Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Stitched, dashed or dotted lines.

A Running Stitch

When stitching the line of thread comes into vision for a brief moment and then disappears as it digs down into the fabric it is being used with. In and out of vision, the visual line moves along in memory of the hand work involved in pushing and pulling the thread in and out of a soft ground. This particular line is both metaphorically rich and as a type of broken line has been developed as a graphic form in its own right. It is therefore worth investigating both as a material process and as a visual metaphor.

The stitched line both represents a particular craft and the associations we have with that craft. Therefore in some instances it has been appropriated by Feminist theorists, as in 'The Subversive Stitch'. A potentially fascinating area to explore in relation to this is the connection between textile metaphors and the web. Patchwork Girl by Shelley Jackson is a hypertext fiction, but the images used often denote connections between elements using dashed lines. The 'stitching together' of Frankenstein's monster, is echoed by the way 'Patchwork Girl' a feminine on-line version, is constructed. See also post on the grid and Sadie Plant, "The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics"

Patchwork Girl

The idea of a stitched together being has more recently moved on from something belonging to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein's monster and has entered the world of tattoo design, whereby if you want to, you too can make yourself appear to be the result of a crude scientific stitch up. In this case a fear of our own inherent abjection, the anxiety of always being too close to death is faced up to almost too directly. 

A stitched on shoulder

Getting ready for plastic surgery

Surgeons draw on the body before they embark on their surgery. In the case above we have an indication of where plastic surgery might be done. The dashed line in this case indicating future possibility, something even clearer in the image below.

A set of dashed lines indicating a desire for a slimmer body

Jonathon Yeo

In Yeo's painting above we see two different types of preparatory drawing taking centre stage. The surgeon's dashed line indicates where incisions will need to be made and the artist's broken lines indicate where the body is. A further set of gridded lines indicates that this image was probably copied from a gridded up photograph. This image also reminds us of the dotted line of a cartoon drawing, through which charcoal dust would be pushed through, so that a fresco painter had a clear indication of where to paint while the plaster was wet.

A pricked cartoon drawing

Artists have used stitched lines in a variety of ways, but almost always with an awareness of their wider metaphorical associations. Jen Southern and Jen Hamilton's Running Stitch from 2006 saw the production of what they called "a tapestry map”. Walks were represented by lines of stitches on a canvas. The use of threads to record where someone has been echoing the myth of Theseus and Ariadne, who gave him a thread and told him to unravel it as he penetrated deeper and deeper into the Labyrinth, so that he could find his way back out by following it.

Jen Southern and Jen Hamilton's Running Stitch

A stitched line that picks out a route taken on a map

Debbie Smith's embroidered drawings often directly link two stereotypical Female associations together, in this case the shopping trolly and stitch. However in doing so the resultant image is spiky and agressive, thus undermining the stereotype.

In the world of painting, Michael Raedecker was known for using the stitched line to add both texture and contextual nuance into his carefully controlled surfaces.

Michael Raedecker

Raedecker reminds us that canvas is a woven textile, and his thread work brings that awareness into the foreground, as if it is part of the ghost life of a painting. 

A stitch like all other types of marks can be easily varied in the way it is made. A language can be built by changing expectations, such as rhythmic conformity or implied direction. Gaps can be used to create moments of either awkwardness or silence. 

Stitched lines can also be graphically represented to illustrate how they are made. In the examples below entry and exit points are colour coded.

The illustrations above also demonstrate how the actual stitched line is easily related to a drawn one, at some point the physically stitched material line becomes the dashed or dotted graphic line: -----------…………..

Gestalt psychologists would argue that we see a series of dashes or dots as a continuous line because of the close proximity of each element, the consistency of repetition and similarity of the forms. It is also argued by gestalt psychologists that we have an innate tendency to perceive a line as continuing in its established direction and that this happens prior to our conscious awareness at a time in early vision known as preattentive processing.
When compared to a continuous line these lines are read as less forceful, less sure of themselves, and this is their unique quality. This is related to another aspect of visual psychology, how we perceive boundary lines around things. According to (Hoffman & Singh, 1997), the clarity and weight of a boundary line around an object helps to determine its importance within the visual field. A dashed or dotted line reduces the clarity and strength of a boundary, therefore we interpret it as “lesser” than a solid line.
In the case of these two speech bubbles above the dashed line example could be read as a format to hold a whisper, or in the case of Nancy below, it shows her speaking softly. 

