I use drawing to express myself to myself. I feel that Drawing is the language closest to my heart; my second and most used language after English, followed by the most difficult to have mastered, Stitching. It is the foundation of my chosen discipline of hand-made stitched textiles and almost all my work starts with a drawing, sometimes just a scribble or as a written note, but it will be expressed as a drawing with enough information for me to proceed.
Scribbled thoughts are put down as lists for skies I see when waking up, and on whatever is to hand. The imagery is enough to lead me to another drawing…..
Very occasionally when I work from photographs, I will start an embroidery without a drawing – and it always leads to difficulties as I am torn between the ‘real’ thing as recorded by the camera and my initial vision of it. Basically the drawing is the first edit of the image, it concentrates me on what was important when I first took the photograph, but the camera sees everything and I get seduced too easily by captured colour, and sometimes the colour isn’t the same as my memory.
Below are various single pages from individual sketchbooks – the top 2 are observational drawings taken directly from life, the red in pen and ink is a detail from of my garden, the iris was from a friends garden. The the others are all working /design/ research drawings, (with added photographs of finished brooches)
I keep all my working drawings in a series of books that go back some 40 years! The types of drawings collected in them range from a scribble on the nearest available paper, as above, through to straightforward observational drawings that then get re-arranged or even collaged together
then eventually the detailed working drawings are assembled and kept together, and accompanied by any other research materials.
The images above are open pages of my own research books from different long term projects, they really show the way my mind works, both visually and mechanically.
The 2 pages below are anemone flower drawings made from photographs in a garden magazine many years ago for my Flora embroideries, they have inspired many many different pieces of work in a variety of materials; good drawings have their own energy and life.
a few of the many different works that have been generated directly by the drawings above.
The images above are of vitreous enamel dishes and a silk applique with a machine stitched drawing that plays with the idea of anemones, another name is windflower.
Occasionally I do make finished drawings ready for exhibition.
but somehow the stitching seems always to get in on the act.
and here are I suppose my most personal drawings ( sad isn’t it) that just arrive onto any page near me, usually when I am talking on the phone to friends and colleagues, and sometimes prospective clients but always when i am fully engaged, they do not arise out of boredom. What is very strange is they have never changed over all the years I have been making them…
Affirmative sayings seem to be the philosophy of our times, the be-in-the-here-and-now mindfulness movement. But I have been collecting and pasting all sorts of sayings and mottoes in my work books and on my studio walls for years. Quotations, overheard remarks or messages and even poems from friends sometimes develop into pieces of work, but most often they just serve to enable me to grin and bear with it – see above!
A current favourite was heard when I was mid-way through making the ‘Butterfly Dream Pillow’ – “I am proud of it and I am ashamed of it” immediately struck me as the perfect expression for how I feel about the work I do. I wrote it down on my work-top with the first thing that came to hand – an indelible pink marker! I have read it out to other artists and makers, and they smile and nod in recognition.
It almost made it onto my own Comfort Blanket, which is part of my ongoing work project, Make it Through the Night..and I did write it out along with the ones that have stood the test of time. I wrote all of them onto large scale graph paper so that my own handwriting could be resized, with the idea of stitching them easily. I have had this ‘affirmative sayings’ idea for several years, and for several different media, even as a vitreous enamel patchwork, but never had the time or energy to face making it. In between some commercial projects, late last year I started to make it – piece-meal.
Above show the first attempts to design the ‘blanket’ idea as a quilt; the inspirational Strippy Quilt above right is an American design, I love the wobbly lively stripes, like a flying flag. Initially I had considered stitching a vintage wooden blanket, then I realised that heaving around such a large piece of fabric would not be easy for a lot of hand embroidery. I remembered a Strippy Quilt in Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar” by Roderick Kiracoffe, it inspired me to change tack, this way I could stitch the sayings piece-meal and patch them all together at the end; it also meant I didn’t have to decide the order of the quotations immediately.
