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.

Most glorious rose

I've taken scissors to an old dress and a hideous/glorious 70s table cloth, taught myself ribbon embroidery, couched pink sparkling thread and stitched poems; the first page of Milk Thistle is finally finished!

This page takes the rose as its central metaphor, and begins exploring the book's themes of the Romantic poets and the English national psyche, and performativity of femininity, particularly as it relates to sickliness and vulnerability.

The text reads:

"We are wilted English roses grown pallid and wan, wandering moors, moaning "Willoughby, Willoughby" at thin air for hours."

This is a line from my recorded piece Kiss The Book that I created with composer Joe Donohoe, which has appeared in many guises over the years and refers to quintessential English rose Marianne Dashwood's erstwhile lover John Willoughby in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

This is stitched on to a background of brown "watercolour" roses that look suitably windswept. The calico pocket is covered in a wreath of ribbon embroidered roses with bugle bead leaves/thorns.





Within the pocket is another poem; The Sick Rose, by Blake, from Songs of Innocence and of Experience:

O Rose, thou art sick
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy

To my mind this speaks of 18th century concerns about the polluting effects of sexuality on "innocent, tender" women, and of the long-held beliefs about the fragility of "the fair sex". It could mean either sick literally, or in a perverted sense. Either way, it fits very well with my themes of sickness, recovery, and the performativity of femininity.



I've finally found a use for my Kensitas woven silk flowers in Milk Thistle; the tea rose of the set sits snug with the poem by Blake in the pocket of the first page.



The second page takes violets (shrinking or otherwise) as its theme; I'd best be getting on with it!

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"!