0

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.

IMG_5073

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.

IMG_5068

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

img_5089.jpg

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

IMG_5090

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.

IMG_5079

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.

IMG_5084

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

Thanks for reading.

 

 

1

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

IMG_5051

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.

img_3635.jpg

IMG_3636

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.

IMG_4941

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

img_50191.jpg

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

img_50221.jpg

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.

IMG_5025

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

IMG_5026

IMG_5031

Using a real pheasant tail feather as reference.

IMG_5033

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

img_36391.jpg

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.

img_3641.jpg

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

Thanks for reading.

 

2

2017 12 x 12 Challenge ‘Magic, Mystery & Legend’

Midsomer Quiltings annual customer 12 x 12 challenge is once again on and as impressive and creative as always.

For the past six years they have challenged their visitors to create 12”x12” mini-quilts, on a given theme. The quilts are then exhibited at the shop. Most of them are donated by their creators for sale, by secret auction, during the exhibition. Since 2011 the annual Challenges have raised over £10,000 for charity; the last four of them for Dorothy House Hospice. Last year £3,030 was raised for the Hospice.

You can read more about the original American 12 x 12 challenge here as well as seeing all the entries to the previous challenges.

Below are a few of my favourites, if you would like to see all of this years entries and maybe even place a secret bid in the hope of winning one see below.

If I can’t get to the Challenge exhibition, how can I bid?
This year the exhibition includes the 1000th 12×12 that we’ve included since the first challenge in 2011. A lady in Austin, Texas, has already enquired how she might bid for one of this year’s 12x12s and it occurs to us that there may be others who’d be similarly interested. Consequently, pictures of all of this year’s quilts that are offered for sale are available on Flickr so that anyone can view them and if interested can make bids, that, if successful, will benefit Dorothy House Hospice. If you wish to bid please email us at De@MidsomerQ.com with your bid including the Number and Title of the 12 x 12 . All online bids must be in by 23:59 GMT on Sunday 18th December. 

Its been a family affair this year as you may have seen in an earlier blog post.

Chris had asked if I would like to exhibit some of my latest work whilst the 12 x 12 was on, as it was where this all started.  My Blackbird singing in the dead of night entry in 2014 started this whole wonderful journey!

Sometimes we need to be pushed a little in life and face a new challenge….

Sometimes what seems a small almost insignificant step can lead to a large change in your life.  The 2014 12 x 12 challenge at Midsomer Quilting was one of these occasions. The theme that year was ‘Music’ and one of my entries was based on the song ‘Blackbird Singing in the dead of night’ by the Beatles.

This very simplistic piece started me on a new path. I so enjoyed creating this little bird that I started to design and make others. The order these came about can be seen in the scrapbook below.

It was after I had made 4 of these pieces that Chris suggested I had an exhibition at the shop! The whole idea seemed ludicrous and frankly rather daunting. That said Chris is nothing if not persistent and persuasive. We discussed how many pieces I would need and I made a quite non-committal reply saying I would see how it went.

Eight months later we started hanging the 12 pieces ready for the exhibition.

So much has happened since that first little Blackbird was created

Textile art ticks all my boxes. I love sketching, choosing (and purchasing) new fabrics and then painting the tiny details with thread. . I love the hunt for a colour or pattern that is the answer to the specific area of a project I am working on.

I have become obsessed with creating birds through this medium.

One of the things I love about making a piece of textile Art is never having to face that scary blank page; once a backing fabric has been selected, the scene is set and you are off. Fabrics are so inspiring; it fascinates me how they jump out at me and provide me with the answers to tricky areas. That said sometimes I get so carried away with the stitching that I look back and wonder why I spent so much time on the fabric selection!

Since this first challenge back in 2014 I have been experimenting and the series of pieces I have created since have been instrumental in stretching my technical and creative abilities and have helped me to find a subject and style that I love.

Since joining the Contemporary Quilters West group I have been inspired and challenged to develop my ideas. I have loved creating these pieces and have immersed myself in the birds and their stories. The pieces all have a story to tell and have allowed me to develop my techniques and break away from my typical format.

This journey is continuous as each piece teaches me something new or gives me ideas for the next project. So many bird, so many ideas….so little time!

After 20 years in the NHS and a move in Somerset in 2008 I had been looking for something new, it is still quite unbelievable that a small challenge entry could have changed my life in such a pleasurable way

We hope that by featuring these pieces at the exhibition other people may try something new and find that it takes them somewhere unexpected too…

img_2069

4

A Little Finch

One of the ‘Gang’ of birds visiting our garden most frequently are the Goldfinchs.  These fickle little chaps are faithful to us when we provide Nyger seed and don’t want to know us if anything else is offered as a substitute.

