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Making portraits with Gustav Klimt

I finished this piece this morning.  I braved the outside world and went and bought a staple gun to fix the applique to the canvas box mount and she was finished.

You might have picked up, if you follow me on Instagram, that I went to Vienna a couple of weeks ago.  I really loved it, although it is a slightly weird place, and am plotting about how to go back, assuming we ever get to travel again.  One reason for going was to see the Klimts.  Now every embroiderer worth their salt seems to go through a Klimt phase.  I went through mine about ten years ago, and I thought I was over it.  But, I was working on my sketchbook stuff for the workshop in May which I still hope is going ahead, and I started to get into all the lovely gold and patterning again.

I did quite a lot of reading round Vienna and Klimt, and there will be a lot to blog about, and I have used this in some new pieces of work.  This time round I was fascinated by Klimt’s portraits and not just the magnificent golden ones of Adele Bloch Bauer.  I really like this one of Joanna Staude:

She doesn’t attract a lot of interest because she was not one of Klimt’s clients; she was a professional model.  No-one seems to know much about what happened to her after the Anschluss.  I love the painting because it belongs to a series of paintings Klimt made which are really interested in fashion and fabric.  I think it may have been this portrait where the model turned up in a not particularly interesting dress and Klimt asked her to put her coat on backwards with the lining side out.  It would make sense.  It would account for the wonderful blocky outline.  I also love her hair.

So, I started out with an outline which I traced:

and made some pattern pieces, and then I built her up.  I like the blue against orange scheme of the portrait, but what I had to hand was some scraps of fabric with Voysey prints on them.  Voysey was immersed in the Art Nouveau movement like Klimt and so it seemed appropriate to use them:

You can just about see them through the beads.  The beads are, of course. a reference to all those great golden works and Klimt’s love of pattern.  I expect I was channelling the woman in Klimt’s Stoclet Palace cartoon:

I really enjoyed doing the embroidery on this.  I worked it in a frame.  I haven’t used a frame for a long time, but I knew the thing would distort if I did it in my hand and I wanted to be able to mount it as a flat picture.  Even better, when I went up to Hobbycraft to buy the frame, the bits had been in the sale so long that they were no longer on the system and so I got them for free.

I really enjoyed getting the fur collar on the coat:

It’s made from a tricksy synthetic furnishing fabric layered, frayed and stitched and I was delighted with how it turned out.

The hair was also interesting.  I was going to do more to it, but in the end I thought a simple approach was good:

I thought the pattern had an imperial look to it, which was appropriate for the city which had been the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I loved doing the face.  Mine is more melancholy than the original, which perhaps reflects the spirit of the age.  I like the fact that she looks like she has seen life:

I used some bold colours on her face because that is what Klimt did in the portrait, and I liked the effect.

I didn’t use any bondaweb or similar on this as I find it difficult to stitch through.  I used a dab of pritt stick and the odd pin.  It seemed to work well enough.  Each component apart from the hair was mounted on something before I stitched it.  The coat was a piece of thin wadding and the face was mounted on felt.  This allowed dense stitching which would not have been possible on the thin background as it would have pulled and distorted badly.  The whole thing was then mounted onto some cotton interlining before being stretched over the commercial canvas.  I could have made the background as lush and glowing as Klimt and wondered about reversing the colour scheme so I had a red coat against a blue background, whereas Klimt had the opposite, but in the end I liked the simplicity of the background against the florid patterning.  The background fabric is some I found in the sale at John Lewis.  I bought it because it has a subtle shimmer which is great for the blingy Klimt.  The fabric is a linen blend and I can see why it didn’t sell as it doesn’t suggest any particular garment, but the linen makes it just firm enough to take the applique on top.

As I said, I loved working on the face.  I borrowed techniques from Sue Stone and Elizabeth Loveday, both of whom did wonderful workshops for Selvedge magazine last year.  I drew the face freehand and then ‘coloured it in’ with embroidery thread and a mix of stem stitch. back stitch, split stitch and seeding.  I like this way of working – not trying to make something pretty but something striking.

I am in the middle of another piece at the moment which is a bit larger.  I am thinking of working up a talk on Klimt for next year.  He is endlessly inspirational.  I am not sure if I would have liked him in person, but he was apparently catnip for the ladies, so who knows.  For the moment I am just enjoying using his work as a starting point for my own.

