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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

I spent a lot of the weekend in the studio - sorting more, painting more, gently transforming it into what will be a light-filled  creative space. ⁠⠀
Part of that is getting all my fabrics out of the boxes in the shed/garage/attic where they were banished while the space was a production workshop.⁠⠀
⁠⠀ I was wondering whether you would be interested in seeing it as a work in progress, in all its unfinished mess? ⁠⠀
Or whether you like to just see the pretty finished, tidied, end result?
A couple of years ago at a festival, I was chatting to someone about food and he told me that his family had recently decided to eat meat only at weekends. 
It seemed such a sensible solution, so civilised and doable - to move from the tokenism of ‘meat free Mondays’ to tip the balance the other way. 
Since then that’s pretty much what we’ve done too. 
As my personal meat consumption has gone down the opportunities to  buy carefully reared local meat direct from the farmer have increased and now, as well as an excellent local butcher in Drymen, we can buy beef from our immediate neighbours @duncan.family.farms, slow reared pork from Craigievern farm across the road.  I get amazing hogget from my friend Sarah @mogwaii_design who sends it by Royal Mail from Lismore and goat from my friend @katgoldin in Port of Menteith. 
I say hello to this bull most days as we walk past - he usually stares back for a few seconds and then returns to gazing out over the hills, part of the landscape.
Do you have a favourite door, or is it just me? ⁠⠀
I see this door most days - it is on a neighbour's disused barn, the door from the barnyard out onto the farm road.⁠⠀
It seems perfect to me - just enough weathering, just the right colour.  It always makes me smile as I pass.⁠⠀
There is a weather warning out for the weekend - gales and rain are forecast. ⠀
Today I will be doing 2 things. ⠀
I shall be bringing some snowdrops into the house to appreciate them in the dry. ⠀
I shall be taking a flask of soup⠀
On a long walk at lunchtime. ⠀
What are you doing today?
Simplicity is what I'm craving this week - how about you?⁠⠀
I feel like that springy pause on the ball of a foot before jumping.⁠⠀
Green glass and white flowers in low spring light.
Do you remember the flower fairies? Cicely Mary Barker’s floral figures, each with a poem?  The snowdrop one was called Fair Maids of February. 
My Mum was very into the flower fairies, a bathroom was wallpapered with them, the painted walls hung with decorated flower fairy plates. For a lot of my childhood she was working on a cross stitch of the ‘bramble fairy’. Decades later I saw a beautiful blotchy lithograph in a friend’s kitchen - also called Fair Maids of February- by the early C20th artist Lily Blatherwick which I found via google images last night. 
At the moment my snowdrops certainly look more like her hail blasted ones than the demure fairy.
What do you have planned for February? ⠀
I said at the beginning of the year that February was going to be my January this year. I knew by then that January was going to be an emotional month, a cluttered month, a bit brain foggy as I tried to work my way through shrinking Snapdragon down to its core. ⠀
And I was right. I’m typing this sitting in a hotel bed in London after an amazingly restorative couple of days with Euan and my girls, listening to music, meeting friends, seeing art and eating so, so well. It took me right away from all the stuff in my head. ⠀
Sitting here with my coffee, I am completely clear headed and can exactly see where I’m going. And it is exciting. It is very exciting. ⠀
The photo is of my reclaimed machine embroidery threads newly sorted into old wooden seed trays - for years they had been jumbled and tangled into random boxes unusable, unseen. ⠀
This weekend I head down to London - to see my girls and to watch the inspirational @marychapincarpenter sing at The Cadogan hall.⁠⠀
On our hall wall we have written in big block letters her words - 'Why Walk When You Can Fly?'. ⁠⠀
It is what I see as I head out for the day. ⠀
The word I have chosen for the year is 'Soar'. ⁠This morning things feel scary but also as though they are coming together in some way. ⁠⠀
It has been a weird month, it has been a weird year if I'm honest. My ears are ringing. ⁠⠀
Things changed a bit at work yesterday and now I am back to being a Company of One.⁠⠀
I am cool with that. I'm refusing to see it as a diminishing.  I feel that I'm doing my best work ever - bigger is rarely best. ⠀
Snapdragon Life continues - just with fewer coffee cups on the rack.⁠⠀
I wrote about the story of Snapdragon for a newsletter that goes out this morning and now I'm packing up my train snacks, walking the dog and am headed off to spend time with the people I love best in the world.⁠⠀
(you can also catch a lot of the story in an episode of @me_and_orla's Hashtag Authentic podcast that was broadcast last year)⁠⠀

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