Friday, 5 May 2017

Beautiful Boxes and Fauxdermy

I was looking for a way to display my butterflies that was a little bit different to usual framing. The vintage entomology displays in places like the Natural History Museum have always fascinated me, even though the rows and rows of impaled insects are rather unsettling. Obviously most of these collections were sourced in less enlightened days, when conservation wasn't on the radar. Today's specimens are, on the whole, from sustainable stock.

Well mine definitely are, a new version of taxidermy; I've heard it called Fauxdermy or very creatively Craftydermy.

I began to look at specialist suppliers and found a great variety of options, though none of them quite fitted the bill. Then late one evening I decided to pop 'entomology boxes' into a search on a well known internet site and up came 'Antique Butterfly Drawers used at the Natural History Museum to house Rothschild collection of British Butterflies'. I was amazed and thrilled to find out that every so often the museum sells of some of its older display pieces, these were perfect.

My finger hovered over the quantity button and there were 25 available.
I bought the lot and was thrilled when they arrived. They have so much character, some have labels or handwritten notes on the drawer face. I cleaned the glass, so beautiful with tiny bubbles showing how old it is, and waxed the wooden edges and lid. They also have a distinctive smell of moth balls when you lift the lid, reminding me of my Gran's wardrobe.
They are perfect and set off my work beautifully, I add vintage maps depicting the habitat of the specimens and small stitched labels with their Latin name.
Here are some of the boxes on display at The Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey.

The Rothschild collection has been partly digitised and is available to view here.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Dreams can come true !

2017 has got off to a very exciting start, in fact probably the most exciting thing that has ever happened in my creative life.

It all began on a Saturday December at a craft fair in Chagford, Devon. It had been a really great day, it was an incredibly busy I was feeling very positive about my work and the way ideas had been developing. Then in came a lady busting with positive energy, I hadn't met her before in person but I had received a lovely email from her after she read my blog on my love for Liberty fabrics and how I used them in my work.

Her name is Linda Bassett, her Instagram handle is Liberty Lindy Lou
She is incredibly passionate about all things Liberty and stitch related. Her feed is very inspirational and well worth a look. Linda developed a great relationship with Ed Burstall the American MD of the store, and continued to have strong connections with the buying team after he left.

We managed to have a lovely conversation, over my stall in between customers. Linda took a few photos and said she would send them to Liberty. I was thrilled but at the same time I didn't dare believe that anything would happen.

I have loved the Liberty brand ever since visiting for the first time with my Mum at the age of 7. I clearly remember the beautiful wooden staircases, the amazing colourful scarves and the sense of history that seemed to ooze from the walls. Mum bought me a lovely gold box containing a foam bath oil and soap, but the best thing was the black and white picture of the store on the lid.
Today it is full of tiny scraps of Liberty fabric.
My Liberty box

My passion continued as a student when I became a regular visitor to the Manchester branch of the store, especially at sale time.
I had also, a few years ago, taken my wearable butterflies to the Open Call at the store, a fantastic and positive experience. The process was filmed for the Channel 4 documentary but unfortunately I ended up on the cutting room floor.

Three Liberty Peacocks
So I continued to work with these beautiful fabrics and decided to work on a bigger scale and create British butterflies and moths.
Anyway back to this December, the day after the Chagford Fair an email arrived from Liberty, asking me for details about my butterflies. I think I almost stopped breathing I was just so determined to get this right. A week of emails between myself and Julie Hassan, the senior buyer for home, led to an appointment to go to London to take samples.
I had about three weeks to make new pieces and prepare myself, all the time pinching myself that this was really happening.

The day arrived, I had planned it down to the finest detail train times, parking, tube routes nothing left to chance. As you might expect I was incredibly nervous, I had a little time to kill when I arrived in Regent's Street so I lapped the store and found a little café for a cup of chamomile tea.


After entering the Liberty office building I waited a few minutes and was called to take the lift to the third floor. Here I was met by Julie, she put me at ease straight away. She was so easy to talk to and very encouraging, her buying experience meant she knew exactly what would work and how the pieces would be presented. I think I was maybe there for about 45 minutes and then emerged onto Kingly Street, excited and emotional. I rang my sister and we both burst into tears.
A dream come true is an understatement, my work will be stocked by Liberty of London! I owe so much to Linda and I cannot thank her enough.  
I will write about the new pieces I created for my first order in my next blog!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Workshops 2017. Get crafty.

