If ever there is a bird with a tale to tell its the Cuckoo!
Inspired by Nick Davies book ‘Cuckoo – Cheating by Nature’, the book explores and unravels the complexity of this notorious bird.
Its trickery is truly astounding!
The Cuckoo migrates to our island from Western Africa and is an iconic sound of spring. Unfortunately recent population declines have now seen them placed on the red list and you now consider yourself lucky to hear one anymore.
The RSPB describe the “cuckoo is a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. With their sleek body, long tail and pointed wings they are not unlike kestrels or sparrowhawks. Sexes are similar and the young are brown. They are summer visitors and well-known brood parasites, the females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers. Their recent population decline makes this a Red List species”.
Having never seen (only heard) a cuckoo I am very thankful to Jack Barnes for giving me permission to base this piece on his stunning photograph. Jack is a very talented Bird photographer and I really recommend taking a look at his work here.
Above, the bird pieced and paint details added as a stitch guide.
Early selection of possible threads, including King Tut and Oliver Twist.
Having read Nick ‘s book and made notes on the key points I eventually reduced the story down to 31 words – no mean feet as the book was crammed with the most fascinating facts!
I stitched the grid with a walking foot following the iron removable pen outline. The letters were stitched free hand on the machine.
Above, Starting to build up the colours and textures of the feathers with stitch.
Finally it was time to stitch the Cuckoo onto the completed background, adding the final third of the stitch details to the piece.
The Cuckoo’s Tale completed!
Without doubt the most fascinating bird I have researched to date……
This is the second piece based around the plight of the Slender billed Curlew. I rarely do two pieces on one bird in such quick succession, but this story fascinated me and I wanted to experiment with a few techniques and improve the story-telling in my backgrounds.
I initially made the first curlew as a ‘show’ piece to take to galleries and talks but very quickly someone approached me about buying it, I was over the moon and decided to start a second study. You can see the earlier piece here.
Above and below, you can see the bird pieced with early stitching. I increased the use of painting with fabric paints, adding the more intricate details with a very fine brush.
Below, replacing/adding additional layers of fabric to abdomen area before painting details as guide for stitching.
The previous piece successfully incorporated maps of the areas that had lead to this birds demise within a stone it was standing on. The maps had told a powerful story and had, as I hoped caused people to ask questions about what the piece meant and the relevance of the countries illustrated. For this second study I had an idea of the maps building up the birds reflection and so I sketched out the reflection and fitted the areas into each individual piece. This bird is almost certainly extinct so the temporary nature of a reflection seemed a suitable way of telling the story.
Below, stitching the backing fabric, reflection and edging ready to be stitched to mountboard.
With the first of three exhibitions with the Contemporary Quilters West fast approaching all the pictures are now complete and at the framers!
Following on from the earlier blog about the creation and inspiration of this Starling piece I finally have the finished image.
‘Chorus Line’ Starling
This piece included lots of small painted details and hand stitching. I really enjoyed the hand stitching, though it was a struggle to get the needle through some of the very heavily machine stitched areas – great to try some new techniques though.
You can see this piece plus three others at Harbour House Gallery in Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 1JD between the 27th of April and the 3rd of May 2018.
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.
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.
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 have had accepted on the Contemporary Quilters West ‘travelling exhibition’ this year. You can read more about its inspiration on an earlier blog here.
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.
Below, the final piece.
‘Home in sight’ Osprey
This piece can be seen 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.
I have been wanting to do a series of pieces based on the Osprey for a long time now. The plight of the Osprey first came to my attention after reading the wonderful book ‘Sky Hawk’. My youngest and I first enjoyed this book after our lovely friend Gill Lewis came to our primary school to talk about her book and what inspired her to write it.
We read this in about 2011-2012, long before I had started thinking and learning about free motion embroidery or had any knowledge or appreciation of art quilts. Gill has gone on to win awards and write many more children books, each giving an insight into the animal or bird she features. Amongst her subjects have been Gorillas, Bears and most recently Hen Harriers. The full list for older readers can be seen here.
