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.


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.

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:


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


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.


This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:


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.

Restorative walk in the woods


The Medieval Historian and I decided to go to Westonbirt last weekend to walk the dogs and have a bit of an excursion.  This was beyond stupid.  Westonbirt is the national arboretum, with the national collection of Japanese maples.  If you can’t get to New England in the Fall, then the next best thing in the UK is Westonbirt in October.  At least that is what half of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset seemed to think.  It was heaving with people.

I thought that I might get some nice photos to work with at some point, but only took my phone camera.  This made me a considerable lightweight as people were hauling round cameras with two foot long lenses and the obligatory tripod.  People formed orderly queues to take photos of particular trees, such as this one, without others standing in the picture:


Glorious, but it only gives you half the picture:


Everyone and their dog had their cameras out.  Most people queued up and took the shot and moved away, but some families took another approach and set up shop to have picnics under the boughs of all this autumn colour.  It struck me that it was like going to one of the big blockbuster art shows or even the highlights of the great national galleries.  You begin to wonder if anyone is looking at anything or just using it as a photo opportunity.  In the end, I got very fed up with the people and the cameras and the buggies and constantly looking out to see if the dogs were getting trampled and we left the maples and walked round the less visited native British woodland areas.  That was lovely.   It was my stupid fault for suggesting the trip and, of course, people have every right to troop through the trees en masse, I just wish we had gone on a weekday and missed the crowds.  I did get some lovely photos, though, hypocrite that I am!





Even the seed pods were pretty.

I will end with a couple of very odd but interesting experiments my phone decided to make all on its own:



Brunel Broderers’ Exhibition at Newark Park


On my recent visit to Newark Park I was lucky enough to see the Brunel Broderer’s exhibition, which was of work made in response to the house and gardens.  I really hate singling people out in exhibitions, because often it is just a matter of taste as to whose work you prefer, but there was some glorious embroidery on display.  I particularly liked seeing the sketchbooks accompanying the work, and I liked the way that it was spread throughout the house and not just in the gallery.  For example, my good friend Liz Hewitt had this rather lovely piece in a little ground-floor reception room:


This is a little taster of the rest of the show:

The combination of this very high quality contemporary needlework, and the older pieces I mentioned in an early blogpost make this a really good day out for sewers of all sorts.




Laura the fox takes a moonlight stroll in her new lacy black stockings


Last week I went to Bristol Quilters’ workshop with Mandy Pattullo.  I had a great day.  Mandy Pattullo is an artist whose work I have admired since I saw it at the Festival of Quilts a couple of years ago.  Her work is with old and often recycled textiles and embroidery.  She was very generous in allowing us to photograph her work and so here are a few photos to show the sort of work she does:


She gave us each a piece of a plain old quilt and some templates for flowers and hearts and things, as well as a couple of pieces of very worn old quilts which we used to start the background.  I decided early on that I wanted to make a fox as we are having fun and games with our dogs getting us up at 4.00 am most mornings to root out whatever is in the garden and which I think might be a little vulpine friend.

I was sitting between two great quilters, Alison and Nathalie, and they gave me the fabric for the fox’s body and legs.  I was really pleased to be able to use Nathalie’s Laura Ashley fabric for the fox’s body as this fits in with the project that I have been doing for ages.  Alison gave me the fabric for the legs – which I would make much finer if I did it again.  Foxes have black legs, surprisingly, and this was the best we could do, but they do look like lacy tights, which I rather like.

The method is to block in some thing like the fox body or a vase and then to take a water soluble pen and draw a line and then improvise round it.  I drew my line which I turned into a tree.  It’s done with chain stitch in stranded embroidery cotton.  The whole piece came together at the end when I put those black flowers clipped out of a quilting cotton and then stitched down with detached chain stitch and colonial knots, the latter done in orange to try and tie everything together.

The fox was done in needle-turned applique which I enjoyed doing far more than I expected.  Then I put a mix of slivers of leopard print cotton and straight stitches in a variety of threads, some of which were given to me by my good friend Mary from her mum’s stash:



I embroidered the eye and nose.  I finished the piece with a backing of terracotta Laura Ashley fabric to echo the fox.


