Beauty and the Breast

This is the project I was working on on Monday.  And I think it is the first project I have ever finished, looked at, and just plain liked. But before we get to the pictures, here’s some explanation. The piece is for another challenge show, and here’s the prompt I got:

Beauty and the Breast

Breast shapes appear ubiquitously in nature.  Rounded, small hills. Grand, pointed peaks. A profile line moving softly around a curve. Spirals wrapping toward a center point. These shapes repeat in manifold patterns, reminding us of the breast in human form.

How does our identity as women and “breasted-beings” affect the way we understand and interact with others?  Breasts are both subject and object; a source for life; pleasure; compassion, fullness and sacrificial giving. Cradling life from the beginning to the end, we hold close to our breasts the experience of life.

In this exhibit, we invite you to view studies of the line, form or pattern of the breast worked on 8×8 or 12 x12 canvases.  These canvases stir the imaginative link between breast as shape and the reality of human form. Together with the larger pieces they invite you to ponder “who can deny the beauty of the breast?”

I wasn’t all that excited about it at first, and I definitely couldn’t think of anything. Really I just kept picturing hills and thinking that’s what everyone’s going to do, and it’s just not interesting. Then I got to thinking about how you could make it like really, slap-you-in-the-face kind of explicit that the hills are breasts, and I got an idea I loved. So first, here’s a drawing I finally did of what the piece actually ended up as.


Before I did the drawing, I tried just starting right in felting, and it went badly. I tried to get it like what I was picturing in my head, but it just wasn’t right, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it and was just so frustrated I almost totally gave up. Looking back at the pictures, it’s not so bad, and if I hadn’t been very definitive in what I wanted, it could have been usable. But then I was talking to my mom about it, and she suggested doing the piece in 2 parts, since what I was having trouble with was that the image in my head was rectangular, and the space I was working with was square. I was uncertain about that at first because there’s a bit in the center of the piece that is very important, but she suggested basically sliding it all to one side, so you don’t get the full curve of the hills and the whole scene is a bit off-center. I figured that at least that would look all artsy, then when I drew it out I decided it looks pretty cool.

My first attempt

My first attempt

So I pulled that apart, and actually cut the background down to 8″ rather than 12″, which I originally thought would be too small, but turned out to be juuuust right (which makes me think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears). That seems to be the moral of this whole project, even if it doesn’t seem like it will work, it might just turn out perfect. So here are the pictures of the finished project, and then I’ll give some explanation of the piece itself.

I was rather concerned about getting the pieces lined up right with each other, and getting the temples the right shape, so I copied reference marks from my drawing onto the fabric, and checked and double checked that everything lined up. The hills went much easier than I expected cause I didn’t felt them down as tightly as I thought I’d need to. And the temples went just right. First I put the black outline down, then I basically colored it in with the roving, and I was so happy with how they came out! The people were rather tricky because they’re so tiny. The head of each figure is only slightly bigger than the felting needle itself, so the roving kept getting just pushed through a hole in the background rather than felting to it. It took a bit of tricky felting, but I made it work.

For the show, we are supposed to write a short story to go with the piece. I thought this might be the hardest part, but when I got the idea for the piece, the beginning of the story came with it. The exact wording of the story was a bit trickier, however, and may still change, but here is the current version.

            The Temples had always been at odds. They both believed the female form to be sacred, but disagreed on what that meant. The Left Temple believed the mystery of the female body should be preserved, and therefore covered as much as possible. Their rituals were mysterious, and always solemn. The Right Temple believed the sacred form should be celebrated and shared with all. They wore little clothing and conducted their rituals outside as often as possible, sharing and explaining them with anyone and everyone. They probably would have just ignored one another, but they were each on one of a pair of hills that they both considered to be a holy place, and so they hated each other.

One morning a stranger appeared at the Left Temple. This stranger asked many questions about their beliefs, and hoping for a new disciple, the priestesses gladly answered the stranger’s questions. As the morning wore on, the priestesses became frustrated with the stranger’s insistence that to always hide the sacred would lead to people forgetting about it, or believing it to be obscene. Finally, in their frustration, they told the stranger to leave and join the rest of the heretics on the other hill.

That afternoon the same stranger came to the door of the Right Temple. She asked many of the same questions, and the priestesses gladly answered them, as they would answer anyone’s questions. Even the Priestesses of the Right began to become frustrated as the stranger questioned their beliefs, pointing out that if the scared form is always seen and flaunted then it would become simply part of life, and unremarkable. They too told the stranger to leave, and join the charlatans on the other hill.

The next morning both temples awoke to discover that in the night a bridge had been built between the two hills. They all rushed outside to see the bridge, and were outraged that the other Temple would have the audacity to build such a bridge. The High Priestesses of each temple decided to cross that damned bridge and give the other Temple a piece of her mind! As both Priestesses attempted to cross the bridge at the same time, they inevitably met in the middle. They glared at each other for a moment in the wind between the hills, although the Left Priestess had trouble seeing through her blowing hair. Just as the Left Priestess opened her mouth to inform the other Priestess what she thought of this bridge, she noticed the Right Priestess was shivering. Being a compassionate woman, she swallowed her ire and offered the other Priestess her jacket, knowing she herself would be warm enough with the extra covering of her dress. With a small smile of thanks the Right Priestess accepted the jacket, and in return offered her hair tie for the Left Priestess’s blowing hair.

And so began a discussion and exchange of ideas that began an era of peace between the two Temples. The Temples both changed, although there are still differences, and they no longer hate one another.

As I worked I realized the story is sort of a metaphor for my relationship to my own body. I have felt many times that the shape of my body is a nuisance that should be hidden as best as possible to avoid being treated differently, especially when I was a teenager. But in many ways our culture tells us that a woman’s body should be seen, generally as a sex object, and that a resourceful woman will use her body shape to get her way with men. As I’ve grown up, I think I have been able to find a middle road, accepting my body, but not exploiting it.

I am glad that I decided to make a piece for this show, both because of what I learned about myself, and because I just love this piece! I don’t know what it is, but it is very visually appealing to me, and feels like the most artistic piece I’ve done. It’s also the first piece I’ve done that, when I finished it, I looked at it and thought “that looks good” rather than noticing all the little details that weren’t how I pictured them, or all the little mistakes. I think this even beats out Serenity for my favorite piece I’ve made. As always, I would love to know what you think of it!


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Debbie Richman on August 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    I like it! And I love the story! You did a great job. Did you read that we have to price our pieces? I hadn’t planned to have mine for sale.


    • I did see that, I can’t decide if I want to price it at an amount I’d be willing to sell it, or so high I don’t think anyone would buy it. Id’ like to keep it but at the same time, strangely enough, I think this is one piece I wouldn’t mind letting go.

      If you don’t want to sell yours, I would suggest coming up with a price you don’t think someone would pay, and doubling or tripling that, to discourage anyone from actually buying it. 🙂


  2. I am so impressed, Anna – with everything: The felting, the story. I love it. As I was reading your story I was thinking that it could also be a metaphor for someone struggling with the introverted and extroverted parts of their personality. What is this project for? Thanks for sharing!


    • Thank you, I like that take on the story too.

      The project is for a show with the Designing Quilters (a quilting group my mom is part of) that’s going to be up at Salon 3/5 next to Atomic Coffee.


  3. […] to the actual subject of this post! I told you about the Beauty and the Breast show in a previous post, and this is another piece for the same show. I’m just gonna copy and paste the description I […]


  4. […] reception thing for the Beauty and the Breast show (my previous posts about the show can be found here and here) and I actually managed to get the night off so I could go to it! I didn’t actually […]


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