‘Cambridge researchers surveyed a cohort of four- to 11-year-old children in Britain. The researchers made a set of 100 picture cards, each showing a common species of British plant or wildlife, including adder, bluebell, heron, otter, puffin and wren. They also made a set of 100 picture cards, each showing a “common species” of Pokémon character, including Arbok, Beedrill, Hitmonchan, Omanyte, Psyduck and Wigglytuff.
The children were then shown a sample of cards from the two sets, and asked to identify the species for each card. The results were striking. Children aged eight and over were “substantially better” at identifying Pokémon “species” than “organisms such as oak trees or badgers”: around 80% accuracy for Pokémon, but less than 50% for real species. For weasel read Weedle, for badger read Bulbasaur – and this was before the launch of Pokémon Go.
The researchers published their paper in Science. Their conclusions were unusually forthright – and tinged by hope and worry. “Young children clearly have tremendous capacity for learning about creatures (whether natural or manmade),” they wrote, but they are presently “more inspired by synthetic subjects” than by “living creatures”. They pointed to evidence linking “loss of knowledge about the natural world to growing isolation from it”. We need, the paper concluded, “to re-establish children’s links with nature if we are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation”, for “we love what we know …
What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren”?’
In a time that surveys show many children are losing touch with nature the 2008 National Trust survey showed only a third of eight- to 11-year-olds could identify a magpie, though nine out of 10 could name a Dalek.
The importance of nature as a reference point has also been seen by the Oxford University Press (OUP) removal of numerous words from their Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words such as acorn, bluebell, heron, kingfisher, lark, lobster, magpie, otter, and panther have been replaced by ‘modern’ words such as ‘broadband’, ‘celebrity’, ‘blog’ and ‘cut and paste’. When the OUP were asked to comment on these changes they said it represented ‘a consensus experience of modern day childhood, nowadays the environment has changed’. Nature has become less of a feature of our children’s lives.
The outdoors and nature is being replaced by indoor and virtual!
Inspiring books that reconnect and inspire children to see and learn about nature are more important than ever. Gill’s stories play a vital part in this process.
‘An illustrated spell-book in watercolour and gold leaf, from the rich creative minds of award-winning author Robert Macfarlane and acclaimed artist Jackie Morris. As nature vanishes from children’s language and their imagination, The Lost Words stands against the loss of magic, celebrating the joy of wild childhood and wild places’. (Penguin)
Inspired by Gill’s book I have started my first Osprey piece. We spend a week most years in Scotland and I long to see an Osprey. I hope to make a visit to one of the Wildlife Trusts Osprey sites next year but, until then I have decided to start the first piece.
As usual I have started with a water colour painting for inspiration.
Below, you can see the first selection of fabrics that I may use for this smaller, head shot piece.
The final selection and the fabric template ready for stitching.
I am really looking forward to starting to stitch this piece and hope to add a simple Scottish backdrop in the distance.
I have spoken about Midsomer Quiltings 12×12 customer challenge in previous blogs but if you would like to read more about the challenge and what it was based on click here.
This years challenge is ‘Where in the World”…..
It will not come as any surprise to know that mine is based on a bird! I recently watched the fabulous BBC series ‘Tribes, Predators & Me’ with nature photographer Gordon Buchanan.
All three parts were fabulous but I loved the story of the Eagle people of Mongolia. These Kazakh nomads hunt on horseback with Golden eagles in the Altai mountains of Western Mongolia.
The aim was to set the bird into a backdrop that gave an idea of the tribesmen’s life. This backing fabric helped to set the scene of a barren land of mountains and snow capped peaks, whilst also giving a subtle backdrop to the bird. A rose gold gilded sun added more interest to the backing.
I have painted a shadow outline of a distant horseman with his eagle on his arm, ready to hunt.
This is quite a different challenge for me as I love trying to capture the birds power and intensity through its eye and reflections. On this occasion though I wanted to show the bird resting in the foreground with its hood on.
I chose a selection of fabrics to create the leather hand made hood. I have started to hand stitch areas to help create the hand pieced effect.
I have started to stitch the bird and look forward to finishing the piece after half term.
As always the entries will be for sale via a secret auction to raise money for Dorothy House Hospice. Its well worth a visit whilst the show is on.
All entries will be displayed at the shop every day from Friday, November 24th, until Monday, December 18th.
I look forward to posting images of the finished piece before delivering it to MQ for the exhibition.