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Snowdrop collar

This is my new dog model, Chomsky, name chosen by the Medieval Historian, so we should be grateful that it’s not Egburt or Wizzo, who really did exist.  I took Chomsky out on a frankly less than tremendous photo shoot this week.  I thought we might get a nice shot in the cafe in the sunshine but in the event the sunshine was too bright, which is at the very least surprising, and shots of him looking moodily out through the cafe window came to nought.

All that aside, he really is a dog model, not a stuffed toy, because he has a rigid steel frame making him good at holding a pose.  The point of all this is that I am trying to widen my already slightly floppy and turned up at the corners portfolio career.  I am trying to make inroads in the whole celebration business so that I can integrate my creative work with my celebrant work, which is also creative, but in a different way.  I have made collars for a long time as I like striking jewellery, and, not being a small woman, I look better in statement pieces.  I like delicate jewellery but, on me, it can look a bit like a pimple on a mountainside as my mother used to say.  I was making a marigold collar – of which more in a subsequent post – when I suddenly thought that they would look good on dogs on special occasions.  For example this is my mutt in hers:

It struck me that people spend thousands on their wedding dresses and suits and general outfitting but then put a nasty polyester bandana or worse, tuxedo front on their dog who is supposed to be a cherished member of the family or s/he wouldn’t be at the wedding in the first place.  Dogsat weddings are a big thing, by the way, as ring bearers or just as attendants.  I saw two of these ‘Chomskies’ working it with the Dogs Trust people on a stall in a shopping mall in Bristol in exactly these rather down market artificial fibre items.

My collars were originally designed for humans rather than dogs , and people can wear them as statement pieces, or the collars can be box-framed.  It did strike me, however, that people might not want to wear something that had been round my dog’s neck, glamorous and alluring as Affie indeed is.  Thus the arrival of Chomsky.  Should I ever get my Etsy shop back into working order they will be on sale there.  I am calling them Occasion Wear for Dogs.

Readers of this blog, however, I am sure will be less interested in the commercial side of this and more in the collar itself.

I began it as part of a series of flowers of the month pieces for my celebrant blog.  I also have collars for October and November.  December got missed out because of Christmas, I suspect, and my push to make lovely but completely unwanted handmade gifts.  The flower of the month from the almanack that I am using is the snowdrop:

I am sure you know what a snowdrop looks like, but there is always room for a photo of a pretty flower.  I was a bit stuck on how to ‘do’ a snowdrop, but I suddenly remembered a Liberty print cotton I bought from a remnant bin.  I made the pattern, which is less impressive than it might sound as it is basically a crescent moon shape, and I cut the base layer from a cotton and linen table runner from IKEA.  Then I stitched on the printed panel with a bright green thread to echo the lovely colour of the snow drop stem and foliage:

After stitching on the panel I made a sandwich of the top, a layer of white felt for strength and support and then a backing of the same linen.  Then I started to fill in round panel with big porcelain beads and colonial knots in perle cotton.  I stitched some much smaller beads on the print, following the dots in the printed design, to look like snow.  The idea is that the beads and embroidery look like snow angels:

I had two goes at stitching on a strap because the first one didn’t hang right and the last thing you want to be doing on any sort of big day is fiddling with straps on accessories:

I allowed plenty of length so that it would fit most dogs.

The panel falls perfectly under Chomsky’s chin.  The condiments are to give you an idea of scale, but I am not sure that they are quite what we want for high class sales.

This is a close-up of the embellishment:

 

These are a couple of pages from my notebook/sketchbook although this collar was largely improvised rather than planned:

I will post about the remaining two collars shortly, and meanwhile will start thinking about February and violets.  I think I might have something in a drawer somewhere…

 

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Boro blocks

Making stuff is great, and making samples just try out a technique is also satisfying, but there is often the question of what to do with them afterwards.  I was walking past a house in my neighbourhood which had a pile of oddments of bits of pine from some home improvement job.  They were left outside the house, and it is a custom in the area where I live that we leave stuff out that we are happy to give away.  Fortunately, I had a backpack and so I took them away because it struck me that they were just about the right size for my boro samples.

It was really strange quite how well they fitted together.  The boro is just the tiniest bit bigger in most cases.  The one with turquoise beads was cut to length but otherwise they just paired up.

I sanded the wood a bit and then was going to paint them with trendy Farrow and Ball colours, but I had a can of off-white chalk spray paint which I had bought to do up another street find, and I used that.  This really speeded up the process, and, because I gave them a light spray the blocks looked a bit like they have been limed.  Once they were dry I stuck the textile to the wood with a generous dollop of PVA glue.

