There is nothing nicer than a field of brightly coloured sunflowers dancing together in the gentle breeze to cheer you up and make you smile. I travel to France every year and each time I see these fields of sunflowers I am instantly relaxed and smiling.
I have recently returned home to England after spending two glorious weeks in the Loire region of France. We have a very humble abode in the guise of a 1980s touring caravan which remains in storage in France as I fear it would fall apart if we were to attempt to tow it anywhere. This little caravan is our home for two weeks every year on the banks of the river Cher where I have the most spectacular view from my front door.
Sunset on the river Cher
We first visited this camp site in 2005 and since then we have embarked on a 1500 mile round trip every year for the last 10 years. The boys all enjoy fishing and I enjoy reading quietly in these beautiful surroundings. The local wine cave is within walking distance so what more can a girl want or need.
Sunflower fields have been the inspiration for my textile work over the last few years and I would like to share a few of these embroideries with you whilst these cheerful flowers are still in the forefront of my mind.
Straight Stitch Sunflowers
This embroidery is worked entirely in straight stitch. Through using a variety of yarns in a range of thicknesses you can instantly add dimension to your work. Hand dyed threads and fabric will provide a wide range of shades.
I began this embroidery by hand dyeing a piece of silk calico fabric, this is a soft unbleached fabric that has natural slubs within the weave. The outline of drooping petals were then painted onto the fabric using acrylic paints and a fine paint brush.
A range of hand dyed threads are used to add texture to the petals and background. Threads used include fine cotton, cotton perle, chinese silk, medium silk and stranded linen. Interest is created through altering the length and denseness of the straight stitch and changing the direction of the stitch in each petal.
Silk Painted Trapunto Sunflowers
Trapunto is a form of Italian quilting where shapes are filled, this is a technique that can add dimension to your work and provide raised and flat areas. This is also known as the ‘stuffing technique’ because through utilising two layers of fabric and outline stitches specific areas can be filled.
I began this textile work by using clear silk gutta (resist) to outline the sunflower and leaf shapes onto a piece of stretched silk habotai. Once this has dried silk paints are applied and allowed to spread to the resist. I have used iron fix paints therefore once dried the fabric is pressed to fix the colours and then the gutta is washed out – this will leave a white outline. To enable the shapes to be filled I layered the silk habotai onto a piece of calico fabric and tacked these together.
Working through the tow layers the flowers and leaves are outlined by couching a thick hand dyed cotton thread to cover all white lines. When all of the outline is covered I have selected the areas that will be raised, using embroidery scissors a small cut is made into the backing fabric to enable filling to be pushed into the shape until the required thickness is achieved, the incision is then sewn closed.
Once the desired shapes are filled I have added french knots in the flower centres using a viscose ribbon and straight stitch stars in the background with cotton thread.
Shadow work Trapunto Sunflowers
To begin I tacked together a piece of hand dyed organza onto cotton calico. I have used hand dyed threads to stem stitch around the petals and leaves. Once the outline was completed I have made small cuts into the backing fabric and filled each petal, leaf and flower centre with hand dyed silk fibres. Once the shapes were filled and the incisions closed the final details were added, stem stitched leaf vein and french knots in flower centre.
The main fabric for this work is hand dyed silk velvet, this is a very soft fabric that can be easily manipulated to create texture. For the raised circles in the centre of this work small areas of the silk velvet have been free machine embroidered with circles – the ruched effect is produced by winding shirring elastic onto the bobbin and this pulls the fabric into small raised circles. The outer edges of this work have been free machined with vermicelli stitch with machine embroidery thread on the bobbin and in the needle.
Texture is further added using a fabric that I have named ‘bubble fabric’. hand dyed nylon organza is gently held near a candle and moved in circular motion, by allowing the heat of the flame to melt the fabric in with your circular movements you can create a bubble textured fabric. If you would like to experiment with this technique I advise that you do this near a sink full of water, if the fabric ignites it can be easily extinguished.
Further embellishments are added with French knots and beads.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my sunflower post and seeing some of the textiles that I have created after visiting France and being inspired by these wonderful flower fields. Even after visiting for many years I am still in awe of this vision and I look forward to seeing them every year. I am going to leave you all with a photograph of the enchanting château situated at the end of our camp site. I am already looking forward to returning to this magical place next year.