Just finished this big piece, my second one arguably fully realising my creative expression as an artist in large format. So here’s a nice juicey long blog post with lost of photos telling you how I did it.
Just before I finished the God of Crabs back in September I began feeling around for the inspiration on the next piece. I just read back over my post describing the process for the Crab and see that I didn’t explain any of the inspiration behind that one either. Sorry about that. I think it’s because it didn’t really start from ‘that place’, as I did mention though, it was more for me to freely explore texture and embellishment.
True as well for this one, but one of the thoughts I kept having while working on Crab was about ‘ugly’ animals, ‘unpopular’ ones. God knows there are a lot of sweet little foxes and rabbits and deer in embroidery (in my own too, not hating), but more and more I find such interesting colours, textures, stories, symbols, mythology in the less fashionable creatures out there. I’ve been vegan for about 2 years, and thought a lot about speciesism, how in our culture we hold up some animals over others, how some animals are seen as ‘cute’, some ‘disgusting’. Some are even feared. So inspired by my own love and fascination for all animals, I wanted to explore ‘unlikely’ candidates for elevation to godhood; creation of my own mythological pantheon. Embroidery has been long used throughout history to embellish in the name of worship, often the finest work reserved for ecclesastical settings. My work has always been narrative, the Mother Eagle muse being central to everything. The evocation of Godliness to the crab translates through the rich colour and jewelled embellishment, but this concept developed through the process.
This toad piece began with the intention to call him a God, but despite this he still evolved conceptually into something quite different to what I envisaged.
Originally I was inspired by the cordyceps mushroom (mushrooms also being a recurring motif for me), and wanted to have three-dimensional mushrooms and plants growing out the toad’s back.
So I transferred the very intricate pattern on to my ground fabric in ordinary pen. GASP. Then I realised I’d probably put him a bit too far up the fabric to have too much coming out the top of him…Hmm. Well, here follows a lot of step by step pics:
Every little wart was embroidered individually. I wanted to achieve a warty texture, so each one was padded satin stitch. I padded with two strands, satin stitched with one.
Each wart was then surrounded with variegated perle cotton in my beloved split stitch.
That belly took a long time. 2 weeks off at Christmas.
Then I added some more texture with french knots on his chinny chin chin.
It was around this point after Christmas that a friend of mine sent we a quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It she was reminded of after she saw my work in progress:
“Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head”
Increasingly I had been feeling like I couldn’t conceive of a good enough method to attach stumpwork plants and mushrooms growing from his back, and as soon as I heard this line, inspiration struck and i knew I wanted to ‘crown’ him in some way. Steering clear from the cliched frog prince, I decided on a magical jewelled necklace, which started off as needlelace covered wooden beads:
Each bead was embellished in various sequins and beads.
At this point I was not entirely convinced I’d made the right choice as this was the only 3D element in the piece so was a bit incongruous at this point, but I knew there was more to come to balance it (hopefully) plus I just loved the image of this great magical toad in his bejewelled necklace :)
Planning out his nest.
Detached padded slips.
Detached woven picots.
That’s a biro for scale.
The God of Adversity.
I am very happy with him. Next piece already in conception. Here’s some stats!:
Approx 350 hours of embroidery, over 27 weeks.
17 needles were used in the completion of this project.
Measures 40cm x 20cm stitched area.
The God of Adversity will now be professionally stretched, blocked and framed.
If you follow me on Facebook then you will have already seen this project develop over the last 7 months – please like (if you do) and share my work.
Sorry there isn’t much step by step photography in this one – last weekend was a total stitch fest and I didn’t pause much…so here’s the before shot:
When I did the transfer outline for this one, I pressed a bit too hard on the fresh ink so I got quite a coarse line. I was worried it would show through, but having done my two skulls I was totally into split stitch-shading everything so used this with some more variegated silk thread to hug the line really tightly. 3.5 hours later…
I totally love him, and his little french knot suckers. I know I’ll be doing him in loads of different colours to come.
But 2 hours later…
See, I had real struggles with his eyes. So much of a creature’s character is in the eyes and when you’re working small embroideries it is really hard to capture that. I don’t want him to look cartoony. I don’t really want him to look cute either. I just want him to look like an octopus. Arguably it doesn’t look that much better having picked all the little black thread fibres out of it and stabbed it, stabbed myself and generally had a frustrating evening. Even more annoying is that the eyes in the original sketch were pretty much perfect.
I basically went back to the greeny silk and split stitch again, finished off with little pale grey french knots.
So here’s another re-do. When I did the first Heart pendant, my mum in her infinite wisdom said ‘because it is a ‘wet’ organ, you ought to try using shinier threads like rayon or something’. Stitching knowledge, she has.
So like a good student I picked some nice subtly variegated, hand dyed fine silk for the muscle, and stuck to cotton again for the arteries and veins. I also tried doing ‘proper’ silk shading this time:
You can see I’ve done guiding lines, and although the size of the piece is challenging, I did manage to get different stitch lengths up and down for the technique. Comparing to the first version, the heart does look a lot smoother, and the gorgeousness of the thread really comes out – I counted about 7 different shades, which adds dimension.
Indeed, it does look wetter. To finish I added the little veins in a darker burgundy cotton, and outlined, and french knots. I think I’d like to try again using just silk for the whole thing.
Tomorrow I will share a new design with you I am completely in love with.
p.s. I know the W.I.P photos I’ve been posting are a bit rubbish. They are quick and dirty on a camera phone. But don’t worry, when they are finally mounted up to their jewellery frames I will do a proper shoot and you can see them in full technicolor glory.
I just had a lovely 4-day Easter break. We ate, we slept, we did the traditional bank-holiday-Monday trip to Ikea with the whole world and their children. Good stuff. The best part was I got a new chair! Are you excited? I can tell that you are. No seriously, I was starting to get back and shoulder (and neck and hand) problems from sitting on my sofa for 8 hours at a stretch sewing, and really in the interests of wanting to keep on doing that for the next 40 years, I thought I’d better get a good chair.
Here’s what I’m doing right now:
Little magpie in bullion knots.
Mini stumpwork toadstool. This is worked in aplique, french knots, tiny bullion knots, chain stitch and satin stitch.
Following the Death Cap I wanted to get back to making more miniatures for the jewellery collection. My mum had donated to the cause once again with a perfect-size roller frame and also a stack of very old (1950s) and very soft heavy cotton pillowcases. The perfect thing to be soaked in Yorkshire tea and covered in little art works. This is truly wonderful fabric to work on actually. Heavy and even and smooth and with a story to tell. Of many sleeping heads over 70 years. If pillowcases could talk.
So we come to the end. I’ve skipped ahead a few steps in this post so you’ll see all the final stages.
After finishing the woven picots, all the main sections were done, and it was left to tart it up a bit. First, I couched in the cap.
I used two different colours, in groups of 4 threads, one on top, and one underneath.
Then I decided to use another of my lovely hand dyed variegated cottons in a browny, brambley colour scheme, first to couch a line to the base, tidying up the leaves and base, and then used 2 strands to do lots of french knot texture to look like soil. This worked beautifully with the varigation of the threads to give a really natural depth.
Tune in tomorrow for the final piece’s full frontal glamour shot.