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.
These rapid drawings below are early attempts to express one of my most vivid dreams lest I ever forget it…. But the dream was not ready to be forgotten, it has reoccured often in one form or another – evidently I have not learned its message; the loosening ladder rungs and the tiny impossible blue window never change
the earliest drawing above on the left has some written comments that I was interested in using for the embroidery also I seem to have both shoes on; the one on the right is scaled up for embroidering on a sheet! What was I thinking?
So I recently decided to embroider it as a pillow for my ongoing project Make it Through the Night . It is a simple idea and my friends who saw the drawing were highly amused by me in my nightdress losing my shoes…but I started this piece just before the lockdown and now I see it in a very different light.
The interpretations of dream referring to ladders are many and varied depending if you are climbing up or down, and a broken rung (just the one) means “you will never achieve your greatest ambitions” while “to lose a shoe is indicative that you have forgotten something important ” or “finding your direction in life difficult” – and as to the lack of underclothes whilst climbing a very high wall in your nightshirt……
I found stitching the ladder the most challenging piece of work, a vintage pillow has only a limited space for inserting embroidery hoops and working straight onto fine linen needs stretching. I preferred to use some natural linen yarns and whip them into position making a more fluid line – finding knots and drawing them became a fascination.
above are the various ways I managed to stitch the ladder into position, with and without a stretcher.
Now to the window: in some dreams it is impossibly teeny tiny, in others I get to go through it – only to find a steep and shaky descent on the other side into more blueness, the one thing always in common is that it is always a brilliant and shining deep blue
the background of the sky is painted with cotton dye, then embroidered in silk threads, it is high up in the farthest corner of the pillow case
I feel now that it makes its own statement without the added words; and why should it balance? I mean, what am I describing?
AND it is only after finishing this that I see this is a perfect portrait of how I feel right now – just coming out of the strictest lockdown period….uncanny!
However, we were well into the current lockdown before I had found the impetus to finish this work. And while stitching I realised that I just wanted to stop this whole project that excavates very personal ideas, dreams, mottoes, and observations….I did have more ideas that I planned to stitch, but now I no longer want to make them. It has taken me over 10 years, off and on, to get here.
The world is full of surprises. You invite a group of people to develop ideas together in a studio in order to make work for a themed exhibition over a period of 6 weeks, then they go away and come back 3 weeks later with something completely different – Hey Ho! BUT sometimes the things they bring back are so different and you realise that they have taken a new direction because of the theme – what could be a better result?
So when Ilaria Padovani, who is a volunteer at Heart Space Studios, arrived the day before the deadline with 4 folded and paper sculpted books, I could only gaze in amazement (she was making a flight of patchwork butterflies last time we spoke)! I had asked everyone to write a few sentences about why they had done the work, knowing from experience that most people engage more easily and trust the words they read, rather than the images they view – I have the opposite point of view but that’s anther story!
‘VERBA VOLANT, SCRIPTA MANENT…Spoken words fly away, written words remain…’
“This was my big sister’s reply to a letter I had written to her pontificating on how to raise her child. Although my intentions were good I had been arrogant and hurtful to someone I love dearly.After her phone call, I stayed up all night thinking of a way to show her how deeply sorry I was for my inconsiderate missive. I had wished the words I had written could have flown away from the page like a flutter of butterflies.
I started folding the pages of a book she used to read to me as a child. I folded a kaleidoscope of butterflies and arranged them soaring out of the pages. The making was cathartic to me and so was her forgiveness on receiving the book”.
Writing was a theme for many of the pieces in this mixed media exhibition. Steph Wooster, was researching ideas about carrier pigeons, doves and messages of peace, so this old airmail letter has been printed and then embroidered in cross stitch with a the one thing that you can’t give up when waiting for news. Steph’s images are truly mixed media, she prints, knits and embroiders onto papers and fabrics of different densities – layering the multiple sheets of images and text together.
” I have an ongoing interest in mixing media, materials and processes. Attending workshops at Heart Space has introduced me to paper-cutting and patching processes that I have explored further with my knitting, stitching, printing and sketching. Making work for Things with Wings I immediately thought of pigeons. I love pigeons, grey, common, mundane and overlooked. Their invisibility and homing instinct led me to layering maps, graphs, envelopes, knitting, photographs, feathers and tracing paper. I wanted to show the humble pigeon as cousin of the dove who brought Noah the olive branch, embodying hope for the future.”
Mary Bishop has used her own hand-writing to inscribe poems and rhymes that have been illustrated by embroidering into papers and fabrics. I always recite this rhyme when I see any magpies – its an old English saying. Mary has condensed and enriched her first sample idea that she was working on in the studios to make these encrusted applique and collaged pieces.
My inspiration for this piece was my workroom which is like a magpie’s nest, full of bits that glitter and are pretty, things that cry out to be reused. I really enjoyed reflecting it in this nest
I love ladybirds, so pretty and attracted to colour, I was really inspired by my many colours of threads to build up this flower bed and the cobweb to illustrate this lovely poem.
Keeping with framed pictures, Debby Bird made some really popular (and fast selling) beetle things, some with wings but the main interest for all the viewers was the materials she used, interference foil that distorts the light rays into rainbows of different hues being the most fascinating. The free machine-stitched insect boxes illustrate her idea that many insects are as precious and beautiful as jewellry displays.
“Despite being overlooked and under-loved , Insects are the most successful of the worlds’ species . They are so varied and often more beautiful than the most precious gems, yet they can take off and disappear before you get a proper look.
