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.


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.


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.

Thanks for reading.


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


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.


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.

Bird Island.jpg

I am still awaiting the final scanned and colour balanced image ready for printing so the image above is not absolutely correct but it gives a good impression of the final piece.

If accepted this piece will be at the first stage of the Contemporary Quilters West exhibition 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.


Slender billed Curlew

Version 2

The first of the pieces based on the Slender billed curlews plight is now complete.  This work was inspired by the wonderful book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ by Horatio Clare.

I have absolutely loved researching this piece and trying new techniques such as simple fabric dying, beading, fabric painting and metal leaf.


Version 2

I’ve really enjoyed experimenting  with the background and how it could tell the story of this fated birds migratory route, which has led to its almost certain extinction.

Version 2

The final piece, incorporates a rock made up of small maps of the key areas listed in Horatio’s book.  Initially I had planned to make each area an individual stone but this looked cluttered.  The balance of telling the story and still creating an attractive piece of art was an interesting test.

Version 2

I have started to use the information and research I have gathered on this bird into another couple of pieces, I look forward to writing about these another day.


I absolutely love what I do, learning about these birds, the threats they face and their possible/probable extinction.  I do however find it incredibly sad that I will never run out of birds in this category and wonder what the future holds for nature in a man-made world.

As Horatio Clare says ‘ A world in which only the robust survive is a dulled and blunted planet; all crows, and no colour’


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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

Thanks for reading.




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.


Below a quick watercolour experimenting with the Robin on a snowy branch.


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.


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.




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


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.



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.


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


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


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.


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



Using a real pheasant tail feather as reference.


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


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.


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

Thanks for reading.



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.


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.


The initial selection of possible fabrics for bird and background.


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.


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.


A selection of possible threads.


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


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….