The theme of my favourite conference, SCOS, this year is The Animal, and my grate frend, Beatriz and I have decided to do some work together. We are going to make a piece each week for twenty-five weeks, (deep breath) based on the dragon. Beatriz mainly works on paper and in mixed media, and so she will paint; I am going to use a lot of cloth. We are working on the dragon because it is the SCOS emblem, and that of many of the cities we have visited with the conference over the years. We thought a mythological beast might bring something extra to the proceedings next year in Uppsala.
So this is my first offering. I made it over Christmas when I had plenty of time to do colonial knots in front of the tv. I decided to do a dragon pelt. It is a variation on clamshell patchwork. When patchwork had its big revival in the 1970s, the how-to books were full of how to do this form of piecing. If you look closely at them, however, the finished items are really pretty small. This is because it is really fiddly and time-consuming and requires the ability to get a smooth curve on every single piece. There is often a reproduction of this piece of antique clamshell, which I think is in the Victoria and Albert’s collection:
That sort of green piping suggests to me that this was made by someone with a great deal of leisure who wanted to show her fine needlework skills to the marriage market. Be that as it may, the examples in the books are usually cushions, spectacle cases, bag flaps and, surprisingly often, owl chests.
I decided to avoid the tricky piecing and gathering that long curved edge by making mine out of felt:
This is very cheap felt from Hobbycraft. I would have liked to have used some of the gorgeous handmade woollen felt that I see at the quilt shows, but just after Christmas a trip to the retail park was pretty much all that was on offer, so I decided to use this pretty nasty acrylic stuff. It has a nasty, almost squeaky texture, and it only comes in pretty garish colours, but it is really forgiving. I stitched the clamshells onto some old curtain interlining:
and stitched it down with what looks like black, but which is actually a very dark brown, embroidery floss, two strands. Both fabrics are springy which meant I could pull the clamshells about to fit as much as I liked. Then I decorated with deliberately free-hand cut contrasting circles and put them on with straight stitch and colonial knots. I always use colonial knots since I had an impromptu tutorial at the Festival of Quilts with Sandie Lush. The are much easier to do than french knots and they hardly ever go wrong.
I wanted a really folkartsy feel to this piece.
I wanted to invoke the embroidery that I had grown up with, but also to make the piece feel like something you might find tucked away in an ethnographic museum somewhere.
I was thinking about the sort of embroidery on the right-hand side of this instruction booklet which I found on the web, the sort of thing my mother did in the seventies in her modern free-embroidery classes. My attempt was the opposite of fine needlework. Overall, I think it worked quite well to give me a dragon pelt:
I can’t help thinking that a dragon pelt is a good thing to have. I am sure that one like this would be protective, which is not a bad thing to have at the beginning of the new year. Dragons as protectors is something that Beatriz and I want to look at because it is the other side of dragons as hoarders and fierce, attacking defenders. So in some ways, this is a (very small) safety blanket.