Wednesday, 11 November 2015

More Bird Portraits...

Curlew. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

Back in September I wrote a post about the work I'd been making to sell in Gallery Artemis in Cockermouth. One of my bird portraits was then featured in Cumbria Life's Christmas gift guide and I was happy to learn that I had sold several of the pieces I'd made and the gallery owner asked me for more.

Bluetit. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

Nuthatch. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

Blackbird. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

I really enjoy making these pieces, it is like drawing with the sewing machine and I love the quality of line it produces. Because of this I had been continuing to make these portraits and so when I was asked for more pieces I already had several ready. In this post I thought I'd share a bit about the inspiration and stories behind the pieces.

Young hooded crow on the beach, Oban 2015

Hare in the grass, Islay 2015
Female Blackbird, Lake Carda, Italy 2015

The starting point is observing the birds, I've been interested in birds since I was a child and it's something that I've really started to get back into in the last few years. I am fascinated by them, their movement, their patterns, their characters. I do try and draw them 'from life' but because they are almost always on the move this is often difficult so the next step is to collect photographs and images and draw from these.

Sketching from life

Work stretched in an embroidery hoop

To create the embroidered pieces I first sketch out a rough outline on the linen using a fabric marker that disappears in air (usually after a few hours, depending on the fabric.) This helps me get the proportions correct because I only work on a section of the bird at a time as I need to keep the fabric stretched out in a frame to prevent it distorting too much.

Young Hooded Crow. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

Robin. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

Once I've drawn my rough outline I stretch the fabric in an embroidery hoop and start stitching, using a darning foot on the machine and with the feed dog lowered. It's a bit like drawing by moving your paper rather than your pencil. It's a bit odd at first but good once you get the hang of it. I like the fluidity of line this process can create (it's similar to my continuous line drawings) and for me the challenge is to capture the character of the bird without over working the piece. I often cut sections of stitching out and rework them until I am happy. One of the things I love about sewing is that if you don't like it you can just unpick it and start again! When the pieces are finished I press them and then mount them on cardboard mounts, ready for display.

Hare in the Grass. Machine embroidery on linen 2015

Hare detail

Several of the pieces I've created this time were inspired by our holiday on Islay. As well as lots of birds we saw lots of hares so I decided to branch out and have a go at a hare this time as well as birds. We'd seen a hare crouching in the grass just behind our cottage and I'd managed to get a quick photograph before he spotted us and bounded off and I used this as the starting point for my embroidery.

My piece featured in Cumbria Life's Gift Guide

My piece featured in Cumbria Life's Gift Guide

So, if my choice of birds sometimes seems a little odd it is usually just that I like to work with birds that I have seen and am familiar with. The nuthatch, for instance, we saw on a lovely walk in Gelt woods a few weeks ago. If you'd like to see these pieces 'in real life' then Gallery Artemis is a lovely place to visit. Yvette is very friendly and the gallery has a wide range of work by lots of talented artists and crafts people and there's always something new to see.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! I enjoyed making all the pieces but I'm really pleased with the curlew.