Pheasant/Phoenix

Pheasnt phoenix

I am hardly ever proud of what I have done.  I follow a curve of getting very excited about something and then thinking it’s a pile of rubbish.  I am with all those artists who say that there is massive frustration in what is in your imagination or mind’s eye and what you are actually able to achieve.  But, for once, I am absolutely delighted with this piece, an embroidered fabric collage of some sort of bird.

I started this piece on a lovely weekend at the wonderful Shore Cottage Studios on the Wirral.  I have written a lot about this magical place on my blog before.  This time I went with my Grate Frend, Mike, who is a brilliant maker of fabric collage, and who I thought would like the studio and Sue, who was our tutor, and fabric dyeing (all of which he did).  We went for a walk on the beach and gathered some inspirational stuff: stones, feathers, crab shell, seaweed and so on.  Then we did some drawing and in the afternoon some microwave and rust dyeing.  The following day we started to make our pieces.

I found all this so exciting that I couldn’t sleep on the first night, so I did some sketchbook work and got prepared for the following day.  This is my sketch of what I intended to make:

Wreath sketch

It’s a pretty wreath with all those elements we found on the beach.  I went on to work out all the stitches I would use, and was ready to go.

In my hotel room, however, was a copy of House and Garden, which I very seldom read as the houses really are grand, and my house is not.  But it had a picture from an exhibition at Waddeston Manor:

Pheasant original photo

I thought he was rather magnificent, although rather more striking than pheasants I have encountered.  Anyway, I ummed and ahhed, but finally decided to make a pheasant rather than a wreath.  I used the fabric that I had dyed the previous day and supplemented it with a bit from Sue’s stash, and in the bottom right hand corner a pale turquoise piece that Mike had dyed.  I very carefully hand-appliquéd a rosy red piece for the body using the needle-turning technique.  Bit of a daft mistake.  No-one can now see my exquisite (!!!!!) hand appliqué and it meant another layer to stitch through, and it was thick by the end as much of what I used was weighty furnishing fabric.

It is one of my new-found pleasures of retirement that I was able to take it home and work on it the following day.  Here are some details of the feathers:

Wing feather details

I hope you can see from this photo that I over-dyed some printed fabric – you can see the white lines of the botanical design.  I stitched into that with some of the hand-dyed threads we produced.

Feather stitch detail two

This shows the next layer of feathers which were stitched with a variety of threads, some commercial and some from the workshop.  This was the first stitching and really brought the piece to life and convinced me to keep working into it.

Phoenix feather stitch detail

These are the same feathers showing how the embroidery secures them but also allows them a 3D effect.  It also shows some of the fraying I did on the feathers’ edges.  My fingernails did not thank me for it.

Back of head feathers

These are the back of the neck detail feathers.  The stitching here is with a very fine variegated silk thread produced commercially.

Feathers three

This shows the beads I put on his chest.  I bought them for the project and astonished the woman in the bead shop by my speed of choice.  The darker faceted beads really catch the light.  I wanted to use the turquoise ones to try and capture his brilliant flashes of jewel colours in the photograph source material.

The other things that I knew were going to be really important in this piece were the beak and the eye.  I wanted him to look very proud and fierce and defiant.  I left the features until last because I knew that they could easily ruin the whole thing which is a bit silly when you think about it, but I knew if I got it right they would bring him to life.  So, I deliberately exaggerated his beak and make him much more raptor-like:

Pheasant beak detail

I used the Anna Scholz gold fabric I described in my last post, and then I stitched over it with fine cotton perlé to knock the gold back a bit, and also to give it the 3D curve of a beak.  I tried very hard to integrate the gold into the face, as it can jump out, but I think it sits okay here.

Then I went onto the eye and thought about several ways of approaching it, including painting it, but in the end I went with a simple satin stitch in black perlé cotton and a small pearl bead:

Eye detail

I really wanted that evil glint in his eye, and I think it more or less worked.

I am really pleased with him, but as I was stitching it, I thought, it’s not a pheasant at all, it’s a phoenix, and not to come all over poetic and wacky woo woo, I think he is symbolic of my new life after being a university teacher for so long.

