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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)

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 🤣

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.

Snapdragon social

Yesterday marked 32 years since Euan and my first date. I spent time looking through photo albums for a record of that time. There weren’t any photos - I don’t think I had a camera or the cash needed to develop photos back then - but there were a few pressed flowers. ⠀
I don’t know what they were from, I should have labelled them, but they obviously meant enough to keep. ⠀
This photo is of the little brass frame from our Flower Press kit that was the most recent Studio Box. We have a few left packed up and after that it will be repackaged as a more expensive gift version. ⠀
If you were thinking of buying one, either as a one off or as the start of a quarterly subscription you can find out more by clicking the link in my profile.
Poppies are really the best cut flowers. Especially if you are stuck inside and can watch them gradually open. All varieties work - from wild corn poppies to the flamboyant oriental poppies. ⠀
Cut them in full bud, if you can see the petals just about to burst through that’s perfect. ⠀
Sear the bottom inch of stem in boiling water for 5 seconds and then arrange. The lower stem will go black so best in an opaque vase. ⠀
If you recut above the black line you need to re-sear. ⠀
They should last 5 days. 5 days of wonder.
Yesterday was the first hot day, the first day in the garden when I didn’t feel that all my poor plants are shivering and shrinking. ⠀
It was also the first day for weeks that I had completely clear, no plans, no work, nothing but time to potter and plant. Glorious. ⠀
What is your weekend like? ⠀
(Today it is back to being windy but I don’t care as I’m also back at work, prepping everything so that we are ready to send out the magazine part of A Seasonal Way next week)
How do you manage different layers of privacy, vulnerability and messy beginnings online?  I was musing about this yesterday, all the different things I put out into the world - and how I choose where to post them. ⠀
How I choose what to post here, what goes out in my general newsletter, what goes into my Studio Members Newsletter and what gets posted into my (free) closed Facebook Group Snapdragon Studio Bee. ⠀
It’s all subtle stuff, the difference I suppose in what you would talk about in a live interview and what you would chat to the interviewer about later, off the record, over coffee. Both conversations are likely honest and true, but one might still be evolving and feel too unformed, too fragile for public consumption.⠀
I’ve decided to document my beginnings with screen printing in the Snapdragon Studio Bee Facebook Group - it’s a really supportive group and I’ve no fear of judgment in there - if you want to join you would be really welcome. It’s thankfully not a competitive, ego driven group so I think I will feel very comfortable sharing the things that don’t work as well as those that do.
Yesterday was a stressful day.  Our big printer, which does all the textile things, keeled over with a fatal error.⠀
Repair is seemingly not possible, replacement too expensive.  We had to take about 40% of the things we sell off various websites.  It's not ideal.⠀
But after I'd got over the frustration of number crunching and having to cancel orders, it seemed like an opportunity really.⠀
Val and I have been talking about screen printing since the beginning of the year - it is one of the reasons we cleared the workshop so that there is a long central working space.⠀
I want to be able to draw directly on the screens - and play about with the technique a bit, make the results really immediate, sketched, mine.⠀
I've ordered supplies and will be working away playing with the technique over the next week or so.⠀
Sometimes it seems that when I don't move fast enough towards something, fate just seems to create mayhem until there are no other options left but to just ‘do it’. ⠀
Does anyone else find that?
What is your favourite way to make a house a home? 
I'm not a tidy person - my natural persona is more like Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the Cat in the Hat, everywhere I have been, there is a trail of mess left behind. ⠀
When I wanted to leave my job as a museum curator Euan said I could do anything I wanted to, he would always support my decision, as long as I didn't attempt to become a housewife because I would be truly terrible at it.⠀
On Tuesdays though Izabella comes and cleans the house for us (this is why my embroidery morning is a Tuesday, so I can keep out of the way)⠀
Walking back into the house on a Tuesday lunchtime is always such a lovely feeling - the kitchen is tidy, the floors mopped, order is restored.⠀
I try to take advantage of the sense of homeliness by doing some of the things I am good at - arranging flowers, cooking.  Often I do so much of these faffing about domestic things that I have managed to make the kitchen a mess by the time anyone else gets home.⠀
The plum poppies are blooming.  A week late, but here to say happy anniversary Jenny and Jeremy. #ayearinflowers #week24
How tidy are you? Do you like everything out and to hand or do you prefer clear surfaces and blank space?

It’s Tuesday today so that means my embroidery day as I build up a little collection of limited edition works which then go up into the webshop on the last Friday of each month. (Studio members get first dibs and then the link goes into my newsletter later in the day)

I took this photo yesterday afternoon of the bench that is next to my sewing machine. Untidied, un-arranged, but with rather nice light coming in the window. 
There is a half made doorstop, some piles of cut wool to be embroidered and the threads I like to have near at hand. You can see that the wall where I work used to have tiles on it, you can see that I’m neither neat nor organised. 
Showing my day - a 10 second photo, full of reality, potential, and life is what I meant when I talked about doing and Social media last week. 
I welcomed the rain yesterday - it didn't seem so bad to be indoors proofing the final version of the A Seasonal Way magazine.⠀This goes alongside the e-course and community and is at the heart of the whole thing 🌱
It goes to print tomorrow so I need to decide the final numbers today.  I'm not going to be able to print another run, but equally I don't want to be left with lots of copies.⠀
So today is the last day to order to guarantee that your A Seasonal Way has a hard copy rather than a digital copy of the magazine part.⠀
This article is about off grid holidays, why they appeal and what we get from them.  The mug in the background with coffee is by @amandabanhamceramics.⠀
You can find out more about the A Seasonal Way course by clicking through my profile, or in the A Seasonal Way story highlight.  I would love it if you felt you could share about what I'm doing here!  The more people join in, the better the community will be.

About Snapdragon

At Snapdragon we gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

Learn more about why here