A Fit Bird

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Dishing the dirt

OK, so it’s time to ‘fess-up and dish the dirt on all that I have been avoiding – and here I am talking about the things that I have been stepping around as if they were both odious and frightening: things that keep me awake, that play on repeat, that torture and torment me when they think that no one else is looking or listening in.

Of course, there are many of these (and I have no doubt that you possess your own fair share of devious miscreants you would like to ignore or outrun) but I have decided ‘in the nature of taking things slowly so as not to scare the tiny bird of courage away’ to start with one: my newsletter. It is an issue that I have been evading, posting bits of writing as and when they come but neglecting to show you my actual art as it develops and progresses. There is a reluctance to be vulnerable, to expose myself to the thoughts, feelings, whimsies and opinions of other people, in case they don’t match up and hurt me. And it occurred to me the other day that this was actually rather sad and something I will come to regret.

So, in a bid to reduce the measure of that remorse as and when it arrives, I have decided to begin at once and make a start. And while I might not feel ‘officially’ ready, because my website is still in progress: I am aware that it is going to be growing for quite some time, so I may never catch up. Besides, it’s about time I took my own advice. I am constantly gently pushing and encouraging others; I need to now take those steps myself.

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A leap of faith

Why is it important to document and share? After all, it’s intensely personal, entails risk and presents you naked and vulnerable to the world on mass. And when you put it like that, it sounds positively scary: something to avoid at all costs. And yet, somehow, it’s not.

From my point of view, documenting will be like building a time capsule; my newsletter serving as the all-important container. It will allow me to look back and remember and to observe both my evolution and my development along the way. It will illustrate the transition from blank to full, simultaneously revealing how each fresh piece came to life, gaining a story and a soul. And it will clear up the issue of just how long each one takes, resolving the mystery which has come to haunt me like a dinner-impatient dog, pestering the heels of my meticulous and details-oriented mind.

From your perspective, on the other hand, which is arguably more important as you are the one reading this: it will hopefully unveil the particulars behind what I do, showing you how I go about it and thus encouraging similar imaginative forays and bold adventures on your side. I’m also hoping you will post pictures, sharing with me your achievements and your mistakes, and feel confident enough to put up your hand and ask when some extra help or advice is needed.

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Love thy neighbour

We live in far too isolated a world and our separateness creates so many unnecessary problems within the smaller circle of our lives. It is important, therefore, to protect ourselves; to have a network – a sibling, a soulmate, a best friend, a mentor, an advisor, a therapist, a parent, a partner, a spouse, a much older and wiser someone to turn to when things don’t work out, when we are scared or alone, etc… And they don’t have to be related or real. I have people who fill those roles for me and they come in many shapes, sizes and guises. My dog is one of them, even if she isn’t technically a person. My grandmother too, despite having passed away. I speak to them both and always they reply, although I might have to be patient and open to the signs, willing to read beyond the obvious for the advice underneath.

I hope that creatively I can be there for you, providing whatever you, in that moment, require.

I also want to encourage creative confidence and growth in as many people as possible. It is my wish for everyone to have a tool to turn to when they need something solid and safe to hold on to, something they can rely on when everything else appears to have let them down: when the world is still afloat, still rushing by, but when they themselves are sinking.

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Smile, you’re on camera

Below is a photo journal of my latest piece, featuring a flamingo. “Why a flamingo?” I hear you ask. “Well, flamingos are bright, bold and silly little birds and they remind me of summer.” Sometimes, that’s all the encouragement you need.

Alternatively, you can use the following links to:

View the rest of my work (i.e. my online gallery/portfolio)
Adopt a piece (what the heck is this?)
Commission your own bespoke creation (how do I do this? I’m intrigued)

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A proper tangle: day one

Selecting a colour palette

Each time I begin a new piece, I start by selecting a colour palette. Looking to my emotions for assistance, I let my heart do the picking, trying to stay out of the way, going with my gut. If for some reason I feel guided towards colours that clash or combinations I usually dislike, I don’t resist: I unravel, wind and cut. It is important to me that the entire process is organic, that it comes from deep inside, from the place where my creativity lives and thrives.

