I have been pondering this blog for a very long time, I suppose I have been anxious about getting it just right. It is a sensitive subject but it is one we all face in time, losing a loved one. One minute they are by our side and the next they are gone; we all deal with it differently, there is no right or wrong.
Our senses stimulate incredible emotions, the sight of a photograph, the smell of a book, the feel of a woolly jumper, the sound of a song or taste of a certain meal. From personal experience I know that it only takes the smell of newly cut grass to conjure memories of dad and I always ‘have a chat’ with mum when I am using her recipes.
An interesting article in the Telegraph looks at how smell and memory are interrelated. The part of our brain that processes smell also stores our memories. When we smell something we have stored with a memory, the memory is retriggered. Do go and read it here if you get the chance.
Fabrics in particular can do this. Molecules of aroma are absorbed into the fibres so when we nestle our faces into that beloved jumper precious recollections of our loved one flood back. It could be the scent of a certain washing powder or lingering pipe tobacco that stirs the memories.
When we feel and see items of clothing, images of our loved one wearing them are provoked, a chance to reminisce. This was exactly what a recent customer, Tracey, wanted for her husband when his beloved brother, Terry, unexpectedly passed away; the opportunity to treasure his memory, to celebrate a life well lived but taken too soon. However, she didn’t want a cushion or a quilt created with his clothing but a picture of a Cornish tin mine on our rugged coastline.
Terry was a miner at South Crofty and by all accounts he was larger than life. Just read the piece above about him in Dan Williams’ book, Rowing with my Wife. It was quite obvious how much he loved his home county of Cornwall, from gig rowing and the Cornish Pirates to singing with The Falmouth Marine band and The Oggy Men
So I wasn’t surprised when Tracey delivered a parcel containing his Cornish tartan scarf, a Pirates rugby shirt, a gig rowing vest and Hawaiian shirt! As we were in the midst of lockdown our discussions were conducted via Messenger and the preferred sketch was chosen. I loosely based it on Wheal Coates, which is on the cliff top between Porthtowan and St Agnes
Now at first glance some of the fabrics were not particularly conducive to creating the headland scene, so I let it all percolate for a couple of days until inspiration arrived.
Rather than dissecting all the items I felt it was important to keep recognisable sections like the rugby shirt and tartan prominent; the jigsaw started to come together.
Choosing the right palette of thread is really important, the tones need to be grouped together to visualise the section about to be sewn.
I was adamant that I would only use the textiles that I had been provided with rather than supplement with shades of green fabric, so used copious layers of free motion embroidery to create the appearance and texture of the clifftops. A smidgen of each fabric was left visible beneath the stitching to ensure its original source was identifiable, maintaining its authenticity.
The depths and shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean were broken into layers using the rowing vest and denim shirt with the Hawaiian shirt providing perfect detail for breaking waves on the headland. Movement was created with yet more free motion embroidery.
The gold and black of the Pirates shirt was used to reflect dense gorse bushes and the path that leads up to the heritage site (there has been a mine there since 1692). This particular mine building opened in 1802 and to create it I used the checked shirt with stitching for the brickwork and shading. The two pink shirts would become the glorious banks of thrift (sea pinks). The tartan was cut so the colours could define the light and shade of the wild and rugged hillside, the frayed selvedge was perfect for windswept grasses.
I had a moment and paused before stitching the headland, should I really cover up all the glorious tartan? After all from what I had heard Terry was a passionate Cornishman, as is Ray, for whom this picture was for. I knew what I wanted to do but it wasn’t going to be hanging on my wall. The joy of creating a one off piece is that you can contact the customer and chat through design considerations and in this case they left the decision to me so the headland remained true tartan!
Thirty hours and thousands of stitches later I decided to step away from the machine, always a tricky decision, when is it enough? When is it finished? Will another layer of stitches help to define that bank?
No, I was satisfied so on the hand stitching of flowers to add greater depth and detail with hundreds of French knots.
Tracey wanted the picture mounted on a map of the area so I sourced a fabulous vintage edition which featured South Crofty. She wanted to get it framed herself to match their other artwork so the picture was handed over in time for Ray’s birthday. Tracey was delighted, she said "thank you sooo much, you're amazing and I luv it". But the important question is did Ray like his birthday present? He said "Excellent job" and I'm happy with that!
Thank you to Tracey, Ray and Terry’s family for allowing me to share this story