Murmurations are one of nature’s wonders, as they pass overhead you have to stop, listen and watch. Living near the Somerset levels they are part of our seasonal cycle.
Starlings are not a particularly popular bird, greedy on our feeders, intimidating smaller ‘prettier’ birds. However, the beauty of their feathers can be seen in bright sunshine, iridescent, detailed and glossy. As a large group they fascinate us, reconnecting us with the natural world on our doorstep.
The beautiful photograph above taken by Carl Jones was the starting point for this piece. Carl takes the most wonderful photographs and I would like to thank him for giving me permission to use this photograph for inspiration. A quick watercolour allowed me to consider the colour and textures of the bird ready to start selecting suitable fabrics.
The startling feathers contain so many colours, the fabric choice produced quite a variety. The outline sketch allowed me to colour block the image ready for fabric selection.
Fabrics selected and cut to size, the bird started to emerge.
We get thousands his starlings in this area and one of the ways I regularly see them is gathering in huge numbers on overhead wires – ready to take off at a moments notice.
Trying to capture this scene took a few attempts but this final version started with a backing fabric which contained waves of block colours and tiny dots – similar to a murmuration. I then painted and stitched the tiny details of the birds on the wire.
The tiny details at the end of the starlings feathers required lots of hand stitching on top of the free motion embroidery. My hand stitching skills are gradually improving with each piece and make a really enjoyable break form the machine work.
Below, he is almost complete, just the legs to add and final stitching details when applying him to the background. I am awaiting the finished scanned and colour balanced image but will post as soon as I receive it.
He is hopefully the third of four pieces to be shown at some of the Contemporary Quilters West exhibitions this year, to read more about visiting these three venues click here.
I’m a little shocked at how long it has taken me to finish this piece and then blog about its progress. The first post was back in May last year – I knew I was a little behind but thats just ridiculous! Anyway the final image is now complete and awaiting final printing and colour balancing. I have absolutely loved the challenge of this piece, playing with the colours has been wonderful.
The initial post about this piece and its inspiration can be seen here.
Above, the first tentative steps, starting as always with the key and its reflection.
Pheasant – in progress
Below, the final piece ready for framing, printing and colour balancing. This is the second of 4 pieces I am hoping to have accepted into the Contemporary Quilters West exhibition this year. More details of the locations can be found here.
For the past 3 years I have been a member of the Contemporary Quilters West.
We are a group of contemporary and art quilters based in the South West and Wales. The group is affiliated to the the British Quilters’ Guild and many of us are members of the internet based Contemporary Quilt Group. We meet six times a year in Saltford, between Bath and Bristol, to discuss ways of increasing our professionalism and promoting our work.
Every two years we hold a major exhibition which presents work from our members under the ongoing title ‘Unfolding Stories’.
Each artist presents a small collection of new work, capturing a point in time in their own creative story. The exhibition is the unfolding story of their work.
I have been really busy the last 2-3 months producing work that I hope to have entered into a number of forthcoming exhibitions around the country.
The workshop, even with the fire and another heater has been incredibly cold but finally work for this first series of work is complete. Blog posts and housework have been thoroughly neglected!!
The Osprey below is the first off four pieces I hope to have accepted on the Contemporary Quilters West ‘travelling exhibition’ this year. You can read more about its inspiration on an earlier blog here.
The watercolour above was the starting point for this piece. I used my technique of building up fabrics to create a similar image prior to stitching using both free-motion embroidery and hand stitching.
I start to choose possible threads as this process begins to take shape.
15 different fabrics were used to get to this point and I was now ready to move onto the next stage.
The imagine above shows the Osprey’s stitching, at this point about two-thirds of the stitch detail is complete. The final important details are added when I apply this piece to the completed backing.
I always check I am absolutely happy with the final colour combinations of the bird with the backing prior to stitching.
I am still awaiting the final scanned and colour balanced image ready for printing so the image above is not absolutely correct but it gives a good impression of the final piece.
If accepted this piece will be at the first stage of the Contemporary Quilters West exhibition at Harbour House Gallery in Kingsbridge Devon between Friday the 27th of April – May the 3rd 10-5pm.
There is an opening view between 11am and 2pm on the 27th when you will be able to meet many of the makers in our group. I will be at the exhibition on the Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th.
It would be lovely to see you if you are in the area.
I have been wanting to do a series of pieces based on the Osprey for a long time now. The plight of the Osprey first came to my attention after reading the wonderful book ‘Sky Hawk’. My youngest and I first enjoyed this book after our lovely friend Gill Lewis came to our primary school to talk about her book and what inspired her to write it.
We read this in about 2011-2012, long before I had started thinking and learning about free motion embroidery or had any knowledge or appreciation of art quilts. Gill has gone on to win awards and write many more children books, each giving an insight into the animal or bird she features. Amongst her subjects have been Gorillas, Bears and most recently Hen Harriers. The full list for older readers can be seen here.
‘Cambridge researchers surveyed a cohort of four- to 11-year-old children in Britain. The researchers made a set of 100 picture cards, each showing a common species of British plant or wildlife, including adder, bluebell, heron, otter, puffin and wren. They also made a set of 100 picture cards, each showing a “common species” of Pokémon character, including Arbok, Beedrill, Hitmonchan, Omanyte, Psyduck and Wigglytuff.
