Sources of Inspiration

I have been teaching various creativity techniques for years, and am interested in where we get our ideas from.  It seems to be a difficult process to map.  For me it really does feel like a spark in the brain: I could do that.  Then it’s followed by: well, what if we did it this way?

One thing that lots of us do to find that initial inspiration is to look through magazines.  In my case, I like some of the quilting magazines, I love Uppercase and Selvedge.  I am getting to the point, though, where, lovely as they are, magazines about stitching fabric together in geometrical designs are just getting flicked through rather than poured over.  I have started to like the very glossy house magazines such as World of Interiors and House and Garden.  In my last post about my pheasant/phoenix piece I described working from this photo in House and Garden:

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An advertisement for the coming month’s issue led me to buy it as it promised a feature around a man holding a massive stuffed fish.  Imagine my delight when it had a whole run of beautiful photographs of the new season’s fabrics made up into outfits for sailors and several fabric sea creatures including this chap with some lovely lobsters:

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All the photos are glorious, and here are a couple of fish:

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I really liked the feature because the other pieces are so brilliantly done using the fabric, but also the tongue-in-cheek of the photographs.  The Penzance Sailing Club, it seems, were persuaded to wear ludicrous outfits and to play it absolutely straight for the camera.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a credit for whomever made the glorious fabric artefacts.

In World of Interiors, there was a feature using the new fabric ranges photographed in Portugal.  This one also had some wonderful sea creatures including this moody and misty shot of a giant fish:

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Again, sadly, no credit is given to the maker.

The upshot of this is that I think I will be changing my reading habits a bit, and sinking more often into the fantasy world of the glossies.

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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.

Wise words

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Teeny, tiny post today.  I was discussing the perennial scrap quilts leave you with more scraps than you started with problem last week and was delighted to hear the following acronym: STABLE = Stash beyond life expectancy.  Which just about covers it.

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.

Soft launch at Pomegranate

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Saturday was a big day for me.  I invited four friends to come and try out my studio as a space for workshops.  I was really anxious in case it didn’t work.  It is snug, and people have to cooperate about moving around, but it was doable.

I was trialling a workshop on Maying, or bringing in the May which is a tradition we have rather lost in the British Isles.  There are some good books on the Maying traditions including the truly wonderful Arcadia Britainnica, which has great pictures of people dressing up for the May:

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It has some really inspirational photographs of people dressed up for the various festivals, and I particularly like the shaggy costumes of many of the Jack in the Green characters

It all looks very pagan, but according to the Medieval Historian it isn’t.  It might be Medieval, but is most likely Victorian.  As usual, he loves to drain the romance out of just about anything.

Maying is really about celebrating the return of vegetation and greenery to the earth and so the festivities included bringing greenery into the home as a decoration and celebration.  My original idea was to make paper chandeliers along the lines of Polish Pajaki:

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I wanted to do this to try and connect with diverse Bristol which has a large Polish community.  The only problem is that it is incredibly dull to do and takes forever.  The Polish tradition was to make them in the long dark winter evenings and I can see how this would while them away.  Plus, I had no end of trouble getting the strings to suspend the hoop evenly.  So I think that I might change the workshop to making wreaths.  My lovely, lovely guinea pigs, however, were up to the challenge of making chandeliers:

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We had a great day and everything looks wonderful in the brilliant spring sunshine:

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Plus we had a wonderful shared lunch.

Concentration levels were high:

And they gave me some wonderful feedback.  Of course, not everyone took it totally seriously:

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I am greatly encouraged by this and am encouraged to set up my first real expecting people to pay for it workshop.  Watch this space.

Alf Rehn’s shirt

 

Wednesday was the birthday of a Grate Frend (Molesworth) of mine, Alf Rehn.  Alf is the epitome of the modern European: divides his time between London, Copenhagen and Finland, speaks most modern languages, is sophisticated, suave and soigné.  He is on the international speaker circuit, writes books on innovation that get translated into umpteen languages, and is father of my godson.  So, a pertinent question is, what do you get him for his birthday.

Well, some months ago I was telling him about an artist whose work I really love, Elvis Robertson.  Robertson takes old cloths, mainly table linen, and embroiderers the stains on them.  This might sound a bit disgusting to some people, but I think the pieces are exquisite.  For some reason I find the reclamation of these damaged and discarded pieces of fabric really moving.  Here are a couple of pictures of what I mean:

His instagram account is definitely worth consulting too.  Alf said how much he would like a shirt with coffee stains embroidered on it.  I suddenly remembered this and thought it would be a good present for someone who had everything, and if he didn’t like it he could always cut it up for dusters.

I bought a white shirt with a front woven to look like a pintucked dress shirt and went into the studio on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I started by printing some rings with a ceramic ramekin using Golden Fluid acrylics in raw sienna and bronze.  I then sprinkled some copper metallic powder over the wet paint.  This is the sample piece:

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Having got my confidence up, I stamped the paint on the shirt and left it to dry in the warm studio.

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I put it in an embroidery hoop and did satin stitch in ordinary brown stranded embroidery thread and added some tiny coffee coloured beads.  I decided to embroider just the button flap as a design feature.

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This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:

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Fortunately, Alf loved it and has promised to send me some photos of him in it when he wears it, which he says he will do when he does one of his big strategy talks.  More news to follow then.

