Monday 8 October 2018

Sherlock Holmes - Working to Commission

It started with a post on Facebook - a photo of some of my first day cover envelopes featuring writers. One of my followers spotted Sherlock Holmes among them, and an envelope transformation was commissioned.

The stamps featured illustrations of five of Conan Doyle’s short stories, in wonderfully moody dark colours. I had an immediate idea to create a brooding Dartmoor skyline using the fabric I imagined Holmes and Watson would typically wear - tweed.

One stamp showed Holmes plunging to his ‘death’ in The Final Problem, so I decided to create the Reichenbach Falls around him using layers of tulle.

The background was built up using scrim, with sections of tweed added to represent the Dartmoor hills. Scrim was also used to create the dead tree.

As we discussed the design, it emerged that my client was a great Sherlock fan, and extremely knowledgeable. She knew all the stories that featured on the stamps and wanted me to build in references to each one in my stitching - a trail of clues as it were. This literary wheeze really appealed to me, and so I took great delight in adding in appropriate details.

The Hound of the Baskervilles inspired the Dartmoor landscape and the embroidered bloody paw print. I came across a vintage book of road maps in a charity shop in the early stages of stitching the piece, and a fragment of a map of the Moor found its way in. A blank page from that book provided an ideal aged and tattered scrap on which to copy the torn fragment of a note that is an important clue in The Reigate Squire. An empty nest was created in a branch of the dead tree as a reference to The Greek Interpreter.

And the black pearl that Holmes is holding in the illustration from The Six Napoleons is also included - though rather hard to spot at first...

Finally, because I love a literary quotation, I added Dr Watson’s description of “the long low curve of the melancholy Moor” on the skyline. Creating this piece was a delight because of the many interesting details to consider. I completed it while on holiday in France in September 2017.

Happily my client was as pleased with the piece as I was, and left a lovely review on my Facebook page: “To say that I am delighted with my finished Sherlock artwork is an understatement. Sue somehow managed to take what I had visualised in my head and transfer it perfectly onto canvas. The finished piece is utterly stunning.”

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Jane Austin

My daughter Bex is a writer. She writes novels, mostly for the YA (young adult) reader. She is also an avid reader, and one of her favourite books is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Two years ago, while her garage was being converted so that she didn’t have to work in the family living room, I was stitching an envelope transformation piece to decorate her new study.

There can be several different designs of first day cover envelopes, and I was really pleased to find this one dating from 1975, featuring the author writing at her desk, just as my daughter does.

Bex told me that her favourite part of the novel is Captain Wentworth’s letter - so romantic! So a handwritten extract from that letter had to form part of the design, and a key phrase was part of the stitching.

Bex’s love of roses is reflected in the rest of the design. A gothic detail from one of the stamps became a trellis, up which climbing roses ramble.

This is one of my most embroidered mixed media pieces. It was lovely to stitch, and I enjoy seeing it in Bex’s study, on the wall above her writing desk, whenever I visit.

Sunday 23 September 2018

British Wild Birds

My first envelope transformation.

Vintage UK first day covers are often so beautiful - the stamps are miniature works of art. When I saw this one on a market stall I just knew I wanted to add my stitching to it.

A design came to me quickly - I imagined a tree curving round the side of the envelope, filled with birds. But how to create that tree? I was staying with my daughter, miles away from most of my stitching stash, but a parcel had arrived that morning, tied with jute string.... ๐Ÿ’กan idea was born!๐Ÿ’ก

This was my first tree: proof that Necessity really is the Mother of Invention! And the formula has been refined and repeated many times since.

There are so many details in this piece that I had fun with - the woven bird’s nest, the toadstools, the spider web in the tree trunk. Just don’t look too closely at my woodpecker - not my finest piece of stitching!

