Starling – ‘Chorus Line’

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.


To read more about Murmurations click here.

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.

Thanks for reading.


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.


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!


‘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.



Long Tailed Tit & SAW

Following on from a late May post, my Long-tailed Tit piece is now complete and at the framers ready for Somerset arts Week.

This piece was based on a stunning photograph by Carl Bovis.  Carl is a Somerset Photographer who has a great blog that you can link to here.


This piece will be one of 6-7 originals that I will have on view and for sale at venue 19 during Somerset Arts week (23rd September – 7th October).


As well as originals there will be a selection of giclee prints and greetings cards.  I am exhibiting as part of a group alongside Casey Jon, Scarlett Martin, Suzy Parker, Angie Rooke, Sarah Truscott and Hannah Willow.  The art includes, textiles, weaving, ceramics and paintings.

Venue 19 can be found at North Wootton Village Hall, 5 Pilton Rd, North Wootton, Shepton Mallet, BA4 4ET

We are open everyday between Saturday 23rd September until Saturday the 7th of October 11am – 6pm.  I hope to be there as much as possible but will not be there everyday.

Hope you can pop along and see us.


Slender billed Curlew

Version 2

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.


Version 2

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.

Version 2

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.

Version 2

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.


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’


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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!


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!


Below, second take on a slimmer crescent moon.


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





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.


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.


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


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!


Machine stitching over the painted outline.


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


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


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.