The Witch of St. Kilda

The Witch of St. Kilda

This piece was a lot of fun to do. Which was helpful because the story of the Great Auk’s demise is incredibly sad and has had me in tears more than once.

I spent quite a lot of time designing this piece mainly because I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to white, clear, pearlescent beads and sequins. I wanted the colour palette to suggest the icy homes of this penguin-like bird, as well as lending a magical, ethereal feel.

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There was also a lot of scope for different techniques; goldwork:

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Lots of beading:

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Just in this crown we have (bottom to top) plastic pearls, glass cubes, diamante, iridescent seed beads, silver seed beads, pearl rhinestones, plastic teardrop, silver pearl purl and lovely big diamante rhinestones. I just used Guttermans polyester buttonhole thread for all of this.

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Everything in monotone is quite tricky to photograph.

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These are long vintage glass silver lined bugle beads.

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I bought a lot of opalite chips after completing the last piece, using semi precious chips. I knew these translucent, opalescent stones would be perfect.

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Then I used tiny pearlescent 2mm sequins to fill the centre circle.

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Finally I embroidered the beak in split stitch.

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The Great Auk was a flightless bird, similar to a penguin. It bred on rocky, isolated islands, foraging for food in Atlantic waters. It ranged from northern Spain to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Faroe islands, Norway, Ireland and great Britain. Great Auk pairs mated for life, and estimated to have a maximum population in the millions.

The species had great significance for Native American cultures as far back as the Neolithic age, both as a food source and symbolically.

Overhunting, and mainly massive European exploitation and demand for the birds down, skin, and eggs led to it’s demise, and was finally and cruelly obliterated by 1852.
The story of the Great Auk is one of the saddest, in fact researching this piece and even writing this now brings me to tears. I won’t repeat them here, but there are several truly appalling tales of man’s cruelty and thoughtlessness dealt to this harmless and trusting animal on Wikipedia, including the story behind this piece’s title.

12″ x 19″

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I hope you enjoyed this post, thank you for following my work! As always you can follow me on Instagram for (usually) daily pictures of my work in progress and all the latest updates on exhibitions, classes and workshops.

Extinct Icons: The Divine Beest

Extinct Icons: The Divine Beest

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By this point I had increased my stores of beads and sequins quite considerably, mostly due to the kindness of strangers donating their unwanted bits and pieces.

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The elongated, more simple skull and horns of this animal gave me a lot of opportunity to continue with my embellishment experiment.

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I accidentally started embroidering on the wrong side of my cotton drill. Which is annoying because the diagonal weave on the right side provides lovely guide lines for shading.

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I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the photograph of the skull that I used to trace my design from provided little texture, meaning the skull was particularly ‘clean’. However in the overall composition this balanced really well as the horns were so embellished.

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Holographic gold sequins. Sigh.

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This photo is a little shaky but for this piece I wanted to exaggerate the Hartebeest’s spiritual significance in North African culture with, amongst other things, the choice of semi precious lapis and turquoise stones. 

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As usual, I made it up as I went along, alternating blue and turquoise, inspired by an ancient Egyptian palette.

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I used red accents very sparingly. Although this was fun, it was harder than it looks, trying to keep each section unique, and the lines relatively even.

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Once the horns were done, I just had the halo to complete.

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For this I chose gold passing.

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Ugh, the pain of tying back your ends.

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Finally I used flat black sequins to create a motif around the gold halo, in a nod to the aesthetic of the sacred cow Goddess in ancient Egypt Mehret Wehret and Hathor.

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The Bubal Hartebeest was a social animal, formerly native to the land north of the Saharan desert. It’s main predator was the also extinct Barbary Lion.
It was an animal of significance in ancient Egyptian culture. Remains of Bubal Hartebeest have been found in archaeological sites as well as hieroglyphs (the sacred form of writing) representing the animal. Possibly a sacrificial animal, it is also mentioned in the Old Testament.
It’s numbers sharply declined in the 19th century after the French conquest of Algeria, when entire herds were massacred at once by colonial military. The last captive animal died in the Paris zoo in 1925

NEW: Classes now available – and shop update too!

Diligent fans of my website (I know you’re out there) may have already noticed that I have added a couple pages. Firstly, you can now get in touch with me even easier, as there is a nice simple Contact Me page.

But more excitingly, I have added a page called Classes: I now offer one-to-one teaching in my home studio in West Sussex. I have designed these classes based on feedback from my Instagram followers, and they’re all completely customisable to allow students to get tailored advice. Realising I also have followers overseas, I am also offering embroidery coaching, by the hour via Skype, to help with any of your embroidery issues or project problems. Go and have a look!

Finally, I’ve updated my Etsy shop – given it a makeover and made all my remaining Ritual Pieces pieces available for sale. There’s also a direct link from each piece here in my Portfolio to the listing where you can buy it. Easy!

 

Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

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The clocks have just gone back (forward?) so although it isn’t, I’m going to say Happy New Year, as my first post of 2017. Hello followers, new and old.