A bird by any other name: day two

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Destined to be a flamingo

This piece was destined to be a flamingo; I knew this from the beginning, before I even put needle to thread. Some friends here on the island (Mallorca, if you are unfamiliar with my background) have just opened a boutique and, obsessed with flamingos, built their brand around the leggy redhead. Never having written about, drawn, sewn or knitted a flamingo in any shape or form, I was curious as to the challenge it might present and intrigued to see how something I wouldn’t necessarily have selected might translate. This is the bird as it came off my needles, before it really resembled anything: a strange pink shape with various bits sticking out, camel-like in appearance. At this point, I am unsure about it, undecided as to whether I like it and whether it is good enough to be kept. But, abiding by my own rules – those of going with the flow, allowing, keeping, refraining from condemning or counting as a mistake – I am determined to stand by it. To do otherwise, would be a betrayal of myself, breaking the bond I am trying so hard to forge.

Sexy pins: day three

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It’s quirky and I like it

My flamingo is beginning to take shape, looking more and more like it should, developing a presence and a personality. It’s quirky and I like it. I have forgiven it for yesterday, when I was doubting the success of the venture and the ability of my hands. They know what they are doing and I should know better than to question the silent dialogue they share with my head. I may not be privy to the words or the message, but the physical statement is clear: when I allow, it usually works; when I interfere, it gets tangled up and eventually breaks. Standing back, trusting, waiting, listening to the stitches….. this is the way to proceed. 

So, what is there to report?

Well, first up my flamingo has an eye. It is pale blue in colour and matches the sky. It’s not what an actual flamingo’s eye looks like (they are yellow and beady with pinprick pupils) but I liked this one better, lit has more warmth and depth. In reality, flamingos are a bit spooky; they give me the creeps.

Next, comes the beak. It is made out of variegated sock yarn, which means it changes in colour as you knit, creating a pattern – sometimes complex, sometimes simple. It is pink in colour. It looks a bit sinister at the moment. Dare I say a bit fallic? But I have faith that it will soften with the addition of some shiny bits.

And finally, the legs: the pièce de résistance; for what is a flamingo without its legendary pins? – they are, after all, it’s most distinguishing feature. They need them to wade through deep water to get to the fish. And also to balance. What you think are their knees, are actually their ankles. Don’t believe me? Read this. Anyway, back to the point. I used the same variegated sock yarn here as before and allowed the wool to dictate the colour. I think they worked out rather well, considering I made them up. At any rate, my camel now looks like a bird.

All that shimmers: day four

This piece gets more exciting each day and I am enjoying watching it grow. As I add to it, I slowly warm to it and fall in love. This part of the process is vital: for without emotion, there is no creation; when I hate a piece, I find it almost impossible to work on it; like reading a boring book, it drags, every moment agony.

Today I added beads and sequins, which, as you can imagine, took a long time. It also required a good deal of patience. But I find the process of accessorising quite therapeutic as it allows me to zone out, disappearing into my head.

Redeeming features

And my beak has redeemed itself, as I knew that it would. It’s almost crown-like in appearance: a tiara encrusted with jewels, making my flamingo look royal, a creature with a distinguished roots. Does that make me, its mother, blue-blooded too? Or is something bigger than me to credit for its aesthetic demeanour: the Universe, God, ancestral spirits, Mother Nature, elves, fairies, etc…?

I spend the rest of the day adding to various parts, working slowly so as not to overdo it. I have a tendency to crowd a piece and I am trying to remedy this: pulling back, listening before responding, waiting for the inner message to emerge, giving myself up to the process.

Fly by night: day five

Next comes the wing, a vital accessory, necessary for both beauty and movement. After all: a bird without wings is like a spider without legs.

