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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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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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Pheasant

I have been looking forward to attempting a more realistic Pheasant for a while now, it was the subject of one of my very early pieces of textile art.  You can read this early blog from March 2015 here.

The aim is to create a set of  four or five of our the beautiful game birds in the UK.  These will most likely include the Red Legged Partridge, the Red Grouse,  the Black Grouse, the Woodcock or Snipe .

 I have approached this piece with a certain amount of trepidation as pheasants are so highly marked with so many feather patterns across their body.

Carl Bovis, a nature photographer from Somerset has taken many beautiful photographs  of pheasants, capturing their iridescence and feather patterns.  Carl has been kind enough to let me base pieces on his work.  More of his work can be seen on his ever changing blog carlbovisnaturephotography.blogspot.co.uk

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I have written in earlier blog posts about how much I have also been inspired by artists in my family both amateur and professional.  My Grandfather was a miner, amongst other things during his life.  He took himself to evening classes (probably through the WEA – Workers Educational Association) to improve his talent for drawing and painting.  Below is one of his pieces of ink on wood made into a tray based on a Cock and Hen pheasant.

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Selecting fabrics for a new piece is one of my favourite stages.  The colours and textures for this piece were especially inspiring.  Male Cock pheasants vary hugely in their colours and feather patterns, some can be quite dull, others unbelievably vivid.

I have lived with this chap at this stage for a number of weeks, afraid to start stitching, in fear of messing up his chest feathers.

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Unsure of how heavily I would be stitching him I decided to make him in a hoop rather than on the backing fabric.

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I was (probably due to fear) unusually grown up with this piece and prepared samples to test both thread colours and stitch patterns.

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Enough was enough and stitching finally started.  As usual I started with the eye, which compared to many of my pieces was very small, this came with its own complications, with the fabric catching on the hoop and the needle pressing the tiny piece of fabric into the larger pieces of fabric beneath.

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On to the fun part, the head and neck.  The jewel like colours of the threads start to build up the feathers.

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Using a real pheasant tail feather as reference.

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Back and tail complete, legs to be sewn once he is placed on the backing fabric.

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Final stitch details will be added when he is on the backing material.  My thought is to stitch some grass and possibly heather details around his feet to complete the piece.

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I hope to be posting the final stages of this piece over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading.

 

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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.

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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.

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The initial selection of possible fabrics for bird and background.

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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.

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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.

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A selection of possible threads.

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

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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….

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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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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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