Kristin Hersh – Embroidered Portrait

After a weeks of intensive stitching I’m finally able to reveal my portraits for the group International Women’s day exhibition in Eden Place Arts, Pilot’s Row. I’ve decided to share one per week on the run up to the opening of the exhibition, starting with the lovely Kristin that I gave you a glimpse of before. So just in time for Valentine’s day here’ some love for the inspirational ladies!

Kristen Hersh by B Gillespie fw

As I previously mentioned , the theme of these works is that they feature portraits of influential female artists inspired by their own album covers. In many ways Kristin was the inspiration for this set, because I could so easily picture the album cover art for Sunny Border Blue stitched on to a little self patterned print. The blue of the fabric, with its tiny almost floral ditzy print hints at the Americana folk roots this artist sometimes leaks. The hard black lines and the soft blue fabric echo the crazy contrast of her character , tender and harsh sometimes simultaneously. I love the wistfulness of the  photograph, almost ghostly, and I wanted to try to capture that unfocused, far away look in her eyes, like she’s thinking about something and you’re not even there.

Kristin- detail- b gillespie

Unlike the cool indie kids I’d never heard of her band Throwing Muses. I became aware of Kristin’s solo work in the early 2000′s and her songs really hit a nerve, at once unfathomable yet commonplace, funny but serious. This was the bitter-sweet, scratchy voice of someone who has been through the mill and feels your pain, but would punch you in the face just as soon as admit to weakness. Just like the crippling embarrassment of the alternative, auto bio comics I was reading at the time, her’s was the slightly uncomfortable voice of the ‘honest’ artist. Forever a reminder of a certain time and a place, Sunny Border Blue, The Grotto and Hips and Makers will always be special to me. You can learn more about Kristin and her music publishing online here:

Anyway, I hope you like it? Keep your eye’s peeled for the next portrait coming next week.

Embroidery Portraits for International Women’s Day – w.i.p

Instead of going quiet on the blog for a bit while I’m busy stitching, I thought I’d give you a fleeting insight into what I’m working on right now. I was invited to participate in a local exhibition at Pilots Row for International Women’s Day and I proposed to create a set of embroidery portraits of culturally influential women. The theme was totally open to interpretation, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share portraits of my own personal heroes.  The artists who have influenced me most are often musicians, so that’s the connection I’ve made for these set of portraits. These ladies are singers, song writers, story tellers, and pioneers of performance, technology, distribution and expression. They are all unconventional  outsiders who are not afraid to do things their own way. They are also challenging, philosophical and kind. I’ve long had a notion that I wanted to stitch a version of this album cover by Kristin Hersh -

sunny border blue_Kristin Hersh

it then occurred to me that most artists have at least one album cover that is a head shot - and low and behold, the other ladies I wanted to stitch had perfect examples too.  So the theme for the set is Album Cover Portraits of some influential ladies. I’ll keep you posted on how these progress, but for now here’s a snapshot of Kristin’s portrait in progress -

Kristin wip

The Return of the Thin White Duke – Some thoughts on Bowie’s new single

So unless you’ve had your head under a rock this week, you’ve probably heard that David Bowie surprised us all with the release of a new single. A surprise, because we’ve had nothing but radio silence from him for the past 10 years.  You can see the video here, directed by Tony Oursler (who I suspect also created projections in previous Bowie videos like Little Wonder and the bouncing eyeballs in his late 90’s performances). It’s deceptively simple.

Watch the video here: Where are we now? 

In the video, funny and touching, Bowie appears as an old man. Metaphorically walking the dead, like walking the dog through deserted streets. The projections are ghostly, particularly of the faces. (Watch for the optical illusion at the end when they remove their heads from the cut out holes). All the time they are there but not there. Trapped in this weird body that cannot move, like Hamm in Becket’s End Game who can not see out the window, they can not see the projected ‘window’ of the streets behind them. (In fact the title, Where are we now? could even be a reference to Hamm who requires the view from the window to be described to him.) The song references Berlin, just as the album cover references ‘Heroes’ which Bowie recorded there. And in the video we see the lyrics as text, Bowie a man who often plays with words, this time wants us to see what they are in their ordinariness and absurdity.

Bowie- the next day

Some have been quick to condemn, saying they hope it’s not another ‘Hours’ (a panned 1999 album). But having recently rediscovered Hours, my affection for it has grown, and it and the album Heathen are clearly this single’s closest relatives. Bowie’s later releases are tinged with melancholy and tenderness for lost youth, and fondness for his previous incarnations; as evidenced in the video for Thursday’s Child, and Little Wonder, and in cover versions on unreleased 2001 album TOY of songs sung in his early career, like ‘I dig everything’ and the haunting ‘Conversation Piece’ made all the more poignant sung in his old man’s baritone.  Some have complained that the cover art for the forth coming album (above) is trite or ‘too clever’, but I disagree. Obscuring the face is frustrating, annoying even, but that is the intent. It says a lot to me about the elusive artist (publicly missing for so long), it’s not a new image, and we still can not see enough. There is an obliteration of self, and the past, while a suggestion that the past and old images are all that we really have… It makes me sad and I don’t like it. But i get the feeling we’re not meant to.