My free-stitched specimen boxes are representing the energy of live bugs just gathered for a quick inspection before they fly home!
There are classes is this technique by Debby in the new Heart Space Studios Autumn programme of workshops
Sarah Dennis cuts paper by hand and the results are stunning, she conducts her very popular workshops, both day and evening sessions, for Heart Space Studios. The 2 large pieces of work attracted a lot of admiration, people can’t believe that they are looking at a hand made piece of such simple means. I like her simple explanation for the genesis of her things with wings…..
I love nature; these pieces were inspired by watching a David Attenborough documentary.
Deep Blue was created after watching a scene where the ocean and the sky met together – watching a bird dive from the sky and the whale swam around the surface of the ocean in a circular motion, the fishes sprung out of the waves into the sky. I wanted to capture the movement and life of that moment in paper.
Flamingos is a response to how astounded I always am by the incredible journeys that animals make to survive. I try to exemplify the beauty of nature through the delicate detail of paper.
Some people are really good with the words that they use to describe how they developed their imagery – Sophie Bristol, our administrator – studied History of Art for her BA hons. degree at the Courtauld Institute, so I was not surprised by her eloquence when she wrote about the piece that, at first glance, looks to be just a highly decorative triptych.
One of my greatest past-times is exploring flea markets, making chance discoveries of overlooked gems, which might not be particularly valuable, but are lovely none-the-less.
I recently stumbled across a pack of playing cards at a market, and was drawn to the gilded image of a bird on the reverse. The picture fascinated me because it was both beautiful and slightly sinister. I decided to incorporate the cards into a piece for the Wings and Things exhibition, using hand-embroidery skills, beading, and mixed-media techniques to continue to explore the tension between the beautiful and the macabre.”
Alas, my own framed pieces are very conventional – I had to make them relatively quickly at home in any spare time I could find, so relying heavily on my stitching skills, I made what I hope are amusing images of the ends of things….
“One of the daily tasks of running Heart Space Studios is sweeping the studio floor. Things found on the floor though, are often lovely – scraps of silk, ravels of multi-coloured threads and scatterings of beads; but as they are so small and dusty they usually get binned.
Buttons are another matter, they get used here for eyes and noses for toys made at children’s parties; but after a few months only the brown and beige buttons are left in the tins. I suspect that most homes harbour a tin of odd brown and beige buttons….
I got to thinking “Ideally, what would happen to the beige buttons that no-one wants, or the teeny scraps of ragged fabric and threads? Where would they go, what would they become”?
So now we get to the things out of the frames – I feel that out of the frame is perhaps a better way to develop work like this – so we had a flight of dragonflies from Susi Bancroft, rather difficult to photograph, so here is just one; he looks kind of menacing – but as Susi says……
“ inspired by my delight in watching dragonflies in flight whilst walking by the river. From pale green delicate ethereal things, to flashes of bright iridescent colours skimming the water, I caught my breath watching them. These creatures are an interpretation, a play on ideas. My mind wandered around the real as well as imaginary – the beauty of nature and the fantasy of invented things with wings – from fairies to surreal stinging insects! These may hang indoors or outdoors – catching light and breeze and hopefully raising a smile!
Made on the sewing machine from wire wrapped in glittery metallic thread with seed beads I pre-threaded on the wire – a somewhat exciting technique which requires some nerve!
But where are the things without wings? Well for a start there are lovey simple feathered heart shaped hangings form Jane- Marie Mahy, our display manager.
” I was inspired by the work I have done in the past for Heart Space Studios simply decorating willow hearts which are rustic in texture against different found objects – lovely old beads, buttons and lately clock faces. Feathers were the obvious things to add to the hearts for this project and making them into these angelic hearts”.And unusual beaded necklaces made by Ilsa Fatt, who teaches beaded jewellry making and often using her own lamp- worked beads as inspiration..
“The seed for the idea of Spirit-Bird necklaces came not from a bird, but a beetle. I was thinking about the sacred Egyptian scarab beetle, which led me to thoughts on the strange Egyptian bird-headed gods. These were in my mind when I first started making glass beads for the Heart Space exhibition.
As I worked, I became more and more drawn to the idea of the bird totems of the Pacific North West coast, such as the thunderbird that can shape-shift into human form. The little glass birds that finally emerged are things-without-wings, but for me they embody the idea of wings, and of the power of imagination’s flight.
And now for both things with and without wings from Kirsten Hill-Nixon, who works with us teaching felt-making but has many other skills to be developed. she really took flight (sorry) with her imagination for this project.
The image below does not do justice to this piece – it lives under a vintage glass dome so is very hard to see with reflections everywhere – It is made up from some dyed and embellished real chrysalis – and the strange beings that have escaped from them…the twig is felted wool but everything else is metal and glass, with found objects like large beads and parts of domestic plumbing as well.
“What a Great Title – ‘Wings and Things’ – ‘Things’ could be literally anything! And with winged shoes, aeroplanes, sycamore seeds and half the animal kingdom to choose from – what should I do? I spread out all my shiny objects, threads and fabrics on a large table, things I have been hoarding for years waiting for an opportunity to use them – and here it is.
There is always a moment of great excitement finding a shiny beetle in the garden; that unexpected flash of sparkling wing on the dragonfly – so Bugs it had to be. Small and precious like jewels, my winged things would need the protection of a glass dome just like the exotic specimens in a Victorian museum collection
I spread out all my shiny objects, threads and fabrics on a large table, things I have been hoarding for years waiting for an opportunity to use them – and here it is.
and just one more from this set of Things with Wings