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The beauty of free machine embroidery is, that once you can have mastered it, the world is your oyster and you will only ever be limited by your own imagination.
Spirit of Eve, left, was one such example. About eighteen months ago, I was out walking in the local woods, with my Great Dane, Elvie. A lot of conservation work had been carried out in recent months and much of the ivy climbing up the trees been cut down. In my usual way of walking along, looking at the surrounding colours and textures of the landscape, and not really looking where I was going, I tripped over a piece of ivy root and went flying . ( Nothing unusual in that, I do it all the time, much to Elvie's amusement). However, this time, when I looked down to see what I had tripped over, I was delighted to find this beautifully shaped piece of ivy root lying on the ground. It almost resembled a gate and measured approximately 18" x 13". I took it home, not without some difficulty, (well, if you've ever tried to prise a precious piece of wood from the jaws of a fully grown Great Dane, who thinks it's an exciting new toy, you'll appreciate the problem !!) and left it on the porch roof to dry out and weather for a bit, and of course, promptly forgot all about it.
Some six months or so later, my partner came home on leave and decided to paint the house and, standing on the porch he called out to me (and the rest of the street!), "I suppose this lump of firewood up here is something to do with you." As he handed it down to me, I saw it in a totally new light ... rather than the gate it had first resembled, and which I'd had some idea of using as a plant support, it now took on the shape of a female torso. Several things flashed through my mind in a matter of minutes; I was part of a group, that each year, took over the school at Princetown on Dartmoor for ten days to stage The Moorland Exhibition. Each year, we had a different theme and this year the theme was to be wood. How exciting a project it would be, I thought, to combine wood and embroidery together.
I promptly filled a plastic dustbin with a very strong bleach solution ( 5 litres of bleach to be precise ) and dunked the ivy root in it, well weighted down. This would not only blond the wood beautifully, but also help to kill any little bugs or mites that might still be inside.
Over the next couple of days I got some chicken wire, formed it into a rough torso shape and covered it with several layers of papier mache, using tissue paper, as I didn't want any hard edges.
Next, leaving the papier mache to dry out completely, I removed the wood from the bleach, and placed that in the sunshine to dry.
This done, it was up to the workroom and the sewing machine. I had a large piece of chocolate coloured silk brocade and I spent the whole of the next day free machine embroidering it in gold thread, just going up and down, fairly laboriously, covering it in lines of stitching to resemble bark.
The next stage was then to coat the ivy wood in preservative, I chose clear decking preservative for this, as it goes on like water, gets into every nook and cranny easily, and dries rapidly to a natural finish.
The embroidered silk brocade was then glued to the papier mache structure, left to dry and then anchored to the ivy root with large, (but well hidden) hand stitches, using doubled lengths of embroidery silks and an upholstery needle!!
Now came the decorative details, on which I could really let my imagination run full pelt. Oak leaves in a variety of sizes, and long trails of ivy were free machine stitched on sheer and / or soluble fabrics. I used a combination of rayon and metallic machine embroidery threads for these, in shades of green, copper, brown and gold . These were then stitched into place, again using hand stitching. Finally, more embellishment was added in the form of beads and a variety of decorative wools and fibres.
When it was finished, I showed Steve, my partner, luckily still home on leave, and asked him what he thought of my 'lump of firewood'. He loved it, and asked me what I was going to call it... when I said I hadn't actually got to that point, he immediately came up with 'Spirit of Eve'.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of creating Eve, and am constantly on the lookout for more bits of driftwood or ivy root, though whether or not I'll ever be lucky enough to find such a fabulous and intricate piece as Eve, remains to be seen.
Tracy Curtis offers a range of one and two day workshops on free machine embroidery and silk painting in the West Country and throughout the UK.