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Slender billed Curlew – A story of extinction?

 

Their are two groups/individuals that have influenced the direction and depth of my work over the past 18 months.

Firstly, the members of the Contemporary Quilters West.  I’ve been a member of this group for a couple of years now.  They have challenged me to go deeper into the stories of the birds I create.  They have gently encouraged me to experiment, telling a story through  the backgrounds of my pieces.

This, I have to be honest was challenging at first but I now understand where they were trying to take me.  When you become passionate about a story, you want to convey the emotion you feel through that piece and not just produce a ‘pretty picture’.

The second influence was an author and travel writer called Horatio Clare. Horatio’s book  ‘A Single Swallow’ took me on a journey that I have not looked back from.  This book inspired a piece I made last year called  ‘A Swallows Tale’.  It aimed to tell the story of the birds northern migration from South Africa to Wales.

I have recently read Horatio’s book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ – In Search of a bird on the edge of extinction, this book has become the inspiration for my next series of work.  I read this wonderful book in an evening and look forward to telling you more about this bird and the threats it has faced in later blogs.

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The Slender billed curlew, Numinous tenuirostris  ‘the slim beak of the new moon’ is one of the world’s rarest birds, which due to how long ago it was last sighted may already be extinct.  Below, a taxidermy example of the Slender billed Curlew.

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A quick ink and pen sketch of the bird at a scale I hope to use him on the final piece.

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Below, an entry in an old birding magazine about the bird.

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Using literature from the internet and Horatio’s book I have started charting the birds main migratory route from Western Siberia, with key areas used for nesting, pit stops on route, finally stopping along the coast of north Africa.

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This piece is requiring a great deal of planning and experimentation. Despite this being challenging I am loving the research thats involved and really hope that the final piece will tell a story of how fragile these birds lives are (one of so many species) because of mans careless and often selfish use of our planet.

 The bulk of my work to date illustrates birds in great detail leaving the background very simple. Last year Chrissie Seager kindly spent a day with me explaining some of the many techniques available to add surface design and colour to fabrics.  One of these techniques uses Golden Fluid Matte Medium.  I am currently experimenting with this technique to transfer old map images to cloth.

Simple lino cut silhouettes of the curlew in flight will hopefully work on these images, illustrating the birds migratory route on the backing fabric.

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I look forward to updating you on progress and possible technical disappointments on route to the final piece.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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‘A Swallows Tale’

Here is my own little flying marvel, who has travelled maybe 6,000 miles to nest again outside our bedroom window .

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This piece follows on from an earlier piece that I blogged about in April which you can read here.  The smaller piece was my first attempt at designing a backing that would tell a story.  I had never attempted stitching text before.  Both went well and I was pleased enough with the results of the first piece to attempt to tell the whole story of a Swallow’s Journey.

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The story is inspired by Horatio Clare’s book ‘A Single Swallow’, a story  that maps Horatio’s 6,000 mile adventure following the migratory route of Swallows from South Africa to his home in South Wales.  Along the way we learn about the countries he travels through and the amazing people he meets along the way.  The book is far more than just a travel journal though and we learn to question with him our western lifestyle and need for ‘things’.

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Once I had finished the book I started to plan the words that summed up the countries and the swallows journey.  I finally decided on a grid of 18 columns and 37 rows.  This gave me 666 squares to work with and fitted (to the maximum) a standard piece of art glass that was still affordable!

The trickiest part of the planning stage was fitting the words into the grid and then spacing them to fit in 6 swallows travelling along this map of text.  I decided I wanted the threads of the text to change colour with the journey, giving the impression of changing temperatures.

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The text, on average took me an hour/row.  The concentration needed astounded me as if my mind wandered the needle started to travel…. Its been a challenge to say the least.

I have been thankful to have had more than one piece on the go at a time and it has been a welcome break to create some swallows, a vulture and a Rook.

Below you can see three of the swallows pieced and ready for stitching.

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Again, two of the smaller swallows stitched and ready for placing on main piece.

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Finally the first two swallows in place, it was great to see the text finally being broken up by some birds!

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Below, the first large swallow completed and stitched in to place.  When you view swallows in flight from the ground they can look very dark, the red being almost unseen and their breasts looking quite creamy, grey.  When I played with the colours this looked wrong in practice so they have retained their red faces but with a darker body colour.

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Below the largest of the swallows fixed into place and the wire drawn in ready for stitching.

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Below, the piece is complete and ready to be sewn onto mount board ready for framing.  I feel quite sad to be nearly at the end of this journey and hope that Horatio will have another trip planned  soon…..

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A Swallows Journey

I first thought of creating a piece based on the Swallows Migratory journey after completing my first Swallow picture, ‘Rush Hour’ last year.  In the hunt to find out more I came across ‘A Single Swallow’ by Horatio Clare.  This book gave me the story and more, its a fabulous read.

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I started experimenting with text, fabrics and thread colours.  I’m not someone who does lots of planning and preparation before starting a new piece but, on this occasion it was unavoidable.  I struggled to find the right backing fabric and experimented with thread colours – some too light to be visible in artificial light others so dark the words ‘jumped’ out at you.  I wanted to represent through the thread colours the changing temperatures the bird experienced.   The spacing between the letters also took a great deal of experimentation.

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Eventually I worked out the spacing, words and image, I settled on a Swallow sitting on a wire.  This is the smaller of two Swallow pieces I am hoping to make for the Contemporary Quilters West Frome exhibition.  This one tells the story of the bird after his journey North and what happens in the UK before the return journey south.

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Above you can see the grid and lettering marked out using a iron-removable pen.

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Above, stitching the double grid lines horizontally and vertically using a walking foot.

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Starting to stitch the letters, lots and lots of threads to take to the back and knot!!

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After hours of concentration and tired eyes the text was complete.

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One of the wonderful things about being a member of a group like the Contemporary Quilters West is the advice you gain from really experienced artists.  Mandi Bainbridge suggested I try this technique to avoid the puckering I can get when piecing a small bird onto a lightly quilted backing.  By using  this material in a hoop I was able to minimise problems I had previously experienced.

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Above, the bird partly stitched.  Below, the finished bird stitched into place on the final piece.  I still have the wire to stitch within all the letters and the birds feet.

It is time now to start planning the much larger piece based on the journey through many countries from South Africa to the United Kingdom.  I am at the moment juggling grid size with letter numbers…..Its a challenge but great fun!

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A limited edition Giclee print of ‘A Swallow’s Journey’ will be available soon on my Website shop.