This is the page from my notebook/sketchbook about the piece:


I really enjoyed the workshop and meeting Mandy, who was great.  I want to do a bit more in this sort of style but without the old quilt as I don’t have one to cut up.

Concerning dolls and perfection


For my birthday, my very generous mother bought me a Mimi Kirchner doll.  I have wanted one of Kirchner’s dolls since I came across her work in a book on doll making and used it to create my Laura Ashley husband dolls.

There happened to be some for sale in Kirchner’s Etsy shop and my mother gave me the money to buy one.  They are expensive, and put customs and various handling fees on top and they become very expensive, but they really are worth it.

I chose one of her tattooed lumberjack dolls.  The minute I saw him with his tattoo of Washington on his chest, I knew that he was the man for me:


It was the time of Obama’s visit to Britain and Nigel Farrage called him the most anglophobic president ever, which made historians all over the land call out in unison: not as anglophobic as Washington.  This made it possible to choose between the lovely dolls on Kirchner’s Etsy page.  He arrived in a big box and was wrapped up in tissue paper.  It was love at first sight.  I decided to call him Richard after Richard Armitage, a splendid-looking actor with a big beard:


This is a great picture of him by the photographer Sarah Dunn.   I love the ‘here I am just back from the high seas’ feel of this picture.  Armitage has blue eyes and my Richard has brown eyes but otherwise they are peas from a pod.  I think Mimi loves him too as he appears on her blog with some pieces she took to a show:


I have, and this is a bit weird, fallen in love with him.  He is so perfect.


You can see in this photo quite clearly that he has beautifully embroidered fingers.


In this one you can see the embroidery delineating his ears.


This one shows the accomplished pattern matching on his flannel shirt.  Everything about him is exquisitely made.  As a doll maker myself, I know that this doll is a piece of perfection and I know how hard that is to achieve.  I love him because he is a piece of hyper-masculine protection (‘Step aside while I lift that tree trunk off your car, little lady’) but also because of his invisible construction and attention to detail.  Consider, for example, the way that his braces have the suggestion of loops in the above photograph.

Moving onto my own efforts, I mentioned in a previous post that I was following an on-line arts class with Carla Sonheim.  Part of the process is to make a series of work to develop a theme.  I was very taken with some pieces of children’s art, but at one point I thought my series would be dolls inspired by the work of Joan Eardley:


Eardley died very young and so never really reached the attention and appreciation she deserved.  She painted magnificent seascapes, but I love her pictures of Glasgow children living in slums.


They could be exploitative or sentimentalised, but I don’t think they are either.  I think she paints them with great gentleness, honestly but with love.  I wanted to make some dolls in the same spirit.  This is the doll that I came up with:


I love her.  She is made from my own pattern because I wanted a pronounced nose and proper feet.  Her jumper is hand-knitted to my own pattern.  I am so happy with this because it is the first pattern that I have ever written and it absolutely fits her.  I wanted it to look a bit small so that it looked like she was growing out of it.  Her skirt is made in panels and quilted:


Her hair is meant to look unkempt although it is made from quite upmarket double knitting wool.

I was talking about her to someone in the week who asked me what was so wonderful about her.  I thought for a bit and then said, ‘She’s perfect’.  And this is the case.  It might sound conceited, but what I meant was, she achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve.  I have enough technical skill to be able to achieve the effect I want to get.  I can make a pattern, make the neck stand up, construct her hair so that she can have a side parting, give her rosy cheeks, give her dotty eyes, knit her a sweater, design a gored skirt that fits.  This is the 10,000 hours of practice which has been so popular as an idea.  It is a delight to know how to do something like this with my hands.  Perfection here is having the repertoire of skills to express an idea.  I am largely persuaded that we come from a gene pool selected to persist because its possessors know how to make things (shelters, textiles, food and so on).  Part of being human is to make, and making well is a great delight.  This delight comes through Kirchner’s dolls.  She clearly delights in the details like the french knot buttons down Richard’s shirt and keeping those checks running far more smoothly than they would in a real lumberjack’s shirt.  I delight in making a doll which captures something of Eardley’s treatment of the tenement children, something which witnesses with warmth and generosity but does not sanitise or sentimentalise.

