Geometric Tortoise

Truth be told, I always thought that little flower shaped, ‘novelty’ sequins were really tacky and had no use in my work. How wrong I was.

I started with a circular piece of cotton as my ground, stitched onto my usual white drill. The cotton had been dyed in a ‘landscape’ – green at the bottom and blue at the top.

As you can see, I had a lot going on with this piece, and initially felt quite overwhelmed. Normally I pretty much know I’m going to start working on a particular area and build up in sections. But other than knowing I was going to be covering the circle in as many different flowers as possible, I really didn’t have a plan. Challenging and liberating (by the end).

I really wanted to use this piece as an opportunity to not only use embellishments but also experiment with some decorative surface stitches, something I rarely do.

One element I knew was absolutely key, was the giant King protea, national flower of South Africa. I started with the basic purple shape in cotton applique, then began layering up long purple purls.

It is amongst the oldest flowering plants on the planet, dating back over 300 million years.

It was very important to me to feature it in this piece for obvious reasons, especially when I learned it symbolises hope, change and transition. 

If you’re not familiar, google the flower to see if I got it right!

Then it was a case of appliqueing the spiky felt crown of petals, and some bugle bead embellishments for the flower stamens. I was very pleased with how this turned out.

I continued to build up the coverage with using the sequins and beads in as many ways – colours, heights, combinations, as I could, and made sure that I didn’t repeat the same (clump of) flowers twice.

To provide a bit of structure, I couched some string down on the left side of the piece, as decorative grass or stems to accompany these daisy type red flowers, which I used detached woven picots to achieve.

You can see here I’ve also used some pom poms, long bugles, herringbone stitch for the leaves, and started to build up the french knots around the tortoise to depict the dry soil of the habitat.

I made sure to fill gaps with french knots too, to tie the textures together.

Nothing is ever wasted. Here I used a pair of stumpwork detached slip leaves which I had made for a discarded project. You keep everything because it can always be reused!

Next I wanted another feature flower, so created this one by using sequins and beads stacked up to make semi stiff tassels, built up to create the blossom.

It took me a good couple of days and hundreds of beads to create.

Another look at this second King protea, but in bud, using velvet quilted down to create the texture.

It was very tricky at times to maintain consistently interesting textures and colours. I wanted to make sure that wherever you looked there was something interesting or unexpected to see. I used fluffy pipe cleaners here.

You can also see here the different heights I was working with.

The final quarter. It was getting really tricky to reuse sequins in different ways. I really liked these hyacinth type clusters.


All the threats the geometric tortoise faces pale into insignificance compared to the loss of its habitat.

Destruction of more than 90% of this environment has occurred due to urban and agricultural development. In addition, alien invasive vegetation, fire, poaching for the illegal pet trade, and even bush meat have pushed this tortoise to such rarity.

I wanted this piece to reflect the extreme biodiversity, and magic of such a habitat, but also communicate something ‘unreal’, as so many species here already do not exist.

Although only 4-6% of the former span of the Cape Floral Kingdom remains, there is a more hopeful future to the story of the Geometric tortoise. 75% of the remaining population now exists in protected areas.

What can you do? It may seem like a simple thing, but if you’re buying flowers, be aware of what you’re buying – more and more it is fashionable to include the stunning and exotic flowers of South Africa in bouquets, but please spend the time to discover if they have been harvested legally, fairly traded, and with ecological sensitivity.
What we do, matters.

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Seychelles Sheath Tailed Bat

Seychelles Sheath Tailed Bat

This one was going to be a challenge given the habitat was granite boulder caves, and so a little bit of artistic license was needed to make an interesting texture study that still read as giant slabs of rock. It started as a fabric collage to make the basic shapes.

I had some images of caves and so wanted to explore the idea of the point of view being from inside the cave with a small entrance to the outside world visible.

I began looking at creating texture in the rocks with height, layering, and beginning to describe lichen with french knots and different surface stitches.

It was really fun to create these lichen patches in the gorgeous peachy tones.

Next I added some of these smooth jasper beads using a woven peyote bead stitch technique. I sort of wanted to suggest mineral deposits, like stalactites.

Adding more texture with velvet and french knots:

It was at this point I started to feel a little more confident about how things were turning out, although I was still worried about what the upper hemisphere was going to look like. This piece definitely pushed me out of comfort zone.

I think the lack or control in terms of ‘neat’ regular embroidery was both scary and liberating, as I allowed myself to explore more random ways of mark making with thread.

I started to experiment with sequins to suggest wet rocks, or layered minerals against the matte felt.

That big scary white space was solved by basically shoving a load of cotton scrim in there.

But seriously, it was the perfect thing to create instant texture and dimension and achieves a lot.

I started working into that and adding more ribbons of beads, and a bit of couched metallic thread.

I also spent about a week adding this clump of bullion knot lichens. It was not fun.

Pretty much there at this point, just one final touch to give a little narrative.