Hello everyone, I've been mapping out my new year and thought I'd let you know about the workshops I have planned for 2017.
I have some lovely new venues and a combination of hand and machine stitching.
Workshops are great fun and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach some fantastic talented students, who very often inspire me.
My first career was as a Primary school teacher so I love the process of presenting a group with the same project and seeing all the different ways it can be interpreted.

 My first workshop is on Saturday 25th March at The Magpies Nest, Bideford. This is hand stitching on silk applique creating this cute Blue Tit in a hoop. More details
Next I'm back at the fantastic Make at Monteray. 25th April.
This is a machine applique and embroidery workshop, the idea being to learn new techniques and gain confidence with your machine. You will produce a lovely butterfly cushion in your choice of colours.
In May 20th,  I'm back with the members of Exeter's Embroiderer's Guild, this time with a landscape workshop. As an added bonus we will be joined by members of the Young Embroiderer's Guild, which will be great.
Blue Tit Brooch

Poppy Brooch
In October 4th, I will be in Barnstaple, with the members of the West Country Embroiderers. This is a new workshop making a bird and a poppy brooch.

So if you interested please click on the links or contact me directly on 
It would be lovely to see you.                   


Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 what a year !

Well its nearly over and what a year it turned out to be, a real rollercoaster not to be too clichéd about it. I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect and look forward to 2017.

Here are my highlights.

I started teaching workshops for the fantastic Make at Monteray
This led to teaching a  taster workshop at The Contemporary Craft Festival at Bovey Tracey which was a great experience.
I signed up for business mentoring with the fabulous Creative Business Network
This helped me to organise my thoughts and push myself in a new direction. I also launched my newsletter.
I rethought my pricing structure and began to produce larger, more 3d work based on British butterflies.
I exhibited work at two new shows to me, Nourish Festival and later Wonderworks. Rethinking my products and display has been really worthwhile.
My husband and I had a fantastic, inspiring holiday to China and Japan. This was to celebrate a milestone birthday. In my personal life I took on a new role as a carer and had to learn to balance this with work. It's made me more determined to create as I now realise what a vital part of my life it is.

So thank you to everyone who supports me, by reading my blog, liking my posts, retweeting my tweets, buying my work and listening to my insecurities. Here's hoping for a kinder 2017.

Happy New Year !

I have brand, new workshops coming for 2017 including this one at Make at Monteray

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Japan, an insprational holiday.

My hubby and I both celebrated a milestone birthday this year and our 15 year wedding anniversary, so instead of a party we decided to treat ourselves to a fantastic holiday. It has taken me a little while to digest the trip and also other life events have got in the way, but here we go.

 We started in China, Richard's choice, and then spent 9 days in Japan. It has always been a dream of mine to visit, I love Japanese art and design, I'm also attracted to the ethos and approach to life of the people.
I was not disappointed, everything was so efficient and well thought out. Arriving at Tokyo Station one of the biggest in the world was amazing, despite thousands of people there was no aggression, no litter and no threat, unlike the feelings I get when I travel to London.
Even the pavements were beautiful each district having its own emblem on occasional stones.

I felt at home almost immediately, and oh so much to see. Tokyo is not a walkable city, it is vast and each area has its own characteristics some ultra modern, others traditional. Fantastic shop displays, eccentric cafes and sublime temples to name a few.

We travelled on to Mount Fuji, unfortunately shrouded in mist, to stay at a traditional rayokan inn. We dressed in kimono, slept on futons and had the most exquisite meal in our room. I could have stayed for ever.

Next the bullet train to Kyoto, another mix of the ancient and modern, with some of the loveliest temples and old architecture.

I also found a wonderful fabric shop called Nomura Tailor and my first branch of Tokyu Hands, a totally brilliant lifestyle, arts and crafts store. I poured over all 5 floors, my hubby is very patient, squealing with delight at the diversity of the products. The Japanese have a wonderful appreciation for hand made.  The store also  have their own café too where I indulged my new passion for anything with green, matcha,tea. Yummy

Reluctantly we left Kyoto, on a bullet train, to Hiroshima. It was somewhere I felt I needed to visit even though  I was slightly dreading what I might find. Yes the atomic bomb sites are deeply moving but the city is friendly, lively and just wonderful. A real life affirming experience. Beautiful carp swam in the moat of the castle and this gorgeous butterfly landed close by, I took it as I sign I was meant to be here.

