details from the necropolis

Two Gothic Graveyards

Cemeteries are strange places, they have their own kind of architecture. Odd little houses and beds for the dead that are quite archaic . On a recent visit to Scotland I visited two very character full graveyards indeed, Blackfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh and the Necropolis in Glasgow. Here’s a little of what I saw:

necropolis-glasgow monument

I love Victorian cemeteries best, they are the antithesis of the uniform marble headstones of present day that I find anodyne despite their ability to twinkle in the sun.

Glasgow cathedral & details from the necropolis

My favourite kind of graveyard are those overgrown sites you stumble upon in cities like London, nominally designated ‘park areas’  who are in the process of being reclaimed by nature.  As memory markers of lives lost and times gone by being slowly subsumed by the earth, they are the very picture of living entropy. Despite the wistfulness I find them beautiful, peaceful and almost life affirming.

Blackfriars Kirkyard- Edinburgh -skull and crossbones

But these two Scottish graveyards despite their urban settling, were very much alive and brimming with character. Blackfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh was full of skull and cross bones, and macabre skeletons dancing over the graves…

Blackfriars Kirkyard- grave digger emblem

Meanwhile the rather grandiose Glasgow Necropolis high on a hill overlooking the Cathedral had many grand tombs, memorials and obelisks raised skyward.

Glasgow Necropolis sights

I could imagine a poet like Wordsworth feeling compelled to take in the view from the highest point on the hill while composing something profound about  nature and beauty, death and the circle of life.

Blackfriars - Edinburgh judge death

By comparison judging by the imagery one might imagine  Edinburgh’s Blackfriars kirkyard full of brigands,  poisoners and decadent debutants.

Blackfriars Kirkyard- Edinburgh (2)

I very much enjoyed wandering around both of these places.  To quote Tim Burton “Most people say about graveyards: “Oh, it’s just a bunch of dead people. It’s creepy.” But for me, there’s an energy to it that it not creepy, or dark. It has a positive sense to it.” And I have to say I agree.

Blackfriars Kirkyard- Edinburgh -skull I’ve taken photographs of cemeteries and graveyards all around the UK & Ireland. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. It’s an unintentional habit but I find them intriguing so I can’t help myself.  Do you have any strange places you’re attracted to? Or something like this you always tend to photograph? Tell me about it in the comments!

And if you like you can check out more Things I saw in Scotland here .

Billy Corgan- portrait complete in hoop

White on Black embroidery experiment – work in process

Today I’m sharing my working process of my experimental white on black stitched portrait of Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins).  I’d no idea if this would work out or not so I decided to map my progress on instagram, and log the hours worked. I’m bad at keeping track of time when I’m stitching and  subsequently I  underestimate just how long these embroidery portraits take. (Confession: I did lose track of this one in the end- but I guess I wrapped up at around the 25 hr mark after  some re-shading).

Billy - embroidery work in progress - b.gillespie

I made this animated gif of my progress (above) but you can visit the still images on flickr here.

Sometimes I get the urge to stitch on black, it’s a very different starting place for embroidery. I wanted to challenge myself by working white on black (using white as the solid stitched area).  White (on black) doesn’t work for shading, it has to be used as the highlight. So it’s like stitching a negative image to the way I would usually work. I used various shades of white, coupled with directional stitching to add dimension. Still, I’d never done this before and It was entirely possible this project wouldn’t work out as I’d hoped.

Billy Corgan- embroidery- portrait detailAnd you know you’re never sure but you’re sure you could be right, if you held yourself up to the light...

I’ll share the finished portrait (all framed up) in a follow-up soon, along with a bit more on why I wanted to make this piece. (It was quite personal).  In the mean time here’s a last look at the completed black and white embroidery portrait of  Corgan in the hoop – sunlight glittering through the needle holes.

Billy Corgan- portrait complete in hoop

Have you been following the progress of #billybeforebedtime on my flickr or instagram feeds? What do you think of how it turned out? Have you ever stitched white on black before? How did it work out for you?  Tell me about it in the comments.


