Thursday, 13 September 2012

Exhibition Collaboration: Maggs bookshop

A short while ago I collaborated with embroidery artist James Hunting to help produce an artwork to be exhibited in Maggs Bros bookshop, London.

My contribution to the work was the three-diemensional fluffy roses worked in a technique called 'Berlin Wool Work':

James Hunting
Exploring the dichotomy of Victorian exploration and repression through the layering of stitch, a great nineteenth century occupation. Volumes by the explorer Sir Richard Burton will be constrained and suffocated by an over-layer of Berlin woolwork – a technique considered daring and vibrant by theVictorians, but now vulgar and colour saturated.

Maggs beneath the Covers

Works to be displayed alongside the rare books and manuscripts that inspired them
21st September - 21st December 2012 Maggs Bros Ltd, 50 Berkeley Square, London W1J 5BA

Twelve artists have been commissioned to create works inspired by books or manuscripts from Maggs An exciting new Arts Council England sponsored project, Maggs beneath the Covers responds to rare and unique publications not normally available for public view. The collection will explore the interface between craft and fine art practice. It includes a ‘food-belt-rope-ladder' inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and a sculpture of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browningon their balcony at Casa Guidi, recreated from prints of the literary couple and their letters.
It is an unprecedented opportunity for artists to work with unusual and rare books, explore a rich seam of heritage and offer the public a glimpse of previously unseen areas of Maggs's historic Georgian buildings.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Mr X Stitch Article

Very proud to be featured by the fabulous Mr X.

This reminded me....has it really been a year since the monster of a patchwork quilt I exhibited at NEC Birmingham last year? Wow, the progress I've made since then! And luckily, at this point in time one year on, my hands aren't shaking from excessive caffeine consumption as I frantically get the quilt hemmed and packaged up in time for the show.

You can also find me featured on the front cover of the Royal School of Needlework's 140th anniversary edition of their newsletter - click here for more details.

Product Image

Monday, 13 August 2012

Stella Artois goldwork label WIP

Lettering, logos, and if you spend long enough staring at something – I think it starts to creep into your subconscious. Something about the elaborate design of the Stella Artois logo must have appealed to me the day I dragged the bottle back from the pub and sat it on the side in my studio, where it’s waited patiently for a good month now, awaiting its inspirational purpose. Being relatively uninventive I decided to replicate the logo entirely in or nue, a task made more challenging by the swirling gold detailing and the slight drop-shadow of the lettering itself that demanded accurate capturing.

I fully recommend surrounding yourself with inspirational items and allowing them to infiltrate your creative headspace (and I’m not simply referring to the contents of said bottle.)

(life-size: 9x10xcm)
I start by drawing out the design onto the background fabric. The couching thread here’s going to be silver, which means any other areas of colour (including all the red) must be ‘coloured in’ with dense rows of stitches. By colouring in the background in the corresponding colour, not only does it give you an accurate ‘colour by numbers’ to work from, it helps disguise any minor discrepancies: deviations where the thread doesn’t couch down quite parallel, and a tiny glimpse of background is left uncovered. Threads can pass along the back of the work but I wouldn’t recommend having them loose in this manner for more than an inch or so.

After the design has been worked, the ends are plunged through to the back: potentially the trickiest section, here. After the gold band of edging, the ideal is for the silver ends to disappear exactly where the gold stitches securing them stop, for otherwise you’ll be left with nasty silver highlights at the ends of rows where they don’t belong. There are two tricks to ensure this doesn’t happen. One: when working the edges, make them as accurate and the gold curves in as smooth a line as possible. Two: a great deal of patience in needle placement when the silver is threaded up and actually plunged.

This label isn’t finished: next stage, it requires the fine black outlining around the gold leafy swirls and the trumpet. These are far too narrow to have been worked as part of the or nue, so will be added later in backstitch over the top. Then I intend to cut out and hem the entire logo, and attatch it inconspicuously to the side of the bottle. The end result shall be a bottle that at a glance looks perfectly normal, but actually has an exquisitely embroidered label that shimmers when the curve of the bottle catches the light.
And then I’m possibly going to go and drink one to celebrate.

