The Witch of St. Kilda

The Witch of St. Kilda

This piece was a lot of fun to do. Which was helpful because the story of the Great Auk’s demise is incredibly sad and has had me in tears more than once.

I spent quite a lot of time designing this piece mainly because I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to white, clear, pearlescent beads and sequins. I wanted the colour palette to suggest the icy homes of this penguin-like bird, as well as lending a magical, ethereal feel.

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There was also a lot of scope for different techniques; goldwork:

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Lots of beading:

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Just in this crown we have (bottom to top) plastic pearls, glass cubes, diamante, iridescent seed beads, silver seed beads, pearl rhinestones, plastic teardrop, silver pearl purl and lovely big diamante rhinestones. I just used Guttermans polyester buttonhole thread for all of this.

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Everything in monotone is quite tricky to photograph.

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These are long vintage glass silver lined bugle beads.

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I bought a lot of opalite chips after completing the last piece, using semi precious chips. I knew these translucent, opalescent stones would be perfect.

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Then I used tiny pearlescent 2mm sequins to fill the centre circle.

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Finally I embroidered the beak in split stitch.

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The Great Auk was a flightless bird, similar to a penguin. It bred on rocky, isolated islands, foraging for food in Atlantic waters. It ranged from northern Spain to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Faroe islands, Norway, Ireland and great Britain. Great Auk pairs mated for life, and estimated to have a maximum population in the millions.

The species had great significance for Native American cultures as far back as the Neolithic age, both as a food source and symbolically.

Overhunting, and mainly massive European exploitation and demand for the birds down, skin, and eggs led to it’s demise, and was finally and cruelly obliterated by 1852.
The story of the Great Auk is one of the saddest, in fact researching this piece and even writing this now brings me to tears. I won’t repeat them here, but there are several truly appalling tales of man’s cruelty and thoughtlessness dealt to this harmless and trusting animal on Wikipedia, including the story behind this piece’s title.

12″ x 19″

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I hope you enjoyed this post, thank you for following my work! As always you can follow me on Instagram for (usually) daily pictures of my work in progress and all the latest updates on exhibitions, classes and workshops.

Extinct Icons: The Divine Beest

Extinct Icons: The Divine Beest

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By this point I had increased my stores of beads and sequins quite considerably, mostly due to the kindness of strangers donating their unwanted bits and pieces.

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The elongated, more simple skull and horns of this animal gave me a lot of opportunity to continue with my embellishment experiment.

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I accidentally started embroidering on the wrong side of my cotton drill. Which is annoying because the diagonal weave on the right side provides lovely guide lines for shading.

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I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the photograph of the skull that I used to trace my design from provided little texture, meaning the skull was particularly ‘clean’. However in the overall composition this balanced really well as the horns were so embellished.

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Holographic gold sequins. Sigh.

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This photo is a little shaky but for this piece I wanted to exaggerate the Hartebeest’s spiritual significance in North African culture with, amongst other things, the choice of semi precious lapis and turquoise stones. 

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As usual, I made it up as I went along, alternating blue and turquoise, inspired by an ancient Egyptian palette.

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I used red accents very sparingly. Although this was fun, it was harder than it looks, trying to keep each section unique, and the lines relatively even.

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Once the horns were done, I just had the halo to complete.

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For this I chose gold passing.

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Ugh, the pain of tying back your ends.

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Finally I used flat black sequins to create a motif around the gold halo, in a nod to the aesthetic of the sacred cow Goddess in ancient Egypt Mehret Wehret and Hathor.

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The Bubal Hartebeest was a social animal, formerly native to the land north of the Saharan desert. It’s main predator was the also extinct Barbary Lion.
It was an animal of significance in ancient Egyptian culture. Remains of Bubal Hartebeest have been found in archaeological sites as well as hieroglyphs (the sacred form of writing) representing the animal. Possibly a sacrificial animal, it is also mentioned in the Old Testament.
It’s numbers sharply declined in the 19th century after the French conquest of Algeria, when entire herds were massacred at once by colonial military. The last captive animal died in the Paris zoo in 1925

Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

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The clocks have just gone back (forward?) so although it isn’t, I’m going to say Happy New Year, as my first post of 2017. Hello followers, new and old.