Hi Fructose Vols 30-31

Hi Fructose- my new favourite magazine

I picked up these two back issues of Hi-Fructose while in Edinburgh recently, and I’m hoping to find a more local retailer for my next fix!  It covers similar ground to Juxtapoz magazine which I occasionally pick up, but  Hi-Fructose is a littler newer (first published in 2005)  and comes out quarterly. It seems tighter somehow- more focused on visual art and illustration specifically. Where as Juxtapoz recently celebrated a 20th anniversary and its regular content spans video artists, music, street art, design and pop culture in general.

Hi Fructose Vols 30-31

I love both of these magazines but I think Hi-Fructose may be my new favourite.  It is a beautiful publication. Heavy matt/gloss paper, lots of full-page images and plenty of artist interviews. It’s total eye candy of current up to the moment artists and there is lots of variety in styles. It’s entirely worth the £6.50 I paid per issue, (a reasonable price bearing in mind this only comes out 4 times a year).

Owls-Tiffany Bozic- Hi Fructose 30

It’s full of  contemporary painting, sculpture , illustration with plenty of pop-surrealism and low-brow art as well as underground art and new and emerging artists.  Look at this amazing inside cover page! It was difficult to find the artist credit for this image but I believe it belongs to Tiffany Bozic who is featured in this issue, (and strangely enough while researching this I discovered a clothing company stole her design and printed this on shirts without permission! )

Hi Fructose- camille rose garcia Vol 30

Each issue also has a little 16 page insert created especially by that issue’s feature artist. Vol 30′s insert is by Camille Rose Garcia, whose inimitable inky style of gothic surrealism is a staple in virtually every Low Brow art collection I’ve laid my hands on. It’s good to see her here especially as  I’ve just recently started following her on instagram!

back cover advert-Hi Fructose Vol 31

Even the adverts in this magazine which are few and often for gallery shows, are themselves works of art (back cover of Vol 31 shown above).

If you would like to see more you can glimpse a preview of Hi Fructose current Summer 2014 issue HERE.

And if you’d like to check out Juxtapoz click HERE (be careful though, some content may be NSFW).

Do you have any favourite arts and pop-culture magazines? Perhaps you have a special sub-culture publication or fan-zine you love? If you fancy sharing your recommendations tell me all about it in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them!

Cat Tote- embroidered bag

Review of Sublime Stitching Floss

Last year I treated myself to the entire Sublime Floss collection, a new embroidery thread from Jenny Hart’s ‘Sublime Stitching‘.   Having  now worked a number of projects with this brand, in particular lots of my designs for crafty Magazine last year. Like this embellished cat tote bag stitched entirely with Sublime Floss. I recently repurchased some colours and not others, and so I decided to revisit my product review.

Cat Tote- embroidered bag

I’m a sucker for pretty packaging and this brand definitely has the cutest, right down the colours having individual names and secret messages on the wrappers. Sublime floss is not sold individually but in ‘palettes’ of 7 pre-selected colours. Each palette is different, but the shades can be a bit samey- and tend towards strong brights. For example I found new palette ‘Laurel Canyon’ (shown top left) quite similar to the existing  ‘Parlour’ (below).

Sublime stitching floss- laurel canyon - Parlour

The only palette with neutral shades is ‘portrait’ designed for stitching faces. The floss palette names cleverly reflect the themes and names in the Sublime Stitching pattern range.  The colours are both this brand’s strength and a weakness, however. These sets are perfect for beginners unsure of where to start,  but as seasoned stitcher I found the palettes limiting, lacking enough colour variations for more subtle work.

Sublime stitching Floss collection


How the floss handles: In comparison to DMC or Madeira, Sublime Floss is stiffer and tends to stick to itself when unwinding, tangling easily. It took me a long time to get the hang of stitching with this floss, and thread conditioner Thread Heaven was a revelation – it definitely helped. This  Sublime Floss is also finer so if you like fat stitches you’ll need more strands. That said, this thread is well suited to fine detail work.

thread heaven_

My least favourite palettes were the ‘Mingles’ and the variegated ‘Taffy Pull’ threads. I was excited by the novelty factor but found the mingles difficult to find uses for (except the mixed green). And the Taffy Pull flosses were problematic in that their colour variation ranged from very dark to very light- so that they neither worked well against a dark background or a light background as the shade change lost contrast. The colour change also happens so gradually that if stitching a smaller pattern there is no graduation visible. I’ve  cut out parts of  the floss and start over to keep the colour change showing.

