Wirework jewellery, netsuke, shetland lace, lace, textile arts, poetry and whatever else stirs in the art world

Friday, 12 January 2018

Mad decorators

My husband's just floated the idea of black wallpaper in his study. I don't usually issue vetos, but this time did, foot firmly down and voice raised. I had enough of my mother's sometimes mad ideas of wall decor and she would redecorate every six months or so - an outcome of her frustration and lost dreams of going to Art School, I'm sure.

One time she painted the kitchen scarlet "so it seemed warm in winter." It drove the whole family crazy within days, we all complained and even she finally conceded it was too much. It was soon re-painted in a very cool cream.

Yet she had some fabulous successes. One was redecorating the living room. She'd found some rolls of wallpaper handprinted with big trails of white camellias and their muted green leaves and just a touch of the palest pinks and yellows in the petals, all on a very pale silvery-grey background. She painted the walls the same pale grey, then hung the paper in blocks so that a good depth of the painted parts of the walls acted as a frame. She then found some satin-striped wallpaper the same shade as the palest greens of the leaves, cut it along the stripes into narrowish strips and pasted those up as a frame to the flowered paper. With that, white-painted woodwork and curtains of the same green as the wallpaper border, the effect was superb. It was much admired by friends, relatives and neighbours and did her ego no end of good.

The craze to redecorate died back when she took up oil painting again in her late fifties, exhibited and sold them thereafter. There was probably no time to spend on walls after that. Moral? Don't frustrate talent.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Long Break

Not really. It's just that I've been doing other things. Writing poetry, mainly; something I've done for decades. Recently, I've decided to put up a blog of my work here , just to see what the response might be. So far, so interesting.

It doesn't mean, though, that I've stopped work on making things. Though the pace is much slower than it was two years ago, I'm still knitting Shetland lace, currently a shawl, self-designed, carving two netsukes, one a tip of buffalo horn, and the other a carving of a Lancashire clog and making silver and semi-precious stone jewellery, recently, an amazonite and pearl set - oh, and cheesemaking!

Sunday, 12 October 2014


I've been quiet here of late. That's because I've been busy - rediscovering and making wirework jewellery in sterling silver and semi-precious stones and beads. Eventually, I'll be selling some of these, unlike the lace and netsuke which I'm still also making. I'm not sure where to sell yet; probably somewhere like Etsy.com, with links to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, so there'll be further updates on this. As soon as I've taken a goodly amount of decent photos, I'll put some up here and explain the wireworking process.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Shetland lace christening robe

The basic dimensions are from a modern pattern, but, instead of a dress-type upper robe, I split the back, making it a faggoted-edged apron that buttons from the waist up. The buttons are crocheted on both the upper and under robes and there’s an extra row of holes under the upper robe buttons so that a cord can be threaded through both sides and used as a tie - for a baby who is too big for the buttoned robe. It also means that a different underobe can be substituted, if necessary.

I’ve also attached sleeves to the underobe using the same edging as the robe and scattered some crocheted flowers and a butterfly across its skirt. Dimensions: 36 inches long and to fit up to a 22 inch chest.The knitting up takes the time. I calculated it took about six months, knitting for two hours per day. A quick, full-time knitter might take about a month to two months.

I altered the motifs, insertion and edging on the robe, and, picking up some of the motifs in the border, made the body of the skirt a design of trees and flowers where possible. There’s also an extra slant-sided, flower motif on the bodice. The robe could have been very airy, but I wanted something of a closer knit, with a denser edging and insertion, so used a 2/48 or cobweb type wool and, as I’m a tight knitter, 2mm needles and didn’t block it to its limits. There are also a bonnet and bootees using the same edging.

It took a short while to conceive; about a week. A pencil and graph paper are all that's needed because the motifs are traditional. The only new one that's mine is the palm tree above the diamonds - and I expect a Shetland knitter came up with a similar one sometime in the past! The traditional motifs, stitches and stitch groupings, and there are lots of them, can be arranged in endless ways, though there were some developments of then new motifs in late Victorian times - crowns, swags of flowers, crosses, dalek-like creations and such nonsenses, mostly, to my eyes, pretty hideous.

This type of lace is really heirloom knitting; there are very few occasions on which something as delicate as this would be worn.

Shetland stole

Another interest of mine; lace-making - knitted lace, crocheted lace, needle-made lace. This stole is knitted in fine 2-ply wool, using No. 10 needles(UK), so it's not the finest Shetland knit. The diamond-shaped motifs at each end are known as shells and, traditionally, these borders differ in knit motifs from the centre. Dimensions are 2' x 5'.
It's from a traditional Shetland pattern from the 1940s, but with a different edging and more faggoting (the lines of criss-cross, very open stitch just above the edging) created by using herringbone stitch to fix the edge to the body of the stole.

