The Queen of Snails

The Queen of Snails


Hello, here’s a great big blog post for you all about how I made the Queen of Snails. 

Unlike the God of Adversity this piece was pretty much fully realised from sketch through to completion. In actual fact, the snail has been one of the first things I drew in my sketchbook and wanted to create large scale. I was really influenced by an illustration by Alan Aldridge in possible the most loved and influential book I have, The Butterfly Ball (which I wrote about here). I had done a few sketches of a snail and developed from there.


It took me ages to get the shell spiral right. 

In line with the ‘God’ series I’ve been working on, I love the snail because it’s unloved. It’s not high on most people’s love lists. But I love snails and find them to have so much character and beauty, and not just the big impressive ones, but the common little brown garden ones too.

In creating this piece I realised about my process that the inspiration behind them comes in stages; I know the subject initially and this is what pulls me in. Then actually figuring out the composition and how to execute it comes next, and this is the stage that causes me the most problems. Often I’ll have an idea rolling around in my head for a while but it’s far less of a concious decision and truly an unconcious inspired one that makes me go ‘yes! that’s how it is!’. Which is maybe why I drew the snail before the Crab and the Toad and everything and only just did her now.


I knew it would be crowned. I always knew that. She started as a he, too. I don’t know why. Snails seem male – why is that? And the sceptre, that was early as well. When I started researching snails and imagery of snails I was thinking along the lines of the crab, with very strong colours and spiral, stripey stitching. It was also JUST a snail too. None of this clicked. I was visualising the crown in gold, a king…But then I looked into Snail symbolism and suddenly it all arrived to me, fully formed.

From this incredibly interesting website I learned that Aboriginal cultures observed thesnails ability to hide itself within its shell, or reveal itself. This behaviour is likened to the waxing and waning of the moon (revealing, and concealing). Also that snails represent awareness, and an ability to effectively interpret dreams and unorthodox realities. This is because of the snails antennae which are hugely exploratory. Further, the entire body of the snail is a sensory tool.

The snail is a she. She’s LUNAR, she’s SILVER, she’s a queen Goddess from Mother Eagle land.


So, inspiration strikes but also a problem in that I don’t want her, or any of these pieces, to be cute. I don’t intend cute. Turns out this is quite hard to avoid in a snail of all things and I don’t know whether to the casual observer I have achieved this. But drawing as I do from folklore and symbolism and mythology the whole composition revealed itself as having to have another element – my beloved toadstool.

I’ve wanted to embroider a white-on-white Destroying Angel for so long. The most deadly of mushrooms, but so beautiful and delicate and pure looking. The perfect murderess. The perfect companion to my queen. In this way I feel I am accomplishing a degree of subversion with this piece; The Queen is undoubtedly beautiful, she shimmers, she is magical. But she is powerful, she commands, she controls death and other worlds.


Perhaps for the first time ever, I actually framed up properly and seemed to have mastered this most essential of skills. Thank you Royal School of Needlework tutors on YouTube. That shit is tight. And I got to christen my new light box by transferring my drawing on to the fabric which gave me no end of pleasure. Sigh the right tools.


I rummaged through my not inconsiderable palette of threads and then I plundered my mum’s stores and then I needed to buy more things:


Actually my first time using Kreinik threads and I can tell I’m going to have to buy them all before too long. Holographic! Iridescent!


So we begin. A weird thing happened with this one in that I think because I was using such a subtle pallet my camera(phone) took even worse photos than usual and so nothing looks that great and it’s all a bit dark or weird. Sorry about that.

Not a lot of stumpwork elements in this one, but quite a bit of couching and satin stitch. Started off by blending a lovely neutral toned iridescent Madeira thread with single DMC cotton strand for her underbelly, and then started couching down ordinary household cotton string for the staff.



Then I couched down 4 or 5 strands of variegated cotton perle with a similarly coloured variegated DMC strand. Her head is worked in split stitch in the same stuff.


One side down.


Turns out I’m really not that fond of couching.


I tried hard to come up with ways to show the wet, scaly texture of snail skin. On the head this was very tiny glass beads.


Body in split stitch using the same variegated DMC thread. Then I over-sewed it with silver metallic thread;



Body complete. Next I started on the toadstool;


Using all the shades of white cotton I simply satin stitched in one direction in one strand.


