It’s funny writing these blog posts after I’ve finished the series as I’m thinking back to how I felt starting each one and there was a certain amount of trepidation for each I think.
I had big plans for this one. I knew what plants I wanted to do and how to do them but could see it being a big-ish project.
First do the bones.
Longwinded but necessary foundations. Foundations is all.
I filled these with just pretty free flowing stitch.
Now on to something I’ve wanted to try for ages.
It’s not an octopus.
People went NUTS for this on Instagram. Most liked pic ever.
I lie, this was the most liked. I figured out how to do this just by looking at pictures of similar designs, and pictures of real thistles. Make a tassle, couch over the base of it, then embroider decorations over (I used a sort of crewel stitch here), then trim the ends and separate the strands.
Then I added the leaves and a few flourishes and there we have it. Scottish thistle.
I made a deal with myself that if I fill leaves with embroidery I can ‘cheat’ using velvet as the base of my detached slips on the next lot. I love this velvet so much.
Next, more fun.
These were quite tricky and I definitely didn’t make them perfectly. There are holes. But I still wished I had some real blackberries so I could play spot the glass ones and show off.
Back to this, add some thorns. You can see where this is going.
\ \ B O U N D A R I E S / /
All Cats are sacred to the goddess in druid tradition, but the most powerful connection is in the Scottish Wildcat, now only found in the highland wilderness.
Cat teaches us respect and caution. She will accept our affection only on her terms. Cat is proud, independent and capable of observing both this world and the next. As an animal clearly in contact with the spirit world, and an ideal ally for witches, fear of their powers have made them victims of persecution throughout history.
In this Ritual Burial we see Cat surrounded by brambles, and the prickly Scottish thistle representing strong boundaries. Blackberries gathered under the right moon were believed to give protection against evil runes. Like the Cat, these plants, both ancient, require respect and caution for safe handling. Finally, the rune Thurisaz is shown, itself depicting a thorny vine that provides defence against invaders, and symbolises protection and defence.
A couple of years ago there was a bit of a trend for Stag/Deer type stuff. Do you remember? I absolutely adore stag and deer and think they are truly magical. But whenever things get popular it does put me off a bit. Silly really. Anyway, that has nothing to do with this piece.
Have I told you that the outlines of these ghosts are glow in the dark? I haven’t figured out how to photograph them but it’ll be a nice treat for whoever ends up buying them.
Lot of instant gratification with this one. As soon as I cut the trees out of felt and tacked them down you could see the scene.
I was kind of amazed how much attention this pic got when I posted it on Instagram. Just that nice smooth satin stitch. I almost felt bad not leaving them like that.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Birch trees are the tree spirit’s gift to embroiderers. It’s just so easy to make them look great.
If you plough through my archives, or just go to my home page actually and scroll down a little bit you’ll see a miniature of this scene I made back in 2013, and I saw every reason to replicate the techniques I used then, albeit in cotton this time.
Imagine how hard and annoying it would be to attempt to embroider all the leaves another way. Also French knots are so fun. Also didn’t even have to change colours as my fave variegated perle cotton from 21st Century Yarns does the trick for me.
Canopy made, it was back to my metal thread work for a new moon.
And an imperfect silver chalice.
At this point I was going to add Hawthorn leaves and flowers stumpwork at the foot of the trees, but I was quite afraid I’d be gilding the lily, so left things well alone. It loses none of the symbolism, and makes for a short post. You’re welcome.
D I V I N E / M E S S E N G E R
According to Welsh tradition, the Stag is one of the 5 oldest animals in the world. A guide from the beginning of time that takes us deeper into the underworld. The Lord of the Animals, Stag is a divine messenger and can go between our world and others. Journeys with Stag are also about purification, represented by the gateway of birch trees, used for millennia to drive out impurities and provide guardianship. New beginnings are also represented by the new moon. Finally this ritual burial also contains a silver chalice, a magical cup representing offered and received knowledge. Both these silver motifs are also symbolic of the Goddess, to which the Stag is also wedded as the Horned God.
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.