I started by using some scraps of vintage striped deckchair fabrics, but they were too hard to hand stitch into. I turned to my stash of scrap fabrics, Kaffe Fassett Studio’s lovely subtle shot cottons and woven stripes left over from various quilts that my team have made for his Patchwork and Quilting books were perfect. Very colourful and here very RED, and “the purest and most noble minds are those that love colour”. But not having enough of any one fabric for the background I cut my stripes into strips and joined the clashing shot cotton colours together as a background.
I have a saying that lives with me – a mantra that I recite during my sleepless hours of most nights; it has subtly changed over the years I have used it to still my thoughts, and I can chart my state of mind by what I have decided.
Eventually I got them all into order, some sayings were dropped or the blanket would be enormously long I would need to re-design, others were added as they described more succinctly what I wanted to express about how I feel about the work I do. The quotations are all by individuals who have used their life to express themselves, teachers and critics, a bon vivant, a dancer – and me. They are in order from the top, The Rev. Sydney Smith, John Ruskin, Richard Sennett and the last 2 (heavily edited) are by the American dancer Martha Graham. The succinct “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. sums up my husband’s philosophy for living…
And ” I am proud of it and I am ashamed of it” – go figure!
It is almost 20 years since I had this disturbingly beautiful dream but I have NEVER forgotten it. Re-visiting my sketch books archive, I found the original drawing that was hastily scribbled down when I thankfully I woke up.
Now, I have decided to complete my long standing/stitching on-going work project “Make it Through the Night“, after not working on it for more than 5 years. I have determined to complete the project to a degree where I can hopefully resolve it but so as not have it in my brain as frustrating “unfinished business”. I just can’t ignore it any more…. too much of me resides in it; and as the composer Gustav Holtz puts it ” Compose nothing unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance”
The initial drawing , above left, is dated 28th July 03; the second drawing is another later version when I was trying to make a composition for a stand-alone embroidery….. now I have decided to add it to the ‘dream pillows‘ and I need a different composition. Recently looking very carefully at the 2 drawings I realised I had completely forgotten that the butterfly had a face – YIKES!
In the actual dream it was a giant butterfly several yards/metres wide, dying and lying on some grass underneath a tree, the remnants of wings scattered round it. People were picking up the large technicoloured pieces of shattered wing and I really wanted some as well – but I thought I would get it something to drink first, then decided to pick it up and take it to a nearby puddle, the result was my butterfly covered hands…I abruptly woke up.
I started to research the ways on which I could have held the massive butterfly. I looked at many different British butterflies and chose the Peacock mainly because it was so colourful but it has eyes as well – one of the major symbols I use in my work. Every year we get smaller butterflies over-wintering in the house but these beauties are rare here.
I enlarged the first peacock butterfly image and cut out my hand shapes…next I had to add the patterns to enable me to stitch the whole hands……the original working drawings below with a a technical sample that I would use for the very complicated patterned hands. I decided to paint dye onto the ground first to give me guidance for the colour blending and to assess the amount of work I would have to manage.
Next I had to imagine the shattered butterfly – I tried many variations; the shape had to show a degree of violence and some direct connection in the shapes left after my hands had devastated it, because it shows the terrible result for the insect…
I drew the hand outlines and running stitched them, then drew my palmistry lines on each hand and painted dye within the lines and fixed it securely – all of this before I could start stitching, which I was itching to do …..
2 images above show the first and last day’s stitching of the hands. I started this project in early August and now it was late September – I needed to move onto the butterfly now…
working from my research drawings, I drew and embroidered the main area of the butterfly and then placed paper shapes to act as the shattered wings to make some connection to my hands.
It was at this point that something strange started to happen….I found a trapped Peacock butterfly in the window of my studio, I was delighted, I had never seen one of these in the house; the weather was still warm, so I let him go….
But then more and more Peacocks came into the studio, and in different areas of the house… in all we had 11 different Peacocks visit us. SPOOKY WOOKY……
Sadly some of them died indoors and I keep them in m studio – they are all in different conditions; some very tattered wings and faded colour but others still beautiful.
so I eventually finished the pillow, completed the writing in running stitch and it is ready to join the Make it Through the Night project.
