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Cuckoo

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.

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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”.

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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.

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Above, the bird pieced and paint details added as a stitch guide.

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Early selection of possible threads, including King Tut and Oliver Twist.

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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!

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I stitched the grid with a walking foot following the iron removable pen outline. The letters were stitched free hand on the machine.

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Above, Starting to build up the colours and textures of the feathers with stitch.

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Finally it was time to stitch the Cuckoo onto the completed background, adding the final third of the stitch details to the piece.

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The Cuckoo’s Tale completed!

Without doubt the most fascinating bird I have researched to date……

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Slender Billed Curlew Part 2

 

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.

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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.

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Below, replacing/adding additional layers of fabric to abdomen area before painting details as guide for stitching.

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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.

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Below, stitching the backing fabric, reflection and edging ready to be stitched to mountboard.

 

 

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The finished piece off to the framers.  I am hoping to show this at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in August on the Contemporary Quilters West stand and also at The West Country Quilt & Textile show at UWE in September.

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These pieces were inspired by Horatio Clare’s book ‘Orison for a Curlew’, a book I highly recommend reading if you are interested in nature and our human impact on the planet.

 

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‘Chorus Line’

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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fabrics selected and cut to size, the bird started to emerge.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 have had accepted on the Contemporary Quilters West ‘travelling exhibition’ this year.  You can read more about its inspiration on an earlier blog here.

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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.

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I start to choose possible threads as this process begins to take shape.

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15 different fabrics were used to get to this point and I was now ready to move onto the next stage.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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

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