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Orange rose egg

This egg panel is very simple.  I wanted to use the orange rose print just because I think it is so pretty.  I tacked the fabric over a stiff card egg template, stitched almost all the way round it and then pulled the card through the gap.  I find this is a good way to handle curves.  Then, to give it some interest, I used variegated thread to go round it in beaded fly stitch:

Orange rose detail

I used very cheap glass beads from Tiger.  Sometimes having cheap elements is good because it is easier to be generous with them.  The fabric came from a cheap bargain bin at a quilt show.  I suppose that lilac and tangerine isn’t everyone’s choice, but I really liked the exuberant full-blown roses which lent themselves to fancy-cutting here.

I don’t have much else to say about this one.  It was quick and easy and has a bit of a sparkle but not enough to look flashy.

 

Turquoise egg

Turquoise egg

I have been busy making more pieces to illustrate my soon to launch Fabergé-inspired egg workshop, and I am going to put them on the blog in fairly quick succession.

This one is one of the flat panels that I have been making.  It is made of silk and wool tweed that I bought on Etsy.  It is the most lovely stuff imaginable to work with because it feels fabulous in your hand with lots of drape, but it doesn’t particularly fray.  I also think that the muted colours are quite reminiscent of Fabergés pastel palette in many of his pieces.  Again the weave echoes his machine-worked enamelling called guilloché which I described in a previous post.  The use of the beads and the way they are applied is a reference to his dedication to skill and expertise.  He was adamant in public statements that the price of the stones didn’t matter; the level of craft in working them did.  In this piece I used some turquoise type beads that I bought in Leicester:

Turquoise egg detail

The big trefoil beads have holes in the sides for stringing which I used to stitch them on, but I have learned if you want beads to be very precisely spaced like this in a repeating pattern, then it is as well to put a bit of pva behind them, let it dry and then stitch them on.  Otherwise no matter how careful I am they move and spoil the effect.  The beads around the edge which are there to anchor down the egg appliqué as well as to add decoration are applied with blanket stitch.  Once they were all on I went over the vertical element of the blanket stitch with raised chain band which gives the knotted effect, which I think just adds a bit.

 

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  Raised chain band – not as complicated as it looks.
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Blanket stitch

 

The finished piece feels really lovely.  It is drapey because of the silk in the mix, but it is also heavy with beads, and the trefoils form quite a dense tactile surface.  Fabergé wanted his work to delight people, and, although I am blowing my own trumpet, this piece is delightful.

Turtle Egg

turtle egg overview

There has been one of my all too frequent gaps in posting.  Again it is because I have been doing a lot of making, mainly on my inspired by Fabergé eggs.  I have also moved on to working with wook appliqué and embroidery and have gone back to my old highly decorative and surface worked style.  This is one of the new series of eggs (and I will post about all of them eventually).  It is worked on a thick but light Welsh woollen background, with the egg itself made from an Irish tweed from a sample pack.  I chose the tweed to try and echo Fabergé’s trademark guilloché enamel.  This involved many coats of thin enamel over a tooled metal base.  I believe it is called Guilloché after its inventor M. Guilloché.  This is an egg showing the technique.

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Strangely whereas enamel is cold and hard and durable, the soft, thick highly susceptible to moths tweed seems like a brilliant way to render the guilloché in textiles.

This piece, which I have called the Turtle Egg, also shows what I mean by being inspired by Fabergé rather than copying him.  I don’t particularly like the neo-classical style of the eggs, but I find them endlessly inspiring for my own ideas.  I heard an interview with the singer PJ Harvey yesterday in which she said she does a lot of research and reading for her albums but when it comes time to write the songs she puts it all aways and just writes what comes out, in effect her own response to the material.  I think this sums up what I do much of the time.  I do my research, look at the picture books I have amassed and then wait to do what the cloth tells me to do.  I find this a highly satisfying process.

After choosing the delicate tweed I found a leftover circle of cloth from another project, already pressed over a paper form.  I appliquéd that and then started to add the beads around the edge of the egg.  Tweed and wool in general don’t fray particularly badly, unlike silk, but they still need gentle treatment until the edges are secured.  After that I stitched on the turtle, which is a charm that I bought for three pounds in a bead shop.  It was a happy accident that the cloth circle and the turtle fitted together so well.  As I was sewing I became aware that I was working in bronzy tones, but that the tweed was a very soft blue, green and pink blend, and so I put a ring of turquoise beads around the inner circle.  I finished by stitching colonial knots in a beautifully variegated perlé cotton around the turtle.

