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Pheasant/Phoenix

Pheasnt phoenix

I am hardly ever proud of what I have done.  I follow a curve of getting very excited about something and then thinking it’s a pile of rubbish.  I am with all those artists who say that there is massive frustration in what is in your imagination or mind’s eye and what you are actually able to achieve.  But, for once, I am absolutely delighted with this piece, an embroidered fabric collage of some sort of bird.

I started this piece on a lovely weekend at the wonderful Shore Cottage Studios on the Wirral.  I have written a lot about this magical place on my blog before.  This time I went with my Grate Frend, Mike, who is a brilliant maker of fabric collage, and who I thought would like the studio and Sue, who was our tutor, and fabric dyeing (all of which he did).  We went for a walk on the beach and gathered some inspirational stuff: stones, feathers, crab shell, seaweed and so on.  Then we did some drawing and in the afternoon some microwave and rust dyeing.  The following day we started to make our pieces.

I found all this so exciting that I couldn’t sleep on the first night, so I did some sketchbook work and got prepared for the following day.  This is my sketch of what I intended to make:

Wreath sketch

It’s a pretty wreath with all those elements we found on the beach.  I went on to work out all the stitches I would use, and was ready to go.

In my hotel room, however, was a copy of House and Garden, which I very seldom read as the houses really are grand, and my house is not.  But it had a picture from an exhibition at Waddeston Manor:

Pheasant original photo

I thought he was rather magnificent, although rather more striking than pheasants I have encountered.  Anyway, I ummed and ahhed, but finally decided to make a pheasant rather than a wreath.  I used the fabric that I had dyed the previous day and supplemented it with a bit from Sue’s stash, and in the bottom right hand corner a pale turquoise piece that Mike had dyed.  I very carefully hand-appliquéd a rosy red piece for the body using the needle-turning technique.  Bit of a daft mistake.  No-one can now see my exquisite (!!!!!) hand appliqué and it meant another layer to stitch through, and it was thick by the end as much of what I used was weighty furnishing fabric.

It is one of my new-found pleasures of retirement that I was able to take it home and work on it the following day.  Here are some details of the feathers:

Wing feather details

I hope you can see from this photo that I over-dyed some printed fabric – you can see the white lines of the botanical design.  I stitched into that with some of the hand-dyed threads we produced.

Feather stitch detail two

This shows the next layer of feathers which were stitched with a variety of threads, some commercial and some from the workshop.  This was the first stitching and really brought the piece to life and convinced me to keep working into it.

Phoenix feather stitch detail

These are the same feathers showing how the embroidery secures them but also allows them a 3D effect.  It also shows some of the fraying I did on the feathers’ edges.  My fingernails did not thank me for it.

Back of head feathers

These are the back of the neck detail feathers.  The stitching here is with a very fine variegated silk thread produced commercially.

Feathers three

This shows the beads I put on his chest.  I bought them for the project and astonished the woman in the bead shop by my speed of choice.  The darker faceted beads really catch the light.  I wanted to use the turquoise ones to try and capture his brilliant flashes of jewel colours in the photograph source material.

The other things that I knew were going to be really important in this piece were the beak and the eye.  I wanted him to look very proud and fierce and defiant.  I left the features until last because I knew that they could easily ruin the whole thing which is a bit silly when you think about it, but I knew if I got it right they would bring him to life.  So, I deliberately exaggerated his beak and make him much more raptor-like:

Pheasant beak detail

I used the Anna Scholz gold fabric I described in my last post, and then I stitched over it with fine cotton perlé to knock the gold back a bit, and also to give it the 3D curve of a beak.  I tried very hard to integrate the gold into the face, as it can jump out, but I think it sits okay here.

Then I went onto the eye and thought about several ways of approaching it, including painting it, but in the end I went with a simple satin stitch in black perlé cotton and a small pearl bead:

Eye detail

I really wanted that evil glint in his eye, and I think it more or less worked.

I am really pleased with him, but as I was stitching it, I thought, it’s not a pheasant at all, it’s a phoenix, and not to come all over poetic and wacky woo woo, I think he is symbolic of my new life after being a university teacher for so long.

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A joyful piece from leftovers

Leftovers hanging

If you have read previous posts on this blog, you will know that I hate throwing things away.  I also like to make other projects with the leftovers of previous pieces.  This little wallhanging is a good example of this.  It is made with leftovers from a much bigger piece which I showed at the last Bristol Quilters exhibition:

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I started the piece with this tiny leftover square:

Leftovers centre

Those half triangles in the centre are about 1 cm-1/3″ square and are the trimmings from a block where you sew a small square to a big square and then press it back to give you another shape:

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I also included more leftover strips using Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jackson fabric which I had stitched together to form one long random strip which you can see on the outer rows of the small piece.  I was really pleased to be able to use this gold fabric:

Leftovers gold

I got this in an Anna Scholz sale.  Whenever people compliment on a frock or coat, it is always by Anna Scholz.  Occasionally she sells off really luxurious fabric off the roll at ridiculously cheap prices for fashion students.  Somehow I got an invite and then to meet Anna, who was lovely.  I had to stagger back to the tube with all this stuff, but the bargains were stupendous.  The gold would not have cost more than a fiver a metre, but it takes hand stitching really beautifully.  Pulled the stitches quite tightly to give that rippled effect.  I had intended to do more stitching on the piece, but the fabrics were too ‘shouty’ and didn’t need more detail.  You can just see some fly stitch in the top left hand corner of the above picture.  I more or less left it at that.

