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What a room!

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!

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‘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’.

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Altogether, Knightshayes House is a stunning National Trust house and I would highly recommend a visit.

 

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Slender billed Curlew

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The first of the pieces based on the Slender billed curlews plight is now complete.  This work was inspired by the wonderful book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ by Horatio Clare.

I have absolutely loved researching this piece and trying new techniques such as simple fabric dying, beading, fabric painting and metal leaf.

 

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I’ve really enjoyed experimenting  with the background and how it could tell the story of this fated birds migratory route, which has led to its almost certain extinction.

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The final piece, incorporates a rock made up of small maps of the key areas listed in Horatio’s book.  Initially I had planned to make each area an individual stone but this looked cluttered.  The balance of telling the story and still creating an attractive piece of art was an interesting test.

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I have started to use the information and research I have gathered on this bird into another couple of pieces, I look forward to writing about these another day.

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I absolutely love what I do, learning about these birds, the threats they face and their possible/probable extinction.  I do however find it incredibly sad that I will never run out of birds in this category and wonder what the future holds for nature in a man-made world.

As Horatio Clare says ‘ A world in which only the robust survive is a dulled and blunted planet; all crows, and no colour’

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Slender billed curlew Pre-stitching progress.

 

I’ve been really busy creating since the building work finished at Easter.  A few pieces are complete and ready for framing, others are pieced and ready for stitching.  The thing I have totally neglected is my blog!  Apologies in advance that I am going to be playing catch up and that you will receive a number in quick (ish) succession!  I hope, once up to date on work done that I will be blogging in the moment…..

The work that has consumed most of my time has been a series of work on the probable extinction of the Slender billed curlew.  These pieces as previously discussed are based on the book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ by the wonderful Horatio Clare.

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Above, the initial sketch and fabrics chosen for piecing the first art quilt. You can see I have shown both the front and back of a couple of the fabrics as the back was the most suitable for the areas in question.  Never forget to look at the back of fabrics, it can double the options you have when piecing.

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Above, the bird pieced and ready to start adding fine details with fabric paint below.

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Encouraged by the members of the quilt group I’m a member of, I decided to have a go with new techniques to create backgrounds.  I can highly recommend this photo paper for transferring images with an ink jet printer onto fabric.  Because the bird had such a hazardous migratory route I wanted to show these areas in map form.  I used images from a very out of date atlas and started experimenting.

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Above you can see samples of these prints, before and after dying the fabric in a weak tea solution.  The idea is to stand the bird on a stone, hence the more natural colouring from the tea solution.

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Below, experimenting with ideas for pebbles and stones around the main rock.

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Although the image below is an ‘old moon’ rather than a ‘new moon’ I wanted to incorporate this image using metal leaf.  The slender billed curlew’s Latin name is Numenius tenuirostris meaning the ‘slim beak of the new moon’.  The image direction of the new moon didn’t work with the first piece so I’ve used a little artist licence!

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Unfortunately my favourite pen (a Frixion, iron removable pen), which I usually highly recommend for sketching details as a guide to follow with thread, removed the dye from the backing fabric (you can see a white line around the moon).  This would not normally be a problem as I would thread paint over the area, however for marking out a circle that was only partly used it was an issue!

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Below, second take on a slimmer crescent moon.

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Samples done, the time was right to start planning the final piece, You can read more about this in the next blog.

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First steps on a locally inspired project

The Common Crane Grus Grus

Despite not posting a blog in months, lots of things have been happening in the background.  Despite my life being consumed by 6 months of building work at home I have, slowly been working on a few new projects.

One of the projects for this years ‘Work in progress – Unfolding Stories 3’ at UWE will be based on the reintroduction of the Common Crane to the Somerset Levels.

Back in March my husband and I made a very early start to Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust in Gloucestershire.  We had booked onto a walking tour of the area with the aim of seeing some Common Crane (Grus Grus).   We were able to see a number of cranes in the wild around the site and then a few in captivity (ideal for someone like me who does not have a very powerful camera lens).

I so enjoyed researching the vulture and swallow pieces I made last year that I have decided to base a series of work for the 2018 exhibitions on birds with an interesting back story, whether that be reintroduction into the UK, threats of extinction/habitat loss or just a story that makes us marvel at what  their life involves.

The Common Crane seemed an obvious choice due to us living so close to an area that has seen the reintroduction of the bird onto the Somerset levels as part of the Great Crane Project.

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My aim is to create a full body study of the Crane for one of the final pieces (not sure yet whether they will be in flight or on the ground) but I’ve started small and made some watercolour sketches of the head and neck.

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Scott Petrek was our fabulous expert for the morning.  If you are on Twitter I recommend you following him.

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Rather than start with my usual technique of piecing fabrics to build the basis of the bird structure I decided to experiment with fabric pens.  Using a very small number of colours and nib width I created a simple picture ready to stitch.  I enjoyed the freedom and speed of this technique but didn’t like the ink spreading gradually on the fabric and felt limited by the number of colours I had.

I have been encouraged by the members of the Contemporary Quilters West to experiment and try new techniques.  I’ve loved having a go, but have to say I love the piecing stage of my work a little too much to change yet!  That said, the end product of this quick experiment shown at the end of this post is so heavily stitched I do wonder if you could tell the difference!

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Machine stitching over the painted outline.

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I have enjoyed experimenting with a different foundation technique.  I look forward to creating the same picture using fabrics and comparing the results.

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In the meantime I need to start sketching some outlines of the whole bird ready to start the larger piece over the coming months.

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Our group will be at the West Country Quilt & Textile show from tomorrow until Sunday, this year, rather than having a gallery of finished work you can view our working studios, where a number of us will be demonstrating some of our techniques.  I will be there tomorrow morning, it would be great to meet you if you are coming along.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to updating you on progress.

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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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