IMG_1829

I’m in the habit now of looking up my chosen bird in my favourite new book  A Year of Britain’s Birds ‘Tweet of the Day’ by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss.  This fabulous book gives a little snippet of all our British Birds, their life and the problems they have faced over time, so….

The Goldfinch

  1. The red detail around their bill is said to be a result of the bird taking pity on the crucified Christ and them pulling the thorns from his crown.
  2. A flock of Goldfinches are often called a ‘charm’
  3. Their striking appearance almost led to their downfall in Victorian times as it was a popular cage-bird.  By the 1890’s it was an endangered species.  The RSPB made the species a priority and it is now thankfully a fairly common bird.

Because they are such a daily sight from my kitchen window I decided it was about time to base a piece on them.  I wanted this image to be more realistic than the previous pieces so decided that I should have the bird on a single piece of backing fabric so that the bird was THE focus….. Bit scary because if the bird was rubbish as there would be no hiding place (I have a Bullfinch who has met his end from this problem – poor thing!)

Anyway, lets not linger at this point, on the failure of a piece….

I looked at loads of images of Goldfinches and found the one above with a teasel.  I was interested in the bird having a solid base of sorts and thought the teasel would be fun to quilt.

This piece has taught me many things, mostly what not to do on future pieces, I’ll share these along the way.

I started by sketching the bird stationary as above but settled on the image below as it had a good feeling of motion, as if he was struggling in the breeze or his weight was too much for the plant to support.

IMG_1790

From the initial sketch I then take a tracing paper copy (holding the tracing paper over the original against a window), simplifying the image into distinct colour block areas (I wasn’t organised enough to take a picture of the next process).  I then wrote on the blocks the colour and retraced for example, all the black areas onto the non-paper side (raised) of a piece of BondaWeb.  This ensures the pieces, when ironed onto a piece of cloth are facing the same way.  I draw them all close together so that when it is ironed onto my correct colour fabric there is minimal wastage.  Lesson 1 – copy the traced line over onto the paper side of the BondaWeb as when ironing onto dark or busy fabric you will not see your original pencil line!

IMG_1815

The image below illustrates the image building up.  However lesson 2 – I would recommend having the bird cut out as a complete silhouette in one colour of fabric, ideally the main colour.  In this instance white would have been a good choice.  This avoids areas being left out.  If you look carefully in the image after next you can see backing fabric where I clearly had not carefully ensured all areas where redrawn onto BondaWeb.  I was fortunate that I used a sympathetic backing and that this was lost in the threading.  However it would have been much more sensible to have one base colour.  I’ve done this on future pieces and its been a much smoother process.

IMG_1813

Below all the main colours except the yellow have been added.  I would recommend before ironing the BondaWeb into place popping your tracing paper outline over the top of the fabric layers to ensure they are all in position

IMG_1814

Choosing such a small study (and variety of bird) was tricky for a first attempt.  You can see in the pictures how much the black fabric wanted to fray.  The very small pieces also had a habit of turing or overlapping as the sewing machine foot went over them.  In hindsight, lesson 3 would be stitch the highlights like the yellow details rather than cutting, sticking and stitching.  They were far too small and troublesome!

IMG_1818

The next lesson (number 4) learnt on this piece was that I should always stitch the eye first.  You can make or break a piece if the reflection in the eye is poor.  I stitched the complete bird before adding the glint to his eye and had I messed it up there is no unpicking in such a small area of heavy stitching.  I would far rather abandon a piece at the beginning than the end when the piece had really worked except for that eye!!!!

I’m not known in life for my preparation!  But, in an attempt to be profesional I decided to do a small test piece for the teasel.  I loved the piece of fabric I chose (not that you can see it at all after all my stitching) and BondaWebbed it to the same backing ready to start sewing.

IMG_1830

The King-Tut threads were ideal for this job as they change colour so subtly and made it look far more life like than it would have done with single coloured threads.

IMG_2393

IMG_1831

I conveniently forgot about his legs and feet as I was unsure how to tackle them, anyway once I noticed they were not there I couldn’t stop seeing how he appeared to be balancing precariously!  I popped the image onto Twitter and asked for advice.  The overwhelming feedback was that although it may not have been instantly obvious they thought he deserved legs!!

IMG_1876

Below is the final piece (plus legs) ready to mount onto board for framing.

 Quilters and people who may be interested in buying a piece of Textile Art have very strong feelings about whether they should be framed or not.  I’ll talk about the pros and cons in another blog and why I have chosen to go down the framed route.

IMG_2344

A limited edition Giclee print of ‘Golden Breeze’ is available from my Website shop , please click here to view.

AK002 Golden Breeze