings of Swiss stone pine, a tree widely used in South Tyrol for furniture and much more.

Its wonderful scent, soothing and regenerating, takes me back to some years I spent in Ortisei as a girl.  In the shavings I placed a clay whistle made by hand by an elementary school girl, which emits a rather high-pitched sound. On the inner side of the lid, where you can read the inscription “1919” written in minute characters, perhaps in pen by the craftsman, I glued some cherry seeds.

The embroidery is rolled up inside the box, on the bottom of which there is glued a “nest” made of copper wires, which contains a small wooden egg. All around the nest are dried flowers of jasmine azoricum. This type of jasmine is my absolute favorite; it brings me back to a couple of stays I did as a girl in Tunisia, where they used to make tight bunches of jasmine and then put them on the ears, to smell the scent carried by the wind.

Materna – August 2019

I started this embroidery in August 2019; I left it aside for a long time and didn’t start working on it again until two years later. Throughout August 2021, the embroidery and the creation of the case proceeded parallel to the illness of my beloved cat, whom I loved deeply; I then finished them shortly after her death.

The design is inspired by the tunnels that the larvae of an insect of the Curculionidae family, the bark beetle, dig under the bark of certain types of trees, mainly spruce, pine and larch, usually when they are already weakened by attacks from other insects, damaged by landslides and bad weather, or even already dead. Initially my attention was focused then on my revulsion/attraction to the hidden swarming of insects; but when Nebbia got sick and I started putting the box together my feeling was much more somber and uneasy.

The bark beetle is capable of killing a tree in a few weeks; in spring the males pierce the bark and dig a “mating chamber”, where they are joined by the females, which, once fecundated, dig longitudinal tunnels like the one I have portrayed in the embroidery, called “maternal”, in which the larvae are then born and feed on the wood, digging other tortuous tunnels that end with an enlarged chamber, where they finally pupate.

The bark first begins to rise and divide into plates, then separates from the wood; on the trunk you can see the exit holes of the insects and a reddish wood dust at the foot of the plants. The tree dies silently, and by the time you realize the problem it is usually too late.

In this state of mind I scraped the little box, which originally contained a berry tea, until I uncovered the entire metal surface, and then covered it with various types of bark, which I collected in the woods near my house. On the lid I glued an old dish brush made of beech wood and tampico bristles, a fiber obtained from the leaves of a Mexican agave. On the inside I glued a teaspoon of bark crumbs.

The inside of the box is lined with a very thin layer of bark, and on the bottom I’ve inserted soil and some dried rootlets, celery and wild herbs, that I collected from my terrace garden. The embroidery is wound around an old cardboard spool of dark green thread and a small piece of what I think is a slate flake.

El siempre mar – November 2018

I received as a gift this handkerchief of what I believe to be a somewhat thick linen, along with several others very similar, all different sizes, perhaps made from an old tablecloth or sheet. They all had a small flower embroidered in relief on one corner, of different colors and shapes. This particular one measures about 8 inches by 19, and is part of the work I did the first year I started embroidery, 2018.

My first embroideries were very light, almost evanescent, using only very light gray, light blue, beige threads. I only realized later, looking back at them years later, that they expressed a shyness of mine to be what I wanted to be, they were barely whispered.

This one was embroidered in light gray, light blue and white, and when I pulled it out of the drawer I felt the need to add a fourth thread, more decisive and strong: a beautiful yellow green, almost golden, which I love very much, for the skeleton of the curl and a purple red for the water drops.

To be precise, the design depicts a dermaskeleton of Echinodiscus tenuissimus, a flat sea urchin, also called a sand dollar because of its glassy shape and texture. They are commonly found on beaches in both temperate and tropical areas.

The case is a small hexagonal cardboard box, which I covered inside and out with salvaged marine and textile themed items. I love salvaging old items and I love the assemblage art and collage book technique, in this case I assembled a collage box. On the lid there are shells, twigs brought back from the sea, a tuft of sheep’s wool, a military star, two old coins, one from Zimbabwe in 1980 and one from Algeria in 1970.

There is also a piece of a metal filter, a label that was attached to an old travel trunk and an old automatic with its cardboard, and a small egagropilus (they are aggregations of fibrous residues of marine plants, which are also found on our shores). The remaining surface is encrusted with whole sea salt.

