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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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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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CQW ‘Unfolding Stories 2’ Rook Lane, Frome

As a member of the group Contemporary Quilters West, we are currently holding our biennial exhibition at Rook Lane in Frome, Somerset.

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Read more about us here CQW

The building is stunning, it was built in 1707 a non-conformist chapel and as such is large, light and airy and has plenty of space for each of the pieces show at their best.  In 1968 the chapel closed and was abandoned and vandalised, falling into terrible disrepair. Fortunately, after many years it was rescued and renovated by its present owners, NVB Architects who also run it as a community arts centre – hence our presence here.

There are works on show from 15 of our members and all the pieces have a story to tell!  The exhibition is called ‘Unfolding Stories’ and the work shows the progress we have made since the last exhibition.  We do not set a theme to our exhibitions which makes it a very interesting body of work.

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We have had lovely visitors who have enjoyed chatting about the work on show and quite often the stitching they have been involved with.

On Sunday the 3rd of July we will be having a ‘Meet the Artists’ day with tea and cakes, it would be great to see you!

The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 5th July between 10-5pm – and Frome Festival starts today too – so there is lots to see and do in Frome over the next few days. We look forward to seeing you!
Venue:  Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, Somerset BA11 1DN
For more directions Click here.
There is only disabled parking at the Gallery, parking is available in town.  There is quite a steep hill to reach us so you may wish to drop anyone who may struggle with this hill at the gallery before parking.
There is a Park and Ride service available in Frome, please click here for more information

 

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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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‘A Swallows Tale’

Here is my own little flying marvel, who has travelled maybe 6,000 miles to nest again outside our bedroom window .

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This piece follows on from an earlier piece that I blogged about in April which you can read here.  The smaller piece was my first attempt at designing a backing that would tell a story.  I had never attempted stitching text before.  Both went well and I was pleased enough with the results of the first piece to attempt to tell the whole story of a Swallow’s Journey.

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The story is inspired by Horatio Clare’s book ‘A Single Swallow’, a story  that maps Horatio’s 6,000 mile adventure following the migratory route of Swallows from South Africa to his home in South Wales.  Along the way we learn about the countries he travels through and the amazing people he meets along the way.  The book is far more than just a travel journal though and we learn to question with him our western lifestyle and need for ‘things’.

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Once I had finished the book I started to plan the words that summed up the countries and the swallows journey.  I finally decided on a grid of 18 columns and 37 rows.  This gave me 666 squares to work with and fitted (to the maximum) a standard piece of art glass that was still affordable!

The trickiest part of the planning stage was fitting the words into the grid and then spacing them to fit in 6 swallows travelling along this map of text.  I decided I wanted the threads of the text to change colour with the journey, giving the impression of changing temperatures.

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The text, on average took me an hour/row.  The concentration needed astounded me as if my mind wandered the needle started to travel…. Its been a challenge to say the least.

I have been thankful to have had more than one piece on the go at a time and it has been a welcome break to create some swallows, a vulture and a Rook.

Below you can see three of the swallows pieced and ready for stitching.

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Again, two of the smaller swallows stitched and ready for placing on main piece.

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Finally the first two swallows in place, it was great to see the text finally being broken up by some birds!

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Below, the first large swallow completed and stitched in to place.  When you view swallows in flight from the ground they can look very dark, the red being almost unseen and their breasts looking quite creamy, grey.  When I played with the colours this looked wrong in practice so they have retained their red faces but with a darker body colour.

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Below the largest of the swallows fixed into place and the wire drawn in ready for stitching.

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Below, the piece is complete and ready to be sewn onto mount board ready for framing.  I feel quite sad to be nearly at the end of this journey and hope that Horatio will have another trip planned  soon…..

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Who’d have thought it: Teaching!

I have blogged about the importance of a challenge before and the last year has continued to prove this to me.  So much has happened since Chris and De at Midsomer Quilting asked me if I would like to have an exhibition at their shop on the Mendips.  This time last year I was unsure about putting my work on display and would never have considered teaching the techniques I use!

For the exhibition last November I challenged myself to make 12 pieces, these would hopefully show the creative journey I was on and how my techniques and confidence were growing.  I bought a tiny little pack of red dots in the vague chance that I may sell one.

I sold 7 of my 12 pieces and met so many lovely people over the 3 weekends and there I thought it would end for a while!

Before the exhibition started Chris (a former Head of 6th form at a local school) asked me to consider teaching with them at MQ.  Now this did seem a step too far, its one thing showing your work but quite another demonstrating  your self taught (probably slightly unorthodox  techniques).

Well, the first date was set after much persuasion and I hoped no-one would be interested and all would be well.

 I taught the first class in January, a lovely group who hopefully learnt something from my techniques.  I taught the second class last Sunday.  I learnt so much on that first course and thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday.

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I designed a picture for us to work on and was so pleased with the progress everyone made, they were such a lovely group and I really look forward to my third class on the 5th of June.

On the back of this exhibition I have also undertaken my first commission piece and been asked to speak at two Quilting groups locally.

Sometimes it really pays to be pushed or nudged out of your comfort zone!

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