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 separate 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.



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 :)

Old Favourites and New Twists

I’m so excited about all the new product development I’ve been doing. Some new things and some tweaking of old things.

First, here’s the new: New custom birch frames for embroidered jewellery.

And I celebrated with setting the three new Poisonous Toadstools into them.

I rubbed natural soft wax polish into the wood, and they’ve been finished with antique bronze fittings. The chain is fabulous – all the links soldered, a really beautiful quality. The bails too, heavy and sturdy and lovely. You’ll have to take my word for it for now, the pics don’t show it. Here’s me modelling:

I am just SO pleased with them. They are so lovely and solid but also really light to wear and feel really special. So then I had to get to making some more embroideries for a new collection. I returned to the classics: This guy had sold in my Etsy shop:

Limited Edition Human Skull Pendant, on 25″ Silver plated chain

And I wanted to make some improvements anyway.

I used a finer fabric (still rocking the bed linen for that), a single strand of cotton rather than 2 ply, and a lighter, more balanced and subtle colour pallette.

The whole way through I was all like ‘oh I don’t think he’s gonna turn out any good’ and it took me all day to complete him, but in the end I am really pleased actually.

He will be the first of a trio of skulls going in the new wood frames. What do you think so far?

Poisonous Trio #3

This final Toadstool I am the most happy with, especially as I tried a new stitch out on it and pulled it off.  This one is Amanita phalloides – Death Cap.

So far so same-as, but I decided to give myself a break and quit the bullion knots here as A – the shape of the mushroom means less of the fins are visible so it would be difficult, and B – I JUST DON’T WANT TO DO ANYMORE. So I used a darker colour and satin stitched it. Then I started with the new stitch – Turkey Rug.

So it’s a series of loops knotted in closely together, and when you’re doing it it looks like a mess. But then you fill the space and cut the loops so they’re tufts instead:

Then you get to stylin’.

I trimmed them down quite a bit, now they’re lovely and fluffy and fuzzy. The padded slip had a bit of artistic license with it since I know of no Death Cap with hot orange and coral spots, but hey ho.

Finishing french knots. Next – I will mount them up.

Poisonous Trio #2

Poisonous Trio #2

Although snazzy, snazziness isn’t everything, so I decided to talk you through the construction of the next toadstool (rather than a slideshow), which I declare to be a juvenile Devil’s Bolete.

I chose this nice subtle variegated silk (nauseatingly and wrongly IMO named ‘Pot Pourri’) for the stalk and fins on this one as it was the most neutral of my fine silks. Unfortunately it turned a bit more stripey and yellowy than I thought it would. Oh well. I won’t be able to use it again, seing as it has been half way down my cat’s throat:


Made nice bullion knots though. Now this is to show you things that do go wrong despite the best intentions. I have a couple of patches of beautiful space-dyed velvet that I thought would be awesome as a bit of applique for the cap here. I tried it:

It sucked. Mainly because the colour just didn’t go with the silk I’d already used for the first bit. I actually really liked the velvet but considering the difficult relationship I have with the bullion knots I hated the idea of picking them out more than the idea of picking the velvet off. Plus the velvet pile frayed quite a bit. So I swapped it out for felt:

The felt is quite pinky/mottled which works well (better in real life). Then I french knotted the base in a lovely autumn leaves kind of variegated cotton.

Poisonous Trio – #1

I guess I’m making up for an absence of work as this will be a trilogy of posts on  my new little mini-collection. Plus I just discoved the slideshow function on WordPress so you can see all the stages of work without so much space! But really I just wanted to try it out…

I had intended to do some more toadstools for ages but something always seemed to put me off when I actually sat down to do them. Maybe it’s the fiddlyness of Stumpwork. Yea probably that. Hadn’t done a bullion knot for a while and they make me cry sometimes. Now that I am working on the new collection using the new custom birch wood fittings, I had more motivation for doing several designs at once. Plus I ran a poll on my facebook page and out of toadstools and skulls, toadstools won. So there you have it. I consulted my old field guide and off we went.

This first one was the same classic shape and pattern as the first Fly Agaric I have in my shop but I wanted to do it in a different colour. We will call this one Tricholoma aurantium, as it is often seen in Fairy Rings. It looks rather tricksy in my opinion.

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So I constructed it in basically the same way as the original in my shop – added french knots to the purple wool-viscose felt cap, then a simple satin stitch stalk, chain stitch frill and bullion knot fins. The cap isn’t padded, so technically it’s just aplique, but I just stitched it down so than the finished effect was 3-dimensional. Finally green french knots provide the forest floor. The bullion knots are still little bitches.

Next: I will show you the Devil’s Bolete.