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Probably just after I had completed my Wildcat piece last year, certainly my most popular piece going by Instagram, I was already full of an idea for this year’s project. Partly because of my introduction to ONCA gallery in Brighton, their work and interest in my Ritual Burial’s pieces, spurred me on to make more conservationist themed work. You may have read my blog post for them, for Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2016, and in writing that piece, certainly it made me look at the meaning of last year’s work in a slightly different way. I researched the ‘status’ of each native British species featured in that project, to discover all but two were either extinct in this country, or threatened.

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Aesthetically, and technically, I was also ready for something new. The materials I use have often inspired my work, and I was really keen to use more embellishment rather than focus so much on Stumpwork, which was thoroughly explored last year. Gold and metal thread work, beads, sequins, and a general mixture of all these was something I really wanted to play with.

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The idea for my 2017 project came to me as it usually does fully formed in my mind, at least visually. The photographs by Paul Koudounaris of martyrs and saints in Catholic churches, adorned and decorated with gold and jewels were a big inspiration, and I have always liked a skull or two in my work. But the idea of this: of martyrs, persecuted in their lifetime for their beliefs or actions, now revered and regaled in death, with more symbolic value than literal (even if it’s just a toe bone that’s left) made me think how we treat animals, specifically extinct ones.

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When you google ‘extinct species’ you get loads of ‘top ten’ style lists, with mini-paragraph length eulogies and sad face emojis. There are thousands and thousands of species mankind have eliminated from the face of the planet, but the same ‘heroes’ come up again and again: Thylacine, Barbary Lion, and maybe the most famous of all, the Dodo. These are the poster children of the extinct hall of fame. Species that evolved over millennia, wiped out in the briefest expression of humanity’s ignorance.

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So, like those martyrs, persecuted in their lifetimes, I am interested in completing that cycle, and illuminating them as saints. These ‘Extinct Icons’ are the figureheads of the epidemic of mass extinction in our modern age.

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The first in this series: Saint Sultan.

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The Barbary lion was considered one of the biggest lion subspecies. They had dark, long-haired manes that extended over the shoulder and down to the belly. It is said that they developed the colours and size of their manes due to ambient temperatures, their nutrition, and their level of testosterone.
The last known wild Barbary lion was shot in the Moroccan part of the Atlas Mountains in 1942. These lions used to be offered to royal families of Morocco and Ethiopia and were known as the “royal” lions. It is said that some of these “royal” lions survived until the late 1960’s, until a respiratory disease just about wiped them all out.

Sultan was the name of a Barbary lion kept at London zoo, in 1896.

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Ritual Burial: Owl

Ritual Burial: Owl

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I left this one last because I couldn’t for the life of me find a good image of a skeletal owl face on. In the end I made a sort of collage out of different pics and traced it. Otherwise I was really excited to make the plants in this one. Turns out there was some nice synchronicity with leaving it until then end which I hadn’t really thought about.

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First I made these.

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Can you tell what it is yet?

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And then there were two.

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Those are MOONSTONE berries by the way. So nice. I’ve been hanging on to them all year for this.

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Also I am obsessed with Mistletoe. Probably my favourite plant.

Next,

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I needed just the right kind of beads for this. Another big botanical hero of mine.

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I ummed and ahhed about the best way to make this but in the end simple was best.

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Ahh. So. Satisfying.

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Finishing touches.

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C R O N E / / C I R C L E
Owl has long been associated with the Crone, that aspect of the goddess in pagan culture that represents wisdom and death, before rebirth. In Welsh tradition, Owl is one of the Oldest Animals, the original guides of Earth. Like the Hermit in the tarot, Owl watches and waits, favouring the night. She symbolises esoteric wisdom and secrecy.
In Gaelic the name for the barn owl translates to “white old woman of the night” and its call was a call for the soul, an omen someone would die. Although originally the bird of wisdom, as the Church grew to power, so Owl became known as only ill-omened. It became a common saying that the owl was a transformation of one of the servants of the ten kings of Hell.
Owl stands on the threshold of the Otherworld, her true message is that death is the great initiator, and that we may recognise that our death marks the beginning and not the end.Mistletoe is the plant most sacred to the Druids. Strongly associated with fertility, and a reminder of benevolence, even today. However mistletoe has a darker aspect; all parts of the plant are toxic and can cause epileptic seizures in overdose.
Almost exclusively used around the winter solstice, it is shown here with moonstone berries, representative of the dark ‘night’ of the year and the eternal regeneration of the moon, like the triple goddess.
The yew is a natural emblem of everlasting life. Its capacity for great age spanning thousands of years, and it’s apparent ability to regenerate, living from dead trunks, enriched its symbolic value. The early Irish regarded it as one of the most ancient beings on earth and In Irish mythology, the yew is one of the five sacred trees brought from the Otherworld. Like mistletoe which heals by poisoning, so too are all parts of yew toxic.
Finally the Norse rune Gebo represents the exchange between human and divine, and the silver pentacle, long associated with witchcraft, symbolising the 5 elements and 5 human senses.

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