What do you think of Bowie’s new release? Are you a fan?

Mr X Stitch Exhibition & The DMC blog

As if you haven’t already heard how proud I was to be part of this, I was over joyed for my Rock’n’Roll portraits to be included as part of the Mr X Stitch exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching show in Harrowgate this year.  Sadly I couldn’t be there in person, but I was thrilled to get a proper glimpse of my work on show via the Mr X Stitch website this week-end.  You should head on over to his site to read more about it!

I’m  so sad to have missed my chance to meet Katie of ‘Mother Eagle‘ too! She sent me some lovely tweets to say she’d been there and seen my stuff and was disappointed to discover I wasn’t there :-( Not any more disappointed than I was I can promise you! She is working on an amazing embroidered swan commission right now, you should check it out!

And as if that wasn’t enough embroidery fame for one weekend these portraits were also featured on the DMC blog at the same time!!! This was  a huge honour as DMC are one of the most well renown manufacturers of embroidery floss in the world! I was thrilled to be asked if they could feature my work on their blog. You can read what they had to say about them here:

Outlaw 04: The King

Are you ready for the final instalment of my  Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw series? Today’s Outlaw, The King. (For the introduction to this series click: here)

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image, put it that way”.  - Elvis Presley

I was ecstatic to find a mug shot of Elvis. The King of Rock ’n’ Roll is the jewel in the crown of this set, surely? His excessive life –style is well known, there must been some kind of drug arrest, or something, right? Wrong! I had to do a bit of digging, but it seems this is one mug shot that is fake!

Sources on the internet cite an anecdote stating this was taken at the FBI Washington DC offices for ID purposes when Presley was helping with drug investigations.  How true this is, is anyone’s guess. But with all the cool kids having the dubious honour of a public arrest, it certainly couldn’t have hurt his waning image if this one got out.

The King- 1970 Faked. FBI headquarters Washington DC, when visiting President Nixon. [Age 35]

So, I almost didn’t include The King in the Outlaws series. But this one raises such interesting questions about authenticity, integrity, and why a mug shot should grant kudos and cool in the first place, that it made it all the more important to include it. Portraits of any kind are slippery customers, they often tell us less about the people pictured and more about those viewing them.  What’s in an attitude? What is ‘manly’? Who do we consider heroic? And why?

If you would like to see these portraits up close and personal, they will be on display at the Mr X Stitch exhibit at the Knitting and Stitching Show, Harrowgate 22-25 November 2012 

As ever your feedback is welcomed, and I love to hear what you think of these portraits in the comments below…

Outlaw 03: Thin White Duke

Welcome back to my Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw series. Today’s Outlaw, The Thin White Duke. (For the introduction to this series click: here)

“We’ll buy some drugs and watch a band
Then jump in the river holding hands”

- Bowie ‘Candidate’

I stumbled upon this Bowie mug shot for the first time earlier this year and couldn’t believe I’d not seen it before. Bowie looks so dapper, it’s as though he’s Jay Gatsby  arrested by mistake, or for making an improper suggestion ! I’ve never seen a more stylish mug shot, it’s the height of sophistication and cool.

As much as possible I wanted to make the colours in these portraits relate to the artist’s often rather colourful alter egos, (had you noticed?) But white wouldn’t work out so well on osnaburg. So in this case the strong russet relates to Bowie’s flame red hair of the time.

Thin White Duke – 1976 Rochester New York. Drug Felony, Possession of marijuana. Granted bail. [ Age 29]

You may also notice that I broke my mono-colour rule this time. The simple reason is, some colours are  hard on the eye. I stitched this piece twice, scrapping the first version as the vibrant shade was so strong it gave me headaches. So I started again, and improved some details the second time around. In the end I added the black height markers and cream hair hi-lights to combat the optical potency of too much orange!

I hope you’re enjoying Mug Shot Week, there’s just one day left ! Can you guess who tomorrow’s rock’n’roll outlaw will be?

Rabbit Heart & Lion Heart embroidery pattern

My new embroidery pattern set is inspired by a song and contains 2 large (8in) patterns that are related but kinda opposites. So, you know that big hit by Florence and the Machine, Rabbit Heart (Raise it up) ? Course you do, it’s an amazing song, full of symbolism – a gift, a sacrifice, courage, and going down the rabbit hole. (“Is this the right pill to take?“) The lyrics of this song are so inspiring they’ve always conjured strong images in my head, particularly of the innocent rabbit heart who must gather her strength, “If only I could just be brave…I must become a Lion Hearted Girl ” both being inspired by the same song.

Rabbit heart embroidery wip

I’ve been experimenting with filling stitches. This is the close up of a heart detail, with any luck if you squint at it you just might find this heart reminiscent of a little animal?

collar-detail-rabbit heart-cherryandcinnamon

And this is my favourite part, I decided to try out a new stitch here on the collar. This is a Roman Stitch, and it gives such a nice texture. I’ll be looking for an excuse to use this one again!

