Trophy Tears

When I was growing up, if I was being particularly whiney, my mum would occasionally say "I'm playing the world's smallest violin for you".

For this latest instalment of Treasures For Your Troubles, I wanted to create the world's smallest trophy, awarded for achieving precisely the opposite; for navigating the treacherous waters of life without breaking down into floods of tears (or is that mixing the water metaphors a little too much?)

For the embroidery's background, I dyed an antique linen handkerchief with onion skin, similarly to The Onion Cutters' Club.

This idea was actually suggested to me by Pip, who thought I should get the phrase engraved on to a real trophy (maybe one day, Pip). It's also a bit of a self-deprecating in-joke with myself; some days I really do feel it's a grand achievement that I've gotten through the day without bursting into tears. And now I have the world's smallest trophy and dozens of gold stars as reward!

Quite some time ago, appliquéd some felt tear drops on to spangly sparkly gold lurex material. It's a happy coincidence that this piece ties in with the colour scheme of Treasures For Your Troubles. If the project was ever exhibited, I would like to display the tears alongside the more recent works. I'm enjoying the way the naivety of these two pieces work together.

No rest for the wicked; I've got a number of summer exhibitions to submit to and/or create work for. First up, a bee crying (what else) honey over some melancholyflowers. My name is Kate Elisabeth Rolison, and I make art about crying!


As well as being a fairytale, What To Look For In Winter is taking on a fantastical element, with coats and people metamorphosing into moths…
He pulled his coat
over me
his moth’s wings
And I was mothballed
I blended into the
just like a moth.
I like moths. They’re badass, melancholy winter butterflies, bewitched by the moon (so the Stitch Witch in me approves!)
I embroidered a moth for my series The Onion Cutters’ Club:
Doubtless I’ll be using the lepidopterans as a motif in the future.
The text of this latest page of What To Look For In Winter is inspired in part by a grainy webcam self portrait I took in which I am blending into the curtain “just like a moth“.

Cried myself out.

Here's the latest handkerchief from the series The Onion Cutters' Club. I'm not so happy with this one; the photo transfer (which is of a photograph from my family archive) warped quite a bit due to ironing.

I quite like the story itself though; my friend recounted to me something her grandmother had said to her during her weepy teenage years; "When I was young like you, I cried all the time, but now I'm old, I've cried myself out."

"Goodbye darling, goodbye".

Here for your viewing pleasure is the final completed page of On Being Soft.

In this page, I wanted to allude back to the Lily van der Stokker quotation which I used on the very first page of the book.

I decided to explore the theme of sentimentality listed in the van der Stokker quote.

I also wanted to reference the many handkerchiefs I have used throughout the book. This choice meant that this page would have a strong relationship with the first completed page, with its handkerchief about crying.

The text about handkerchiefs embroidered on to this final page reads "They absorb tears, mucus. They could be a white flag, a token of love, a flutter accompanied by "Goodbye darling, goodbye darling, goodbye"."

The significance of the image of a tunnel embroidered on to the page's pocket becomes apparent once the viewer reads the text and looks at the image embroidered on to the handkerchief folded inside it.

The text reads "The woman standing down the platform from me waved the train all the way out of the station. It was very beautiful and very sad."

This was once texted to me by my boyfriend after he waved me off at Paddington Station. The woman's actions clearly matched his sentimental mood!

The tunnel on the pocket is thus a train tunnel down which has disappeared the train the woman was waving to.

The text is accompanied by the silhouette of a woman in Victorian garb waving a handkerchief - making this a sort of meta-handkerchief!

Tomorrow I will post photographs of the completed book.

Sugar and spice, slugs and snails

The latest page of On Being Soft deals with "niceness", a much-maligned quality, as the handkerchief which lives in the page's pocket illustrates.

The text is an imagined conversation, hence I have used two different examples of handwriting, mine, and my dad's rather illegible scrawl!

The text reads: 

"There's nothing wrong with being a bit soft. It can be quite nice."

"I hate the word 'nice'. It's so insipid."

The text is illustrated by more photographs from the shoot I did for my A Levels. I've chosen a mouse and a lion due to their associations with bravery/ferociousness and timidity; perhaps the mouse could be paired with the first voice of the text and the lion with the second? One of Aesop's fables concerns a lowly mouse doing an act of kindness for a majestic lion. "Kind" can be a synonym for "nice".

The transferred black and white photographs were hand-tinted with satin stitch.

I was a bit stumped as to what to do for the page itself. I also had a completed embroidery which I wanted to integrate into the book in some way - a snail (which, fittingly, was completed at a snail's pace - a very performative embroidery!)

