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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first in this series: Saint Sultan.
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.
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.
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.
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.