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Probably just after I had completed my Wildcat piece last year, certainly my most popular piece going by Instagram, I was already full of an idea for this year’s project. Partly because of my introduction to ONCA gallery in Brighton, their work and interest in my Ritual Burial’s pieces, spurred me on to make more conservationist themed work. You may have read my blog post for them, for Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2016, and in writing that piece, certainly it made me look at the meaning of last year’s work in a slightly different way. I researched the ‘status’ of each native British species featured in that project, to discover all but two were either extinct in this country, or threatened.

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Aesthetically, and technically, I was also ready for something new. The materials I use have often inspired my work, and I was really keen to use more embellishment rather than focus so much on Stumpwork, which was thoroughly explored last year. Gold and metal thread work, beads, sequins, and a general mixture of all these was something I really wanted to play with.

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The idea for my 2017 project came to me as it usually does fully formed in my mind, at least visually. The photographs by Paul Koudounaris of martyrs and saints in Catholic churches, adorned and decorated with gold and jewels were a big inspiration, and I have always liked a skull or two in my work. But the idea of this: of martyrs, persecuted in their lifetime for their beliefs or actions, now revered and regaled in death, with more symbolic value than literal (even if it’s just a toe bone that’s left) made me think how we treat animals, specifically extinct ones.

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When you google ‘extinct species’ you get loads of ‘top ten’ style lists, with mini-paragraph length eulogies and sad face emojis. There are thousands and thousands of species mankind have eliminated from the face of the planet, but the same ‘heroes’ come up again and again: Thylacine, Barbary Lion, and maybe the most famous of all, the Dodo. These are the poster children of the extinct hall of fame. Species that evolved over millennia, wiped out in the briefest expression of humanity’s ignorance.

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So, like those martyrs, persecuted in their lifetimes, I am interested in completing that cycle, and illuminating them as saints. These ‘Extinct Icons’ are the figureheads of the epidemic of mass extinction in our modern age.

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The first in this series: Saint Sultan.

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The Barbary lion was considered one of the biggest lion subspecies. They had dark, long-haired manes that extended over the shoulder and down to the belly. It is said that they developed the colours and size of their manes due to ambient temperatures, their nutrition, and their level of testosterone.
The last known wild Barbary lion was shot in the Moroccan part of the Atlas Mountains in 1942. These lions used to be offered to royal families of Morocco and Ethiopia and were known as the “royal” lions. It is said that some of these “royal” lions survived until the late 1960’s, until a respiratory disease just about wiped them all out.

Sultan was the name of a Barbary lion kept at London zoo, in 1896.

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Ritual Burials: Wildcat

Ritual Burials: Wildcat

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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.

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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.

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First do the bones.

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Longwinded but necessary foundations. Foundations is all.

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I filled these with just pretty free flowing stitch.

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Hairy stems.

Now on to something I’ve wanted to try for ages.

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It’s not an octopus.

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People went NUTS for this on Instagram. Most liked pic ever.

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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.

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Then I added the leaves and a few flourishes and there we have it. Scottish thistle.

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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.

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Next, more fun.

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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.

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Back to this, add some thorns. You can see where this is going.

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Lush.

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\ \ 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.

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Ritual Burials: Otter

Ritual Burials: Otter

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 I knew I wanted to experiment with decorative stitches for the leaves so had a little practice first.

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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.

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I used a lovely variegated thread for this.

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It couldn’t be a fern without a little furl so I followed the same method to make a curly wurly next to it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here you are:

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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.

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Look there’s the little leaves made from detached woven picots on the first fern.

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Made a little leaf to add to the Moonwort.

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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.

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Worked out though didn’t it? Looks nice.

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Here it is, and I added the elemental symbol for water and also the rune Wunjo.

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//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.

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