Taffy Pull & Mingles from Sublime stitching

My Favourite palette turned out to be this one: Fruit Salad- which I used on lots of projects like the embroidered shirt for Crafty Mag 6, (detail shown below) and the Cat tote shisha stitching in Crafty 9 you see at the start of this blog post. It’s also the palette featured on my free Carl Sagan Apple Pie pattern.

leaf detail- paisley pattern- embroidery

A definite bonus of this brand is that I’ve found Sublime Floss a pleasure to work on clothing , particularly hard cottons like canvas and denim. They wash well (even in the washing machine) and stay colour true.

While this brand has limitations, I would definitely recommend giving it a try. Especially if you like brights or if you’d like to get out of your colour comfort zone and use something a bit different.  Have you tried Sublime Stitching Floss? Did you like it? Do you have a favourite embroidery thread brand, or one you really hate? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Jean-Paul-Gaultier-1990-Pierre et Giles

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier at the Barbican London

I was lucky enough to catch ‘From SideWalk to CatWalk the fashion world of Jean Paul Gaultier’ exhibition at the Barbican Gallery during a recent  trip to London. Photography was permitted and I wish I’d my ‘big camera’ with me. Turns out the exhibition was simply too good not to attempt to document with my iphone. Check out the beading and embroidery on this goddess dress for Kylie.

embroidery heart detail-Kylie Dress- Gaultier

I was pretty excited to see this show, I knew I’d get a kick out of it, but it’s funny how I never really considered what a big impression Gaultier made on me. He’s THE ONE fashion designer I’ve been aware of all my life. Largely as a result of his not just shaping but participating in pop-culture. As a kid in the 90′s it was hard not to notice Madonna’s conical boobs but Jean Paul Gaultier was himself a memorable character on TV’s Euro Trash and Spitting image.

Jean-Paul-Gaultier-1990-Pierre et Giles

I love Gaultier’s dedication to the french Breton stripe, which has seen every permutation both male and female in his work. Seen here in perhaps the most iconic image of the man himself. His pitch perfect collaborations with Pierre et Giles where some of the first painted collaged photo-manipulation, arguably the earliest  examples of ‘pop-surrealism’, I’d ever seen.

Gaultier Corsets

It’s hardly surprising that I would admire a designer who did a lot to popularise subcultures (like Punk / Queer / Rock etc). I also love his healthy disregard for gender or body fascism. Jean Paul Gaultier is known for working with striking muses, whose body type isn’t that of the usual stick thin model.  And I adore his use of androgynous models appearing as either gender on the catwalk.  He was also one of the first fashion designers to showcase models with tattoos and piercings.

Gaultier- Male Glamour

Jean Paul Gaultier manages to mix often dark themes and fierceness (S&M, sexual rebellion, underwear as outerwear, and body modification) with light handed humour, strength and acceptance. His approach is very human, and I admire him tremendously for it. He really is an artist.

Gaultier- new meaning of body con

There were quite a few pieces that segued onto horror territory. Movie serial killers like Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs) and Leather face (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) were brought to mind. I loved these anatomically inspired pieces, pictured above, that put a new spin of the idea of ‘body con’. The veins & musculature bondage is so very Clive Barker!

Joan D'arc- JP Gaultier

For me Gaultier isn’t about fashion so much as his clothes are about costume & character. Like this Joan of Arc inspired piece shown above, which captures her vulnerability and strength simultaneously. It makes sense that he has created costume designs for movies. (Two for which were art school favourites of mine- City of Lost Children and The Fifth Element). And there is making costumes in films, and there is making costume IN film.

Film Reel Dress- JP Gaultier

That’s Jean Paul Gaultier! You’ve got to love that wry sense of humour.

If you’d like to read more about this exhibition there is an excellent review of the exhibition while in Rotterdam here.

You can catch the show -From Sidewalk to Catwalk- The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – at the London Barbican Gallery until 25 Aug 2014 details here.

Do you have a favourite fashion designer? Was is it about them you love? Tell me about it in the comments….