So what did I bring back from Japan, apart from books and beautiful fabrics, more importantly  I had reaffirmed something about myself and my work. I have always been attracted to the preciseness of Japanese art the clean lines,  elegance and the sometimes eccentricity. In my work I love to be very neat with definite lines, a feeling of quality but I also like to be quirky. I discovered chirimen fabric, a supple crepe with gorgeous texture and colour , it is used to create kimono braids and decorations. This has already found its way into my work with my new Japanese Monarchs. I am currently creating a new sketchbook and my ideas are brimming over.

I hope you get the sense of how much I love this country, its kind, polite people and its endless sources of artistic inspiration. I cannot wait to return and spend more time in this place where I instantly felt at home.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Balancing The Books !

I’ve been putting off writing this for quite a while; I’ve tidied my sock drawer, alphabetised the cd collection and written my Christmas cards, okay the last one is untrue but it gives you an idea of how difficult this is to write.

I have recently taken a step back from stitching and taken a close look at my ‘business’. You see I even find it problematic to call it that, but with the help of the wonderful  Creative Business Network I felt it was time to investigate my earnings and try and separate my love of creating from the need to pay bills.

Embroidery is everything to me, the creative process feeds my soul and without it I feel unfulfilled. But there is something about this creativity lark that seems to make me want to apologise for trying to make a living and worse still undervalue what I do. Guiding me through the process of unpicking costings, Helen at The Creative Business Network was a fresh pair of eyes who ultimately helped me to work out my bottom line. I had a few shocks along the way, perhaps the greatest being that I was paying myself about £3 an hour for some of my pieces.

Why do we find it so difficult to ask for our worth? Why the lack of confidence in our work? I’m sure not everyone has this but I know a lot of my creative friends do. This idea that someone will accuse us of not being worth it, tap us on the shoulder and call us a fake? It’s even got a name ‘imposter syndrome’.  I’ve had a few incidents that have exposed this raw nerve; once at a craft event when an incredulous woman asked me three times how much something was and then brought her family and friends back to my pitch to once again express her astonishment at the ‘huge ‘price tag. It was a brooch for £20 that took me over 2 hours to make. I didn’t respond I just stood there and smiled.
It’s funny isn’t it that those events stay so vivid in the mind whereas all the lovely things that are said get filed away.
So what I am trying to say is I am going to adjust my prices not because I want that holiday in the Maldives or that 3rd luxury yacht but because I’m worth it. I trained for 5 years at Art College and university, I have practised my art and my heart and soul goes into what I do. I am working on confidence and being able to say I’m proud of my work and I’m good at what I do.
I also have incredibly tidy drawers!
The price increase will come into effect on the 1st September, but I will continue to make items to suit a range of pockets.
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Thursday, 9 June 2016

A Butterfly fit for a Queen ?

As you may know I live in a small village on the edge of Exmoor. To celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday it was decided to put on an art exhibition inspired by Her Majesty. I'm not really into portraits or landscapes but I suddenly had a brainwave.
It was mainly thanks to Women's' Hour, a regular companion, that I found out about an amazing lady called Maria Merian. She was an entomologist and artist who travelled from her home in Germany to Suriname in 1699, whilst in South America she studied the native plants and animals. She was one of the first scientists to understand the transformation of caterpillar into butterfly.
Her work was later published in a volume called Metamorphosis Insectorum Suriname. Her original drawings were acquired by George the 3rd and now form part of the Royal Collection. They are currently on display at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. So there's my Royal connection.
I choose the Blue Morpho, using Maria's drawing as inspiration, the first stage was to draw a simplified pattern.
This was then cut out in layers of silk and the raw edges bound with satin stitch. I layered black and white silk and cut through the layers to create the markings on the wing edge.
Next the whole butterfly was covered in a layer of shot organza and the veins on the wings were outlined in free motion embroidery.
I then cut sections away and stitched in a contrasting colour.
I added another layer of organza to achieve real depth in the wings, with lots of free motion embroidery in a variety of coloured threads.
The final stage was hand beading to represent the way light reflects on the iridescent wings.
And here we have the finished piece all ready to show over the weekend. I hope Her Majesty approves!