The Curzon Cinema in Clevedon, North Somerset, https://www.curzon.org.uk is my favourite (actually our only) local cinema; it looks and feels like the picture houses of my childhood in the 1950’s. (photograph above courtesy of Go Bath Bristol) Saved by the community from total dereliction some years ago, it now has a major problem, the roof is leaking and needs major money for repairs. So there was a call – out for local artists to help – decorate an old roof-tile in any way whatsoever ………and they are being auctioned on line next month from 1st December 2019.
The central curve reminded me of the the headland at the end of the bay where I live, Battery Point, on the Severn estuary, fanciful I know but I have many drawings of this view and have made many different types of work from the studies.
I tried many variations of colour scapes from my earlier drawings. I liked the glistening nylon shot fabric for the water, trouble is that the water of this estuary is never a deep true blue, air-force blue is as good as it gets. For some reason I started with the lump on the left…so the view was of the other end of the bay where the sun sets and all the colour emerges from…but it wasn’t working for me – then one morning I just changed it around so it looked like the Battery Point headland…I was suddenly on home ground..or should I say water?
The task now was to organise the layout of the fabrics so that they would lie in straight lines when they were eventually placed onto the undulating tile …this took some calculations as the tile is wedge shaped but the sea level and the salt- marsh horizons are straight….
I used the simple running stitches of Kantha technique for this appliqué, I have to get the fabrics to stay together in a soft and malleable form so that I can easily manipulate the fabric over the lumpy tile.
I continue to stitch down the length of the tile – it takes several days but as always fascinating to handle the colour changes. The stitching is quite large and almost crude using a heavy gauge silk thread but very satisfying to do; usually when working this technique I use one single thread of silk and it takes ages and ages to cover the ground
As I continued to stitch the colours became muted and now the once brilliant orange sky was being challenged by the bright green of the salt- marsh; reluctantly I changed the fabric after several different variations of shot cottons had been tried, but there is enough going on in this small space as it is – hey ho!
I then covered the tile in a layer of very thin wadding, sticking it down with thins lines of fabric glue so that I could continue to embroider the silk piece to it. I have evolved this technique for covering 3D shaped objects over many years of trial and error but this was a real challenge.
Having aligned the top of the stitching to the top of the tile I tacked it into position, then pinned it all along the undulations…it’s really tricky work trying to keep the horizon lines straight…all those years of pattern cutting came into play! The top and bottom were secured by over stitching onto the back of the tile wadding, pulling and stretching as I proceeded eventually it was securely stitched and bedded into position.
I am really liking the feel of the tile now it is so softly padded and am thinking of possibly making some more stitched covers for other objects – one day. Meanwhile my husband Stephen Jacobson, has painted another view of the estuary using the imprint of the tile manufacturer as a flag with a view of the band stand at Clevedon. And artist Alfred Stockham has painted eyes to create a curious face and called it ” The Man in the IronMask “
Another commission has just been published, yippee! I have something new to write about. I first started the designs for this catalogue last year when Hugh Ehrman asked me to make some new designs using affirmative sayings. The mottoes and sayings come directly from the handkerchiefs in my ongoing if intermittent work ‘Make it Though the Night’https://janethaighherwork.com/gallery/gallery/heart-mending-mottoes/. I have a great stock of them in my research folders. I offered several different mottoes, Hugh wanted 4 cushion designs, but asked me to make 2 to start with, he chose ” Always be Kinder than is Necessary “ and I chose my old favourite ” Choose Your Attitude”.
I looked at a copy of one of my go-to magazines for current graphic ideas, FLOW, it is clean, colourful, fresh and very of the moment. I really liked this hot pastel colour mix on the cover and the sense of energy in the design. I started with Hugh’s choice and started to chart several alphabets from various sources. I already had a layout in mind inspired by the strips of words with the abstract shapes as background…
The first scribbled designs were dependant on the different types of lettering I could find to stitch to the right scale (I have tried to find the wonderful curly alphabet, above, that I downloaded, but sadly now can’t locate , and I snipped out the necessary contact information along with the letters I cut out for charting. As it is used in both the designs – a big thank you if anyone out there recognises it and can give me a source).
