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A New Robin Workshop

A few weeks ago I held the first of my second bird themed workshops at Midsomer Quilting on the Mendips in Somerset.  Last year my 4 workshops were all based on a Barn Owl.  This year they are based on this beautiful photograph taken by Dawn Porter.

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Below a quick watercolour experimenting with the Robin on a snowy branch.

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When I’m planning a piece for a workshop, I photograph each stage and print A4 copies of these images for the class to see each part of the work in detail on the wall.  These images run alongside class notes and 3-4 templates.  I demonstrate each stage as the day goes on, allowing the class to see the progression and build up their own image.

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Thirteen lovely ladies came on the course, they were great fun and produced lots of lovely Robins.  I was so busy chatting that I completely forgot to take a photo at the end of the day showing all their progress.  Chris luckily took some photos of the group though.  The next Robin workshop at MQ will be held on Saturday the 16th of September.

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2017 12 x 12 Challenge ‘Magic, Mystery & Legend’

Midsomer Quiltings annual customer 12 x 12 challenge is once again on and as impressive and creative as always.

For the past six years they have challenged their visitors to create 12”x12” mini-quilts, on a given theme. The quilts are then exhibited at the shop. Most of them are donated by their creators for sale, by secret auction, during the exhibition. Since 2011 the annual Challenges have raised over £10,000 for charity; the last four of them for Dorothy House Hospice. Last year £3,030 was raised for the Hospice.

You can read more about the original American 12 x 12 challenge here as well as seeing all the entries to the previous challenges.

Below are a few of my favourites, if you would like to see all of this years entries and maybe even place a secret bid in the hope of winning one see below.

If I can’t get to the Challenge exhibition, how can I bid?
This year the exhibition includes the 1000th 12×12 that we’ve included since the first challenge in 2011. A lady in Austin, Texas, has already enquired how she might bid for one of this year’s 12x12s and it occurs to us that there may be others who’d be similarly interested. Consequently, pictures of all of this year’s quilts that are offered for sale are available on Flickr so that anyone can view them and if interested can make bids, that, if successful, will benefit Dorothy House Hospice. If you wish to bid please email us at De@MidsomerQ.com with your bid including the Number and Title of the 12 x 12 . All online bids must be in by 23:59 GMT on Sunday 18th December. 

Its been a family affair this year as you may have seen in an earlier blog post.

Chris had asked if I would like to exhibit some of my latest work whilst the 12 x 12 was on, as it was where this all started.  My Blackbird singing in the dead of night entry in 2014 started this whole wonderful journey!

Sometimes we need to be pushed a little in life and face a new challenge….

Sometimes what seems a small almost insignificant step can lead to a large change in your life.  The 2014 12 x 12 challenge at Midsomer Quilting was one of these occasions. The theme that year was ‘Music’ and one of my entries was based on the song ‘Blackbird Singing in the dead of night’ by the Beatles.

This very simplistic piece started me on a new path. I so enjoyed creating this little bird that I started to design and make others. The order these came about can be seen in the scrapbook below.

It was after I had made 4 of these pieces that Chris suggested I had an exhibition at the shop! The whole idea seemed ludicrous and frankly rather daunting. That said Chris is nothing if not persistent and persuasive. We discussed how many pieces I would need and I made a quite non-committal reply saying I would see how it went.

Eight months later we started hanging the 12 pieces ready for the exhibition.

So much has happened since that first little Blackbird was created

Textile art ticks all my boxes. I love sketching, choosing (and purchasing) new fabrics and then painting the tiny details with thread. . I love the hunt for a colour or pattern that is the answer to the specific area of a project I am working on.

I have become obsessed with creating birds through this medium.

One of the things I love about making a piece of textile Art is never having to face that scary blank page; once a backing fabric has been selected, the scene is set and you are off. Fabrics are so inspiring; it fascinates me how they jump out at me and provide me with the answers to tricky areas. That said sometimes I get so carried away with the stitching that I look back and wonder why I spent so much time on the fabric selection!

