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.


Unfolding Stories 3 – CQW Exhibitions

For the past 3 years I have been a member of the Contemporary Quilters West.

We are a group of contemporary and art quilters based in the South West and Wales.  The group is affiliated to the the British Quilters’ Guild and many of us are members of the internet based Contemporary Quilt Group.  We meet six times a year in Saltford, between Bath and Bristol, to discuss ways of increasing our professionalism and promoting our work.

Every two years we hold a major exhibition which presents work from our members under the ongoing title ‘Unfolding Stories’.

Each artist presents a small collection of new work, capturing a point in time in their own creative story.  The exhibition is the unfolding story of their work.

You can read more about the artists here.

Our next exhibition
 Harbour House Gallery, Kingsbridge, Devon.

Contemporary Quilters West Unfolding Stories 3 Exhibition Poster Harbour House, Kingsbridge TQ7 1JD

Click to enlarge
The exhibition can then seen at:
Festival of Quilts, 9th – 12th August 2018

West Country Quilt & Textile Show, UWE Bristol,
​30th Aug – 1st September 2018

We look forward to seeing you!



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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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

Thanks for reading.




The Long-tailed Tit

Somerset is a beautiful county to live in, we are surrounded by stunning scenery and wildlife.  Capturing this beauty in photographs is certainly not a skill I possess, I do not have the patience, eye or equipment.  Thanks to social media I came across a wonderful nature photographer based in Somerset called Carl Bovis.  Carl has been kind enough to let me use his photographs as inspiration for my textile work.

I really recommend taking a look at his ever changing and inspiring blog which you can read here carlbovisnaturephotography.blogspot.co.uk

This is the first of at least two of his photographs I hope to base pieces on for  Somerset Art Weeks Festival in October this year at North Wootton Village hall.


I love this photograph, the seed head and position of the bird make a perfect composition.

Long-tailed Tits are such characters, they follow us along hedge rows, busily chatting in a large group always slightly ahead of us walking.

Below you can see the quick watercolour I made to get a feel for the colours I would need to search for in fabrics and threads.


The initial selection of possible fabrics for bird and background.


The bird pieced and ready for stitching.  In the end I used just 6 fabrics .  The long tailed tit is a really fluffy little chap so I imagined at this stage that he would be fairly heavily stitched.


I selected the very busy background to mimic the green background of the original photograph and to enhance the appearance of numerous seed heads along a hedgerow.

Below, the  piecing stage is complete and ready for stitching.


A selection of possible threads.


Below, starting to add texture and depth to the bird.


As you can see, this is very much a work in progress.  October and the Somerset Arts Week is seeming rather near now.  But finally I am feeling focused and have a number of pieces on the go.  The trouble with this is remembering to return and finish pieces (my least favourite part!) when the excitement of researching a new bird calls!!!

Oh to be a completer-finisher!

 I hope to show this at its next stage soon….


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.


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.



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!


A selection of the threads I used on the piece.


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.


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.



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




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.


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.


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.



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


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


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


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


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.



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!

AK015 A Swallow's Journey.jpg

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