Brown Lipped Snail

I have always wanted to have a go at embroidering a snail but shied away from the challenge. Finally I managed to get a photo that I thought would work well:

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I know that snails aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I couldn’t resist that little face! I have named him Solomon.

First the sketch:

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And then the embroidery:

The stitch direction proved to be difficult, getting the curves to go the right way to give a three dimensional image caused a reasonable amount of unpicking.

But finally he is finished:

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Measuring 8x8cm he is my most ambitious piece to date and I am quite proud of him. But just to show the not so pretty side here is a gratuitous #Hoopbutt shot:

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If not love and respect, foresight?

Within our village we have a beautiful nature reserve, Magor Marsh, run by the Gwent Wildlife Trust. As a family we visit on a nearly weekly basis. I find it an amazing source of inspiration and my children learn about the diversity of wildlife that live within the reserve. The site has recently reintroduced water voles with great success, an animal that has been pushed close to extinction in recent days.

During a visit to Marshy Monday last summer we stumbled on a grass snake while walking through the hay meadow. It stayed still enough for us to take a good close look and for me to take a quick snap with my mobile:

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Grass snake at Magor Marsh

I was quite proud when this photo came second in the Gwent Wildlife Photographic competition.

Using silk floss thread gives a beautiful shine to your work and I thought it would work well for snake scales. And so I started my most challenging piece so far.

I was a bit apprehensive about this piece but actually it was enjoyable, I could break it down and treat each scale as a miniature embroidery. I was tempted to stop halfway through as I loved the way to snake was gradually emerging from the picture and coming to life.

Here is the finished piece:

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Grass snake

The title of this blog came from a recent meeting I attended at the marsh to discuss the proposed M4 relief road. A proposition for a six lane motorway that will cost £1.2b, cut through four SSSI areas (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and damage protected species populations and their habitats. Gwent Wildlife Trust has already received a compulsory purchase order for a section of Magor Marsh which could threaten protected species such as the water vole and otter. The entire proposal which cuts across the Gwent Levels could also damage the delicate drainage system that ensures many villages do not flood. An alternative route has been suggested that would not cut through the levels and would cost a fraction of the price, £340m, however this proposal was not even considered.

It seems to me that we are all told that we must reduce our carbon footprint, care for our environment and our history and protect our delicate eco-system, but if it means getting more cars to Cardiff 10 minutes quicker these ideals are thrown out of the window. Even if you do not love and respect our land and wildlife, we must have some foresight for future generations.

Wood Ant

I have managed to finish two pieces since my last blog, that is fast work for me!

The first piece was of a wood and (later named Alexei) based on a photo I took in Wentwood Forest. Here is the original:

Wood ant original

I had been experimenting with some macro filters and I loved the colours of the ant’s body. Here is the embroidered work:

Wood Ant
Hand embroidered wood ant

I know that ants aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, they aren’t as mysterious as spiders, or as lovable as bees but if you look up close there is beauty in everything. The way the light is reflected in its eye, the delicate antennae, the way each leg is made up of so many separate joints. It is so easy to take the little things for granted but sometimes it pays to stop and really look.

My second piece was based on a photo I took of a grass snake at Magor Marsh. I will write about this in a separate blog as there is much to say…

Instagram

There are so many social media platforms out there and all have their own merits, however, I am very guilty of trying to maintain a presence on everything available. I have even tried periscope but I’m not sure if it works in the miniature embroidery world.
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Facebook is great for keeping friends and family up to date with my work but trying to increase my audience has proved difficult. Twitter has a great craft community but I have no idea how someone who follows 13k people ever works out which posts to read. Tumblr, Flickr, Google+, YouTube, snapchat, swarm, Blogger, Pinterest, WordPress……arrgghh! If I try and work all platforms my brain will truly be frazzled, and I have been guilty of prioritising social media over actual work.
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Lately I have been spending a lot of time on Instagram, I have had an account for a couple of years but never really paid it any attention. But there is something about it that just fits. I am not the greatest writer or mathematician, my brain works in pictures, if I have to do sums I picture dice or dominoes (at the risk of sounding like a primary school student!)
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I am still getting the hang of picture composition and all of the available tools (although I will only use filters on non embroidery related photos, if I am trying to show my work I will mostly just adjust the brightness). But what I love is the interaction. It doesn’t take long to catch up with your feed and pictures will just jump out at you, inspiring, encouraging and brightening your day.