Slowly through sample stitching various letter forms and different gauges of canvas, the design emerged and the colour developed into something softer and kinder. When designing for this company I am directed to use particular range of wools Appletons they come in 2 versions, Crewels ( 2 ply yarns) and Tapestry( 4 ply yarns). I keep a separate section of my studio cupboards just for them.
the studio drawers full of colour co-ordinated Appletons’ Yarns.
When I have sorted the basic graphic layout I develop the designs using colour, co-ordinating the yarns to my drawings. This is always tricky getting the colour balance and many designers sensibly just stitch the entire design – but I don’t work like this as I am more used to envisioning the designs by painting them full scale so that the original art work can be printed on the canvas for the cushion to be stitched. the art work has to be the same scale as the eventual embroidery.
I make many drawn and coloured versions of the idea and finally choose one to work up as the final piece but even so things can change at this point as well. Having chosen the design I then put it aside, partly to leave a few days to see it afresh, but usually to start on any other designs before committing myself to the task of painting them both – together.
The next cushion was an easier design to construct and I had already sorted out lots of different alphabets to use, I wanted to express different ‘attitudes ‘ by using various typefaces – now all I had to do was choose and re-size them to fit together…ha ha! here you see cut and paste in it’s literal sense.
above are several versions of different letters words and colours and the stitching sampler for the 2 cushions with the start of the third one ……I always love the energy contained in the stitching samplers…so much enquiry, curiosity and abandoned ideas – all ready for future use if my ideas run dry.
so far so good – but now having decided the brilliant colours of the letters I wanted to make a very strong overall design, I liked the striped ground ..but it was difficult for the dancing letters of ATTITUDE to be read against it – I tried many many stripes – here are just a few.
Whatever I did, the stripes just dominated and were inspiring migraine in me. Whilst there was no major deadline for this work, as the Ehrman website is the major source for publishing now and things can be uploaded at any given time, I needed to get on and finish the first half of this commission.
I decided to just start to paint. Painting art work is a slow and precise process, mixing the Gouache to the colour of each yarn is fascinating work, and takes time and I have to make enough paint for a whole design, it takes a lot of paint to cover the ground evenly – I do not want to run out of a colour before I finish .
When I had finished painting the letters I now had to decide on the stripes to use…but it looked so fresh and spring like that I decided, much against my designer instinct, as I love pattern on pattern, to keep it neutral. Part of this decision was the thought of the customer who may eventually buy this design – they will surely buy it for the message – so keeping the letters clear was the most important aspect.
the 2 finished art works with accompanying colour notations and threads. And below the finished pieces ( which I never get to see!) taken from the latest paper based catalogue.
the next 2 designs will hopefully appear in time for the new on- line website that Ehrman have been developing and I will post them as a celebration of its birth next month – or whenever they are published – so watch this space……
As part of the activities developed for the current Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the American Museum in Britain I am giving 2 separate day workshops to make a small panel of hand appliqué flowers. I am supplying the same fabrics used for the large scale appliquéd quilt that I made for Kaffe to celebrate his 80th birthday.
I started the day by taking all the participants to the museum’s Quilt Room to see the original quilt and explained some of the techniques we would cover. I explained my technique of hand stitching over the raw edges of the bonded motifs, which is easier than the original way of turning a small hem and stitching onto the panel. They were asked to design their own version of the appliquéd flower and shell panels – but not the central Kaffe portrait.
I had prepared a whole sheaf of flowered fabric by pressing heat transfer paper onto the backs of them so they were ready to cut out. I also took the remaining motifs I had cut, but not used, from my quilt. Plus a selection of different coloured squares of Shot Cotton for the backgrounds, these I backed with a woven cotton interlining to strengthen them for appliqué to be sewn without a stretcher or hoop.
