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Snapdragon blog

The quest for Mastery

embroidered cushions

I began embroidering the monochrome meadow design that many people associate with me 12 years ago. I have always loved the ways that meadows work - the different heights of the flowers and seedbeds and decaying bosses. I love the way that these little concentrated points of interest are scattered through the chaos of the grasses.

It is the only design that I have returned to week after week, year after year for the last decade or so.

Normally I get bored very quickly - my head crowds with ideas, I have the typical artist's 'shiny object' problem. The next project is always the most exciting.

But it has never been like that with the meadow design. Where the joy in other designs is the process, the high feeling of getting something from my head onto paper or fabric - with the meadow it has always been different. It is an incremental way of working, a move towards mastery.

embroidered cushions

While in many ways I feel that it is a constant, unchanging design - my 'classic signature design' if you like - that isn't actually true.

I used to sell to a wonderful shop called Edwards and Todd (sadly now closed) near to the British Museum and a couple of years ago they sent me a photo of one of my early meadow cushions. It was single layered, sparse, static and very upright. It was still pretty, it was just a very early version, and it showed me just how much the design had evolved and how far my skills had come.

I look at these cushions from 2007 and I can see the tension in my hands and the slight stuttering of the line.

embroidered cushions

The large meadow cushions are embroidered onto 50 cm squares of fulled wool - it is a piece too large to fit flat onto the sewing machine working area so the sides are scrunched up and I can only see the small part that I am working on. Until I take it away from the machine I cannot see the whole design.

The design now is made up of 3 or 4 layers of stitching.

embroidered cushions

The first pass is sewn from right to left, putting in the main focal plants - the cow parsley, the teasels, the tall poppies - building up a rhythm.

The second layer is worked from left to right, adding in the grass, the small flowers like daisies and rattle - this is the layer that knits the design together.

The third layer is about looking at the composition and adding in punch and focal points where needed. It try to keep this as light as possible - I always feel that the more the design is done as a flowing whole, the better it is in terms of reflecting the reality of a meadow.

Each cushion takes about an hour to embroider - a constant buzzing of the needle, a physical manhandling of the wool, an attempt to keep a flow.

embroidered cushions

I found writing this post oddly difficult - not the actual writing, that came easily enough, but the sitting down to write it. I spent two whole days doing other things so that I didn't have to sit down at the computer. I think that it was that I was writing about aiming for mastery. My inner voice saying loudly "was it not a bit presumptuous to talk about mastery, was I not getting above myself a bit?"

This is why I think it is really useful to keep a record of the early versions of designs - even to post them publicly if you are brave - because they can show you how far you move in a really short time.

Yesterday Facebook Memories showed me a pen and ink drawing from 2 years ago. It was from right when I started to draw regularly. - it was really basic, unskilled, flat and slightly embarrassing. But it also showed me how far I have come.

I have written a matching post to this one about how the process of creating something is important - it will be published in the Snapdragon Studio Members' Winter Magazine.

I have been embroidering a small number of these cushions this month and they will be launched tomorrow as a limited edition for Studio Members.

embroidered cushions

Comments: 5 (Add)

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Debbie Down on October 25 2018 at 19:30

I adore mine I’ve had it several years it’s my favourite ever cushion and I have a shop full šŸ¤£

Snapdragon Jane on October 25 2018 at 19:34

Thank you so much Debbie - I'm delighted to hear that, you have made my day. Jx

PennyL on October 25 2018 at 21:18

I’m not able to buy a cushion, but I was only thinking this morning how much I love my bee key ring and beautiful brooch. They give me so much joy and pleasure. Thank you Janexx

Helen Outen on October 26 2018 at 14:19

Jane , your designs and especially your stitchery is always beautiful and inspiring. I was inspired by your floral stuff when I was at college doimg floristry and have always loved your stitched designs. You are a very talented lady.

Fiona on October 26 2018 at 18:23

I love my cushion, and really enjoyed hearing about how it is created. To me it is a special representation of the changing Scottish countryside that I don't always get see.

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