Drawing is my first language and my drawings are where all my ideas begin to take shape. Whatever work I make, in whatever material – it always starts with drawing. I also teach drawing and show my own and my students’ work
Following on from the successful Drawing Day in June at Court House Farm The RWA ( Royal West of England Academy) Drawing School organised another Autumn Flowers day. But due to the ultra dry summer the flowers were not so abundant as the spring crop…my solution: select just 3 big bunches of different flowers in vintage vases with a toning striped runner and everyone would be able to draw all 3 during the day
In at the deep end. I asked the class to choose a table to sit at and draw the whole display in front of them…in 20 minutes!
Tall and elegant autumnal shades…and in contrast below – hot clashing colours!
and then massive and majestic….
only 2 people attempted this vase and were somewhat overwhelmed by the abundance! So we started again by choosing another section of the bouquets and making some rather more detailed drawings – now things were starting to develop.
BUT so far no-one had even attempted the fabric specially chosen to be drawn with the colours already used in the flowers……so after lunch I changed things over and added another arrangement – now we start drawing with the fabric!!!!
And in the process we even got vases.
For the last session I relented and asked them to choose just 1 flower/branch/leaf from all the masses of materials and to place it next to their drawing boards and make a study – I usually start my drawing sessions like this – and I may return to this method for my next drawing flowers session in November….
Over the past few years I have been intending to start selling giclee printed versions of my personal stitched work. The latest pigment prints available are unbelievably faithful in reproducing my finely stitched work…but where to start? Flowers – where else? I determined to develop some new flower embroideries for this venture.
Following on from revisiting my old research books and past work, I decided incorporate the flower embroideries with the Kantha stitched skies as in After Winifred. I took a beautiful bunch of dahlias and held them against a large scale Kantha Stitched sky in progress on my studio wall. I had been brought the flowers by Helen Reed, who owns Court House Farm and runs a seasonal cutting garden amongst other ventures. And where I hold drawing sessions in the summer months.
I also eventually started to work on an idea taken from a rare photograph of my garden Hellebores in a vase and in front of my scarf design of Hellebore flower heads. What is odd is that while Hellebores are one of my most favourite flowers, am not keen on Dahlias and did find myself reluctantly stitching them onto a small version of the Kantha sky. Below are the first 2 prints in the series Flowers For Our Times, on the left is Dahlias, on right, Hellebores
Reflecting on the Dahlias and Hellebore pieces (made between winter 2021 to early 2022) I felt as if I had made a definite link between my old and new work in order to make the really vivid giclee prints, available soon at Heart Space Editions. But although technically demanding, using the new Inktense dyes from Derwent, I decided that this was not the way forward that I had imagined it would be.
I returned again to my early flower work and re-read the catalogue of my exhibition of Flora’s Legacy, held in Bath in 2000 ( yes – so many years ago!!!!!) and realised exactly what was missing – symbolism – or the half hidden messages often contained within these earlier works.The centre-piece from the exhibition, Flora – the Roman goddess of flowers, had what was missing from my new works…the hidden meanings and humour – here some blackish, bawdy humour.
Turning to the many and various dictionaries of symbols I keep in the studio library I thought I would invent a bunch of flowers instead. The meanings of plants and flowers are universal and every culture has its own beliefs, sometimes conflicting – sometimes they are entirely in agreement: a poisonous plant is a poisonous plant. Out of curiosity I checked what the 2 bunches meant adding, the meanings to my original studies…..
I must admit that I was shocked, relieved, delighted and then excited to find that I had embroidered War, Scandal, Uncertainty, Instability and Sickness within 2 pretty bunches of flowers. But everyone else around me was spooked. So – they asked – where did I get this information from? Well in my books of symbolism, the most curious and confusing is The Language of Flowers – but oh the possibilities that it offers for mixed messages and hidden warnings amuse me enough to keep going with this theme.
Using just my old folders and Victorian books of flower meanings lead me to a brand new fully comprehensive dictionary by S. Theresa Dietz – published by Wellfleet Press, and the here I discovered far more arcane information than I had gleaned from my all my original sources.
Recently, the “After Winifred” embroidery has inspired me to develop work to use as Giclee prints in order to add a fresh way of getting my work ‘out there’. I turned to my old Flora workbook, some 20+years old – but still alive for me as a source of inspiration.
I found some empty pages at the end of the old book and started to collate recent samples and drawings of bunches of flowers grown and made up at Court House Farm, where I conduct drawing workshops, using the cutting garden as inspiration.
looking back at my Flora work, which is 3 dimensional and very heavily embroidery, I now want a freer drawn imagery to stitch into. So I bought some Derwent Inktense pencils that basically act as dyes when wetted and left to dry – I did many samples but found my drawings had too much information in them – I needed to loosen up further. Ha ha – the story of my working life!
To enable me to play easily with the new ink crayons I chose an old set of drawing research and photographs to work with. The colours of the crayons are very brilliant and I needed to find ways of making more subtle colours, so stippling, cross hatching and dotting colours one over another made for rich but softer ground colours – these techniques are still a work in progress. Below are 2 studies of the under drawings using pencil dyes ready to be stitched
Meanwhile I have been looking at all my old flowery finished works and their drawings to use as reference and then reframing/remounting stitched pieces ready for the printers.
the little Hellebore image above is my first Giclee print and the smallest at 30cms/12inches square.