To create the bulb at the base I wanted to do some sort of appliqué but I’m also trying to represent the flaky, soft folds of the mushroom so I wanted this bit to have 3 dimensions.


I’m using a bit of cotton pillowcase and stitching and folding as I go.


Then I added 2 sizes of french knots over it in a DMC silver blue filament.


You can also see I’ve attached the orb to the sceptre here which is a drilled faceted carnelian.

Now to the shell:


I’m using a blue toned DMC variegated cotton with Kreinik blending filament as highlights


Nope. Hate it. Rip it out!


I basically got enthusiastic about all the pretty colours and actually the more I looked at it the more it all just jarred. So out it came and after a couple of experiments in a seperate hoop I used the exact same shade I’d used for everything else.


Which just goes to show how different stitch techniques can give such different results.



I was alternating ‘stripes’ here by blending a green toned Madeira filament. Getting the angles of the stitches right was important to making sure the spiral didn’t look off.




Next on to finishing the mushroom;


Everyone that’s seen it goes crazy for the veil but it’s a total cheat. You can spot this weird fused ribbon thing that I got from my mum’s stash in the picture above of my pallet, and that’s all it is, appliqué.


With the gills I was basically just couching over single strand of perle cotton, the same one I used on the body. And I’m using just the same coloured off white single strand cotton to wrap them with, but in a very happy accident, the colour underneath is bleeding through, and gives it a lovely subtle variegation.


The cap of the mushroom was simply split stitch.

Finishing touches. The crown. I’ve never done goldwork before. All those threads and techniques, I’ve never attempted it*.

So, I borrowed some silver metal threads and just had a go really;


Couched down some pearl purl and attempted some passing in the middle.


Vintage swarovski crystals from a broken necklace on top.


Finally I added some grey details to the shell, and couldn’t leave it without a shimmery iridescent slime trail.Jpeg


I really love how limited the pallet is in this piece. It’s very shell-like, mother of pearl. Subtle. Totally different to the other Gods. And she was quick! I was very surprised to have her completed within 6 weeks. Satin stitch. So speedy.

All cotton and man-made fibres.

Approx 70 hours work

Size is approx 25cm x 30cm ish

And she and the Toad are off to the framers today.

*I will blog again soon about what I’ve been up to other than stitching, included a 2 day course at the Royal School of Needlework in coloured metal thread work :)

The God of Crabs*

God of Crabs hand embroidered art

Hello! How are you? It’s been a while blah blah. Well, settle in, this is an EPIC  post – nearly 60 photos! All about the new piece I’ve just completed, The God of Crabs, or maybe, The Crab God. Not sure yet.

So it all started back in June. I kinda had enough of doing the mini things and felt like striking out in a new direction. I also wanted to stretch my designer legs and make something come alive from a drawing.

crab drawing

Although I have no particular fondness for crabs in particular, I was totally into creating one in embroidery. This actually came after some musings as to what subject matter would best be a foil for textural experimentation. Long time readers (and if you identify as one then, wow, thanks for sticking with me through my erratic postings!) might remember that all of my branchings out into new directions with my embroidery have started with an ‘experimentation piece’ as a way for me to practice new techniques. So, after cross stitch came the Fly Agaric piece to learn free embroidery, after that came the Death Cap to learn stumpwork, and so on. So I had been itching to repeat this in something bold and highly textured. It all focussed too on incorporating shisha embroidery and I guess a crab seemed to be the perfect gnarly knobbly guy.

crab drawing

This is the final colour pencil sketch that I based the embroidery on.

crab pattern

To begin with, I messed about on a scrap bit of cotton after raiding my stores of beads and semi precious stones, so I could see what it would be like to attach big round chunks of things with shisha embroidery. It didn’t work the same way as with traditional flat mirrors as these are very polished and thick, so the cotton slipped about a bit. The fact that they were drilled helped anchor them to the fabric, and I could quickly see it was going to look great and exactly like the barnacles I had in mind.

shisha embroidery with gemstones

Ground fabric: I gave a lot of thought to every stage of this piece, starting with the ground fabric. Up to now as you know I haven’t needed anything more substantial than the old soft cotton pillowcases I’ve used for all the miniatures. But I knew this really needed to be stable enough to take the heavy stitching I was planning, so with my mum’s advice I bought a few metres of heavy-duty cotton curtain lining fabric, and some plain bleached calico, so I could double them up. The curtain lining has a lovely diagonal weave and slight sheen and doesn’t snag the needle or anything. Nice.

