I wasn’t feeling all that enthusiastic about the next 5 Ritual Burial pieces at this point. I was half way through and I basically couldn’t choose so I threw it out to my Instagram followers to do it for me. Otter was voted for. Social media can be a wonderful thing.
At the design phase I had struggled a bit with the composition. Undoubtedly Otter is one of the significant animals of the Druids but I couldn’t immediately find plants or symbols that went with him. In the end it was the strong connection to water, and all that element’s strong symbolism that led me to ferns as the flanking magical plants.
I was really excited to embroider a fern. They are probably my second favourite flora after mushrooms. I began with marking out the shape in tacking and couching a gradually thinning cord to make the spine of a classic Fiddlehead fern.
I knew I wanted to experiment with decorative stitches for the leaves so had a little practice first.
I think this stitch is aptly named ‘fern stitch’. I am a bit obsessed with the fractal nature of ferns. It’s a leaf on a leaf on a leaf.
I used a lovely variegated thread for this.
It couldn’t be a fern without a little furl so I followed the same method to make a curly wurly next to it.
I didn’t actually take a photo of the little detached picots I used to make the leaves for this bit, but there’s a video on my Instagram.
OK, so next things got weird. I did hesitate slightly with this fern, the quite rare Moonwort fern. It is so odd, so unlike ferns that I both loved it and worried it would just look weird in the composition. Great! I decided, and made these leaves out of velvet.
I’ll show you a photo of the real thing in a minute, if you’ve never seen one before. They look just like this but you be the judge. Like before I couched down some cord. I also got super excited to use beads for its little, well I suppose you’d call them pods. I pinned them in place first to make sure I was happy, then I stitched them all down.
Here you are:
So weird huh? Botrychium lunaria is one of the strangest, rarest and most ancient ferns. I want to fill my garden with them.
Moonwort was believed to have a strong effect on metal: it was once believed that it could unlock a door if inserted in a keyhole, and draw nails from the shoes of any horse that trod in it.
Look there’s the little leaves made from detached woven picots on the first fern.
Made a little leaf to add to the Moonwort.
So that’s the ferns done. Next Otter needs his magical jewel of power, so I stuck it on with fabric glue. But I mucked it up so had to add some french knots to hide the glue splodge.
Worked out though didn’t it? Looks nice.
Here it is, and I added the elemental symbol for water and also the rune Wunjo.
//O T T E R \\
The Otter stands for joy, playfulness, and helpfulness. The cubs stay longer with their parents than most other animals and when an otter dies, it’s mate will mourn for a long time. Because of this Otter also represents family, and bonds. Incredibly magical, the Otter is at home with elements of both water and earth, represented here by ferns. Dryopteris Felix mas, the male fern, and Botrychium lunaria, the Moonwort fern, representing the female, lunar element. Ferns are prehistoric, ancient plants and synonymous with the earth and water, healing and magic. Like the Toad, Fox, and Snake, the Otter is said to carry a secret power object – a magical jewel within its head. Otter is also shown with the elemental symbol for water and the rune Wunjo, representing joy, pleasure, and kinship with those the same.
I was quite intimidated by this one. I’ve been knocking these out about one per month but the Wolf took me nearly double that and I think it’s cos I couldn’t figure out a clever way to do the Wolfsbane flowers. Their shape is weird and I couldn’t think of a way to do it in stumpwork.
So they pretty much ended up in plain flat work. Which felt weird for me but was the best way of expressing them I guess.
The stem was variegated which is why it looks a little stripy. Then on to the flowers.
So I lied, they were a little bit 3D. Just padded with felt on the hoods.
I’d forgotten how nice just plain old embroidery can be. I’m pretty pleased with how these turned out. Next I got my metal threads out again.
Not the best example of the technique in the world to be honest, I struggled to get the tiny bits to lay flat.
On the other hand, these moon phases were really fun to do.
Did I say fun? I meant really fucking annoying. It’s all nice and shiny on the front but the back looks like the Cthulu came to tea.
So plunging and couching all that down was a day’s work.
So yea. This was my flattest piece for a while. I really like it though.
\\ W O L F //
The wolf represents intuition and learning, and can be the most faithful of animal guides. Mysterious and magical, wolf legends are ancient, especially those connecting wolves with the moon and shapeshifting. Shown here, the wolf-ghost is flanked by wolfsbane – so named as the spittle that fell from the three headed hell-hound Cerberus, guarding the gates of Hades, became the first one. It is also used by werewolves to cure themselves and also to become invisible. The mythology of the man-wolf is also represented by the moon phases as transformation, and by the magic of the silver dagger. Finally the rune Othala represents wisdom and integration, and in Norse mythology Odin’s final destruction at the hands of the Fenris Wolf.
