Pansy Sickness

Pansies are a flower close to my heart, as I've explained before. I'm even considering getting a tattoo featuring one. So I had to focus on the humble pansy for a page of Milk Thistle.

I chose the most gloriously lurid 60s cotton for the background of the page. This is  because I based the text of the page partially on The Yellow Wallpaper, a late nineteenth century short story about a woman's descent into madness when she is essentially forced into house arrest by her husband, holed up in a room with yellow wallpaper which takes on an increasingly sinister edge. 

My text reads

In the darkness thorny thoughts crowded my head

and I thrashed in my flower bed so ineffectually

a delicate flower choked by creepers

bound up by pansy sickness

The text was also influenced by the meaning of the pansy as given by Kensita's cigarettes; "Thoughts: Think of Me".



I scanned my first blooms to be dried in my flower press (pansies of course!) to become the pocket in which the Kensitas woven silk pansy would be kept. I rather like the vibrant purples and yellows against the yellow, orange and lime green cotton. A ghastly clash to reflect the "thorny thoughts" and "pansy sickness" (which is in actuality a fungus which attacks the pansy's stem and may cause it to collapse).






I have another page to share over the next few days which I completed during my stay in the Highlands; it was quite a productive trip! Two more pages to go after that; I'd better get stitching.

Lily livered

I'm not at all sure about the latest page of Milk Thistle (although I am halfway there now). A few things went wrong in its making, and I almost wished I'd used a brighter, more minimalist background fabric.


One thing I am happy with is the sprig of Honesty I scanned and used as the page's pocket; it is ethereal, almost ghostly; a fellow artist on Instagram described it as "fairy money". It's the perfect holding place for the red lily Kensita's woven silk flower card.







The text of this page reads

Laid up in bed with the curtains drawn, lily livered and lovely eyed

Stitching petals between pages - quick! 

Sew up the gaps! Don't let the light in

There is a separate text sewn on to white work fabric which reads

I thread my needle by the sun's light

I lose eyesight by candle light

This is based on a passage in The Subversive Stitch which describes how cottage industry embroiderers ruined their eyes through sewing by candle light.

This page is based around how invalidism, together with embroidery, became a part of the inculcation of the feminine in the nineteenth century.

Delicate Flowers

I received a very interesting surprise "donation" today from my workmate (and crafty renaissance man) Mark; an envelope filled with Kensitas Flowers. These were a sweet treat for smokers of the 1930s; miniature woven silk flowers slipped inside beautifully designed, informative covers, and given away inside packets of Kensitas cigarettes in 1934 and 1935.
When I first opened the envelope I assumed the flowers had been embroidered. However, embroidery this miniscule and delicate would be virtually impossible without a specialist programmable embroidery machine, which obviously did not exist in the 1930s!
With a quick Google search, I discovered that the flowers were in fact woven silk. Unfortunately, a scan doesn't do the flowers justice; they really are exquisite.






It was very fortuituous that Mark passed on these heirlooms to me today; I've recently started work on a new (and slightly ambitious project which they are both giving me ideas for, and can be incorporated into. I recently picked up a crazy hideous/beautiful 70s (?) patchwork table cloth with a doily trim from a stall near work, and when I saw it I knew I had to use it for something.


Each square is about four by four inches, and so I've decided to write a monologue across them in stitch, with occasional illustrations, story board style.

The piece will deal with sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes of femininity, romantic literature and poetry, and thorns amongst the roses.

Its title will be Milk Thistle.


Some of the flowers which Mark passed on to me would work particularly well in Milk Thistle, due to the symbolism surrounding them. For example, Montbretia represents instability, which evidently relates to sickness, and Helenium represents tears, which is a theme I will explore through extension of my concept of "melancholyflowers".





Lilies, roses, and pansies are all flowers I want to incorporate into the piece due to their prominence in English literature and idioms.




I'd be very interested to learn more about flower symbolism and the language of flowers.

Finally, apparently, Flax is associated with domestic industry and the textile crafts, which is obviously of particular interest to me as a "conceptual embroidery artist"!