Bjorn Wiinblad meets Elizabeth Taylor meets Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile

Basically today is a photo gallery of the pieces I made based on Bjorn Wiinblad’s paintings.  This one has hair made of hearts which were cut out with a sizzix cutting machine.  Once I discovered that you could use it with fabric with bondaweb already attached, I was away.  But it really only came to life with the sequins.


This one also has die cut pieces.  The flowers here remind me of those floral rubber swimming caps which were so fashionable when I was growing up.  Again, the big acrylic gems which are stuck on are what brought it to life.


This one was in the last post.  The headdress here is made from cheap sequins.


This one is most like the Cleopatra which inspired the series, with a few details:


This one is directly based on one of Wiinblad’s paintings, including the patterned nose:


Finally, the woman in the magnificent hat.  This felt very clunky because Wiinblad never painted a hat like this as far as I could see.  I had no end of trouble making it work. but once I put the golden feather or spray of leaves on it it suddenly burst into life.



I really enjoyed making them.  They are meant to be joyful and not to have any social commentary in them at all!




There has been a considerable gap in my blog as ill health has been stalking the land with me and the Medieval Historian both.  Things are a bit better now, so I thought it was time to get the blog up and running again.

I was reading a short piece recommended to me on Facebook about sewing films, and I thought it would be a good place to restart.  These are films or tv shows which I find really inspirational in terms of stitching, or are just a feast for the eyes.  A lot of my favourite films are costume dramas which aren’t particularly accurate but are great for costumes.   A good example is the Reese Witherspoon version of Vanity Fair:





This version made a great deal of the influence of India on Regency design.  Sumptuous all round.

But my main list is in sections and is as follows:

Gratuitously great embroidery on costumes which are much better than the show itself

Game of Thrones

I first started watching this for the fabulous costumes, and in particular for Michele Carraghers’s gorgeous embroidery.  She has a wonderful website in which she discusses the Game of Thrones costumes and her design process.  Even if you never watch the show, it is worth looking at the website for lots of close-ups of beautiful beaded and embroidered pieces:


What I love about this is that someone takes the decision to spend a great deal of money on embroidery on costumes which might never be seen.  Certainly the detail is often lost.  I like the idea of the costumes being much better than they have to be and of the highest quality contemporary embroidery being seen by millions.

The Tudors

You can imagine how well this went down with the Medieval Historian, to the point where I had to watch the box set in secret when he went out.  The series was terrible and got worse as it went on, but the frocks were really lovely:


They were designed by Joan Bergin.  The one above was for Anne of Cleeves and her costumes were my favourites.

Films where sewing is integral to the plot

Bright Star

This is a 2009 Jane Campion film about the courtship of John Keats and Fanny Brawne.


The lead actress spends a lot of time in the film stitching and creating rather fabulous garments for herself, despite the family’s apparent genteel poverty:


She also gets to wear this little cardigan which sometimes seems to be a shawl, made of tiny crochet motifs:


I covert this Sophie Digard piece and Abbie Cornish’s slender frame to be able to wear it.

Sewing is integral to the plot here, because Keats’ best friend tries to dissuade him from pursuing  Fanny whom he thinks is a flirt and only interested in clothes.  Smart 21C viewers know that this is Fanny’s only creative outline and means of self-expression in the gendered and classed society of the early 19C.  It is a gorgeous film, with a lot of beautifully read poetry.

The Dressmaker

This is a recent Australian film (2015, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse) and is a bit of an oddity.  It is set in a tiny settlement in Australia in the 1950s.  Much abused waif, Tilly, returns to her home town a fully grown, drop-dead gorgeous sophisticate.  She comes via Paris, Milan, Madrid, London etc in an echo of both Sabrina films.  She turns up at the station with her Singer sewing machine to solve mysteries about her past and take her revenge on the people who sent her away and so on.