Field notes from Utopia

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A couple of months ago, I went on a fantastic weekend at Shore Cottage Studio.  I have blogged about this before, but, to recap, it is a gorgeous studio on the Dee Estuary which runs short courses on a variety of activities (textiles, glass making, photography, laser cutting, for example).  It is run by the family team of Sue, Laura and Kris.  This is the word cloud of their trip advisor feedback:

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Word clouds make patterns in which the largest words are the ones most frequently used.  I am very interested to see ‘love’ so prominent here.  I suspect it comes from comments such as ‘I love the Studio’, but I thought it was a place which just about ran on love.  That’s why this post is called ‘Field notes from Utopia’.  I felt loved the minute I walked through the door and that is a utopian feeling.  So this post is about my embroidery, but also a little bit about Utopia.  If you aren’t interested in Utopia, just skip to the pictures of the embroidery, which I hope you enjoy.

I am really interested in utopias because they are so contradictory.  One person’s Utopia is another person’s dystopia.  For example, in HG Wells’ The Time Machine we have the Eloi who seem to have the perfect peaceful, aesthetically beautiful life but who are actually so calm and refined that they are unable to achieve anything new or creative, plus their life depends on an underclass called the Morlocks, a dystopian troglodyte society who only come out at night, but who have the energy to do stuff and in the end to rise up against their oppressors.  One reading of the novel is that the Eloi represent a communist group, and, as we know from our own recent history, communism is seen as paradise by  some and oppression by others.  Utopia and dystopia again.  This was the plot of endless episodes of the first series of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk was always finding new civilisations which looked wonderful at first sight, but which were always inferior to Earth.  And tribes of cultural studies scholars have provided readings of this as code for the Cold War struggles in the US when Kirk and Spock and Uhuru were created.  I am also interested in utopian communities’ carrying within themselves the seeds of their own destruction (we are going in for political economy a bit today).  So, religious groups often go off into the wilderness to find a pure place where they can practise their beliefs without persecution or pollution.  The problem is that sooner or later differences of opinion arise, and no-one is quite pure enough to satisfy the demands of the leader so you get a split and another attempt at a utopian community elsewhere.  These sorts of communities can topple over into cults which often end disastrously, such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidian.  Finally, I am interested in the role of place in all this.  Very often utopians leave a place they consider toxic to go and set up a new purer place elsewhere.  Utopias always seem to be places of tension, reactions against, flights from, black and white situations where you are either right or wrong.  There is not much space for grey in Utopia.

Anyway, for me, Shore Cottage is a form of Utopia.  It is a place where I felt completely at home, loved and cared for, and able to develop my creativity.  I was there as part of a project looking at the anthropology of the Dee Estuary and to do a short ethnography (although really there is no such thing: ethnography done properly is an extended business).  Ethnographers make field notes and so my embroidery represents field notes in cloth.

I designed it to look like an artefact an ethnographer might take with them, so it rolls up:

The linen has a toile print of a river, which is the nearest that I could get to an estuary.  The tree rather appealed to me.

It unrolls to show several ‘leaves’ or panels:

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The piece uses the fabric and thread that I dyed on the weekend with Sue.  Some of them were left whole just to show the effects such as this microwaved tie dye:

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This is a really brilliant simple technique for hand dying cloth which I will use again. There is also a piece of overnight rust dyeing:

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Brilliant results overnight onto this piece of linen.  The marks were so beautiful that I didn’t want to mask them with stitching or embellishment.

I kept the stitching pretty simple on the rest of the panels:

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This is fern stitch with variegated thread onto a thick blanket-y wool that I dyed.

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This shows simple straight stitches arranged as seeding, vertical cross stitch and some running stitch.  I used the big black and white bead as a sort of sample, like you might get in a ethnographer’s collection of material.

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This is a variation on a theme.  I love these big disc beads.  They remind me of pumice or some other sort of lava.

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This is  a found piece of curtain fabric and the pom pom is part of it.  It is stitched down with layered fern stitch.

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This is also a tiny found sample of furnishing fabric.  I loved the indigo and white.  The white thread is quite thick and reminded me of sashiko.  I wish I could get my stitches that even.  I am not sure I quite like the uneven spacing of the mauve beads, but had I been making this in my tent by hurricane lamp in the nineteenth century, I might not have been able to get them straight, so I left them.

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Another bead and seeding combo.

I wanted to use these little wooden hands because of the importance of the hand made on this weekend:

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I got them from Artchix Studio, which is run by a lovely Canadian woman.  I have lots of things from her shop, but I have stopped using it because the postage is ruinously expensive and then there are charges on top when the parcel gets here.  Gorgeous, unusual, inspiring stuff but now very pricey.  That aside, these hands are lovely.  They are about two centimetres long.  I like the combination of the handmade and the manufactured.  They are all alike and symmetrical, and yet they have a real charm for me.

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The above is some knitting tape which I dyed and couched down and then stuffed with brown glass beads which I got from a Hobbycraft cheapo clearance bag.  I also recycled some embroidery I did a couple of years ago.  They maybe jump a bit, but I think they look slightly like sketches of landscapes that you get in ethnographer and explorer notebooks:

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This is another picture of part of the piece showing how the panels fit together:

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You can just about see in the top left-hand corner that there is a heart shape.  I found a stone on the Dee Estuary beach which had the suggestion of a heart on one side and I thought that this was emblematic of the Studio.  I was really pleased when Sue noticed that a heart had emerged from the hand dyeing on this swatch.  To the left of that, which you can see in the picture at the top, there is a piece of embroidery taken from a vintage tablecloth I bought from a textile fair last year.  This refers to the hand-embroidered vintage tablecloths that they used at the Studio and which I really enjoyed.

This has been a long post, so thanks to reading to the end if you did.