Everyone had to choose their own back ground fabric first, this makes finding colours for the individual flowers easier; I know how daunting it is to have so much choice. But they soon got going on the cutting and placing….
The first thing I noticed was that most people put far too many flowers onto the fabric squares with odd gaps between. I had to keep reminding them that this was to be a hand- stitched appliqué and to think about the work involved to finish the stitching later at home….. but even so most people favoured lots and lots of flowers, below shows some work in progress.
After the basic shapes were developed extra flowers could be found in the spare fabrics I had brought, and people could bond and press motifs individually to balance or fill up their basic design. Several people worked as I do and changed their designs a great deal during the design process until they were about satisfied.
Other people had very organised workspaces (very unlike me) and I enjoyed seeing their beautifully laid out tables with all necessary equipment to hand. They seemed to progress steadily and surely, with only a small tweak or suggestion of a different fabric from me
eventually all the designs were organised; some really interesting designs were arrived at by chopping and changing until the last minute…
but eventually everyone had to commit to trimming,
then tracing around places with a water soluble pen, before pressing the whole design into position.
and then after a quick demonstration from me – start to stitch it.
They all were very skilled at this very precise stitching, a relief as poor work at this point can ruin all the meticulous care taken after this really intense design stage.
At the end of the afternoon session there was a lovely and varied set of designs and some were already being stitched – with promises from the rest that they would definitely finish them.
And for anyone who is interested in joining the next workshop – it is on Saturday September 21st 2019.
I make no apologies that for this long and detailed post of my most recently published commission, the nature of the commissioning aspect of my work makes for total secrecy until the publishing dates, in this case July 4th 2019. As I am now working on several more commissioned projects of different types of work it is a relief to actually show the work behind ‘Her Work’. I started this particular commission in June 2018, here is the story so far…
A phone call for my brother-in law, Howard Jacobson, in the spring of 2018: Was I interested in stitching an illustration or possibly (who knows) a book cover for his next novel? This sounded an unlikely combination, an embroidered cover for one of his irreverent and caustic novels?
He quickly explained that the book was about a very old woman, Beryl, with a very selective memory, much married, cantankerous and given to expressing herself in expletives; an obsessive stitcher of morbid samplers and scenes from her life. But this story was about her late flowering love affair with a just slightly younger bachelor, Shimi, who forgets nothing; they are both in their 90’s. I was immediately intrigued, not least by the choice of embroideries within the novel, they sounded familiar – I said yes.
I read the novel on my computer and immediately started to research hearts, skulls, playing cards and typefaces for name and title. The lettering used for the author’s name came very quickly, I took the negative/positive block idea straight from a 1960’s American needlepoint alphabet book.
Next Howard and I met with the publishers at Jonathan Cape Vintage, who having accessed images from this blog, were ready to discuss their ideas for a cover. Basically they wanted a traditional sampler with the author’s name at the top of the page, the title beneath and some of my broken & mended heart imagery and the regular sampler border. They gave me the dimensions of the actual book wrapper and a month to come up with samples and ideas.
Later that day Howard and I discussed what he might want me to focus on, death, blood, destruction, worms, spiders, cobwebs, skulls and decay….
I started to experiment with different letter forms; cursive italics for the title set against the simple strong text for the author’s name. I particularly liked an alphabet that used positive and negative forms for the name. The use of different alphabets is a major a feature of traditional samplers. For the “LIVE” I wanted cursive, italics written in capitals, these ideas that were important to me as I saw this forward bold energetic word as a symbol for whole message of the book. Then ‘a little” obviously needed be lower case and static. Finding and fitting the larger letter forms into the small space available was tricky, so I decided to stagger them – I liked the ‘dance’ they made.
My first cover designs below, featured skulls and broken hearts for Beryl. My second used playing cards and suits, for Shimi.
Both designs had to work to scale for my chosen gauge of counted thread linen, and both had to be incorporated into the 2 wrapper design ideas that I eventually sent to the publishers. Regardless of which design the publishers eventually chose, I had fastened on my colour scheme, red and black, stitched on neutral linen. I set to work on the back cover…using the boneless Buddhist hand used in many of my earlier embroidered mending mottoes.