This one is made with an off-cut from a  red and white quilt I trimmed with some hand-embroidered laisy daisy vine wandering between the two boro patches.

This is made from scraps of sari fabric, worked with perle cotton.

This is a combination I really like of blue and orange.  The orange beads are from a broken necklace from a charity shop.  The orange thread is perle crochet cotton which I dyed for my boro workshop.

I am not quite sure about this one as it is a little pouch.  I suppose it could be a money box

This is probably my favourite.  Lots of Tula Pink fabric and some turquoise beads.  I like the colour combination.

Grouped together I think they look particularly nice.  After the workshop, I will be putting them into my Etsy shop.

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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.

 

A word to the wise

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Another very quick post to say that these fantastic big sequins are back in stock in branches of Tiger.  I bought five packs because I was so upset when they went out of stock last time.

 

 

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Further adventures in wreath-making

 

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This version of the wreath is a bit more unusual than the first two that appeared on the blog.  It’s made with Amy Butler fabric so it is much more contemporary-looking.  The substrate is a sample of furnishing fabric, which was great in one way: I didn’t need to put the piece in a hoop to do the chain stitch circle.  This would normally cause the fabric to gather and distort, but because this is such thick fabric it was fine.  The downside was that the fabric was like canvas and really quite difficult to get a thicker needle through which is a problem when using embroidery threads.  I used the reverse of the fabric again.

Now, this brings me to the biggest problem with number three.  And this is a real beginner’s error.  In fact, a beginner would have the sense not to make this mistake.  Samples almost always have a label on the reverse with the name of the print and the fibre composition and colourway and so on:

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The usual procedure is to put a hottish iron on the label and it peels off quickly and cleanly.  So I merrily assumed that would be the case here and went ahead and did the majority of the appliqué.  Sadly the label utterly refused to shift:

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I am not a perfectionist, but even I could see that this needed a fix.  The only thing I could think of was to make an appliqué to fit over the whole thing with a bit of space to spare as it was going to be difficult to stitch through the sticky label and the thick cotton.  In the end, I thought the only thing that would work would be a bird.  Fortunately this piece is quite large so there was scope to make a bird which wouldn’t look like an albatross had landed.

At this point I was a bit fed up and wanting a quick fix.  Fortunately, I found a print with a variety of splashy paisley shapes.  One of them was pointing in the right direction to cover the label and had a suitably stylised bird shape and had a print which suggested a wing so I wouldn’t have to stitch through the paper.
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I had to add another piece of fussy-cut fabric to make some sort of head, and then embroider a beak and eye in satin stitch:

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I found an acrylic gem which was the perfect size to make an eye while I was looking for something else, so I stitched that on.  Please don’t tell me that a bird this shape wouldn’t have this shaped beak.  I did my best.

In the end, I quite like the bird and I think it adds to the overall piece.   This wreath, I hope is going to be part of a larger piece of work.  It’s all very well making wreaths, but I need to show people what you can do with them other than making cushions.  I also like the problem-solving element of this.  And I offer it as an example to people I meet who seem to think I am an expert in this field.  My personal takeaway is: always test that the sticker comes off before you devote a fair bit of time to stitching on samples.

Spring Wreath

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This is my latest piece of work.  It is quite a traditional piece of hand appliqué.  I started with a piece of printed furnishing fabric from a sample book, measuring roughly 18 inches (46 cm) square and drew a circle on it in pencil.  Then I went over that in chain stitch.  Had I made a bias tube and stitched that down, the result would have been better but I would still be doing it now.  Also the light line of the chain stitch, I think matches the delicacy of the finished piece.

The leaves were cut freehand from scraps of fabric.  The main fabric is a cheap Liberty knockoff, but the other two are very contemporary fabrics which I used with the reverse showing to knock back the brightness of the prints.  They were appliquéd using very traditional needle-turning.

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I finished it off with some big beads from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces over some tiny crocheted circles I had made one night when I was bored and only had a bit of yarn and a crochet hook to hand.

I am quite pleased with it, as it was fairly quick to make and it was a good day on the radio yesterday, and it cost pretty much nothing.  Plus it is quite spring-like.

I think I will mount it over a plain canvas box frame, otherwise it might be the start of a Baltimore album quilt and that way madness lies.

