Rabbit Moon

As an embroiderer I am fascinated by the schiffli and the peculiarities of this very special machine. It offers possibilities to create unique surface qualities and the ability to explore repetition on a scale that is simply unachievable by any other means. Drawing is central to my practice and I am fascinated by how drawn marks and lines become translated through technology. Recent work has had to rely more on ‘multi-head’ computerized machines to realize these qualities, so it was with enormous relish that I returned to ‘old school’ mechanics and the simplicity and purity of the pantograph schiffli. The physical relationship of producing each stitch resembles the synthesis of hand stitch and drawing in a way that other industrial process do not.”


Cheney’s Rabbit Moon references the Aztec legend of the gods Nanauatl and Tecciztecatl who, according to tradition, became the sun and moon. Nanauatl, humble and unselfish, sacrificially accepts his destiny as the burnt offering of a sun. Tecciztecatl, proud and ambitious, is consumed by fear until pride forces him to follow Nanuatl’s example by jumping into a vast pyre. Both rise as suns, until the gods throw a rabbit into the face of Tecciztecatl, dimming his radiance into that of the moon. 


"I became captivated by this story, the duality of the two protagonists and their sacrifice, their similarities and their contrasts. I knew that I wanted to explore the possibility of working on two pieces simultaneously on the Schiffli machine and to pursue the idea of how stitch can transform cloth. By covering identical digital prints with either white or black machine threads I knew that there would be a dramatic disruption to the imagery on the cloth, but the excitement of the project was in how an overall stitch pattern could pull and distort an overall fabric in a very subtle way, providing a rich surface but with a minimal aesthetic."


Initial concepts using lunar images proved to be both difficult to source to a high enough resolution and were too literal. Cheney therefore began to create his own moon symbol, drawing on the experience of a research visit to Mexico in 2006.


"Mexico surprised me in being so vast and green with its colonial gardens and immaculately trimmed topiary. The ‘Universum’ science museum within Mexico City University has a room where the entire floor is constructed from illuminated transparent satellite images of the City. The sheer scale of this map and the eerie lighting gave me the feeling of walking on the surface of another world, of being a giant towering over a fantastical landscape."


Cheney’s Rabbit Moon references these impressions : combining the globe shape of a bay tree in the gardens of Chapultepec Castle with a simple layering of images from satellite photos of Mexico City. Concerned to include some rabbit imagery in the final piece, Cheney experimented with various processes before deciding this was best achieved by adding a further layer of detail that combined mechanical drawing with the schiffli and stitching with the multi-head machine.


The Schiffli Machine