Picking my colours was fun because I HAVE ALL THE COLOURS. Yep, I splashed out and invested in every single DMC stranded cotton AND variegated too. Sigh. Look:



So, I transferred my design to the fabric with air erasable pen then went over in pencil, then began the legs. My overall plan for construction of the piece was to do the shell and large claws as separate pieces and the pad and attach them to the main piece as slips.  I am using my largest tambour frame.

pattern transfer

embroidered crab legs

embroidered crab legs



The legs are done in my old fave split stitch with 2 strands of cotton. I then embellished them with iridescent pearl Madeira, and green metallic thread.


Got boring by the end. The big arms I also introduced a chartreuse variegated thread and some glass beads too.



Here you can see I have used the felt method to pad out the body and claws.

felt padding


Then I started on the shell. This was the fun bit!

shisha embroidery

This was in a separate hoop and on my usual cotton pillowcase ground fabric. Despite the heavy stitches this fabric was adequate as it would be ultimately supported by the padding and stronger main fabric. I started with the ‘barnacles’. Here you can see the different stages of this technique – I have attached the African turquoise cabochons to the fabric and then worked the lattice of holding stitches in contrasting thread which will become the base for the button-hole stitch around it.


Once they were all down I started building up the design around them. I added some silver jumprings and attached them with button-hole stitch.



I then surrounded each barnacle with chain stitch and filled the jumprings with tight French knots. Then I went to town a bit, laying down the bones of the design, with colours and threads. I started blocking in the edge of the shell in split stitch and couched down some sparkly gold and green thread.






I then filled in that shape with the variegated green thread, then began to surround the barnacles with French knots, filling half the shell.



I struggled a bit to figure out how to finish the bottom third and how to knit the two together, but the answer ended up being in heavy beading at the base and…more French knots!



Finished! Now I started the job of attaching the shell over the padding to the legs.



After trimming the shell from the fabric, I pinned it all around the shape, turning the excess under. I then used stabbing stitches in a strong machine thread to sew it down all the way round.



A bit fiddley. when it was stitched down it was clear it needed more stuffing so I filled it with cotton wadding then stitched up the gap.



A nice and unforeseen outcome was the little impression at the base of the shell which was actually quite realistic. I think the shape of the shell with lots of points is actually one of the worst for doing padded slips but once I had it down I went round the outline again in matching thread and finally outlined the whole thing, making a seamless join.


And he has eyes!



 So next it was back to a separate hoop and embroidering the 2 big claws. Very similar method to the legs really:



The spots are silver jumprings again, buttonhole stitched down with glass beads in the centre.






Claw number one done, rinse and repeat:




Now it’s just a case of attaching the claws in exactly the same way as the shell:



Oh, and here’s my hand for scale! (I know you love that).



And here it is finished. Simple! ;)





I couldn’t resist putting the photo through a sepia filter. It looks like an old botanical illustration! This pleases me :)


I am really REALLY proud of this. Although not necessarily the largest piece I have done (Moths) it is the most artistically creative and intensely heavy piece of work I have done, and unique also that it represents my vision as an artist and not a client’s (as  a commission).

Some stats:

Approx 200 hours of embroidery.

12 needles were used in the completion of this project.

Around 140 metres of thread.

I didn’t count the beads.

The God of Crabs will now be professionally stretched, blocked and framed and will be available for sale. Contact me for info.

This is definitely a new direction for me as an artist, and the start of what will be a series of large, animal themed pieces.

If you follow me on Facebook then you will have already seen this project develop over the last 4 months – please like (if you do!) and share my work :)

P.S I love your comments.

From Little Acorns -Part 1

Stumpwork Acorn hand embroidery

I was pleased, then a bit surprised, when Craft Gossip featered me on their blog last week. Only because they called my post on the Hawthorn flower a tutorial. I didn’t think about that when I wrote it (the pictures are rubbish for starters), it’s just my normal way of showing step-by-step as I make something. But if it works as a tutorial for you, then good stuff (but don’t go selling it or copying or anything uncool like that). This week as you may deduce it is the Oak’s turn and it had to really be an acorn considering how recognisable, how symbolic and how it’s scale makes perfect jewellery fodder. So here we go:

felt shape

Having looked through my mini-library of stumpwork books I knew I wanted to do a padded slip, overstitched. So first up I drew a vague acorn shape on some wool-viscose felt to provide the base.

padded slip

Then using stab stitch I attached it to the black cotton ground  fabric, leaving space for the stuffing.