Since this first challenge back in 2014 I have been experimenting and the series of pieces I have created since have been instrumental in stretching my technical and creative abilities and have helped me to find a subject and style that I love.

Since joining the Contemporary Quilters West group I have been inspired and challenged to develop my ideas. I have loved creating these pieces and have immersed myself in the birds and their stories. The pieces all have a story to tell and have allowed me to develop my techniques and break away from my typical format.

This journey is continuous as each piece teaches me something new or gives me ideas for the next project. So many bird, so many ideas….so little time!

After 20 years in the NHS and a move in Somerset in 2008 I had been looking for something new, it is still quite unbelievable that a small challenge entry could have changed my life in such a pleasurable way

We hope that by featuring these pieces at the exhibition other people may try something new and find that it takes them somewhere unexpected too…

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The Merlin

The Merlin, at just 25cm long the male Merlin (or ‘jack’) is Britain’s smallest falcon. The great ‘Tweet of the Day’ book by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss describe him, ‘This magical bird is aptly named: appearing out of nowhere, hurtling over the ground on tight, compact wings as it flies in hot pursuit of a flock of Skylarks or Meadow Pipits’.

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Without a shadow of a doubt my favourite group of birds to make are Birds of Prey.  The Merlin however was not known to me and it was only after reading James MacDonald Lockhart’s beautiful book ‘Raptor’ that I started to look into the bird, discovering how powerful fast and beautiful they are.

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‘Merlin’s have a chequered past.  Once valued as a lady’s falcon, they were very popular with female monarchs including Mary, Queen of Scots; but more recently they have been persecuted for nesting on grouse moors.  Afforestation of moorland habitats also reduced their numbers, as did the use of chemical pesticides during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  From a low point of about 500 breeding pairs in the early 1980’s, the population has now more than doubled, but the status of this tiny falcon remains precarious’ (Tweet of the Day’).

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From a quick sketch I selected the following nine fabrics.

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Below, a close up of the bird pieced and marked with iron removable pen ready for stitching.

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During one of my recent workshops one of my students introduced me to a pen that has been invaluable on dark fabrics.

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For such a tiny bird I used an unbelievable number of thread colours, in reality he is a blue/grey colour but there were elements of lilac and purple too.

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Below, stitching the backing fabric.

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Finished a perched on a branch, the original is at the printers awaiting the final version, for now a photograph!

 

Finally, if you love Birds of Prey I really recommend you reading ‘Raptor’ by James MacDonald Lockhart.

The original has now sold but a limited edition print of this Merlin is available on my  website.  Thanks for reading.

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‘One for Sorrow’ The Magpie

The Magpie, a beautiful, striking bird but not easy to love!  The ‘Tweet of the Day’ book describes them as garden villains ‘because of their habit of feeding on the eggs and chicks of other birds’.

A member of the Crow family, these black and white birds have the most wonderfully  iridescent wing and tail feathers of green, purple and blue in the sunlight.

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I decided to make this Magpie after enjoying the challenge of the Rook earlier this year. At a quick glance the Rook is a totally black bird but it was great to experiment and play with all the ‘petrol’ colours visible when the bird is seen in full sun.  The Magpie’s bright colours are more visible but the colour palette of fabrics was similar.

I was a huge fan of Ladybird books as a child, I was really pleased to find this book at a local flea market. The illustrations were always beautiful.

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After sketching a quick outline, I chose a simple, small group of fabrics, knowing that the majority of the work in this piece would be threads.  Below, the five fabrics used for the bird and one for the backing.

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The Magpie, pieced and ready for stitching.

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Thirteen thread colours were used in this piece, a mixture of King Tut, Oliver Twist, Guttermann Sulky and YLI machine Quilting threads

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I have recently bought a deeper hoop, this holds the material far more tightly.  The only disadvantage is its a very tight fit under the machine – I have to remove the foot very time I change thread colour.