Turtle detail

I made this one in an evening and it was really relaxing to make.  One of those pieces where everything comes gently together rather than having to be wrestled into place, which is a story for another day.

Wreath Wraith

 

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I have been very busy recently and have let my blog slip.  I can only apologise.  There are plenty of posts coming up which I hope will go some way to make up for this.

I am starting with the pieces that I entered into the Bristol Quilters Exhibition earlier this month.  The first of these is Wreath Wraith.  I have no idea why I chose the word ‘wraith’, here; it should have been Wreath Wright, as in someone who makes wreaths.  But I think that I might have done so much of this that it made me feel like a wraith or a ghost.  My idea was to show how you could make Baltimore style wreaths part of a contemporary quilt.

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The appliqué here is all by hand, but the construction of the pieced elements is done on my IKEA sewing machine to show that you don’t need a fancy one to piece.  I had to fall back on the Bernina for the machine quilting, though.

I have blogged about making this piece before: (https://annjrippin.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/further-adventures-in-wreath-making/, )and so I thought I would say something about seeing the quilt in the show.

The first thing was my horror in seeing it hanging.  About as straight as a dog’s hind leg, as my mother would say.  The right-hand-side of this ripples gently and is probably about three inches shorter than the left.  Now, I put this down to rushing to finish it, and not hanging it up myself.  What a nightmare.  Note to self, try the measuring and using a set square the way they tell you to in quilting manuals.

The second thing was my ‘delight’ about being hung next to the totally glorious and perfect appliqué piece by the international championship winning quilter, Sandie Lush.

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Just stop for a minute and consider just how perfect this is.  Here is a detail:

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Not only is the appliqué of a standard to make you weep, but the hand quilting is perfection too.  Then look at mine:

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Just above entry level.  But Sandie is a lovely, gracious and kind woman.  She came up to me at the show and said, ‘I love your appliqué.  It’s really vibrant and lovely.  Mine looks dull and lifeless.’  It didn’t, of course, but very kind of her to say so.

Sandie has a great web page detailing her quilts and her activities.  When you see that, you will realise why I was so crimson of mien being placed next to her, and why she is such an inspiration to so many.  Her website is here http://www.sandielush.co.uk/

A little bit of floral appliqué

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This is an interesting little piece.  It’s not that I don’t remember making it, but I don’t remember making it that clearly.  I think I made it to use the egg shape to make the vase:

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I then filled the vase with flowers cut, like the egg, with my sizzix machine:

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I cut the leaves freehand:

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The piece is on the reverse of a piece of furnishing fabric from the eighties which is incredibly ugly on the front, and scraps of silk.  It really came to life with the acrylic gems in the centre of the flowers.

It’s very loosely based on those fantastic 17th-century Dutch genre paintings

 

I love these blousey, virtuoso pieces.

Because the pieces were cut from bondawebbed silk using my sizzix dye cutter it was a very quick piece to do.  Limited amount of skill on display here.

Further adventures in wreath-making

 

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This version of the wreath is a bit more unusual than the first two that appeared on the blog.  It’s made with Amy Butler fabric so it is much more contemporary-looking.  The substrate is a sample of furnishing fabric, which was great in one way: I didn’t need to put the piece in a hoop to do the chain stitch circle.  This would normally cause the fabric to gather and distort, but because this is such thick fabric it was fine.  The downside was that the fabric was like canvas and really quite difficult to get a thicker needle through which is a problem when using embroidery threads.  I used the reverse of the fabric again.

Now, this brings me to the biggest problem with number three.  And this is a real beginner’s error.  In fact, a beginner would have the sense not to make this mistake.  Samples almost always have a label on the reverse with the name of the print and the fibre composition and colourway and so on:

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The usual procedure is to put a hottish iron on the label and it peels off quickly and cleanly.  So I merrily assumed that would be the case here and went ahead and did the majority of the appliqué.  Sadly the label utterly refused to shift:

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I am not a perfectionist, but even I could see that this needed a fix.  The only thing I could think of was to make an appliqué to fit over the whole thing with a bit of space to spare as it was going to be difficult to stitch through the sticky label and the thick cotton.  In the end, I thought the only thing that would work would be a bird.  Fortunately this piece is quite large so there was scope to make a bird which wouldn’t look like an albatross had landed.