The whole thing veers from high drama to camp comedy to melodrama to slapstick in a big, hot old mess (as Heidi Klum used to say on Project Runway).  It’s like Douglas Sirk meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert (and Hugo Weaving is in it as a cross-dressing policeman).  But, the premise of the film is that women can be transformed – created and destroyed by what they wear, and Kate Winslett creates the most stunning fifties numbers imaginable:


This is my favourite character, Gertrude, just because she looks so much like the original 1950s Barbie:




Kate Winslett looks fantastic throughout and is the perfect shape for all those boned and corseted numbers:





Best ever quilting film

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

This musical has a very dodgy premise about abducting women, but that aside it has fantastic costumes made of quilts (which the women have to make up as they are snowed in for the winter with the seven brothers)

images-9  images-8 images-10

Several things strike me here.  The first is the sacrilege of chopping up quilts to make frocks, so let’s hope they were specially made for the film.  The second is the skill required to make those fitted waists with quilt, wadding and backing.  The third that this is a lesson in self-restraint which again we have to take with a pinch of salt.  I imagine the testosterone that exploded out of that house when the spring thaw came.

The quilting film you wish had been better

How to make an American Quilt (1995)

There is nothing terrible about this film, except I wanted to tell the Winona Ryder character to stop prevaricating and get on with writing up that thesis.  The problem with it is that there isn’t enough quilting for quilters, and there isn’t enough drama for drama lovers.  And the quilt is okay (as it probably would have been for an average wedding quilt), but nothing particularly special.


I also wonder about the advisedness of Winona trailing a predominantly white quilt through the dew:


as she contemplates marrying her pretty dull boyfriend.


Standing on the shoulders of giants


A good friend of mine recently took (very early or there’s a portrait ageing in the attic) retirement, and she wants to explore needlework and textile art and asked me to recommend some places she could start.  So I thought it might be nice to put together a short list for my blog.  I would really love people to add their suggestions in the comments section.

So, I thought I’d start with some websites.