And the people, oh, they are lovely! Like @modernbotanics @celiahartartist and @leighannanewell to name a few. Fellow crafters on Instagram are encouraging when you are having a wobble, they are full of knowledge and advice and the range of skills is just mind blowing. There are collaborations and art swaps in the pipeline, and enquiries regarding commissions. You can join in on hashtags like #dailysketchbookgroup and #tfispring and all of this creates a friendly, online community.

Unfortunately Instagram has recently changed it’s policy and apparently will no longer show your feed by most recent. We all have fears that this could affect continuity and disjoint the sense of community but we will have to wait and see.
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So, I have this here little blog (although I know I am not a frequent blogger), and I have instagram, and for the time being that is where I am planning on focusing my social media attempts. Please come and join me at @vkmatthewson

Update

This blog is long overdue, I know, but here is a quick update.

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As you may remember, back in January I was off up to Liberty’s to show my work at their 2016 open call. I won’t bore you with too many details as the day was long, very long. After about five or six hours of queuing I sat down in front of two lovely representatives from Liberty’s jewellery department (I know I should have taken their names but I was so flustered my brain went to mush). With all of my drama training you would think I would be good a presenting but this was different, it was very personal to me. I found myself gabbling through my prepared presentation and almost hurling my pieces at them. (I had been told before that they were keeping very strictly to the four minute time slot). Still, They were very positive about my work and said they could see the craftsmanship that had gone into them but, as I could have predicted, it all came down to my old enemy: pricing.

I had set out my cost prices being completely honest to the formula: materials + Labour + 5% overheads + 20% profit. But then of course with their markup (Something like x 2.75) we were looking at selling each piece for over £200 and for that they said they would expect solid gold or silver frames. It is a fair point. They did go on to suggest trying another well respected shop to approach so I believe they thought there was something in my work that could fit in given the right audience.

So, where do I go from here? I have looked at sterling silver frames and found a good supplier, but as they are really designed for semi-precious stones I found it difficult to insert the embroidery. I had to adapt the designs as I couldn’t find exact shapes:

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This is one way forward. Another way is to look at how I can reduce that cost price. I won’t pretend that each piece can be done in an hour, it can’t, on average I spend between 4-6 hours on each piece. I don’t want to simplify the embroidery as this is my Unique Selling Point. So, I am working on some smaller pieces again.

A simpler image in a smaller frame was where I started and would always draw the most interest at craft fairs. I am still making the larger pieces, in the bigger frames, as sometimes I need to think outside the tiny box.

In my next blog I will talk about Instagram and the amazing community of craft people I am getting to know there. I have already drawn inspiration from joining in with the #dailysketchbookgroup which has led to these new designs:

There is such a warm craft community out there, even my six hours queuing at Liberty’s was made enjoyable by my queue buddies Claire Gaudion and Half Cut Candles

 

2016

I am trying to put on a harder business hat this year. I have been told by many people, from other small business owners to actual customers who have just purchased my work, that I am not charging enough. I have struggled with this a lot, the urge to start paying off some of my initial outlay has led me to put prices so low that I end up paying myself less than minimum wage and not making any profit.

It is very easy to become scared of pricing. After doing a basic Etsy search for ’embroidered pendant’, the average price seems to be between £20-£25. I am at a loss as to how anyone can make a profit at this price.

To start this year I am working on five new designs after being introduced by Mother Eagle to embroidered jewellery frames by Kailea on Etsy.

2016 designs

The designs are inspired by my love of autumn but looking forward to the hope of spring and summer. I am also using a more stylized design, after doing some sketches inspired by Celtic artwork I am employing a much more free technique, I am loving the swirl.  I start with a curl to fit the jewellery shape and then see where it takes me.

Here is what I have done so far:

I had started on the field bindweed design but I wasn’t satisfied with it so I have gone back to the sketch.