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A spider without legs

Interestingly, the common assumption is that flamingos can’t fly. I, too, believed this. And why not? They look too big, too heavy. Their legs are too long. However, thanks to Google and an article on the anatomy of said bird, I have now been set straight. Flamingos do indeed fly, it’s just not a widely known fact because they mostly fly at night and we don’t see them. They also aren’t actually pink. Their colour varies, depending on the foot they eat. The more Beta Carotene, the deeper the pink. Conversely, flamingos that are white are malnourished and sick. So, if you see an alabaster flamingo, don’t just admire it, simultaneously documenting it and posting it on all of your social networks: take out your mobile and phone the R.S.P.A or your respective country’s equivalent. Otherwise, it might die. 

This wing took me several hours and is all I have to report. The rest of my time was spent on another piece, which contains a rainbow frog and a pink-haired fairy standing in a meadow underneath a cloudy moonlit sky. With a pastel palette and lots of beads and sequins, it is very colourful and shiny.

Anyway, I think the wing worked, adding an element that was missing. It needed something to balance it out. So far it has been all head and leg. The wing makes it feel more complete, like a story with a middle as well as a beginning and an ending.

Luscious locks: day six

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More fictional in nature

Applying hair made me laugh. Technically, a flamingo doesn’t have any hair, but I wanted mine to have more character than the real thing and to be more fictional in nature. It’s like fairies: as far as one can prove, they don’t exist, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t or that I can’t choose to remain open to the possibility that they might. After all, who am I to say? Believing in Father Christmas got me presents; The Tooth Fairy, cash. And anyway, life is better that way: more mystical and less daunting. If one believes in fairies, then one can believe in fairy godmothers and magic and bad things going away. It’s the same with my flamingo: if she has wings, she can fly; if she has hair, she can look pretty and secure a prince, and, if I am lucky enough to meet her, even in my dreams, perhaps we can talk? After all: if she has one made up thing, there’s no reason why she can’t have others. 

I also carefully cut around my flamingo with sharp scissors and stitched her onto a larger piece of felt. Now she is centre stage, ready for the rest of her narrative.

Will it be day or night? Will the weather be foul or favourable? Where will she be: the beach, the city, the forest, a meadow, etc…? Will she have companions? If so, who? And what will be her underlying message? All of my pieces have a story to tell about something that is happening or has happened in my life, reflecting the events of the world around me and my own personal landscape. The longer you look at them, the more you see, picking out your own messages and writing your own script, their translation unique to each individual who comes to visit.

A shiny tail and a beaded bottom: day seven

Now for the finishing touches, at least to the bird. The background comes later and shall be documented differently, or else we shall be on this journey forever, you and I, and getting distracted. Not that it’s an unpleasant journey. It’s just that there are other things we should be getting on with and it doesn’t do to delay in one area since the rest then gets neglected. I have a frog and a princess to complete, a cabled iPad case to finish, a Kindle case to knit, a necklace to design, a cheer-up present for a friend to stitch and send off, and a pair of gloves to block. Added to that, there is writing and drawing. My hands are never idle and neither is my mind.

The tail is another element added for aesthetic pleasure. It evens out the head and the wing, bringing the bird as a whole into balance with itself. It’s also rather fun and the more beads and sequins the better. I like their softening effect, the otherworldlyness they add to a piece. Looking at the bird now, I think she is finished. I will start to work on the rest of the piece and return to her later if compelled. From here on in, I shall document on a weekly basis. Most pieces taking two to three months to complete, that’s plenty of pictures and accompanying text. Any more, and you’ll have fallen asleep on me, drooling on your desk and ruining your paperwork. This is not, after all, a novella. Although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

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Added for aesthetic pleasure

The ribbon, in case you are wondering, is the one I have selected to border the piece: my version of a frame. I like the fact that is is bright and colourful, like my bird, and also that I haven’t used it yet. My choice may change later, but for now I think it fits.

Under the light of a silvery moon: week two

This week I French-knitted a moon and some waves to represent the sea and continental-styled a lace pattern to serve as clouds. Something new; something previously untested: I was interested to see if it would work. I have made fingerless gloves using this pattern (lots – I have a tendency to get addicted*) but nothing abstract, nothing entirely my own. So far, so good. I am pleased with its appearance on the fabric and will do a little more, perhaps down the top right-hand side of the piece to cushion the moon.