  1. Mandy Pattullo.  This is the first website that came to mind.  I am currently in love with her work.  I met her at The UK Festival of Quilts.  She was stuck right at the back but her work was a real standout.  I have had to resign myself to the fact that I just can’t get this shabby vintage look.  Everything I make looks clean and sharp, but Mandy’s work is beautiful, antique-looking reclaimed pieces stitched together with wonderful skill.  She is preserving traditional embroidery as much as the cloth.  I broke the landspeed record signing up for a workshop with her when I heard she was coming to Bristol this year.  Just lovely.  If anyone is looking for a Christmas present, she does have some reasonable pieces….
  2. Double Trouble.  Two for the price of one.  This is the website for Jean Littlejohn and Jan Beaney.  I have been fans of their work for at least fifteen years.  The best workshop I have ever been to in terms of getting the pacing exactly right and with us all ending up with exactly what we signed up for, was with Jean Littlejohn.  They have both been teaching for years and it shows.  They pioneered ‘Creative Embroidery’ for a long time and the rest of us have caught up.  The website is a bit dull, actually, which is a shame because their books are quite wonderful and inspirational.  If you love landscape you will love Beaney’s stitchscapes of Crete.  They publish a series of pamphlet-y guides which are little gems of inspiration.  Highly recommended.
  3. Linda and Laura Kemshall, another two for the price of one.  These two have put videos up on Design TV.  You have to pay, but some of them are free.  There are links to their individual websites.  The Design TV videos are about £40 a year to subscribe to, but they are well worth it.  They are very much in the art quilt sector, and have pioneered techniques such as painting quilts, working in series, keeping sketchbooks, foiling, frosting with emulsion paint, all sorts of things.  Their work is exquisite.  I did a workshop with Laura, who is the mum, and it was fabulous.  I learned foiling which I have used a lot.
  4. Carla Sonheim.  This is another artist, but she has wonderful drawing exercises which really help with things like free machine quilting.  There are great short courses of workshops which are lovely, but there are also free ones.  She does a lot of stuff that would work with kids.
  5. Sandra Meech.  Another art quilter.  I love everything she does, and she has produced four wonderful books on contemporary art quilting.  She specialises in work based on the landscape and its degradation.  Genuinely inspiring and no messing when you meet her.
  6. Janet Clare.  Really wonderful, generous teacher.  She has a lovely website and self-publishes books which are inspirational and delightfully designed.  She produces fabric ranges which I like very much and the current one based on astronomy is one of my favourites for years.  My quilting life was changed by going to a workshop with her where we did applique using the sewing machine as a pencil.  I turned out to be a bit of a natural at this, and it has transformed by Laura Ashley project.  She has a pattern for a brilliant apron too.
  7. Pauline Burbidge.  My earliest quilting heroine.  Glorious art quilts, lots of monochrome, elegant use of line.  She is fantastic all round.  And a very nice person.
  8. Gwen Marston.  Quite a dull website, but another inspirational quilter.  She is best known as a ‘liberated quilter’ but she loves the British expression ‘wonky quilt’.  Essentially stitch it all together and square it up with the rotary cutter later, but this gives quilts so much life and energy, I really love her work.  I once did a workshop with her and after show and tell she came up to me and said, ‘You are a real artist’.  Coming from her it was a magnificent compliment.  Her first book, Liberated Quilting is a bit of a collector’s item so if you come across one second hand snap it up.  I use her techniques a lot, not least because, like me, she loves a print.
  9. University of Nebraska Quilt Collection and Museum.  This website is always worth a look.  You can subscribe to their quilt of the month service which is fascinating.  They have a massive collection and are the place to go for quilt scholarship in the US.  I am desperately hoping that my work with Marybeth Stalp will end up in a trip there…
  10.  Beryl Taylor.  One of my first passions.  She is the doyenne of highly decorated surfaces.  It tends to be mixed media, but I have used the general idea with textiles.  Her work is very pretty – lots of pastels and beads, and highly influenced by historical sources, all of which I love.  The website is okay, but you don’t get the sense that she likes high tech much.  Her book is lovely, though, and hasn’t dated.
  11. Cas Holmes.  Slightly marmite-y.  Her work is about recycled materials and ‘found’ art.  I like it very much.  But she is a bit preachy.  She is very interested in collaborative work and  I would love to work on that element of her ideas.  I did a workshop with her and liked her fabric paper stuff, but she was a bit prickly.
  12. Cassandra Ellis.  I have put her in because her website is just plain lush, as they say in these parts.  Total indulgence.  And she writes sumptuous quilting books.
  13. Amy Butler.   She has a range of fabric which is pure joy.  She also has a lovely website with lots of great stuff on it, quite a bit of which is free.  She does a lovely webzine, which is a bit New Age-y but uplifting.  The books are very nice to look at with a cup of tea.
  14. Mimi Kirchner.  Makes the most gorgeous dolls.  Genius.
  15. Sartor Silks.  Glorious fabric.  It could be ruinous on the bank account.

I will have a think about my favourite books and put some of those up at some point.  But, in general, I think that one of the most influential things for me was the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A.  I am not that big a Bowie fan, and I think that if I had met him much before the last ten years I would have hated him, but that exhibition was inspiring to anyone trying to make art anywhere and was a great account of sticking to your own vision, judging yourself by your own values and constantly being open to new ideas.  I came out think ‘I can do it’ – whatever it is.  The show is still touring and I would advise good money being spent to go and see it.

House and home


This is a quick post today, to some extent to show I am still alive.

I am planning a series of events with a visiting quilter from the US, Marybeth Stalp, and one of them involves a workshop in which we will invite participants to make something as we are talking.  I thought that it would be nice to have a domestic theme, and that we could make houses.  Houses have nice simple shapes and are something we can all have a go at making recognisable.  So I have been making some samples.  This is my first attempt.  The house itself has got to be achievable over the course of the workshop, but I know from experience that people are going to ask what they can do with them.  So I put this one on a backing fabric and all of a sudden it became a tree house, so I added some leaves and a bird.  It’s become a bird tree house.  I am really interested in that conversation with the materials, when the picture tells you what it wants.  This one wanted to be a bit whimsical, and possibly, and this might be fanciful, it wanted to remind me of the importance of living creatures and their needs for home as well us humans.

As usual, this is made entirely from scrap fabric which would otherwise go into landfill, including the thread which came from surplus floss for embroidery kits.  The bead for the eye and the button for the doorknob came from a tin my mother found at the back of a shelf.