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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Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad

Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad

This is the first of a series of posts about the making of 2018’s Hallowed Ground project, starting with the first completed piece, Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad.

Being a whole new series, I begun with a few more challenges of how to resolve my vision of a realistic habitat, with a convincing negative space. I played around with scale, and drew reference from as close as I could find ‘Lowland Forest’ imagery.

This type of environment – forest floor – does not want for variety of texture, shape, colour etc so I had endless inspiration for describing all that in textiles.

With a piece like this – any piece really – the ‘rule’ is to start with your foundations, work low to high. So, the outline of the toad stitched down, some strange felt and card shapes.

I used cotton scrim for the first time, and it couldn’t have been more perfect to quickly start describing the forest floor. With minimal holding stitches, and some simple velvet scrap leaves, I was already achieving interesting dimension.

In fact this was a first for me to use fabric in any kind of sculptural way and it was hugely freeing and encouraging to be able to work so loosely yet achieve ‘realism’.

Here you can see I decided to describe roots or vines by playing with household string simply couched in variegated thread, as I continued to ground a sense of scale with the velvet leaves around the toad’s outline.

One of the real pleasures of this piece for me was the freedom to be able to work on a different section, and play around with different textures. Here I have used buttonhole stitch to attach jumprings, then surrounded them with french knots.

At this stage I began to work on the bottom section, a muddy stream or puddle, but using the orange toned fabric to reflect the red clay earth.

I covered some cardboard with linen scraps for rocks, and to hide the join line in the fabric, not having a big enough piece. I was also very pleased with the beaded french knot texture.

You can see the clear sequins at the bottom to suggest bubbly, moving water. I attached these with french knots.

The ‘log’ now covered in brown velvet, I began to add texture with beads, sequins, french knots and detached buttonhole bars, for moss and lichen and mold. These ferns were also created with detached woven picots.

At this stage I had pretty much completed the bottom half, and had moved on to the top portion, covering the larger log with cotton fabric, and using more scrim to continue the dark forest floor.

Keeping with the aerial view, I added lots of embellishments for the detritus of the forest floor, and made these little velvet fungi.

For the large log, I simply stitched the wood grain in back stitch and began to add more lush moss texture.

This is perhaps my favourite part of the whole piece. I used velvet scraps which I then embroidered french knots over, and created tufts and added buttonhole bars for the growing lichens.

I made detached wired slips for these scarlet elf cup fungi, and plunged them into the log.

You can see the high relief at this stage.

Finishing off this section, I was adding more ‘dead’ leaves, and using iridescent filament to create fungal strands around the mushrooms, continually adding texture and interest.

To be honest, when I’d got to the final section at the top, I struggled a bit to know what to do that I hadn’t already done.

Finally, I played around with more leaf shapes, and some couched silver passing – slime trails, or damp roots perhaps.

I absolutely loved making this piece. It just seemed to come together so easily and successfully, and was a real joy to bring to realisation.

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Hallowed  Ground

Hallowed Ground

1. Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad

For the last 5 years I have been in the habit of producing a collection of work each year according to my own brief. Usually this is an idea that forms within the completion of the previous year and then I have to fight with myself to abandon that one and get on with the new.

And so it was as last year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species exhibition was being hung that I had begun my Hallowed Ground project.

2. Sawfish

This idea hadn’t come to me fully formed and I’d had to do a lot of casting around for the inspiration to sort of glue together. Part of my process was to research ways that other cultures mark their grief, their death customs. This had led me to discover the practice of Sky Burial and Air Sacrifice.

3. Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

Both practices are types of excarnation whereby the corpse is placed outside to be exposed to the elements and scavenging animals. In the Mongolian practice, I discovered the specific ritual of outlining the body with stones, and when the body has been completely regenerated back into the natural world, the space within the stones has become a sacred space.

4. Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat

I found this very moving. Considering this concept and applying it to the world’s most critically endangered species made me think about how their habitats have become so rarefied and equally as threatened as to require reverence.

The idea of a negative space as an artistic device representing an extremely special, precious and rare place.

5. Geometric Tortoise

I began to research animals on the IUCN Redlist that are classified as Critically Endangered but that also have severely threatened habitats.

My intention was to create a representation of their home that was both faithful and fantastical. A grave and an afterlife. A place that draws the viewer in to explore, hopefully to delight, and then to ask questions to discover the story of this rare and absent friend.

6. Gooty Tarantula

1. The Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad

The Rio Pescado Stubfoot toad is so critically endangered that it may already be extinct. It lives in a tiny scrap of Ecuadorian lowland forest that is dwindling away, and lives nowhere else. Indeed, it’s loss of habitat due to agriculture, logging and pollution is the main threat to its existence. One third of all frogs and toads are on the verge of extinction, suffering an 80% loss in the last 3 decades.

2. Sawfish

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.

3. Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

The Pygmy three-toed sloth is found only in a tiny area of red mangrove forest on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Despite being an uninhabited island and designated a protected landscape, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. In addition, their mangrove habitat is also threatened, with one in six species facing extinction.

4. Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat

One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, there are estimated only 30-100 individuals remaining. Roosting in granite boulder caves, an introduced invasive species of vine block the cave entrances and reduce insect availability, already in decline due to pesticide use.

5. Geometric Tortoise

A very small and beautiful tortoise only found in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. In fact, this is the only species in this series classed as Endangered (not Critically), however destruction of more than 90% of its habitat, an extraordinarily botanically diverse area, itself classed critically endangered as well as ‘100% irreplaceable’, earned its place.

6. Gooty Tarantula

This otherworldly electric blue arachnid only exists in the dry deciduous forest of Andhra Pradesh, India. Its habitat is rapidly degrading due to logging and firewood harvesting. Population size is unknown but the combination of a tiny natural range and pressure from illegal pet trade paints a sad picture.