The history of Shetland lace is interesting. Although Shetlanders had, for some centuries, knitted stockings and gloves for export, some lacy, some not, the finest lace knitting using delicate homespun yarn didn't really get going commercially until about 1830, when it started to be sold on the mainland. It turned into a cottage industry and knitters from all over the islands supplied Queen Victoria's court and other wealthy buyers with shawls, stoles, christening gowns, caps, gloves, socks, stockings and other items until the early part of the C20th. It then fell out of fashion and the art was in danger of being lost until the latter part of the century. Now, there is growing interest in this kind of lace which means that trade, too, is beginning to pick up.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A Book

It's made from old boxwood, with horn inlays of different colours and gold leaf underneath. It’s for a friend's 80th birthday; he's a writer, hence the book. The symbolism of the tree and the inscription on the back are personal to him; he'll know what they mean. The colours are deliberately autumnal, denoting, with affection, I hope, his age. Dimensions are 1 1/2" x 1 1/4" x 7/16".

I wanted an old-looking book, but not one with a damaged spine or corners, so worked on textures and distressing the surface. I discovered two things: gilding is a skill, so I settled eventually for a crinkled gold appearance underneath the horn inlays; carving the bezels in which to set the inlays also requires a delicate hand.

The inlays have 23k red gold leaf under the tree and roundel on the back (it has some Hebrew lettering underneath; the word “chai” means “life”).

Wood stains used were 1) a mixture of coffee and redbush and 2) a mixture of cochineal and turmeric, diluted; applied in different places and with different intensities.

The wood has reddish bands through it, visible on the spine, and I wanted to tie those in with the surface staining and the colour of the box. The 'page edges' and beading were left unstained. The piece was then lightly sanded to 12,000 grit and lightly oiled.

The box was handmade, too, and covered with a thick handmade, though printed, Japanese paper.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


As well an an experiment, this was also a deliberate exercise in self-criticism. Any artist in order to develop, needs to know what works and what doesn't. It's also important to have critiques from peers and teachers, of course, but it's more important for an artist to develop his or her own critical eye.

I had had a boxwood blank hanging around for about a year, so as I wanted to experiment with incised work and sunken relief, I produced this netsuke of a Boshi pear; dimensions - 32 x 26 x 9mm. Boxwood:

The image is roughly lifesize in the first photo, slightly larger in the following ones, boxwood, showing both undercutting and incising techniques. I'm not very pleased with it. It shouldn't have been done on wood, though, as an experiment, and having practised the techniques on scraps of wood, I wanted to see what happened. It's impossible to use veiners or gouges on something so small, so I used knives, straight and curved, and gravers. It meant that the incised lines were not true, as I have no engraving skills. Also, when working on a busy bit (eg., where the pear joins the twig/leaves), there's a tendency to overwork and mush the grain ends, so the line becomes fuzzy. The incising was better on the back where I used sewing needles mounted in cork. Lesson learned.

The design, I think, is top heavy, though it didn't seem so in my drawings/sketches, and too squarely aligned. The first is due a bit to the heavy incision lines of the leaves and twig; the second is due to my eye being out when I transferred the drawing of the piece to wood. The contour of the leaf at the side seems a little square and cornered where it should be rounded. I should also have put my initial on the side and made the leaf on the back differently. Again, lesson learned.

I quite like the undercut pear and if I do something like this in wood again, I might stick with that technique and not bother with fine incision work except with needles.

So, really, this is an experimental clunker. It's certainly not saleable by my lights. I put it up so people can see what an, in parts, poorly executed netsuke looks like.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Mon: Family crests and design

I was given this book as a Christmas present. It's a reprint from a 1913 edition, so the mon aren't completely up-to-date. What's fascinating is the simplicity of the early designs, the stylization of others and the complexity of what I assume are some of the later designs.

Now, I gather, organisations, businesses and many other groups and people have designed their own mon and use them instead of logos; their number must run into many thousands of designs. Originally, mon were used much as heraldry is in the West, first for identification on the battlefied and at court; later, on banners as well as arms and armour, many household and decorative artifacts and even on kimono and haori jackets.

Very few in the book could be adapted for netsuke of the manju or kagamibuta type, but they are a source of thought and allow the mind to spin in other directions concerning what can be used for decorating these kinds of netsuke.