This is the Kudzu vine. Native to parts of Asia, elsewhere it’s an extremely invasive plant subject to several eradication schemes. In the Seychelles they are contributing to the sheath tailed bat’s decline by growing at the entrance to their cave roost sites, blocking them and also reducing availability of insect prey.

One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, it’s estimated the Sheath tailed bat has only 30 to 100 individuals remaining.
Roosting in coastal granite boulder caves, the introduction to the island of predatory barn owls, and a decline in insects due to pesticides are amongst the threats this species faces.

I did really struggle with this one. Creating this habitat was a big challenge artistically and I felt quite disconnected from it. I didn’t enjoy making it very much and didn’t have confidence in my choices for much of it.
Even though I make a drawing of each piece before I start, and sketch out my ideas and decisions, the cave being basically just ‘rocks’ pushed me to make this the most real/unreal habitat of the series yet. I was excited to create lichen forms and texture as I always do, but there’s much about this piece I felt is ‘wrong’

It’s healthy to share when things are difficult and don’t turn out as you would wish, on this platform where so much is edited for highlights.
It’s good to pull things from ourselves and see visions through, even if you’re not totally comfortable at the end, and this is one of the pieces I feel most proud of in many ways.

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Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

This next piece in the Hallowed Ground series was very strongly referenced on photos I’d seen of the sloth in it’s tropical mangrove habitat. I struggled a bit with feeling like this piece was ‘ok’ design wise. Compared to the preceding pieces it was quite simple and that felt a bit ‘less than’ for me. One of the challenges though was making sure the scale of the sloth was accurate for the size of the leaves, and I wanted to make sure there was depth by varying the leaf size.

This piece was to include many detached elements and so I began with this amazing emerald green velvet, and made several mangrove tree leaves of various sizes, with the rib in lime green purl S-ing.

I first took great pains to accurately cut the sloth silhouette, so that its hands made sense hanging over the tree branch. I was very pleased with the space dyed cotton background, to suggest the dark swamp depths.

Next the ‘skeleton’ of the mangrove was introduced, using household string for the smaller branches, and felt for the wider.

After couching down, every branch was then simply embroidered over with satin stitch in a variegated brown thread, with a few french knots here and there.

Once complete I began to add some simple applique leaves:

These were cotton and velvet with simple green purl ribs.

At this stage I added the holographic vinyl shapes I had patterned out to insert at the bottom for the vivid blue Panamanian sea.

This had to be stab stitched down very precisely and neatly as any mistakes would be highly visible.

Finally it was simply a case of making holes in the ground with a stiletto and inserting the detached slips.

I also added a few of these little faceted green flowers to add interest and contrast.

The pygmy three-toed sloth is only found in a tiny area of red mangrove forests on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama.

Although the island is uninhabited, fishermen, farmers, lobster divers and local people are all seasonal visitors, and are thought to hunt the sloths illegally.

The growing tourism industry is also a potential threat to the species, by degrading its habitat. Despite having been designated as a protected landscape through a governmental resolution in 2009, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. This includes plans for an eco-lodge, a casino, a marina, and a banking centre.

Additionally, as pygmy sloths have become more widely recognised internationally, there is growing interest in collecting them for captivity.

Side note: The mangroves themselves are also significant for this piece. More than one in six mangrove species worldwide are in danger of extinction due to coastal development and other factors, including climate change, logging and agriculture.

Mangroves are vital to coastal communities as they protect them from damage caused by tsunami waves, erosion and storms, and serve as a nursery for fish and other species that support coastal ecosystems. In addition, they have a staggering ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and serve as both a source and repository for nutrients and sediments for other inshore marine habitats, such as seagrass beds and coral reefs.
Source: IUCN Redlist.

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This second piece in the Hallowed Ground series had me at first completely confused as to how I would make something good looking that was mostly plain sand, to creating one of the most enjoyable textures I’ve yet made.

The unfamiliar shape of the sawfish at first had me wondering if it would seem so recognisable as the frog, even as an animal at all. So many reference pictures were scoured for, and the palette of sea greens and blues chosen.

A whole hemisphere of this sacred circle would be substrate, so many beads of various ‘sand’ hues were collected, and then I mixed a palette growing darker as the horizon line was reached. Each bead was stitched down with machine cotton, individually.

As with the previous piece, I used these buttonhole-stitched jumprings to suggest small corals in the sand.

Using a mostly translucent bead mix ‘base’, as I progressed I added more creamy and yellowish tones.

Some beads also were stacked to give height, some patches of sequins and french knots, and even these little detached buttonhole bar ‘sandworms’ draw the eye to discover this habitat.

Finally after several weeks of work, the silty sandy sawfish’s substrate home was complete.

‘Bubbly’ sequins used to suggest water currents.

The sawfish, sadly in an aquarium.

The large tooth sawfish is one of the rarest fish in the world, and a living dinosaur, existing for 60 million years at least. Degradation of their preferred habitat of shallow coastal estuaries has removed them from 95% of their historical range. The sawfish has suffered a population decline of 80% since the ‘60s.

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