I was clearing out some photos on my phone and found this picture of a page from my sketchbook when I was doing my neckpieces project. Thought it was worth another airing.
This piece is based on a very common amulet. Amulets to ward off the Evil Eye are found all over the world, and the eyes are often blue, as seen on the cover of Desmond Morris’s book containing glorious photographs of his personal collection:
Inside there is a montage of this sort of amulet:
The idea behind these amulets is to meet like with like, so the evil eye will be deflected by another evil eye looking right back at it.
My eye is very stylised. It is a big square glass bead which I bought in the extraordinary bead shop on Derby Road in Nottingham. The shop is exciting because it sells a good range of really flashy or big or unusual beads. I couldn’t resist the blue of this one. Then I surrounded it with all sorts of blue beads which I bought as a collection in the Covent Garden Bead Shop, which I have already mentioned:
Once again this is influenced by tribal beadwork:
I have no idea why I love serried ranks of beads so much, but I love these incrusted beads and particularly when they are in rows. This image taken from Sheila Paine’s book on amulets gives a brilliant example in the headdress above.
The strap is a cheap necklace from Sainsbury’s half-price sale.
I made this collar because I wanted to say something about the need women have to look out for themselves, because despite Equal Pay acts they are often paid less than men doing equal work of equal value. And the things that are offered to women are often of a much lower political currency than those offered to men. So women get to be head of HRM but not Finance, or Strategy, or IT. We have to learn to resist those blandishments, or at least be quite clear about which currency we are being paid in.
I wanted to use the discs along the bottom which I think might actually be old French coins with holes drilled in them, and the piece was based around this, and the idea of using trading beads as currency. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has some great examples of trading beads and I have always been a bit drawn to them.
I started with a nice piece of silk which I quilted onto some thin cotton wadding:
I used the Madeira lana thread to get a good textural contrast.
I started to sew the ‘feature’ beads on:
And it very soon became apparent that this was going to be one of those projects I call ‘Make it Work’ after Tim Gunn turning his nose up at potential disasters in Project Runway. This one was going to need considerable work to make it look like anything at all. I had a bag of what looked almost like Roman glass beads which the magnificent Tanya Bentham had given to me, and I supplemented the feature beads with those. The piece began to come alive, but it was obvkous that it needed to be encrusted with beads to work. I had a big bag of black glass beads and I think that adding black often gives a tribal feel to things which is what I wanted so I stitched them on to fill in the gaps:
Then I added the coins which were my starting point. The two outside edge medallions are there for personal reasons. They are the Chinese horoscope signs of me and the Medieval Historian.
I finished the piece with some chain that I found in Hobbycraft.
This piece was a real surprise to me. I didn’t want to abandon it because I had had the big feature beads forever and had been saving them for something special, so I ploughed on with it, but in the end I really, really like the result. It’s a bit chunky to wear, but with the right dress….
This collar in my War Collar Series is examining the popular feminine tactile that comes from believing that if you are sweet and demure enough the warrior men will protect you. This is nonesense, of course, because you are always marked out as not one of the boys, which I have symbolised here with the very pretty bells (which I bought in the bead shop in Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London):
This collar was simple to make, but not easy. The flowers are made from paper. I bought a tube of them ages ago and was playing with them at the work table and thought how pretty they looked with the large pearl beads. The problem is that the paper was difficult to sew without ripping, and getting the needle through all that paper and two layers of velvet was hard. It should have been quick to make, but actually took a lot of care. I can actually imagine someone wearing this one.
For some reason, the photographs on the blog are getter worse. I still can’t find my proper close-up camera for the details, and I like to use my camera phone so that the pictures will load quickly when you read the blog, but I seem to be losing my touch with the shots. Anyway, to Athena.
This collar started life as one of the velvet blanks – beautiful cotton velvet used in soft furnishings and donated by the son of a friend of my mother who has had honourable mentions in these despatches before. I started to stitch on the flat circular beads which I bought on a trip to Copenhagen with the Medieval Historian and which therefore have sentimental value:
I was lucky to have some matching cube beads to stitch around the edges. I covered the velvet with the beads and then lost a bit of momentum. I was driving to our huge out of town shopping mall, so not thinking about the collars or the project at all, when I suddenly thought that of all of the collars, this one looked the most like plate armour of a sort with its overlapping deflecting discs, which is where the project started. Then I remembered a necklace I had bought in a closing down sale which was unwearable, but which had masses of owl charms. I bought it because my mother loves owls and I thought she might be able to use some of them in her work. I couldn’t have bought the owl charms in that number for the price of the necklace, so it was a bargain lying dormant in the bead drawer. Surprisingly, I managed to find it (no small feat) and then set to it with my pliers. I stitched owls around the bottom and used the chain to make the strap for the finished collar.
Then when I was at the Hobbycraft sale, I found the two black plastic coral amulets:
I really wanted to include them, even though I know they look odd.
The armour-like feel of the piece, and the owls make me think about Athena, a goddess I have always felt some sort of affinity with.
In the first of these photographs you can see her owl, the bird she is associated with. One of my favourite Klimt paintings is of Athena, and you can see a form of the overlapping disc effect that I was going for:
I feel my affinity to her because she is associated with craft and textiles in particular – the story of Arachne being turned into a spider is part of the Athena myth. She is also a goddess of war and wisdom. But my affinity comes from her being a helpmeet of the boys in battle, and her close association with her father – she sprang fully formed and fully armed from her father’s head. I am very strongly drawn to male mental energy, and the world of the head. I don’t think we would get on if we ever met because we are too similar. I am that rare breed: a life-long committed feminist who would rather have been born a man!
The coral, to conclude, is an amulet that I saw a lot when I was in Naples a couple of years ago. I know that Naples is in Italy and Athena was Greek, but it seemed to fit my classical Graeco-Roman theme.