Goldwork Script WIP

I have a real interest in text going on at the moment. If you look back to my earlier experiments in lettering (see see earlier post) you will recall I was especially interested in capturing the delicacy and detail of letters through goldwork couching and the technique of or nue.

Current experimentation follows in this train of thought, since I find myself captivated by logos in particular. The choice of font is important: in order for me to want to stitch it, it has to be at least a certain thickness (bold, thick lettering preferable over spindly characters) and – even better – a ‘drop shadow’ behind it, which adds another challenge to execute in stitch. Once you start looking around you can’t help but notice just how many signs and labels actually do have this 3D-effect to their lettering. But I digress.


To start with, here’s the Krispy Kreme doughnut logo: the challenge here – can I keep it at this relatively small scale, and still fit in enough detail to make the letters ‘flow’ without looking square-edged and step-like? (remember that each row’s height is dictated by the width of the silver thread you’re couching over, meaning that subtle curves are limited. Over a block ten rows deep, for instance, you can only achieve ten gradations of where you place the edge of the letter.) I think I succeeded.

The next phase of this will be to hem the edges and integrate this logo into part of a larger piece of work (a chunk of fabric worked separately and re-applied like this is called a slip.) The bigger piece shall depict a doughnut or something equally appropriate, possibly worked in Berlin wool-work velvet stitch, and this logo could feature on the napkin it’s placed on. I’m not quite decided yet.

Secondly, (9x9.5cm – the actual size on the side of the can)

The ever-recognisable Coca-Cola logo. I’m not as pleased with this one: since my red couching thread was considerably thinner than the above silver, I decided to use it two rows at a time (this would save me half the time not having to work each row individually, a luxury I couldn’t really afford if I wanted to work the entire area of the sample.) Traditionally, goldwork couching was usually done this way, holding down two strands at once to couch over: personally, I’ve always thought this just limits the scope for detail. It’s true that if I had worked one strand at a time, the curves of the letters would flow a lot smoother: but still, it’s passable.

Although the fabric is obviously stiffened by the application of all the metallic thread, it’s still fairly pliable: this logo could then be applied over a raised or padded background, moving something currently flat into 3D – an area I am very eager to explore. It’s time for or nue to start breaking some boundaries.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Blue Pebble

Another experiment: this time the stone is visible through the embroidered covering - you can reach out and touch the the stone's surface itself. Couched metallic blue thread.

Am planning on spending some time with the sketchbook to get back in touch with my drawing and mark-making - in the meantime it's things like this I'm playing around with to refine my technical stitch capabilities.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Pebble with rainbow picot feathers

A sample seemingly lacking in coherence (I mean, what's the point of covering a pebble with tiny picot feathers in rainbow colours?) but one which, again, is intended more of a learning experience than anything else. If I can do it, therefore I will: and having mastered the technique of needlewoven picots, wanted to experiment using them in a much greater density on a three-dimensional base.

The rainbow colour scheme was ideal to practice subtly 'blending' one area of the stone into another, say, graduating the blue area gently into the pink without being too segmented. (Although pre-vareigated rainbow thread can have its uses, it was strictly forbidden here: the needle threaded up with one flat colour at a time.) Three strands of stranded cotton were used, and I have no idea how many individual picots were worked, but can only estimate thousands. The idea was to completely cover the entire stone, however time restraints mean than I'm moving on to something else having done sufficient to get the gist of what is, after all, only a sample.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Dinner - Worshipful Company of Needlemakers

Last night I was priviledged to be invited to the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers' Court Dinner. The evening was thoroughly enjoyable, the first formal dinner I've ever attended, and was a lovely function to attend - whilst formal, highly friendly, and an event I am very grateful to have been allowed to be part of.

In receipt of 'Best Stitchcraft' award, during the speech ceremony after dinner, I was presented with a cheque and a charming needlecase - which I intend to put to very good use forthwith! There was also the opportunity to present a selection of my work and to talk informally about it.