I now have to decide what to do with it.  It is cushion-sized, but I think I would prefer it as a small wallhanging.  For that I will need to do the binding.

The thing I thought was interesting, though, is what a happy piece it is.  I can’t help but wonder if this is because it was the first piece of patchwork I did after I got my retirement options sorted out.  The piece came together in an afternoon, and I think expresses my delight at being able to get on with the next phase of my life.

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Welsh Tweed Eggs

The medieval historian and I are just back from our annual trip to Pembrokeshire.  The family joke is that we go for the dogs, but actually, we go because it is so beautiful and we never tire of the beaches and the walks and the small towns.  A very regular place of pilgrimage is Melin Tregwynt (pictured above) which is a Welsh woollen mill in the absolute middle of nowhere, but a bit near Fishguard.  It makes traditional Welsh wool fabric, not sure you can call it tweed if it isn’t Scottish, but the designs are modern, the palettes contemporary and the whole thing very high end.  You have almost certainly seen some of it on television shows on fancy sofas, or in hotels you might have stayed at – the Mercure chain has it for example.  It is pretty expensive but fabulous.  I bought a throw in the half price sale last year for our 30th wedding anniversary and it is the best thing possible for an afternoon nap.  So, count me as a fan.

I have been going and collecting offcuts which they sell by weight or in prepacked bags for years and I have quite a collection.  I have been steadily adding them to make blankets for some time.

I have also made embroidered bags with them:

 

I love doing wool embroidery as the needle slides through so much more easily and the wool feels lovely in the hand.

All this leads on to a group of embroidered egg panels which I did while in Pembrokeshire.  I took threads and some beads from home, but I also came across a bead shop in Narberth, Begelly Beads.  It’s a tiny bit out of the town so you have to look for it, but it is worth a visit.  Some really nice £1 selection bags to be had in various colours, as well as bargains.  I often find that the beads that no-one wants for jewellery are perfect for embroidery.  Take these unlovely brown rose beads:

I can quite see why you wouldn’t want brown plastic roses round your neck, but they really do look like piped chocolate flowers and they worked very well on this egg.  I sewed them onto the edge with blanket stitch and then dotted some on the tweed, following the pattern.  I am pretty sure that Fabergé would have loved the skill and delicate palette of the weaving.  I am not sure what he would have made of the beads.

I also experimented with different sizes of egg using the same fairly bold pattern:

I reversed the fabric so that the top one has the darker background.  Then I used the spot design as a basis for embellishment.

The top, smaller egg gave me a few problems:

The metallic silver glass beads refused to stay put in a graceful sweeping curve.  Incidentally, the beads around the edge are glass cubes with orange pigment of some description around the threading hole.  They are lovely to work with: chunky and well-finished so they don’t fray the thread.  I was introduced to these cube beads by Linda Kemshall who sometimes finishes off her magnificent art pieces with them.  That was roughly twenty years ago, and at that time the beads were ruinously expensive.  They were imported from Japan and hard to get hold of.  Now you can get them widely and they have really come down in price.  They are a brilliant way to get a really neat edge and they give weight to a wall piece.  Again, you put them on with a blanket stitch the width of the bead.

The final egg for this post is this one where I decided to concentrate on the background rather than decorating the egg.  It’s a ‘What if?’ technique for those of you interested in creativity:

I used a variegated thread for the stitching.  I was going to put beads on as well, but the simplicity of the design, and the seeding which is a very basic stitch, seemed to make sparkly bits rather too much for once.  These are all very small pieces, roughly A5 and so useful for using up scraps.

Just to finish, here is Affie, the colour reference pom:

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Orange rose egg

This egg panel is very simple.  I wanted to use the orange rose print just because I think it is so pretty.  I tacked the fabric over a stiff card egg template, stitched almost all the way round it and then pulled the card through the gap.  I find this is a good way to handle curves.  Then, to give it some interest, I used variegated thread to go round it in beaded fly stitch:

Orange rose detail

I used very cheap glass beads from Tiger.  Sometimes having cheap elements is good because it is easier to be generous with them.  The fabric came from a cheap bargain bin at a quilt show.  I suppose that lilac and tangerine isn’t everyone’s choice, but I really liked the exuberant full-blown roses which lent themselves to fancy-cutting here.

I don’t have much else to say about this one.  It was quick and easy and has a bit of a sparkle but not enough to look flashy.