This Saturday I am off to Libertys to attend their open call. I am not really going with the idea of getting my work stocked, I think it will be a great opportunity to get some professional advice. Can I really charge the amount I need to (probably nearer the £80-£90 mark) or do I need to completely rethink my work. I am extremely nervous, I can’t completely get the thought of being laughed out of the room out of my head. Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Wish me luck!

She Shed

Now we are right in the middle of the busy Christmas period, with two very excited children, I find that work has come to a grinding halt. I keep on looking out of my window, through the fourth consecutive day of torrential rain, at my little office.
During the summer I decided that my sewing was taking over the house and needed a home of its own. So, with hammer and drill in hand, and the best neighbour you could ask for, we started building the summerhouse I had bought.

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Having never put up a structure bigger than a pop up sun tent I was grateful for my neighbours experience and assistance.

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After a few days of work my office was complete, next I treated the wood and set about painting.

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I was so excited to move my work in. We had an old rug under the stairs that I cleaned up and put down to add some insulation, an old garden table was revarnished and fits perfectly and other charity shop finds have made it quite cosy.

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I love working out here, I actually feel like I’m leaving home to go to work. I am a little concerned about damp and I would like to get electricity linked up (at the moment I am limited to trailing an extension lead from the house.) I don’t keep anything of value out there as security is difficult.

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It can be chilly but once I get my heater going it is very cosy. Next year I am aiming for curtains and insulation.

Update

I have now finished the Honeysuckle which is framed and available for purchase in my Etsy shop or my Folksy shop if you prefer.

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In total this piece took me 6 months and many tears!

I recently had a stall at a local Christmas Fair, my initial thought was to show the prints and cards that I have had made of my work to get some feedback, but I also thought it would be a good opportunity to sell the last of my jewellery. Well, I wasn’t expecting the response I got, not only did I sell more jewellery than ever before with really lovely feedback but my spider also found his forever home.

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Prints of the spider are still available in my online shops.

I am now considering my next piece, I love the idea of doing more insects, perhaps a dragonfly. I am also considering trying to create a piece of embroidery based on the photo I took of a grass snake which recently came 2nd in the Gwent Wildlife photography competition.

At some point remind me to show you my new office.

Honeysuckle progress

Just a quick post to show you how I’m getting on with the honeysuckle. The main flower is finally finished. I am having a few puckering problems but hopefully I can stretch them out when I mount it. I need to keep my hoop drum tight.
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Being a full time Mum it can be very difficult to find the time to set up and focus on the fine silk work during the six week summer holiday. To keep my fingers supple I have drawn up a practice piece that I can pop in a handbag and work on without using the magnifying lamp. The design is based on a Celtic shield boss found in the Thames, Wandsworth.
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After doing a lot of family research recently, I have managed to get back to 1726 and, while I do have Scottish and Welsh blood, I am predominantly English. As a Celtic race this has led me to start researching original Celtic art, I am very excited to visit the Celtic Art exhibition at the British Museum over Christmas.

Honeysuckle

So, I have been dipping in and out of embroidering my small tortoiseshell butterfly, however, whilst waiting for my daughter at a swimming party I decided to re-read the book ‘Long and short stitch embroidery’ by Trish Bur, a book I have read many times but not picked up for awhile. It dawned on me that I had got lazy, I had skipped several steps that are there to help me as well as improve the final look of the piece.

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If you look closely you can probably see that I forgot to split stitch the edge of the wing before starting, this has meant that I haven’t got a sharp image. I also didn’t bother to mark stitch direction lines so moving from one colour to the next has got a bit confused.

This has been a good exercise in keeping my mind sewing and seeing how taking the time to do these extra little bits of process can improve the image.

Right, I am going to start from the beginning and try not to skip steps.

I am going to use this honeysuckle photo as a start for a new piece, the focal point is a bit confused but i can work with it:

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I started with the drawing, improvising the rest of the picture with some leaf and berry photos:

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I haven’t got my paints out for many, many years but I found this great fun. Acrylics:

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I am using a silk/cotton blend of fabric and backing the piece with cotton. To transfer the image onto the silk I use a lightpad, I love this pad, before I had this I would be rushing to the patio doors every time the sun came out:

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Then, finally, I have wrapped a wooden hoop with cotton to protect the fabric and stretched the image drum tight:

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Deep breath, what to do now, direction lines….