Last but not least, the desert of plum sorbet, peach melba and white chocolate mousse all served up in a gigantic wine glass was definitely not one to be missed.

Pamela Goldberg, Master of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers' blog post:

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Berlin Wool Work Roses

A deviation in an entirely new direction, here: I have temporarily swapped my gold couching for wool and canvas in the name of 'Berlin Wool Work'.

This was a style of counted embroidery popular during the Victorian era, with patterns and imported wools originating from Berlin in the early 19th century. Breakthroughs in dying technology, including new chemical dyes, facilitated the production of vibrant blues, purples and magentas - hence the full-on, almost garish colour scheme. Motifs were typically floral, scenic or pet depictions: designs were full to the brim with overblown roses in a mass of vivid colours. As women found themselves with more time to stitch as a hobby, the relative simplicity of following the charts made Berlin Wool Work an immensely popular hobby.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this technique is the introduction of a new stitch alongside the flat tent stitch: it has many names and variations - velvet stitch, rya stitch, turkey work - but produces a very three-dimensional, sculptured surface. Stitches are worked leaving 'hanging loops', which are then cut and trimmed after completion. Worked with dense rows of wool, the resulting fluff can be sculpted as one might trim a topiary piece (see 'Edward Scissorhands' for further inspiration.)

I have been experimenting with this stitch (which I shall henceforth refer to as velvet stitch). Unlike more traditional examples, the colour scheme for these was kept very muted and dull:

The design is sketched onto paper to show the colour variation in the petals: this same design is painted directly onto the canvas in acrylic paint. This background serves as a 'colour by numbers' with which to work the corresponding wools over.

Personally, Berlin wool work - as it traditionally stands - holds some problems for me. Firstly, the colour scheme makes me feel like I'm standing in the middle of a tube of Smarties, oversaturated by vibrancy: also, the stylised, 'homely' motifs of flowers and pets simply do not appeal to me in their current state. I aim to take inspiration from the technical execution, especially the velvet stitch, and see how I may use it for my own ends.

These roses were worked as part of a commission: integrated into a larger embroidery piece by artist James Hunting, the final result shall be exhibited in Maggs Bros. bookshop later in the year.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Experimenting: goldwork stones

Living by a beach has its advantages. Whenever I'm out for a walk along the beach I have the habit of looking down at my feet - it's strangely compelling - to look at all the millions of stones on the beach, each with unique and fascinating shapes, colours and patterns.

Since I seem to be constantly bringing new and 'interesting' stones home to sit on my studio windowsill, it seems the next step to start incorporating them into my stitching.

These two have been covered entirely in various couched goldwork threads. They're lovely to work on because the stones 'sit' snugly in your hand, and of course the tension doesn't loosen off like fabric in a frame tends to do. They aren't actually 'for' anything, more of just an experiment in taking stitch techniques (in this case couching) into the third dimension.

The secret is to use a curved needle: it just makes the whole process much easier when sewing onto curved or three-dimensional surfaces, as any surgeon will vouch. (Look at the purple stitches - they're actually surgical sutures. The only trouble is that surgical needles are intended for single-use purposes, meaning they come with a limited amount of thread pre-attatched and can then only be thrown away. The mission is now to procure a robust enough curved needle with an integral eye.)

Meanwhile, I have some gorgeous three-dimensional Berlin Wool Work underway, undertaken as part of a collaboration with embroidery artist James Hunting - stay tuned!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Degree Show

Degree Show
Last weekend I was proud to participate in the RSN’s exhibition of Foundation Degree graduates, held in the Clore Centre at Hampton Court Palace.

It was a hectic rush to get everything up and installed in the short turnaround space, but I think the show was very successful and showcased a diverse range of final outcomes – and to see the work of my peers properly presented, instead of work-in-progress within the classroom, seemed to mark a significant milestone in our progression.  

