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Sherwood Art Week 2022 – The Angel and the Astronaut

A little bit about my two new art works – The Angel and the Astronaut – created for Sherwood Art Week 2022.

I’ve been taking part in Sherwood Art Week “Art in Shops” since I started my business back in 2016. It’s a great opportunity to make something purely for the joy of it, without worrying about whether it’s going to be commercial or not.

Over the last two pandemic years, Art in Shops became Art in Homes and I didn’t take part – mostly because I live a little way out of Sherwood, and I didn’t think people would really want to walk that far as part of the trail. This year, however, we’re back in the shops, and my work will be hanging in the window of Mencap, at 601 Mansfield Road. It feels like an appropriate venue. I have bought plenty of items of clothing from the shop – to deconstruct and re-use in both my cushions and pin cushions.

The Angel

I took my inspiration from a print hanging in our bathroom – John Duncan’s “St Bride and decided I would try making an angel – it’s something that’s been on my list of “things to have a go at” for several years.

Here’s my initial design.

Line drawing of an angel wings outstretched carrying a trumpet

She proved relatively straightforward to translate into fabric – I chose colours and textures that reminded me of stained glass windows and touches of gold and other metallics to echo the richness of religious icons. I found I had some vintage Collier-Campbell curtain fabric that worked beautifully as an ornate frame, and obviously I couldn’t resist adding a ladybird as well.

A picture of an angel made from pieces of fabric

The Astronaut

Originally I was just intending to make one new piece, but as I worked on the angel’s halo, I realised that it was reminding me of something else – an astronaut’s helmet… and that got me thinking about the connection between angels and astronauts, and I decided that I needed to make a pair of pictures.

I re-traced the angel design, swapping her halo for a helmet, and her wings for a spaceship, and there she was – Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space – a real-life angel. Perfect!

Digital drawing of a female astronaut standing in front of a space capsule

Or not so perfect… I quickly learned that – since her ground-breaking flight – Valentina Tereshkova has moved into Russian politics and is quite heavily involved with the Putin regime, supporting the war in Ukraine – which makes celebrating her earlier achievements somewhat problematic. A fallen angel, if you like, but not one that I wanted to recreate in appliqué.

So I had a rethink, removing the Russian insignia from her helmet, and replacing Vostok 6 with the earth. I referred to photos of past astronauts for space suit details, eventually using Helen Sharman – the first Briton in space – as the basis for my design. Somewhere along the way, I decided to replace the earth with the moon – it just worked better with the colours of the fabrics I was using, and buttons make great moon craters! I also had fun inventing a “mission patch” for the front of her spacesuit (ladybirds in space!)

Fast forward through many hours of fabric selection, cutting out, arranging and stitching, and the two pieces are now complete.

Here are some pictures of them. They will be on display in the windows of Mencap – at 601 Mansfield Road – from 25th June until 3 July for Sherwood Art Week 2022.

Find out more about Sherwood Art Week here

If you’d like to watch a little video about the making of each piece, these are available on instagram – the angel and the astronaut

Ordering a bespoke cushion?

Have you ever wondered about ordering a bespoke cushion from me – something meaningful to you, made to your own specifications?

I’m always telling people to get in touch with their specific requirements… Sometimes they’re looking for a particular animal that I haven’t tackled yet. Or a particular breed of dog. Sometimes they’re after something I’ve made in the past, but don’t have in stock when they ask. Other times they know they want a cushion featuring, say, a fox, but they need it in colours to co-ordinate with their existing furnishings, rather than the ones I have in stock.

I give them my business card and tell them to drop me a line to discuss their requirements. And sometimes they do… But often I don’t hear anything further.

So, I thought it might be useful to document how the process works – to take away some of the fear and uncertainty and give people confidence when ordering a bespoke cushion.

1. What’s going to be on the cushion?

It always starts with the subject – this might be an animal type (frog? pangolin?? honey badger???) or it might be your pet – in which case I’m going to need a photo or two! (And it doesn’t have to be an animal – in the past I’ve made cushions featuring flowers, cars and people!)

At this point I will check to see if it’s an animal (or subject) I’ve made before. If it is, I’ll locate photos of previous cushions featuring that animal. If not, we’ll need a new design. In either case I’ll send you a response (hopefully quite quickly) which should include an idea of price and timescale. (To be honest the requirement for a new design doesn’t really affect the price, as I aim to be able to re-use most designs at some point in the future).

At time of writing (August 2021) the price is likely to be somewhere between £45 and £55 for a single animal on a cushion. No payment is required upfront. I only take payment when the cushion is completed to your satisfaction.

2. The design

If we’re using an existing design, I’ll just get you to confirm that you’re happy with the one I have. (Take a look in my gallery to get some ideas). If the design is a new one, then I’ll get drawing… and erasing and re-drawing… and eventually I’ll send you a first draft.

I’ll ask you to be brutally honest with your feedback. Should it have a longer nose? or smaller ears?? Are you happy with the orientation of your animal? Should it be front-facing rather than sideways on? Is it taking up enough of the cushion front? Did you want to see more of the body? (I’m always hoping not – feet seem to be a problem area for me!)

Depending on what you say there may be re-drafts… Until we reach something you’re happy with.

Line drawing of a wire-haired dachshund
Initial draft

Line drawing of a wire-haired dachshund with a large moustache
Second draft
Line drawing of a wire-haired dachshund with a longer beard
Final draft

3. Fabric choices

For the animal, I will often suggest something naturalistic – by which I mean animal-like colours. I still try to use as many different patterns and textures as I can find within that colour palette. Then I’ll cut your animal out of fabric and assemble him or her – usually on a piece of plain paper, so you can check you’re happy with it. I can still change any of the fabric pieces at this stage.

Fabric collage of a dachshund made from a variety of tweed fabrics

Next it’s the fun bit – choosing a background. I’ve got literally hundreds of different pieces of fabric we could use. Hopefully you’ll have given me an idea of what you’re after – blues? florals?? something geometric??? If not, I’ll just send a selection of things I think work well with your animal and we’ll take it from there. We might need to go back and forwards several times before we find something you love.

A grid of nine images each showing the same applique penguin, but with a different background in each image

4. Assembly and payment

Once you’ve made your decisions, it’s all down to me to sew your cushion cover together. Of course, we do also need to select a fabric for the cushion back, but I usually restrict this to something a little plainer and offer a choice of half a dozen (or so) options. Once all the sewing’s done, I’ll send you a photo of the completed cushion, and – if you’re happy with it – request payment. If you’re not happy, you can walk away at this stage (or at any stage throughout the process). I’ll probably still complete the cushion, but just put it up for sale to the general public via my etsy store.

A cushion cover appliques with a picture of a sheep with curly horns

I think that covers everything. If you’ve got any questions, stick them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. Maybe I’ll hear from you about ordering your own bespoke cushion one day!