|Detail from Adam naming the animals.|
Those of us who stitch will know that one of its more convenient sides is that it is transportable and in many cases can be done anytime anywhere. Having grown used to people seeing me stitch in public and on public transport it felt only natural to continue creating during an exhibition of my stump work embroidery (Feb 2017) at the Victoria Gallery in Bath. I spoke with a wide variety of people but it was a London taxi driver who simply could not believe that I was without faith and yet produced such work. To him God’s hand had to be guiding me at some level. I explained that not being a believer in God did not render me helpless and on the contrary it left me free to colour my own world, even on a Sunday.
|Detail from Adam and Eve.|
I never questioned the logic of adding stump work embroidery to the growing list of my skills, thinking only of all the creative possibilities that would open up. I stitched my first stump work sampler as my own way of celebrating sixty years on earth. The depiction of a Hebridean crofter’s paradise surrounded by Scottish thistles. I continued the sampler theme with the very traditional subject of Adam and Eve and found myself reveling in the insect and animal life. My method of working is heavily influenced from years spent painting in oils to now drawing and painting in wool where often little more than a rudimentary composition forms the starting point. The rhythmical nature of the work is not only therapeutic but allows me to surrender myself into a world that is focused in and around the point of the needle, there is no preformed pattern, no question of getting it wrong, simply a question of following the thread.
|Detail from Noah's ark.|
Having started on a biblical theme I then looked for more images within the bible that contained animals and so started the series of six stump work embroideries. Each images took a minimum of three months to complete. Much of Noah’s ark was stitched in Western Australia even during the flight home and as I sat on the cool marble floor of Doha airport the entire cabin crew looked on with admiration and almost disbelief that such a thing could be done by the human hand. My persistence rather than patience saw me continued stitching through a Hebridean summer and into the darker winter months with power cuts and no prayers offered I remained close to the wood burning stove in Brittany. It is often said that an artist must suffer for his or her art and in sitting down for that length of time certainly aggravated my back problem to the point or having a second MRI scan. Now I have learnt to vary my work pattern and make sure I move from studio to garden, get out to the peat bank or walk up onto the moor or down to the sea.
|Detail from Daniel in the lions den.|
My first encounter with stump work was at Cotehele House in Cornwall where in a bedroom whose sumptuous walls hung heavy with tapestries and an oak four poster draped with crewelwork seemed the most deliciously peaceful place to slumber. There opposite the bed hung a 17th century stump work decorated mirror with impossibly fine stitching. Later during my years as an art and antique dealer I lusted over the possibility of acquiring a casket the mecca in terms of stump work but none came remotely near to my price range. So now, having perfected my own technique seemed the right time to produce my own stump work casket. This project took an entire year to complete and by then stitching had become such a way of life and a means or relaxation that I continued for a further six months to produce a second casket.
|Detail from The peaceable kingdom.|
One of the most often asked question is where did you learn to do this work and so I felt I should at least look at a book or these days a U-tube video of how to do stump work. I was transfixed by the beautiful demonstrations, “So that’s how it’s done”. Oh well if I’d know that I doubt I would’ve even attempted such intricacy and I don’t suppose I would have ever discovered my own method of working. Discovery, often through play is an important part of creativity, the odd suggestion from those more knowledgeable can provoke further inspiration but I have always felt that to read the instructions should carry a spoiler alert. I work from observation followed by trial and error, where the errors can often prove equally interesting. So I encourage all those who find themselves laboriously working their way through a cross stitch kitten kit to put it away, buy some canvas and start playing. Putting it simply stitching is all a question of up and down, and the rest depends on what you do between that action, be it moving the needle or twiddling the thread. There may be skill to be admired in that faithful complex copy but time spent in playing someone else’s repetitive games will never see your unique soul step into the light and find the freedom of creativity.
|Detail from The birth of Christ.|