I haven’t stitched up a sample of the Lion Hearted Girl, but you can see what she looks like above.  She’s just a little inspired by one of my female heroes Kate Bush, who had her own Lion Heart persona ;-)

The pattern set consists of a five-page easy-to-trace PDF, complete with tips and some simple user instructions. Included are these 2 Large original embroidery patterns (along with their reverse versions) designed to fit 8″ hoops at their current size. You can find it, and my other embroidery patterns here

I can’t wait to hear what you think of these designs. And if you do purchase the pattern, I’d love to see your versions!

Bowie: Conversation Piece

Today I want to share this song that’s been haunting me. Conversation Piece, by David Bowie, was written in 1969, recorded in 1970, and the version here re-recorded in 2002 and offered as an extra on Bowie’s penultimate album ‘Heathen.’ (2002) I find it so evocative that I’m barely able to listen with out a few tears.

The album Heathen is tinged with sadness and a sense of old age, and although different in style this song fits with that theme, especially this version sung as it is with Bowie’s mature baritone. One interpretation I read of this song claimed it is written from the perspective of an old academic, (“You wouldn’t think to look at me that I’ve spent a lot of time in education, it all seems so long ago”).But to me I can’t help thinking of a student,Bowie wrote it as a young man, and I imagine him as living alone above the grocer store, a lodger of sorts. Someone who doesn’t belong. (And I did always wonder about that album title).

I believe this little known gem of a song spawned a relative in the largely overlooked 1995 album ‘Outside’. In his segue the aged character Algeria Touchshriek “a broken man”, is living in a run down area and “thinking of leasing the room above ‘his’ shop to a Mr. Walloff Domburg. A reject from the world wide Internet” He is also a broken man, and Touchshriek muses: “It would be nice to have company we could have great conversations…” PerhapsBowie’s lodger in Conversation piece has found a home at last and a friend for Mr Touchshriek, “I don’t get to speak much to anyone or that sort of thing, if I had another broken man…Oh, I dream of something like that.”

In a very round about way, I owe thanks to Nick Abadzis for making me think of all of this.And if this post has been a little too sad for you, check out this   amazing Bowie embroidery pattern from Heidi Hengel of Speckless.

Truly a woman after my own heart ;-)

The fact or fiction of Lana Del Ray

By now you’ve probably heard of Lana Del Ray. My first encounter was online where a blogger was musing on whether they’d have embraced her music if they’d seen what she’d looked like first. That isn’t to say Ms Del Ray isn’t beautiful, quite the opposite, she’s almost impossibly so. Describing herself as a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra”, imagine a doe eyed Natalie Portman crossed with Priscilla Presley, and your almost there.  In her videos she pouts and purrs, staring vacantly just beyond the camera like jail bait, but despite her tender looks at 26 Del Ray’s musical sensibilities seem surprisingly mature based in a hip melancholy nostalgia for the 60’s that never were.

Perhaps this is an ageist or misogynistic judgement, but for me it’s an issue about authenticity. Del Ray’s fame thus far hails from the internet, her first album has yet to be released, but on tour recently she’s appeared on the most prestigious variety shows, (where better to discover such an obscure artist then on Later with Jools Holland?). Yet in each performance, vulnerable and strained, she remains an enigma with most of her interviews in print rather than on T.V.

You can peruse videos for her particular brand of retro ‘sad –core’ pop on You Tube. Nothing is claimed or denied but it’s suggested that these promos are compiled using home movie footage. Yet the slick hair and makeup, consistent sepia tinting, montage elements of neon lights, tree lined boulevards, and archive film and cartoon footage, beautifully evoke the mood and tone of her Americana melodrama suggesting something altogether more directed and processed. (It seems since I wrote this full credits are now available for the archive footage sources.)

I dig further and turn up some interview clips under her pre fame name. The look is there, but she seems unsure of what she’s saying.  After a false start with an album released under the name Lizzy Grant with support from her businessman father, ‘Lana Del Ray’ was created and re-launched as a Lolita in the ‘hood, cholita of the trailer park. She’s undoubtedly talented, with a voice whose expressive quality lends a bitter sweetness to the bad girl love songs of longing, self obliteration and loss. But ultimately it’s this nostalgia for a time not her own, juxtaposed against the little girl lost posturing that makes me wonder if this act was written for rather than by her.

I’m reminded of J.T LeRoy, a writer famed for his gritty style of magic realism who shot to acclaim at the age of 19 with ‘Sarah’, a semi-fictionalised account of his troubled childhood. Until it transpired that the tragically talented gender bending ex-drug addict, was in fact a character created by then unknown writer Laura Albert, and played in public by her sister-in- law in sunglasses and a wig. LeRoy gained many celebrity fans and literary endorsements, many were angry they’d been fooled, while some claimed to have always been in on the ruse.

Maybe the question should be: if the much lauded literature exists, does it matter if the author was fiction?