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As always I started with the face, head, neck and particularly the eye.  Using a number of variegated threads I could build up the light and shade in those areas.  Once these were complete I started to add the very bright, iridescent threads onto the wings and tail.  As you can see above these are too bright and needed toning down with darker threads.

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For a bird with such a small simple colour palette he was surprisingly difficult to place on a suitable backing.  After trying him against 6-7 colours and patterns I decided to chose a simple light fabric that would not be too dominant.

The finished piece is now available as a print and the original can be seen at the West Country Quilt Show in November details here

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CQW ‘Unfolding Stories 2’ Rook Lane, Frome

As a member of the group Contemporary Quilters West, we are currently holding our biennial exhibition at Rook Lane in Frome, Somerset.

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Read more about us here CQW

The building is stunning, it was built in 1707 a non-conformist chapel and as such is large, light and airy and has plenty of space for each of the pieces show at their best.  In 1968 the chapel closed and was abandoned and vandalised, falling into terrible disrepair. Fortunately, after many years it was rescued and renovated by its present owners, NVB Architects who also run it as a community arts centre – hence our presence here.

There are works on show from 15 of our members and all the pieces have a story to tell!  The exhibition is called ‘Unfolding Stories’ and the work shows the progress we have made since the last exhibition.  We do not set a theme to our exhibitions which makes it a very interesting body of work.

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We have had lovely visitors who have enjoyed chatting about the work on show and quite often the stitching they have been involved with.

On Sunday the 3rd of July we will be having a ‘Meet the Artists’ day with tea and cakes, it would be great to see you!

The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 5th July between 10-5pm – and Frome Festival starts today too – so there is lots to see and do in Frome over the next few days. We look forward to seeing you!
Venue:  Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, Somerset BA11 1DN
For more directions Click here.
There is only disabled parking at the Gallery, parking is available in town.  There is quite a steep hill to reach us so you may wish to drop anyone who may struggle with this hill at the gallery before parking.
There is a Park and Ride service available in Frome, please click here for more information

 

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The Griffon Vulture

I mentioned that I was interested in the plight of Vultures and that I may do one for the exhibition a while back at a CQW meeting.  I have Judy to thank for this piece ever being completed for the selection date tomorrow!  Her press release said….’there will even be a vulture’.  After the Easter holidays, I started to panic about time and how much there was to get done, a second swallow piece, stitching of a Rook and…..that vulture.  I regretted ever mentioning it as I really did not think I had time.

There is nothing like a deadline and press release to focus the mind so I started selecting fabrics and piecing.  I based it on the picture below of a Griffon vulture that I had been lucky enough to see at the Hawk Conservancy in Andover.

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Originally I had great ideas of using the background to tell the story of the threats Vultures are facing in the wild.  Time prevented this as did the realisation that this Griffon vulture was not in imminent danger….  I am hoping a future piece will tell this story.

IMG_3712Above, the initial outline sketch of the bird.

Below, the main fabrics I selected, I substituted the yellow backing fabric for a much more punchy red in the end.

IMG_3761Below, the bird pieced ready for stitching.  Initially I had ended the picture as in the photograph, I later decided that he needed to be sitting on a branch and with his long wing feathers hanging by his side.

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As always, I started with the head.  To waste time getting the body and feathers right and then fail to achieve good results on the head would have been a real waste of time and the one thing I didn’t have was time!

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A selection of the threads I used on the piece.

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Below, nearly complete and much better with the addition of long wing feathers, now all he needed was a perch!IMG_3869

The view from the back of the piece, prior to stitching onto the red, quilted backing fabric.

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I quilted the red backing fabric by following its basic pattern, creating numerous circles.  I choose a couple of fabrics for the branch, hoping to achieve the look of a dead, dry perch.

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I am so pleased to say this is finished (and in time)….Thank you Judy!

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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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