On the sides and underneath are scraps of photographs taken years ago with my Voigtlander Vito B, a silicon strap from a diving mask, a pH meter card, scraps of illustrations and colored and silvered papers, a drawing of mine, and a piece of fabric colored with artichoke leaves and petals.

Inside the lid I glued some neutral tissue paper and another twig brought from the sea, I do not know what kind of wood it is, but it flakes giving body to a kind of natural brush, with the consistency of paper. I dripped some blue and green color made with Windsor and Newton’s honey watercolor on it from above (I have a mini box of them dating back to shortly after my IED days).

On the bottom of the box I created a carpet of Santa Lucia’s eyes; these are the lids of a certain type of shell, considered by popular belief to be powerful amulets against the evil eye, and able to heal eye diseases.
I added other pieces of shells and on one edge a stamp of the U.S. air mail of 1961, which sings the praises of freedom.

Between the folds of the embroidery, I tucked the real-life version of the dermaskeleton I mentioned above.

Soffia vento, vieni naufragio – October 2018

Among the first embroideries, several times unthreaded and started again, on a very smooth and light linen fabric, almost a gauze; I was inspired by the flowers of one of my oil paintings of 2005, but I added the wind, which transformed them into joyful and free heroes, who embrace their destiny finally far from the control mania, even at the cost of safety.

This type of fabric ripples a lot under the action of the threads; it creates depressions and mounds and it’s interesting to see how it reacts by pulling the thread more or less during embroidery. I left the edges frayed and messy in homage to letting go and following the river, an attitude I’ve been cultivating for years and that is finally starting to become part of me, deeply.

For the case, I started with this rice box. I covered it with scraps of an old chalk drawing of mine, which I fixed with a layer of egg white. On the lid I secured a small crown a bit lopsided, made in wire art; I used a silver wire, very soft and malleable. I love wire art because it allows you to create objects/non-objects almost transparent, the only drawback is that they are very difficult to photograph.

On the front side of the box I glued a glass mold filled with volatile seeds (maybe oleander seeds?), and a wooden flower taken from a baby toy; on the two sides I stuck some wooden twigs and on the back side the rosette of a watering can, which I filled with flower seeds.

Inside are the dried bud and a couple of petals of a rose, the dried stem of a flower, some moss, and a piece of bark. The box is lined inside with two layers of beige tissue paper, glued together as best I can, and the base is glued to a red clay tile I painted several years ago.

Scivola – August 2018

One of the first embroideries I made, on a former napkin in turn recycled from the sheet of a trousseau from Sabina, from the mid ‘900. Koi carps have always fascinated me because they are among the most supple and elegant fish, linked to the oriental culture that in recent years I have followed with interest and a certain amount of admiration. I have reworked the embroidery several times replacing the color and type of threads.

The base of the container is a simple cardboard box, also quite light. I glued on the left side the cut-out of the cover of an old artbook of mine, on which I had drawn two koi with ballpoint pen. The cover can be opened, and it is held in place on the right side with a small metal snap.

On the front side of the box are glued a series of transparent polished glass stones, from a necklace, and on top of the stones, always glass, on the left is a bottle containing an Ayurvedic tonic for headaches, rheumatism etc, from an emporium in the city of Kandi in Sri Lanka. The leaflet of the tonic, dated 2005, is glued inside the flap of the opening.

On the right side of the box I glued a glass test tube closed with a cork, which contains two types of glass balls, the larger ones from old foundations and the smaller ones from disposable fountain pen cartridges. At the top I glued a very thin laboratory glass cup in which a rather large and heavy glass ball moves.

On the back of the box there is a card with old oil proofs and an oiled paper envelope in which there is a postcard addressed to my father, franked with a 15 lire stamp, dated January 31, 1958, depicting “the small lake of Villa Borghese”. On the opening tab of the box I glued a small box of tiger balm bought in Malaysia (but widespread everywhere). Inside the box is a rounded, polished white stone.

Opening the cover you can see another drawing of a koi carp in biro pen, on squared paper, glued on a cutout of an old chalk drawing of mine. Underneath I glued an engraving cut from an original collection of the issues of an old magazine, “Illustrazione Italiana”, published between 1891 and 1892, representing the water lilies of a pond in the botanical garden of Pavia. I embroidered directly on the paper with pink and acid green thread. On the upper left is a travel document of a package from Hong Kong.