A nursery rhyme from my childhood came back to me; "What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice, that's what little girls are made of! What are little boys made of? Slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails, that's what little boys are made of!"

Here was a way I could use my labour-of-love snail. The text on the handkerchief would "nicely" problematise the sappy, saccharine, reductive nursery rhyme. 

I embroidered the "sugar and spice" segment of the nursery rhyme as if it was the snail's trail of slime, to illustrate the nausea of sweetness.

On to the seventh page now; a page all about sensuality.


The fourth completed page of On Being Soft is ready to share, which means I'm halfway through making the book (if you don't count putting it all together!)

As the pages are loosely based on different aspects of the Lily van der Stokker quote featured here, this page deals with sweetness.

My Mum found me some fantastic fabric embroidered with bees through a recycling scheme, which compliments the honeyed gold tones of the other fabrics I've used.

"Oh sweetheart, would you stoop so low as to swoon at my shriek of a smile carved out with an ice-cream scoop?" is a small segment of my own writing which makes me think of sickly sweetness, even in the ingratiatingly polite way that the "sweetheart" is addressed. The word "swoon" makes me think of drowsy bumble bees drunk on nectar. A "shriek of a smile" is one which is almost too sweet; one which will induce toothache, as do Lily van der Stokker's paintings and drawings.

I stitched the phrase on to a pocket edged with a bee-print fabric my Granny gave me. The tarnished silver beads scattered over the page belonged to my great-great aunts - the page is made from fabric and embellishments from four generations of women.

Poking out of the top of the pocket is a handkerchief. To tie the two together thematically, I embroidered an ice cream cone ("carved out with an ice cream scoop") on to the handkerchief.

The phrase embroidered on to the handkerchief was a comment I overhead a year ago on a day trip to Whitstable; "White dogs at the seaside - they look like they've been dipped in Daz". What's softer than a fluffy, white, Daz-dipped dog?!

When I bought the handkerchief it was already embroidered with sickly sweet, candyfloss pink and blue flowers, which I matched the text to.

Wouldn't Say Boo to a Lion

I've just finished the second (though not necessarily Page 2)of the pages to go inside my soft sculpture book, On Being Soft.

This page deals with timidity and bravery. I've wanted to create a work around the phrase "wouldn't say boo to a goose" for quite a while, and when I found the gorgeous African batik fabric shown above for sale in the Significant Seams Hub, I knew I had to use it.

I made a pocket from the geese-print batik for the second of my embroidered handkerchiefs to go into, and made a goose cut-out silhouette from another sheet of batik.

Inside the cut-out I hand embroidered the phrase "She wouldn't say boo to a goose" in tiny, tiny, shy little stitches; text that wouldn't say boo to a goose itself.

The outline of the goose is blanket-stitched and adorned with gold and teal beads. The page background is 1950s gold/yellow brushed cotton.

The handkerchief to be placed inside the pocket of this page is focused on a different animal; the emblem of bravery, the lion.

I recycled a self portrait from my A Levels for this handkerchief; an ultraviolet black and white film photograph of me wearing a lion mask (it was for a study of the photographer Francesa Woodman's work). Due to the use of ultraviolet film, the foliage and skin in the photograph appears incredibly white.

I used photo transfer paper to print the photograph on to a vintage handkerchief.

The fact that the subject is hiding behind a privet hedge whilst wearing a lion mask calls to mind the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. The fact that the photograph is in black and white lends itself well to this reference, as the 1939 film of the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is shot in black and white until Dorothy arrives in Oz itself. To continue this theme I embroidered the shoe in the photograph in red; a ruby slipper.

The text that accompanies the embroidered photograph is "I don't see what's so brave about lions, but perhaps it'll help". This is a phrase I've wanted to illustrate for years; I'm glad I've finally got around to it. 

I feel like this handkerchief could be carried in the pocket of a garment as a talisman to bring bravery.

I've just ordered Lion by Deirdre Jackson (part of Reaktion Books' Animals series) in order to learn more about the symbolism of these magnificent beasts.

"I Have A Smut In My Eye"

As promised, one of the Brief Encounter-inspired pieces. For this embroidery I departed from my usual translating-poetry-into-a-snippet-of-text set-up and instead illustrated a quotation from the film itself.

The text reads: "I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people". This quotation is taken from a voice-over/monologue spoken by Brief Encounter's protagonist, Laura. The full quotation is "I've fallen in love. I'm an ordinary woman. I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people". I illustrated the quotation with embroidery of a steam train disappearing into a tunnel, as Laura's illicit affair with Alec begins at a train station, and this setting provides the visual drama of the film.

Tomorrow I will post on Brief Encounter in more depth, but right now it's past my bedtime and I must sleep!