At the publisher’s meeting everyone had liked my idea of the thread wrapping around the entire cover to incorporate the ‘blurb’ on front and back covers. Here with original boneless stitching hand is the ‘skulls’ cover.
and the ‘cards’ cover
Above are the 2 working ideas drawn to scale and up for discussion, that I sent in July to the publishers. I also sent these images to Howard to keep him in the loop, and for his comments…he replied with “Where are all her rings? She wore lots of rings, they were important to her”
Back to the drawing board and if he wanted such characterful detail then I needed to age the hands as well and introduce and ‘old gold’ thread.
Meanwhile the publishing team had their own comments – and while really liking the entire concept, choosing the skulls (yippee) and approving the writing for the author’s name (which meant I could make a start on the actual piece of work) they and the marketing team thought the title was illegible and did not like the title block…not at all.
They countered with their own version of my design…
I really liked the way they had translated the meandering thread around the whole cover but was disheartened and disappointed with their new design of the same blocked alphabet for the title and the ‘dancing skulls’. BUT the stitching goddess was at hand – it just could not be stitched in this technique at this scale.
Counted thread embroidery relies on mathematically calculated 1 square per stitch for any design. Anything at an odd angle is difficult, as are curves on such a small scale. There were only 2 sizes of stitch available on this linen for my design. I sent sample images to illustrate the point.
A long and detailed set of emails, more images of sample stitching and new lettering bounced back and forth for some time….
Above are the last 2 versions of the new one line of LIVE lettering, I was not happy to lose the italic version of leaning forward letters in order to show energy and I particularly mourned the loss of the energetic capital ‘A’ in the final cover, but by now it looked defunct – hey ho – a successful design is almost always a successful compromise
So I completed the embroidery, placed a real needle in the stitched hand leaving the red thread loose for the photographer’s placement, starched and stretched it and sent it off . Several weeks later it came back, they wanted the title stitched on the spine….remember the problem of the size of the linen count? Keep up!
back to the calculations, I had only one option, one stitch per thread…….
I must admit that the people I dealt with at the publishers, Suzanne Dean and Rosie Palmer were really helpful to work with but throwing this at me this was quite a challenge….after much more re-calculation and manoeuvring between Rosie and me, we finally achieved the finished design for the spine .
The finished back of the book cover has an extra border, making it very rich and even more ornate. I really like the effect of the shadows for the loose thread.
And in an early and very favourable review of the book in the Jewish Chronicle, says on the very last line:
“The novel’s brilliant cover tells it all: hearts and skulls, love and death“.
The following post explains why I have been silent for several months since completing the quilt for Kaffe…I have been working on the bedding for Sleep Well (a garden that was designed by Julie Dunn for the RHS summer flower show at Tatton Hall in Cheshire) since early in the year..it was quite a challenge.
Early April and I had my first glimpse of the bed and canopy so now I had the precise (I thought) measurements, I needed to proceed with sorting out the bedding and the patchworks….
checking the colour with the submitted design
first ideas for quilt fabric rics
square and triangles
Pinning the illustration to the quilt wall I started to make the quilt – it was very big, appox. 2 metres square and all colour co-ordinated to the chosen plants.
by early May and I was getting on well with the quilt, the top was finished, I had designed a large border as a sort of valance to cover the unsightly drop-down bed legs of the day bed. However I realised that this would not now work as the arms of the bed stopped the border being attached to the quilt. I drew some versions of how I could design my way forward and sent the sketches to Julie…
It sounds absolutely mad but Velcro became the solution to this first of my many design dilemmas.
However the next dilemma was although more simply sorted out it was time consuming. Julie could not find a plant that was a major lynch-pin of her planting design, Sanguisora that is a brilliant pinky purple colour …..and we had perfectly matched a fabric in the centre of the quilt to it….so back to the un-picker and sewing machine,
quitl centre removed
new paler fabric inserted
By mid-May the valance/border desperately needed to be designed and made – this took a lot of thought as I was now designing by the seat of my pants, working with Julie as she was getting news of her specially grown plants from the nursery and seeing the reality of how they all looked together. My colours needed to be softened considerably..not easy using when using the Kaffe Fassett Collective ranges!!!