I was also privileged to receive an award in ‘Best Stitchcraft’ from the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, whom I shall be attending a function with over the summer:

Academic year now done and over with, it's time to start stitching with a greater sense of self-directed purpose! Inbetween enjoying Brighton this summer, I now find myself with more time to play with stitch than I've had in a long while....

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Briefing Time

Finally, Miss 'Briefing Time' is complete - clocking in at 55hrs, she has been quite a ride!

Original design by me, inspired by the 'pin-up girl' artwork on 1940s military planes.

Worked entirely in 'or nue' with single-stranded embroidery cotton over silver passing thread, the ends of which have been plunged and secured on the back to present the oval effect. Getting the detail in her eyes was especially tricky, due to their tiny scale, as was trying to give her shape and depth using such a limited palette of 'block colours'.

I think I deserve a drink now.
Stay tuned.....

Oh, and you know how Virgin Atlantic Airlines have their girl in red painted on the nose (inspired by the same 1940s artwork): well, why did I never know before now that Dita Von Teese did a publicity stunt for their 10th anniversary?! I should so stitch this one next (although I'll definitely have to raise my game to get it anywhere near up to standard if I'm drawing the divine Dita....)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

'Briefing Time' WIP: WW2-inspired goldwork

Apologies for total radio silence. The new flat doesn't have internet yet, meaning I'm stealing wi-fi where I can ... actually, I've gone two weeks sleeping on the floor without a bed and the fridge is still lost in the Argos ether. (At least I can blame the sleeping arrangements for the neckache and not the or nue!)

But anyway. Here is my latest piece of work, going on display in my degree show in two weeks' time. Ever seen the movie 'Memphis Belle', following the WW2 crew of a bomber-plane as they undertake their final mission with an oh-so-saucy girl painted on the side? I think it's such a lovely idea, whether she's your good-luck token or just a piece of eye candy, to have a girl painted on your plane.
(More reference material: Pearl Harbour, which although does drag on for hours, has the major bonus of Kate Beckinsale in a period-era nurses' outfit...need I say more??)

 Following on from my pin-up girl fixation, here is my original design of a 'plane pin-up' transformed into goldwork: 'Briefing time' ...

Stitched area size: 17cm x 10.5cm
Work in progress: check back soon for the finished thing.

I have some hang-ups with this one but I won't go into them here; my major one is that she looks too 'cartoony', although the style I've drawn her in - with the thick black outline - does lend itself to becoming 2-dimensional. I want to try the next piece using (gasp!) no black lines whatsoever, and getting much more subtle with my shading in an attempt to make it less 'colour-by-numbers' and moving away from solid blocks of colour.

In other news, I'm looking to take up burlesque lessons - I attended London Burlesque Week and was so astounded that it's convinced me I simply do have to have a go. Honestly, I'm far too self-conscious, and so if I can do this it will do me more good than all the therapy will.
(And I get to buy yet more new underwear!)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

New Or Nue Necklaces

Another Or Nue Goldwork tattoo-inspired pendant.
A charity-shop scavenged find, as before, with a segment of embroidery mounted into place.
Unlike the first one (left), the silver thread was a much better quality and so has much more of a shine to it.
£70 each

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Degree Show

Dear Everone!

You are cordially invited to attend our uni's end of year show - myself and my year group will be showcasing a selection of work from this (second) year of the degree and, well, the poster says it all really....

Meanwhile, alongside exploring my new town (the wonderful world of Brighton), I'm feeling so inspired to stitch.... I finally feel like I'm in the right place at the right time, not just in regards to my creative practice but my life itself. Which means I'm currently undertaking the biggest damn piece of Or Nue goldwork I've yet to attempt, so watch this space (and my upcoming show!) to find out more. I'll give you a clue - has anyone seen the movie Memphis Belle??

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Goldwork DOTD skull tattoo

So, it's been a while....but I have been very busy: I've upped and moved to Brighton!
(More on this later. I am happy beyond belief and it's going to transform my whole life, not just my work...)