It led me to think about design in relation to all the basic shapes of netsuke. Katabori (figural netsuke) allow for studies in the round; the design element here is about how lifelike or not the carver intends the figure to be. The flatter netsuke don't have this quality as they rely on applied designs. These can range from something as simple as the simpler mon, to highly detailed inlaid, incised, relief or urushi (lacquer) work. Ryushi, pierced netsuke, of course, rely on creating artistic and pleasing spaces within the work. Each shape determines, to some extent, the nature of the design.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

More on Power Tools

I don't like them and don't like the one I bought. They're noisy, crude and clunky to hold. I much prefer using hand tools and would use the rotary tool only for initial roughing out. Even then it takes quite a bit of delicacy and skill not to gouge out too much of the unwanted material.

To date, I've three unfinished netsuke on my desk, but much of my free time this past six months has been taken up with family illness and I've been making things I can more easily take around with me - Hardanger embroidery, designing and knitting a Shetland shawl and christening robe and a fabric construction.

I also invested some pennies in a couple of contemporary cheap Chinese netsuke, just to see how awful the carving and finishing was. They're pretty dire. The subject matter is uninspiring in a cheap knock-off kind of way, the finish is a gritty varnish, the carving is as minimal and slap-happy as it's possible to get and the himotoshi are a joke. As for the "signatures," don't get me started! What a waste of good boxwood! Why people buy these things for decoration, I'll never understand, but buying them for studying is a good lesson in what not to do. In that regard, it was money well spent, though I certainly shan't be buying any more.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Power Tools

I finally succumbed and bought a cheap, unbranded rotary tool, more out of curiosity than anything else. I'll buy an expensive one if I take to using them. So far, the only use I can see for it is for roughing out a design; it takes some of the drudgery out of the basic work. I certainly wouldn't use it for detailed work and I'm not enamoured of the noise, the vibrations or of the nonsense with masks and dust collection; they interfere with the almost contemplative process of making a netsuke entirely by hand. All in all, I still have doubts about its use, though I know that the old Japanese carvers used bow-string operated drills and suchlike from time to time.

It comes with a useful range of drills and abrasive bits and pieces that can always be used as hand pieces if I decide not to go the mechanical way.

If it is going to be used, there are certain necessary precautions to be taken. Well-fitting face-masks are essential; silicosis is not an option in my life. It's important to practice on spare pieces of wood for quite a while before using it on a piece for completion; it takes time to get used to the speed and rhythm of the tool and use it with a delicate, controlled touch. It's also essential to hold the piece in either a small table vice or a hand vice; you'd be surprised at how much in the intitial stages of learning the tool slips. Gouging through a hand with one of these things wouldn't be much fun. After turning off the tool, don't touch it to change bits, or lay it down on the workbench until the chuck has stopped spinning and be aware that the chuck can get hot.

Re-reading this list of caveats, I'm beginning to wonder quite why I bothered buying it. Maybe my attitude will change with time and familiarity, though.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Next Step - Citrus

The basic design has been blocked out in ink. Here, I'm following
a number of drawings that are really studies of dried clementines and lemons. Mostly clementines don't have pips, though I've found some that did, and as I want to imitate the clementine shape and outer colours, I've mostly studied those. Both shape and colours are fairly complex, so it'll be another test to see if I can make my drawing concrete.

The dried fruit shows many indentations on the surface, so the cross-hatching in the design will be where this takes place. The vertical lines indicate where the fruit has dried along the edges of its sections; these show deeper indentations than the part which will show the sections of the fruit. The arrangement of pips will show some cut in half and others whole.

Tools I'm using at the moment? Some mini-gouges, tiny knives and scrapers. All had to be made and I might have to make one or two more curved ones to get into small, skewed recesses.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Half a Citrus

This is in boxwood - much easier to carve than tagua, knots and ridges notwithstanding. This wood is much used by netsuke carvers because its hardness and fine grain holds small, carved details very well.

I'm using some dried limes, lemons and clementines for live models, as can be seen on my carving slab, some photos for the inner parts and some drawings of tricky parts. It will be worked all over with texture, which will make it quite rough in the hand; if all goes well there won't be any smooth, polished part.

The staining will be time-consuming as there are so many variations across the outer peel and the inner 'flesh' and pips. The himotoshi will be formed from the bent stem at the bottom of the netsuke. The dimensions will be roughly 3.8mm x 2.5mm.

I'll try to take photos at various stages on development, so something can be seen of the processes involved. The current one shows the wood rough with the sections of the fruit and pips drawn in and some shaping to the underside. Beside it are the various dried fruits themselves. I'll be following the Clementine shaping of the dried example reasonably closely, though with some modifications.