I was still undecided as to what the valance should be applied to, even if it was with Velcro, it was either to the quilt or the fitted sheet and I had to decide now as our dress rehearsal was looming in late June and I still had to organise the mattress covers, the pillows and the canopy – why oh why did I imagine this would just be a simply made and straightforward project ?
I sent these picures to Julie to see which she preferred…I wanted the bright colours of the batik squares from Kaffe’s Artisan range. She preferred the softer geometrics from the Classic ranges.
Came the blistering hot day of the first trial in Julie’s own garden. I traveled almost 200 miles with a van loaded with mattress, sheet, pillows, bolster, the quilt and 2 versions of the curtains…oh and 2 dogs and my husband.
But she was correct, her choice worked best! but not everything fitted – the mattresses were a tad wide after my oh so careful measuring- so we had to cut them down and recover them. Hey ho!
when I got home it was all systems go, 3 weeks to the show and I had lots to do. BUT first the small patchwork cushion that would help pull all the different bedding and quilt fabrics together – and such a pleasure in the face of all the work ahead
and so eventually to the show…Julie had already spent 2 hot and humid weeks with the help of her family planting the garden
the planted garden
we each set about our tasks
weather proofing the quilt
The champagne tent beckoned but sadly we dared not visit it
The judging day arrives
Relief all round, the girls all pile on the bed for photographs and Julie models the perfect dress chosen for the garden!
And the garden looks perfect as well – just like the illustration plus fig trees.
And our award?
not bad for her company Trug’sfirst garden design at any show, let alone the RHS.
This major project started life in 2017 through sheer frustration. For Kaffe Fassett’s 2018 quilt book, based on traditional quilts housed in the American Museum in Britain he had asked that, as a hand embroiderer, I make his revised version of an ‘Broderie Perse’ in their collection. I was delighted.
I immediately started to sample some simple ways to make such a large hand stitched quilt nowadays, plus information notes for others to follow the instructions. However, due to lack of time due to publishing deadlines this quilt was dropped….Rats!
Later in the year I organised with the museum’s curator, Kate Hebert, to visit the archives with the UK making and publishing team. I asked to see ‘the one that got away’ and on hearing the story, Kate said that if I ever re-considered making the quilt she would show it in the quilt gallery alongside the original. Well of course I jumped at the chance to show work at this museum, and I did want to make the quilt.
I decided that I would make it as a present for Kaffe, it was his 80th birthday in December and I had enjoyed the last 3 years working with him on his books and my contract was at an end. I reasoned I would soon have plenty of time on my hands to complete the project in time for his birthday.
As I now had ‘carte blanche’ to interpret the design as I liked I decided to make his portrait as one of the panels. Using a recent photograph from his last visit to the studios I set about drawing and scaling the head.
I made carefully measured sketches, and then 2 masks – one to the size of the hexagonal block and the other of the head. My initial idea was to garland the head with flowers – well why not?
This looked miserable, and the garland didn’t fit into the hexagon very well – and then I would have to embroider the features; I remembered my ‘Flora’ embroideries influenced by Archimboldo – the artist who made faces from flowers. I tried various flowery fabrics from the Kaffe Fassett Collective.
This selection took several days and I was still not convinced I could make it work well enough, then into my studio stepped an old university colleague from my teaching and researching days, Dr Dawn Mason, with the perfect bunch of flowers to match the work – I believe that chance happenings are not always random
serendipitous flowers – I am on the right track
I persevered. Eventually I chose the fabric placement, cut it out with a tiny seam allowance and hand slip stitched it to a spotty fabric, adjusting the chin to become a tad larger proved successful. Very carefully I placed a blue bud for the eye. Suddenly Kaffe appeared in front to me.
chosen fabric on drawing
perfecting the chin
Now for the hair: I found the white petals of Japanese Chrysanthemum by Phillip Jacobs perfect for my purpose, and so it appears does everyone else; the hair is the thing that gets the attention. In fact most of the fabrics that I used Summer Bouquet and Shell Bouquet and Tulip Extravaganza are designed Phillip Jacobs, his fabrics are so elegantly drawn and painted and the perfect replacement of the original chintzes.
