The Linnet by Nicola Jarvis
8th February 2019
We’ve been huge fans of Nicola Jarvis since we published an article in Inspirations Magazine issue 79 about her solo exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in 2013, The Art of Embroidery: Nicola Jarvis and May Morris, which featured drawings and stitched works. Did you know that Nicola is not only an RSN trained and expert embroiderer, she is also an accomplished artist with a Master of Fine Arts?
We saw images of fabulous birds with exciting plumage. Instead of regular feathers, the outlines were filled with flowing, William Morris inspired designs that still reflected the birds in real life. Since then we’ve followed Nicola’s enchanting series of birds and knew it would be amazing to feature one of the world’s most beautiful embroidered birds in our new book A Passion for Needlework | Factoria VII.
The Linnet by Nicola Jarvis from A Passion for Needlework | Factoria VII
How did Nicola come up with these intricate and fascinating bird designs? In her own words, ‘The decorated birds were created by accident! Back in 2012 I was working on drawings and designs for my up-coming solo exhibition, I’d been exploring still life drawings of plants and researching William Morris’s textile designs, and at the same time, for some light relief from art-making, photographing the birds in my Warwickshire garden. Suddenly, in a moment of inspiration, everything came together. I sketched a robin with William Morris’s patterns in his plumage, and became very excited as ideas spilled out of me where I decorated a blue tit, black bird, sparrow, woodpecker, song thrush, gold finch, etc., etc. I studied their body shapes, colours and feather patterns, and selected Morris designs and motifs that I thought would suit each area.’
Nicola took her drawings a step further and, in collaboration with twenty colleagues and friends in the embroidery world, transformed the drawings into embroidered pieces.
The beauty of Nicola’s regal Linnet goes beyond its appearance. Just as many still life paintings contain meaning in the objects shown, there is a wonderful story behind the design for the Linnet as Nicola explains:
‘When Susan O’Connor approached me to contribute a project for the second volume of A Passion for Needlework, I wanted to produce something extra special. Since childhood I have been interested in British birds and the Linnet was particularly striking to my artistic eye because of its beautiful crimson breast. I used to see them quite frequently when walking in the fields with my mum where we lived 40 years ago.
The name Linnet is thought to originate from linseed, the flax seed produced by the flax plant, from which linen cloth is manufactured and is one of the Linnet’s favoured food sources. The purple flower in my bird’s beak is the flax plant.
Historically, Linnets were captured and kept as cage birds because of their melodious song. Unfortunately, their numbers have declined considerably, and they are among many protected species in the U.K. I am very concerned about the recent decline in our natural history in the British Isles and wanted to celebrate this stunning field bird.
I was watching the opulent costume drama Victoria on BBC TV about the early years of her reign and the attention to detail in the styling of the clothing and interiors of Buckingham Palace inspired the treatment of my design. Victoria gifted her beloved advisor, the dying Lord Melville, with a toy songbird in a cage, and this also inspired me to put my little Linnet in a cage.
The whole project is homage to just one of many endangered species that are dying out due to loss of habitat.
I wanted to celebrate this endearing wild bird by portraying him as a king, or royalty, because our natural world is so precious, and each creature occupies a unique and vital place in the eco-system. In my view all creatures on this earth are Kings and Queens.’
Robed in silk and metal threads and crowned with gold and jewels, The Linnet will be an absorbing and delightful stitching project with the variety of techniques and threads used. We took the opportunity to ask Nicola for her advice for working with silk and metal threads.
‘When working with silk thread, I always use short lengths, no longer than 25cm, in the needle to prevent the thread becoming worn, fluffy and losing its lustre. I recommend using a laying tool to guide the silk stitches instead of fingers, as the oil in our skin can make the thread dull.
When working with gold and metal threads, I wax my silk or polyester sewing threads very lightly as an excess of beeswax on thread can form little lumps and they can permanently stain the ground fabric. I also like to use a laying tool or mellor to work my gold work stitching, as I believe it is vital to control the sewing thread at all times. If unguided, waxed thread can catch on the metal and form unwanted loops and knots on the reverse of the work.
When stitching the Rococco gilt thread for the cage, ensure that the couching stitches lay across and ‘hug’ the gilt thread at a 45° angle, this helps to camouflage the couching stitch in the ‘wavy’ construction of the thread.
And finally, when I stitch I love to listen to classical music, talk radio or the sounds in my garden and float away in the rhythm of the stitching…’
Make Your Own | The Linnet
Step 1 – Purchase Project Instructions
The Linnet by Nicola Jarvis is an Enchanting silk and goldwork bird, adorned with a sparkling crown.
Step 2 – Purchase Ready-To-Stitch Kit
The Inspirations Ready-To-Stitch kit for The Linnet includes everything you need to re-create this spectacular bird: Fabrics (unprinted), webbing, paillettes, sequins, metal threads, beads, embroidery threads and needles.