In visual language, the dashed line allows us to express ideas that are not solid, or questionable. For instance Jack Kirby when trying to visualise someone becoming invisible used the dashed line to show Susan Storm of the Fantastic 4 transforming into invisible girl.
Dotted or dashed lines therefore have an association with the temporary, the invisible, the hidden, the not finished or not solid.
In the image above a dotted line is used to represent what is hidden beneath the body.

However the dashed or dotted line can also be used to represent movement.

These speedlines suggest falling or rising, depending on context, they splay out, perhaps suggestive of water emerging from a sprinkler. They need something at one end or the other to give a sense of direction, such as the scissors below.

The dashed line that represents 'cut here' is implying an action as well as a boundary. The dashed line of direction can be used to both trace a route taken as here...

or can be the result of direct visual documentation of movement as here...


In the case of the time lapse photograph, Maray's initial drawing on the body appears to fuse drawing and photography into a new medium. 
However dashed lines can also be used to represent movement in time in a slightly different way. Something can be in one place then another. The dashed line's ability to indicate something that is not firmly fixed in place being used both spatially and temporally.

These observations could be extended easily into other areas, for instance the use of dashed and dotted lines in diagrams, how to use them to create illusionary movement in cartoon images or as road markings.

On the road they are not just suggestions they are instructions. The Highway Code tells us how to read various dashed line symbols.

Dotted or dashed lines are also about the various strengths of relationships. In mathematics, direct relationships among univariate probability distributions are illustrated with connected lines, whilst dashed lines mean an approximation relationship.

Relationships among univariate probability distributions

In Photoshop or other image editing software, a selection tool will enable you to establish a boundary between different areas of your image, it uses a dashed line to highlight what is now an active area, an area you can now fill with a different colour or make more transparent. It establishes a boundary within which to change things. 

Dotted or dashed lines are also used by map makers to identify temporary boundaries. In the case of the map below the red dashes indicate Chinese claims of territory and the blue dashed lines indicate nautical exclusion economic zones that it is argued belong to other countries. These lines overlap and it is easy to see that they could be used in a similar way to the selection tool above. One side or the other could use a 'fill' option and make what is at the moment a proposed boundary a factual one.   

These red and blue dashed lines on a map could one day become a war zone. What at one time is a conjecture at another becomes a certainty. The move from dashed whisper to a shouted certainty is as easy as the move from a hand to a fist. This is perhaps the hidden power of the dotted line, it suggests that what is initially just a vague idea, might eventually be a new truth. 

The stitched, dashed or dotted line is a subject worthy of study in its own right, hopefully by highlighting some of the issues associated with its use, the next time you come to use one, you do so with a much clearer sense of purpose. 

See also: 

this post on spots, dots and points
Drawing maps
The work of Tiffany Chung which is partly a response to these issues. 
Scientific references

Hoffman, Donald D. & Singh, Manish. (1997). Salience of visual parts. Cognition, 63, 29-78.
Nahum Kiryati et. al., On The Perception of Dotted Lines. Image Science Laboratory, Institute for Communication Technology Swiss Federal institute of Technology, Zuirch, Switzerland.
Singh, Manish and Donald D. Hoffman. Part-based Representations of Visual Shape and Implications for Visual Cognition. From Fragments to Objects: Segmentation and Grouping in Vision.
Smits, J. T. S., Vos, P. G., & van Oeffelen, M. P. (1985). The perception of a dotted line in noise: a model of good continuation and some experimental results. Spatial Vision, 1, 163–177.
Srimant P. Tripathy et. al. Detecting collinear dots in noise. Vision Research 39 (1999) 4161–4171.

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