The next stage was to decide the rest of the portrait. For the shirt I had a smidgeon of an old version of Kaffe’s Roman Glass in blue, I had bought years ago – and after many trials chose the fresh Spot fabric in the colour ‘Pond’ for the background.
Now for the rest of the patchwork, So far this has taken me about 3 weeks of drawing and stitching – but it is still only June.
I dug out the abandoned samples I had made for the book – I needed to make more other panels to add to the portrait.
To make the bouquets, the fabric has to be backed with a bonding paper, carefully cut out, placed into position by re-arranging the various elements to fit harmoniously, pressed, then hand stitched around each raw edge, the stitching is quicker than the arranging and my idea of blissful work.
The quilt slowly started to grow; but trying to control the overall colour was the most difficult thing – colours that work on their own or in a sketch suddenly look drab or take on another shade when placed next to one another – obviously. But the colours of the flowers changed the balance every time I added a new panel. It was my major ongoing and fascinating struggle to get these balances to work.
By September I had eventually made my fabric decisions, I had to make multiple versions of some of the panels – all in different colour-ways, but this gave cohesion to the busy design. I also added 4 shell corners, this was possibly the easiest panel to apply as the size was perfect and the shape fitted – just a few additions to balance colour.
Above shows the development of the Brassica panels, they needed to be made larger by adding extra rows of leaves before hand sewing them onto the grounds.
The next stage was to add the diamond shaped patches at the intersections of the squares.
And this is when the panic started – suddenly this massive work, that had grown over months took off in another direction, these diamonds dominated the entire design – already busy, this was manic
The only thing was to keep going – too late to stop now – the samples below looked fine
I started to applique the tiny cut squares from Kaffe’s fabrics, Sunburst onto Shot Cotton dozens of them, all hand stitched in 2 colours and I slowly added them to the quilt on the wall ….and the result below doesn’t have all the dividing ribbon strips yet!
This was beginning to look overloaded, so I called in my 2 trusted quilt makers, Julie Harvey and Ilaria Padovani – they have very sound taste in all things quilt, and I knew they would tell me the truth. They just laughed and said “well it is for Kaffe and ‘more is more’ with him – why are you worried’?
It was the addition of the ribbons, kindly donated to me by both Edith Minne, owner of Renaissance Ribbons and Brandon Mably (who was in on the secret) that tipped the balance of the work and I suddenly understood that the work had ceased to be mine – it was now Kaffe’s. This happens when you are commissioned to design and make stuff for people – you need to work with their ideas/tastes/preferences – otherwise they don’t pay you! But this wasn’t a commission this was a present, and it was all my own work – I realised now just how much I have been influenced by working alongside him.
So I machined in place all the ribbons – a mammoth task for a hand embroider! they were very tricky to manipulate especially as I had to split many yards of a wider ribbon to get the correct proportion, both Edith and Brandon were out of stock of the narrow version. Hey ho! Thankfully Julie machine stitched it all into position first and then I started to hand quilt all around my stitched applique – another mammoth task, but so rewarding, the quilt looks suitable wonky – in a good way – it looks very hand made
It was completed in March 2018 but I had not time to deliver it; then Kaffe was awarded an MBE and I know I have to include this – so back again to the finished quilt
I made a sample first and then the real thing and appliqued it to the ‘finished’ portrait
In Bath, where Kaffe and Candace Behouth, have an exhibition together based on Flowers , I delivered another set of 5 quilts for the next book and my “surprise”
And Kaffe’s reaction when he was shown it?
Worth every moment.. I made the sample into a badge for Brandon – this says it all!