At this point I was a bit fed up and wanting a quick fix.  Fortunately, I found a print with a variety of splashy paisley shapes.  One of them was pointing in the right direction to cover the label and had a suitably stylised bird shape and had a print which suggested a wing so I wouldn’t have to stitch through the paper.
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I had to add another piece of fussy-cut fabric to make some sort of head, and then embroider a beak and eye in satin stitch:

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I found an acrylic gem which was the perfect size to make an eye while I was looking for something else, so I stitched that on.  Please don’t tell me that a bird this shape wouldn’t have this shaped beak.  I did my best.

In the end, I quite like the bird and I think it adds to the overall piece.   This wreath, I hope is going to be part of a larger piece of work.  It’s all very well making wreaths, but I need to show people what you can do with them other than making cushions.  I also like the problem-solving element of this.  And I offer it as an example to people I meet who seem to think I am an expert in this field.  My personal takeaway is: always test that the sticker comes off before you devote a fair bit of time to stitching on samples.

Another wreath

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I was a bit taken aback by how popular the last wreath was, so here’s another.  This is made in the same way.  The background is a sample of furnishing linen which I have had for ages but not wanted to cut up.  The circle is done in chain stitch with three strands of embroidery cotton.  This one has appliquéd berries and thorn stitch between the leaves.

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This one is quite so easy to read.  The previous one had a lighter background:

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I like the second one because it looks a bit vintage, as if the person who made it in the 19C didn’t quite know how it was going to fade and become less distinct.

These are so easy to do, though.  Brilliant for beginners because the appliqué leaves are a really simple shape.

Spring Wreath

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This is my latest piece of work.  It is quite a traditional piece of hand appliqué.  I started with a piece of printed furnishing fabric from a sample book, measuring roughly 18 inches (46 cm) square and drew a circle on it in pencil.  Then I went over that in chain stitch.  Had I made a bias tube and stitched that down, the result would have been better but I would still be doing it now.  Also the light line of the chain stitch, I think matches the delicacy of the finished piece.

The leaves were cut freehand from scraps of fabric.  The main fabric is a cheap Liberty knockoff, but the other two are very contemporary fabrics which I used with the reverse showing to knock back the brightness of the prints.  They were appliquéd using very traditional needle-turning.

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I finished it off with some big beads from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces over some tiny crocheted circles I had made one night when I was bored and only had a bit of yarn and a crochet hook to hand.

I am quite pleased with it, as it was fairly quick to make and it was a good day on the radio yesterday, and it cost pretty much nothing.  Plus it is quite spring-like.

I think I will mount it over a plain canvas box frame, otherwise it might be the start of a Baltimore album quilt and that way madness lies.

Modernista Easter

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It seems to me that not everyone wants pretty pastel things at Easter and so I did a bit of What if? thinking.  What if we made some decorations which were based on a bit more sophisticated palette such as coffee and taupe.  I also wanted to make samples which are not full-size quilts but are finished and not just obviously samples.  It struck me that table runners would be a good way to do a fair bit of a pattern but would not be a marathon task to finish.  This linen table runner is from IKEA and costs about a fiver.  As my mother would say, you couldn’t buy the fabric for that.

So, I appliquéd some eggs while watching El Cid with the Medieval Historian who was trying to get his class to watch it to talk about how history is used to suit the purposes of the day.  It was fascinating that in February 2017 the film seemed to be about good Muslims and bad Muslims and Islamophobia, but when it was made it at the height of the Cold War it was about good Russians and bad (Communist) Russians.  That aside, you can get a lot of appliqué done as Chuck Heston races around nobly saving the day.

I had bought the egg fabric on holiday.  One of those, I don’t know what I will ever do with it, but it’s a really nice fat quarter and will come in useful at some point.  It is made by Organic Cotton.  I liked the Downton Abbey type dancing couples.  When I looked closely, however, I thought it had more than a touch of the Weimar Republic about it.   The young men look very like young ladies in drag:

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I used a straightforward hand appliqué technique.  I put the fabric over a piece of thick paper which I had cut into an egg shape with my sizzix machine and then gathered round the edge and pressed.  I stitched down three quarters of the appliqué with the paper still in, removed it and finished the hand stitching.  This is a good technique with anything with circular or particularly curved edges.

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I like hand appliqué and found it very relaxing to do, but, looking at the runner laid out in the studio, I think that the eggs need to be nearer the edge.  Still quite a successful trial, though, I think.