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Alf Rehn's shirt

 

Wednesday was the birthday of a Grate Frend (Molesworth) of mine, Alf Rehn.  Alf is the epitome of the modern European: divides his time between London, Copenhagen and Finland, speaks most modern languages, is sophisticated, suave and soigné.  He is on the international speaker circuit, writes books on innovation that get translated into umpteen languages, and is father of my godson.  So, a pertinent question is, what do you get him for his birthday.

Well, some months ago I was telling him about an artist whose work I really love, Elvis Robertson.  Robertson takes old cloths, mainly table linen, and embroiderers the stains on them.  This might sound a bit disgusting to some people, but I think the pieces are exquisite.  For some reason I find the reclamation of these damaged and discarded pieces of fabric really moving.  Here are a couple of pictures of what I mean:

His instagram account is definitely worth consulting too.  Alf said how much he would like a shirt with coffee stains embroidered on it.  I suddenly remembered this and thought it would be a good present for someone who had everything, and if he didn’t like it he could always cut it up for dusters.

I bought a white shirt with a front woven to look like a pintucked dress shirt and went into the studio on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I started by printing some rings with a ceramic ramekin using Golden Fluid acrylics in raw sienna and bronze.  I then sprinkled some copper metallic powder over the wet paint.  This is the sample piece:

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Having got my confidence up, I stamped the paint on the shirt and left it to dry in the warm studio.

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I put it in an embroidery hoop and did satin stitch in ordinary brown stranded embroidery thread and added some tiny coffee coloured beads.  I decided to embroider just the button flap as a design feature.

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This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:

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Fortunately, Alf loved it and has promised to send me some photos of him in it when he wears it, which he says he will do when he does one of his big strategy talks.  More news to follow then.

Maria, Hen Empress of all the Russias

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If you have been following my blog for a bit, you will know that every New Year’s Day I make a doll which either says something about the past year, or about the one coming up.  My rule is that it has to be completed from scratch in one day.  This year I knew that I wanted to do some work on Easter eggs, and Fabergé Easter eggs in particular, and so I decided to start work on that by making a Fabergé hen.  After all, you do need chickens to make eggs, the old – which came first, the chicken or the egg conundrum notwithstanding.

I started off by adapting a pattern from one of the Tilda craft books:

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I was rather pleased about this as these books are a regular impulse buy and I never actually use them.  The pattern had to be adapted as the chicken had bloomers on:

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I don’t really think that a Fabergé chicken would show her underwear, so I had to cut those out immediately.  I decided to make mine in felt for some reason which now escapes me, so I made the wings and stitched them on:

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I used a ready made motif from Aarti J and sequins from a bumper pack bought at Paperchase.  Paperchase and Tiger are a really good source of cheap sequins, but they do come in variety packs so you can’t be choosy.  Then I started to encrust the body with beads.  This is where the plan went awry.  It takes a while to encrust a felt chicken with jewels:

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So I broke my one day rule.  This seemed a reasonable sacrifice given what I wanted to achieve.  You can see that I used another Aarti J motif for the eyes.

The second snag came when I got round to the crown.  Because I have spent over thirty years in the educational company of a medieval historian I know that because she is an empress she needs an imperial crown, which is a closed crown.  A crown would be easy to make:

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A nice strip of gold fabric with some points joined into a ring.  But an imperial crown needs a bit more thought:

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Much fancier.  In the end, despite a lot of internet searching which resulted in instructions for making tiaras for Barbie on YouTube, I resorted to that old favourite: the pipe cleaner.  I pushed it through some gold tube knitting yarn that I bought at a knockdown price in Homescene, and cobbled it together with some very plastic-y bead braid and a button which had lost its shank which was lurking in my collection.  I have no idea where this bead came from, no recollection of buying it nor of my mother’s giving it to me:

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The beak is two separate quarters of giant sequins from a garland I bought in Habitat’s closing down sale stuck onto the felt underneath and the wattle is from the same garland but sewn on.  I am adding these provenance details because people often ask where I get my beads.  The large pearl beads come from a five pound bargain bag from Hobbycraft.

The whole crown affair is rather wobbly and what my native dialect would describe as makkled together, but it represents the outer reaches of my chicken jewellery-making skills.

I am quite happy with the finished article:

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Of course, Fabergé would have hated it.  It is cobbled together and it is too irregular for him.  He loved very fine craft skills and a neo-classical style, so this would have appalled him in its cheap materials and cobbled together making.  On the other hand, he loved novelties and small animal knick-knacks, so he might have given a half-smile.

Finally, she is called Maria because this was the name of the first Romanov empress for whom Fabergé made an Easter egg.

More on the Fabergé egg project later.