The last wolf in Britain was thought to have been killed near the source of the river Findhorn in Scotland in 1743.
Puffball mushrooms. I’m sorry I don’t have any in-progress shots. So you’ll have to take my word for it that these are made of old tights. No really.
Sketched out these Mandrake dudes freehand, but did it so well directly on to the fabric that it was a bit tricky trying to cut out this eco-felt to match. Should’ve sketched it to the felt obviously.
Anyway, stitched them down and over-sewed it with these sort of shading running stitch. Wasn’t all that happy with this bit as I struggled to make it not look stripey.
When I was happy with that I added these little rooty bits with couched down string and stuff.
Sorry that one’s a bit overexposed.
Ok so next I had a genius moment when I realised my beloved 21st Century Yarns (my absolute fave thread designer) did space dyed cotton velvet in the same gorgeous shades as all their threads. Sigh velvet. So rather than fill in all these shapes with embroidery as normal I just selected the best shade of oily blue green and using the same shade of thread (genius) made my slips.
Raided my semi precious stones from my jewellery making days (oh how glad I am I hung on to these) and sorted through these lovely Ocean jaspers to find the perfect ‘Stone of Power’.
Druids believe that the frog or toad carrying a secret within is the possessor of a power object – a stone of magical properties said to be found in the heads of very old specimens. By carrying such a stone and using it magically, the druid would be able to contact the animal spirit.
//Frog / Ghost / Medicine//
Frog’s were considered by druids as representatives of water spirits and as creatures in contact with the underworld and the dark God. Frog brings medicine and also represents hidden power and beauty.
Frog is shown with puffball mushrooms representing inner connection and mystery, and the mandrake, the greatest magical reputation of all plants, with its ability to drive away illness, demons and misfortune. Also the rune Hagalaz which heals physical, mental and spiritual wounds and increases mystical experiences and knowledge.
Using a print out of an old anatomical drawing I sketched out the design for this one. A slightly different composition as there weren’t really that many plants associated with bears or their symbolism. But Oaks are perfect so given the overall themes a wreath suited it well.
I bought some fabulous spaced dyed cotton velvet to create the detached slips on this one and it saved me a lot of embroidery plus gave that gorgeous autumnal hue I couldn’t have really replicated with embroidery.
I made the stems with stem stitch (you guessed it), then embellished them with little french-knot lichen.
The crown was really cobbled together with goldwork remnants from my mum’s box of bits but I’m pretty pleased with it. Topped with vintage Swarovski crystals from a broken necklace
The Great Bear // Ursa Major.
The Bear was the first animal to be honoured and revered as Master of all Animals as far back as 70,000 years ago, and lived in Scotland until the 11th century.
The Bear represents primal power and intuition, and his ghost is shown here surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves, the king of trees. A golden crown represents sovereignty, and his significance in British folklore as King Arthur (Art = Bear). Above is the constellation of the Great Bear, and the symbol for Earth as a reminder that the Bear is both star and animal.
Second in this series, the bat started out in the very same way, with the white on white skeleton and glow-in-the-dark outline.
To make the stumpwork Deadly Nightshade I first took some wooden beads and enlarged the hole a little before wrapping it with single strand black cotton and securing with a little glass bead. For the sepals I couched down the wire in a star shape before covering the whole thing in embroidery then drawing up the sides to make a little cup for the berry.
The super shiny leaves were made in the same way, the sheen achieved simply through directional stitching. The stem is just some couched down string.
The opium poppy leaf was made in exactly the same way.
Guess what…so were the petals.
The seed head was just a piece of felt drawn through then embroidered.
I broke out the ol’ goldwork skills for this All Seeing Eye, first embroidering the eye, then edging in overstretched pearl purl, and filled with bright check.
// B A T / N I G H T //
Once thought to be physical manifestations of the souls of the dead, and messengers between witches and the Devil, this ritual burial shows the Bat with the rune Eihwaz representing death, and magical communication through dreaming. It is shown with Deadly Nightshade representing far sight, and Opium Poppy for vision in dreams to other worlds. The trio are linked by the full moon and the All Seeing Eye.