The children were then shown a sample of cards from the two sets, and asked to identify the species for each card. The results were striking. Children aged eight and over were “substantially better” at identifying Pokémon “species” than “organisms such as oak trees or badgers”: around 80% accuracy for Pokémon, but less than 50% for real species. For weasel read Weedle, for badger read Bulbasaur – and this was before the launch of Pokémon Go.
The researchers published their paper in Science. Their conclusions were unusually forthright – and tinged by hope and worry. “Young children clearly have tremendous capacity for learning about creatures (whether natural or manmade),” they wrote, but they are presently “more inspired by synthetic subjects” than by “living creatures”. They pointed to evidence linking “loss of knowledge about the natural world to growing isolation from it”. We need, the paper concluded, “to re-establish children’s links with nature if we are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation”, for “we love what we know …
What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren”?’
In a time that surveys show many children are losing touch with nature the 2008 National Trust survey showed only a third of eight- to 11-year-olds could identify a magpie, though nine out of 10 could name a Dalek.
The importance of nature as a reference point has also been seen by the Oxford University Press (OUP) removal of numerous words from their Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words such as acorn, bluebell, heron, kingfisher, lark, lobster, magpie, otter, and panther have been replaced by ‘modern’ words such as ‘broadband’, ‘celebrity’, ‘blog’ and ‘cut and paste’. When the OUP were asked to comment on these changes they said it represented ‘a consensus experience of modern day childhood, nowadays the environment has changed’. Nature has become less of a feature of our children’s lives.
The outdoors and nature is being replaced by indoor and virtual!
Inspiring books that reconnect and inspire children to see and learn about nature are more important than ever. Gill’s stories play a vital part in this process.
‘An illustrated spell-book in watercolour and gold leaf, from the rich creative minds of award-winning author Robert Macfarlane and acclaimed artist Jackie Morris. As nature vanishes from children’s language and their imagination, The Lost Words stands against the loss of magic, celebrating the joy of wild childhood and wild places’. (Penguin)
Inspired by Gill’s book I have started my first Osprey piece. We spend a week most years in Scotland and I long to see an Osprey. I hope to make a visit to one of the Wildlife Trusts Osprey sites next year but, until then I have decided to start the first piece.
As usual I have started with a water colour painting for inspiration.
Below, you can see the first selection of fabrics that I may use for this smaller, head shot piece.
The final selection and the fabric template ready for stitching.
I am really looking forward to starting to stitch this piece and hope to add a simple Scottish backdrop in the distance.
My hooded Golden eagle is finished and ready to deliver to Midsomer Quilting for their annual 12 x 12 fundraising charity auction. This will be just one of approximately 150 entries that you can bid on to raise money for Dorothy House Hospice.
All entries will be displayed at the shop every day from Friday, November 24th, until Monday, December 18th, click here for directions.
To read about the inspiration for this piece and the 12 x 12 challenge click here to read a previous blog.
In the summer we visited the wonderful Knightshayes National Trust house in Devon. We knew nothing about the house or its history, it was just a place to stop and have a coffee on our journey home from our summer break. What a treasure we found!
‘In 1869 Sir John Heathcoat Amory commissioned the design of Knightshayes from one of the most extraordinary architects of the 19th century, William Burges. His designs were extravagant, lavish, hugely ambitious and all too much for the family. The designs were covered up by successive generations off the family from the late 1880s right up until the 1960s’.
‘Knightshayes was the family home of the Heathcoat Amory family for 125 years. From a farming family in Derbyshire they grew, through their industry, to become the owners of the largest lace-making factory in the world’.
John Heathcoat, after completing a number of apprenticeships within the textile and weaving industry went on to complete the model of his first bobbin net machine. This machine, which was patented when he was still only 25 years of age transformed the lace making industry. Prior to these machines lace was made using the very slow, hand made ‘pillow and bobbin’ method.
His machine transformed both his life and the lace making industry. He became one of the largest employers in the Midlands when he moved to Loughborough to start his factory.
Life took a dramatic turn in 1816 when Luddite wreckers, angry bands of English craftsmen attacked his factory, demolishing 55 lace frames with axes and hammers. This event, rather than destroy him and his business made him stronger and more determined. He decided to move to Tiverton in Devon where he converted a disused textile mill to a state of the art factory. Many of his previous 200 employees, who had lost their jobs after the attack followed him to Devon and worked in this new successful factory.
He repaid these workers loyalty by building houses, school and churches for them, these are still distinguishable by their grey painted doors. From industry to local government, John became Member of parliament for Tiverton in 1832.
This house is a real gem but, the most stunning room in my opinion is the Burges Room – the following description is taken from the National Trust guide book.
‘When the National Trust acquired Knightshays, the room was painted a neutral colour and, apart from a fireplace, it had no architectural features whatsoever. In 2001 it was decided to arrange and decorate the room as Burges had intended.
The upper walls are painted with birds perched on stylised branches and identified in Gothic script, a similar theme to that used in his Buckingham Street house in London.
In total 87 native and exotic species of birds and one monkey are depicted, each different – with the exception of two geese and two magpies. These have been faithfully reproduced from Burges’ design for the room. the room was opened by Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, on 28th May 2002. A passionate collector of Victorian Gothic furniture, Jimmy lives in Tower House in Kensington, Burges’ former home’.
Altogether, Knightshayes House is a stunning National Trust house and I would highly recommend a visit.