Osprey Continued & completed

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.


Osprey- watercolour

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.

Bird Island.jpg

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.


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’.


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.


‘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’).


From a quick sketch I selected the following nine fabrics.


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


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


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.


Below, stitching the backing fabric.


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.



The Power of the Peregrine

It was only a matter of time before I was going to have to tackle one of the British Birds of Prey.  There features are so strong and following on from the success of my Barn Owl I wanted to stretch myself.


Rummaging through my large fabric stash there were  a lot of brown batiks, their patterns and colours seemed to lend themselves to the colours and textures of the feathers of a large bird.


Flicking through my numerous Bird books and magazines, the juvenile Peregrine seemed to meet the brief.  I drew a basic outline and started selecting fabrics and threads.


Although I had a great selection, sometimes you just do not have the exact fabric for an area.  This is when you have to improvise!  Reaching into an old pile of fabric paints that the girls had used to design T-Shirts I found a black that was going to have to be the solution.

Using a heat removable pen I drew where the marks needed to be and started painting small areas of chest feathers with a reasonably fine brush.


There were moments that I thought I had done the wrong thing but, using a dry brush and very little paint I achieved the result I had hoped for.


This was the stage where I realised I would have to go shopping…..

I have a large assortment of threads but I had seen at Midsomer Quilting a large selection of Hand-Dyed machine threads, with subtle colour changes running through them.  These Oliver Twist threads were perfect.

Feathers are not flat and dull, they have texture and almost reflect light.  This fabrics helped bring the bird to life.  I am slowly buying all the colour combinations on sale.  Money very well spent….


This piece has been challenging but so enjoyable.  I think my love affair with the British Bird of Prey may be blossoming.

A limited edition Giclee print of ‘Young Pretender’ is available from my Website shop , please click here to view.

AK006 Young Pretender.jpg




‘Out of the Blue’

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) has a magical quality that has fascinated me since I first saw one as a young child, it glided silently through the air with an almost ghost like quality.


Owls have such fascinating faces, so varied in shape, colouring and expression.  There are believed to be 216 species of owls in the world.  Of these 18 belong to the Barn Owl family (Tytonidae) and 198 belong to the typical owl family(Strigidae).

Having tried a small, delicate bird last time, (a Goldfinch) I decided to try and capture some of the strength of a Bird of Prey or Raptor.

An ideal opportunity arise when the lovely Claire Passmore, who I had met through Twitter told me of a Readers Challenge in the Quilting Arts Magazine.  The challenge was called ‘Birds of a Feather’.

This was the perfect opportunity to embrace another bigger challenge and see where it took me.

So, with this challenge in mind I started selecting appropriate fabrics to build my Barn Owl.


A simple sketch started the process.  I decided that I would like to ‘frame’ my subject in a quirky, off-centre position giving the background fabric a large proportion of the finished piece.  The blue, slightly sparkly fabric seemed ideal and was an easy choice.


The fabric shown above was the perfect Barn Owl material.  I had used it once before in a modern take of an owl and  couldn’t wait for an excuse to use it again.  The whole piece, including the background used only five pieces of fabric.  Simplicity at this stage definitely made the final piece stronger.

I had learnt lessons from the earlier Goldfinch and thus avoided using small fragments of fabric.  I concentrated on larger blocks adding details with stitch instead.


Building up the blocks.


Adding details ready for stitching with heat removable pen.


Stitching circular details onto the fabric on the top of the head.


Back detail


By adding the reflections to the eyes the bird starts to come alive. I had not consciously thought of the order I was quilting this piece in but will, in future always start with the eyes – a piece can be won or lost at this stage.  If the reflections or outlines are wrong the piece is definitely lost…


A detailed close up of the face, using seven different coloured thread.


I decided that I did not want a strong quilting pattern in the background sky, so I made a small test piece to find a thread that did not show.  I tested out a few quilting patterns and selected the one below.



Following a recommendation I tried using a pair of quilting gloves.  These really helped me manoeuvre the piece in a controlled way and also eased a certain amount of aching I can experience when working solidly for a few hours on a piece.

Referring back to the Readers challenge requirements I cut the quilt to a 9″x9″ square and zig-zag stitching around the piece 2-3 times using the same thread as the background.


The final piece called ‘Out of the Blue’

A limited edition Giclee print of ‘out of the Blue’ is available from my Website shop , please click here to view.


I was not unfortunately one of the 11 selected for the Readers challenge from over 200 entries.

That said, as in previous challenges the opportunity has sent me off on a new path and with new skills.

I look forward to sharing another piece with you soon.

Thanks for reading.