* Last year it was socks and now I have drawers full of them. The year before, it was hats. It’s anyone’s guess what comes next…

A moon and some waves

The moon itself is made out of a Fairisle-effect yarn – faux-Fairisle to be precise, similar to the one I used for my iPad case. In fact, it may be the same ball. It’s a pretty pastel pattern and nicely represents a sunset in the Mediterranean.

The sea, a baby blue in a hue that I adore – soft and delicate, warm rather than cold – is also new for me. I haven’t tried waves with water. Usually I just make it flat, a calm sea, undisturbed by life and nature. This time, I have curled it up and down and then added French knots (because I love them and like to let them exist at least once in every picture) just above to represent the froth; the white horses, so to speak. The yarn beneath the waves is a paler blue, with a fine metallic thread running through it: tricky to sew with but worth it for the effect. To me, it suggests magical things: the beauty that often lies hidden beneath the exterior, the wealth inherent within the subconscious mind, what we all conceal and entrap for fear of harm or pain. It also accommodates the unpredictability of nature, the chaotic dance of life; the constant movement each of us must endure, embracing or resisting, up to us.

Slow and steady: week five

Pretty in pink

Stitching in earnest

I know I wasn’t going to continue here, instead beginning and from there updating another post, a fresh one, but I decided in the name of simplicity to remain and to keep a tight rein on myself. In the future, it means everything is in one place, neat, tidy and ordered, which is the way I like to live my life.

As you can see, I have begun to stitch in earnest – first attaching my flamingo scene to a plain piece of felt and then edging it with ribbon. It is a slow task, heavy on the eyes, and I proceed slowly limited by the available light. Evenings have begun to draw in. I have lost an hour of creative time and am fighting off the darkness at 8pm. By 9pm, I have lost the battle. All is black: blue a distant memory, white absent, save for the silvery moon, which shines intermittently. Although she too has been elsewhere lately, deserting me just as surely as my manmade substitute has. The hotel terrace where I currently work has sequestered my gerkin for alternative use and it now lights the tourists frequenting the outside BBQ as opposed to me. My flamingo and eyes morn its departure as deeply as if it were a close and long-held friend.

Crossing over: week 6

Closure

Ready to fly

I’ve had to wait for pity to descend in order to continue. Stitching without light is unwise, especially given the fate that befell my previous piece Wings and Webbed Feet. Once bitten: twice shy, so to speak. I am suitably humbled and chastised. Luckily, an unlikely benefactor came to my aid and I have been gifted a fresh light. The chef in charge of the BBQ, a man whose food I have never savoured and in passing only once spoken to, took pity on me, fearing for the health of my eyes, ordering the return of the one he took away. I think, in his bottle-top glasses, he learned the hard way and, in his kindness, sought to at least attempt to save me the same fate.

Reunited, almost leant up against, fighting for space with the moths, I have stitched in earnest and managed to arrive at the end. My flamingo is ready to fly, to go out and officially meet the world. I am happy with her, given that we have been on an eventful journey with many highs and lows: waiting several weeks for a new order of sequins to turn up, just one of them; others entailing hunting every haberdashery department and shop I could think of on the island in order to find five pale pink sequins for my fish who, although far from greedy in her requirements, managed to exhaust my existing supply. Because I often buy things on impulse, keeping them for that ‘special’ piece, not knowing exactly when I might need them or if I even will but sensing that I will appreciate the instinct and foresight one day, I regularly lose track of where they originated, sometimes even in terms of country. When this happens, it takes me a while to hunt them back down, or, in extreme circumstances, locate a substitute. Usually, bar the one incident where I lost through no fault of my own but the manufacturer discontinuing the line, I win, even if it means I have to go through Ebay or online shop clearance bins. Where there’s a will: there’s usually a way; and if not, the creative thinking that ensues eventually lands me somewhere far better than if the simple solution had applied. For this reason, I entrust my path to fate and the whimsical nature of the Greater Power up above.

• Meet the rest of my flamingo’s friends
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