I realised at this point it would look more acorn-y the other way around, so after filling it with cotton batting I flipped it and began covering the whole thing in long satin stitches in variegated silk.

stumpwork acorn


Completely covered it’s a little stripy but I think that’s good for an acorn – see?



padded slip

You can see at this point how puffy it is. Satisfying. Then I add some detail:


Then I attempted some needlelace over the top to provide the cap. The last time I did needlelace was the first time I ever did any stumpwork, when I did my Death Cap Toadstool sampler. I found it pretty difficult back then, even though it’s actually quite simple stitches, but it’s the way all the knots you make seem to start to blend into one another so you’re not sure if you’re inserting in the right place. Especially as in this case the background is a similar shade to the thread you’re using.

stumpwork needlelace

This particular kind is trellis stitch and is worked into an initial line of back stitch and then looped knots back and forth, only attached at the edges. I used a darker shade of brown silk for this.

Stumpwork Acorn hand embroidery

Actually pretty happy with how it turned out, although I am now going to add an oak leaf motif behind it as frankly, unless you LOVE acorns, it’s a pretty boring pendant on it’s own. A brown blob.

Creating the Hawthorn Blossom

Hawthorn blossom

I was venturing into new territory with this piece: I’ve not incorporated 3 dimensional and detached elements into miniature jewellery designs, so I was a little nervous that it would work out and I could pull it off – not only as a one-off, but as a workable design that could be repeated bespoke.

Here’s how I did it:

detached wire slips

I finished all 5 petals. It probably doesn’t show up in my trademark excellent cameraphone pics, but I used various random shades of white to give a bit more depth to the overall flower. Then I cut each one out, trimming closely to the edge.

embroidered wired slip


That’s the reverse of the petal, BTW.


This was actually the most nervewracking bit – trimming close enough to remove frayed edges but not accidentally cut any threads on the slip.


Hooping up again in the ground fabric that would be the base of the piece – black cotton – I used a stilletto to make a small hole in the fabric into which I plunged the wire tail of the first petal:




After each petal I bent the wire tails back and couched over them in a strong silk machine thread before trimming them off.

Stumpwork flower

stumpwork wired flower

This is the beauty of this technique: each petal is pliable enough to manouvre individually, so each petal can be cupped and bent to make the overall flower more characterful.


The back finished off and secured, I started to work on the centre of the flower with pale spring green coloured silk french knots:

wired stumpwork blossom

Finally I used little glass beads stitched on in silk machine thread to represent the individual stamens:

stumpwork hawthorn blossom


There you go! Like the real thing? I’m very happy with how it turned out.


Making a Stumpwork Hawthorn Blossom – Part 1


So one of my goals for this year for Mother Eagle is to stretch and develop my embroidery skills, and so when it came to this, the first new design of the collection I wanted to return to stumpwork techniques. Longer-time readers may remember that when I began taking my embroidery more seriously I made a sampler of sorts, a Death Cap Mushroom using various stumpwork elements as a means to try new stitches. However I hadn’t really employed any in my jewellery so far. Looking at the Hawthorn tree, I felt the actual blossom would be the element I would focus on, as there are a few other plants on my list with red berries, and the white flower is as much an icon of the hedgerow.

I chose to make the flower 3-dimensional by creating each individual petal from embroidered wired slips.


First I used the image above to draw an individual petal shape, which I then used as a pattern to create out of silver plated jewellery wire.


Made 5 of them – one for each petal.


For this first one I marked the shape on the fabric too, but I didn’t bother on subsequent slips as the wire was thick enough to really hold it’s shape. Then I  started to couch the shape down using 1 strand of cotton.


Even though this is a crappy photo you can see that I’m couching it very tight, which is called trailing.

There are some books that say you can just couch it with a few stitches but this way gives you a much tighter neater finish.


When the whole wire is couched down like this, I start filling the shape with embroidery. I should probably mention too that my fabric is a light calico.



OK so when that’s done (I used split stitch, obv) it’s fine close buttonhole stitch all the way around.



And that’s done! Now repeat 4 more times.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the progress!