I want to show how my stitched work progresses; here is a very heavily edited set of images taken over the last 2 months – from July through to the end of August 2022. Not shown is the unpicking, pulling apart already stitched fabrics and rearranging that leads to frustration and doubt but mixed with delight, calm contemplation and my eventual recognition that, having captured my original vision of this ominous sky, I can stop working on it. The drawing above took less than 1 hour, the piece shown below, more than 8 weeks…..
The first stages were quite tricky to lay out using strips of silk georgette onto a pale cotton ground, that had to be kept scrupulously clear of stray threads while building the applique ground.
By the end of the second week I had managed to cut the clouds and baste them all into position, then I checked them against my original drawing. The tiny sample of energetic Kantha quilting inspired the way I attempted to stitch the cloud.
I started the running stitches in rows of single silk threads to create an undulating rippled surface. After a few unhappy days I stopped stitching, undid as little as i could get away with and inserted more pieces of rust coloured silk organza to give the cloud ‘depth’. The chalk drawing, above right, shows the paths I need to stitch along; I think stitching rhythms into cloth by using the Kantha technique is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time – tricky!
Weeks 4 & 5
I was determined to use this piece of work to try to find a way of controlling the outer edges of the appliqued fabrics; usually when I make very large drifting Kantha Stitched Skies I leave them to be contained and wrapped out of sight when stretching the finished work. But here the view is much smaller as this black cloud did not extend the whole length of the estuary – it faded out just beyond my window frame. I looked at Georges Seurat (who is a great influence on the way I have developed the colour mixing within my stitched work) and adapted his painted canvas frames – his dots are my stitches ). And eventually the marsh starts to emerge, using large straight slanting stitches
Weeks 6 & 7
However as the stitching progresses the different tensions start to exert itself onto the fabric – where the stitches are close together the fabric width starts to shrink, which is to be encouraged as this gives the curious patterns that I feel are so like air currents…. So the side borders are unpicked and the the whole embroidery is squared up. When I had almost finished stitching I outlined the whole piece using a machine stitch to give me a better guide for the dozens of running stitched lines for the frame.
Here is a set of drawings that have lain in a research book for more than 10 years, the reason that I did them was in a university research project workshop – making our own brushes with the amazingly inventive American maker Bob Ebendorf. I made several brushes out of grasses, leaves and branches, picked on my morning dog walk. None survived the drawing session, shown below, in any state to be used again.
But these are the drawings that I made and they are completely unlike any of my other drawings – ever. the colour is Red ink and the single pages measure roughly A2 (26x36cms.) There are other maker’s brushes used as well, and in some I have drawn the brush with itself, then taken it for a ride over the whole page. I still find them exhilarating and teasingly inspirational.
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…
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.
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“.
I have been invited to deliver 3 day drawing classes at the Bristol Drawing School based at the Royal West of England Academy. I was asked to work with my collections of vintage embroidered textiles which include Chinese embroidered robes, Japanese kimono and Indian/Pakistani children’s clothing and tent hangings.. first I brought in the Chinese robes…
the old tattered, ripped and worn fabrics never fail to inspire students; each class is different – although my teaching methods remain basically the same: – take care to tell the truth about what you are seeing, pay close attention to the making processes and most of all the colour.
As we start to draw using only dry media – pastels, crayon and pencils – getting the colour correct is always tricky, but I try to get students to develop a colour quality rather than to try to copy the real colours…this teaches awareness of atmospheric colour.
I gave these students an hour to develop their first studies… they seemed to be engaged immediately – always surprising who picks what to draw. Unfortunately I have a very bad grasp of names – I could describe each student’s appearance perfectly by looking at their individual drawings but names evade me for this first week – my apologies to all.
The silk theatrical costume of a dragon is really in a sorry state now but the colours are subtle, faded and very beautiful. The wild cardboard eyes of the dragon still command attention and trying to capture the quality of the threadbare silk really tests the students. For a totally opposite colour experience, the choice for those who like bold colour is the red and blue silk court skirt…
working from more decorative sections of the skirt still produces a strong response.
using the coloured paper grounds with the pastels makes it possible to give an impression of the nuanced colours of the faded and friable silks – blending the colors to achieve the exact shade is difficult but rewarding – and you learn a lot about colour mixing and trying to keep everything clean…
The soft grey-blue padded jacket, embroidered with wisteria blossoms, brought out everyone best attention to stitch…and although the colour proved illusive, many lovely studies were made from it.
We ended the morning with a short critical discussion about the work achieved in the first hours of the morning. In the afternoon session everyone chose different pieces to work with. I had more or less dictated the scope of first drawings (detail, detail, detail) now the students could choose how they wished to interpret the fabrics. The grey silk jacket still held its appeal.
it is always interesting to see different interpretations of the same subject…the drawings below probably say more about the artists than the robe.
My own black modern Chinese embroidered jacket has resulted in these 2 different interpretations…however in the drawing below, the student told us that she had not drawn anything for more than 20 years – so as far as I am concerned this study is a major achievement – for bravery – but had it been on black it would have been even more striking…
when studying textiles it is often difficult not to get engrossed by the garment they constitute – here are 2 images of drawing the same skirt – the first is about the skirt, the second about the textile and the fabric manipulation.
the following drawing is totally different in its approach – the whole folded cloth has become a world of its own..
who would have guessed it is a study from a wrapped and folded silk skirt…but oh the colours!
and last of all this simple line drawing of a white hand embroidered black jacket – each line describing the direction of the stitch. How wonderful it would be to see this extended for a whole wall full!