After many days' distraction running around estate agents and spending my savings on deposits, I have managed to get a little bit of stitching done, mainly in the near-completion of my Mexican day-of-the-dead goldwork tattoo:

As it's just a sample, I saved time by only doing half of the face (and I know there's still a few cms left to work) - but you get the gist. As for the waves around the side, I enjoyed playing around with the different tones of blue shading, but I think they would sit better on a nautical or a fish tattoo (this original design wasn't mine, it was simply a copied image to practice my or nue with, and it came intact with waves). After some research I think I should really have done a rose or something - any ideas??

As of the last few days, I'm in the process of setting up my own studio space (!) and it's going to be fabulous having my own dedicated work area to sit and sew in. Add to that a brand new delivery of goldwork threads in the post and a brand new work in progress, I can't wait to see what happens next. Viva la Brighton!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sailor Girl

Another Goldwork Or Nue post. Finally, my pin-up-inspired Sailor Girl has been completed....many hours of work and a couple of headaches later, here she is!
Dimensions: 9.5cm x 8.5cm

She is worked entirely in silver passing thread, couched down horizontally with single-strand stranded embroidery cotton. As I found doing this piece, it's a bit of a pain that your vertical stitches have to be as long as the width of the silver, making it harder to do really tiny detailing such as the eyes. Mix into that the constant screaming at Anchor when my black thread kept snapping (for no apparent reason, all the others were up to quality standard) and I'm quite relieved to see the back of this one!

In a shameless effort at self-promotion, yes, she IS AVAILABLE FOR SALE - I'm having her professionally framed, and anyone potentially interested please feel free to email me. (The rent on my new bedsit, sorry, shoebox, needs paying somehow!)

Stay tuned for more Or Nue escapades because despite the tedium of the end of this one, there's another design underway....

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Applique experiments

There's only so much covering paperclips with stitch I can do at once. (Actually, the second parrot's underway, but I'm going to wait a little while until that work in progress makes it onto here.)

In the meantime, technique whore that I am, I have decided to do some dabbling into applique - the technique where pieces of fabric are cut out and applied onto a background. It's brilliant because you can create whole 'blocks' of colour without having had to previously stitch or dye them, which can then be embroidered onto as well. Pretty exciting stuff, huh.

Avian creations aside, at the moment I'm really into vintage pin-up art (more will come of that later!) alongside my ongoing interest in text:

In this example, the skin-coloured fabric was applied onto the pale yellow background, the white fabric banner applied on top of that, and THEN the hair embroidered over the top in split-stitch with the whole thing mounted in a frame for tension. (this close-up segment measures a couple of inches square) The thing I most love about applique (well, at least my method of working it) is that all raw edges get tucked underneath during the application process, leaving no fraying ends on top. (I simply can't stand fraying edges in my own work.)

NB: sadly, she isn't REALLY my girlfriend. Sigh.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Paperclip Parrot

Embroidery and paperclips: two subjects you'd automatically assume to have total relevance to each other. Throw in a parrot and there we have today's subject for me to write about. (What? You mean I'm not making any sense? I shall try to explain.)

Here is the finished stitched version of 'Polly the Parrot.' He is an African Grey, belongs to a friend of mine, and has endearing habits such as whistling the Avengers and nestling up on your lap.
But back to the stitchery.
Stitched area: 13.5cm x 13.5cms

Polly is a strange and eclectic mixture of techniques. The key feature, and the idea which inspired this embroidery in the first place, is that his feathers are constructed from paperclips. Each paperclip has been covered with detatched-buttonhole stitch and applied separately after the rest of the features were embroidered onto the background fabric. There we have it, my first piece that you'd have trouble getting through airport customs without setting the metal-detecting alarms off.

The rest of Polly has been worked as follows: beak in long-and-short stitch, the area around his eye in French knots, gradually merging into detatched chain-stitches as the 'feathers' begin. A variety of threads convey the different textures within the feathers: tiny stitches in stranded cotton and machine thread, larger ones in thick cotton perle and the fluffiest ones in DK knitting wool.