The final detail I added was a quotation from a poem by William Blake. He’s my favourite poet, and his Songs of Innocence and of Experience have long been special to me, so a brief couplet from Spring was perfect to handwrite on to the envelope. Not only was British Wild Birds my first envelope transformation, it was the first piece I posted on to my new Facebook page in 2016, and it sold immediately. It had been an experiment - but it proved to be a success!

Saturday 22 September 2018

Winter Tree

Although it wasn’t the very first tree I ever created (that was on my British Birds envelope), the Winter Tree started a whole new phase of tree stitching, so it’s very special to me.

I started it for the 1 Year of Stitches project on Facebook in January 2017. I’d intended to sew something free and spontaneous and different, but somehow when I looked at my hoop, all I could see to make was a tree!

I’d popped a piece of vintage linen - cut from an old table runner picked up in a charity shop - into a 9” embroidery hoop.

Rather naively, I didn’t use any sort of stabilising fabric, so it’s lucky that the relatively fine linen managed to support the weight of the tree that grew. I gathered together a bigger collection of lengths of rope, garden twine and wool than I’d used so far, and started stitching the trunk . . .

The tree grew - at first mainly from its trunk down into a tangle of roots that I really enjoyed creating. I used embroidery cotton to couch down the jute / hemp / wool fibres, which I split into thinner strands as I went along. Then gradually the branches reached upwards.

I had so much fun allowing it to find its form straight from my imagination, allowing the natural twist of the fibres at times to dictate the shape it would take.

About six weeks later it was complete, and I loved it! It’s probably still my favourite piece of work, but that’s at least in part because of how important it’s been in helping me to grow as a textile artist. I’ve made lots more trees, large and tiny since then. Almost as soon as I finished it, I was commissioned to create a Spring tree, and earlier this year I created an 8” hoop tree for my first international client in the USA. Tiny trees are on brooches too, which I have also custom-made, and in beautiful wooden frames (some in my Etsy shop currently).

The original Winter Tree, though, will never be for sale - I shall be treasuring it always! ๐Ÿ’š๐ŸŒณ๐Ÿ’š

Tuesday 11 September 2018

10 Random Facts about Me


Well here I am, writing my very first blog ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I asked my daughter what she thought would make a good topic, and she suggested:

10 Random Facts about Me

... so here goes ...
  1. I'm a proud Geordie, born and bred in Newcastle upon Tyne - though I've not lived there since the early 1970s. I still consider beautiful Northumberland my home county.
  2. I fell seriously in love with wild flowers aged twelve, when making a pressed flower collection was a summer holiday project set by my biology teacher. I've never lost that love, and part of me yearns to study botany properly.
  3. My middle finger, right hand is a little short, with a curvy damaged nail due to an accident involving a deckchair when I was five. I have a lasting fear of deckchairs.
  4. I have always enjoyed singing and performing - in my fantasy life, I'm an opera diva . . . or a musical theatre star . . . or a great Shakespearean actress . . .
  5. I can spend hours pottering on a beach looking for seashell treasure. Until recently I'd only keep perfect shells - now I search for ones with a hole, or that can be somehow sewn into my stitcheries.
  6. I'm an obsessive collector of stuff. Oddest thing I've collected? Back in the days before supermarkets, pieces of fruit came from the greengrocer individually wrapped in squares of tissue paper which often had the most beautiful designs on them - the grower's logo I suppose. Anyway I collected these - carefully ironed (cool iron!) and mounted those lovely central images. My granddaughter, at least, thinks this is bizarre.
  7. I'm a Francophile.
  8. I have earned a small collection of letters after my name . . . BA, MA, PGCE . . .
  9. I love the smell of coffee, but rarely drink it - tea is my cup of choice.
  10. I hate picking a favourite anything - so don't ask me what my favourite book / poet / confectionery / flower / band is - you'll always get a list!
If you read this far, your medal is in the post - actually no, I jest, but thanks for staying with me.

I'd love to hear any suggestions you have for future blog posts - just leave a comment or drop me an email.