Go and study a parrot, up close and 'for real', and it's amazing to see the detail in his feathers - how the rows overlap like roof shingles, how they gradually get larger in scale across the back of his head and down his neck. (This is the sort of thing I think about when an African Grey has nestled on my lap: how best to stitch it?)

Polly is a gift for a friend: however, I can do commissions if you now have an insatiable impulse to have your own version of your feathered friend worked in, um, paperclips... 

And major gratitude goes out to everywhere who kindly featured this...

Friday, 16 March 2012

Goldwork Tattoo Necklace

I'm getting a lil carried away with my goldwork couching, I admit. But it's so much fun!
I'm currently in discussions with a jewellery designer-maker, with the possibility of a collaborative piece (watch this space - we've got some ideas of how we're going to work together) but in the meantime I thought I'd make a start on something jewellery-related of my own. Which showed willing when I turned up to the interview, and I get something nice and shiny to wear into the bargain.

Total overall dimensions: 3cm x 4cm (including the gold mount)

Simple, really: work an oval of couching, chop it up (!) and mount it into a charity-shop-scavenged find with Superglue. And then it's backed etc. behind. The silver couching thread really shimmers in the light when its worn (I will get a picture of it worn by me, but let's not scare everyone too soon.)

I'm thinking of making these available for sale via Etsy or something - any comments?

Oh, and I was very lucky enough to meet the Duchess of Cambridge last week when she graced RSN with a surprise visit: why didn't I wear this that day? Upon being asked whether I had any work to show her, I wish I could have whipped this out and said 'so, do you have any tattoos yourself?'
(Only joking. Well, possibly. Do they still send people to the Tower for impertinence?)

Monday, 12 March 2012

Stitched Sailor Girl progression

My sailor-girl tattoo, worked in the goldwork technique of 'or nue', is making progress.
(Or rather, I'm making progress. It doesn't stitch itself you know.)

'What did you do today Charlotte?' 'Oh, just studying boobs and translating their perkiness into stitch.'
Embroidery can be more entertaining than many people assume..

4in across

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Goldwork Couching

So, I've been playing around with this technique called 'Or nue' a lot lately, where goldwork threads are laid down and detailing added by the arrangement of couching stitches worked over the top.
Pretty much the best work I've ever see in this technique is done by Beryl Dean, who studied the Apprenticeship at RSN years ago (if anyone went to the 2011 Knitting and Stitching Show, there were some utterly fabulous examples of her work there.)

But back to me and my tired eyes..... these following pictures were really just personal experimentation with keeping my stitches even, how intricate I could make the lettering, and how small different fonts could go without losing the detail: (yes, I work pretty tiny)
Gold: 4cm square
Red / black: 3cm square
Plain black: 2.5cm square

And then I just couldn't leave the frame alone.....
7cm across, this is an advert for a font I stumbled across online but would make an awesome business card (it's the right size in real life)

6.5x 2.5cm -- the text came from a flyer I had lying around that read 'South Coast Tattoo'. I didn't think it was possible to get this small detail, but hey, it seemed to go okay. The way to do it is complete each horizontal line at a time, working along with a needle threaded up in each of red and black, and completing all the stitches in that row. Then you move up or down one, lay another silver string across, and carry on putting the couching stitches in place. It's got much more sparkle than this and really catches the light - you could use any couching thread you like, I guess, but this is a neat way of incorporating metallics in without having to thread them up in your needle (which is a pain at the best of times.)

Friday, 9 March 2012

Goldwork Bird Tattoos

What I've been up to as of late....
We've just done the second half of the Goldwork module at Royal School of Needlework, and I've really taken to this technique called 'or nue', where you couch down a metallic thread and add details / extra areas of colour with stitches over the top.
Except I really don't like the colour gold, so I've been doing mine with various colours of metallic thread, and my subject matter of choice is.....ta daaahh..... vintage tattoos, an area I'm currently really into.
And because the first one didn;t really satisfy my sick sense of humour:

Let me know what you think ! I'm pretty new into all this blogging thing (I mean, I'm quite happy sitting with my typewriter let alone all this internet thingy, but here I am....)