I am currently counting down the days until I go back to the UK for a short break at the end of the month. This is not because I am dying to go back (although I am looking forward to it!), more because I have some commission deliveries to make and I still have work to do on them so the pressure is on! The trip back coincides with a friend’s wedding, I will also make a pilgrimage back to my old place of work (The Victoria and Albert Museum) to catch up with some old colleagues, plus I have long been waiting to see all the InsideOUT bindings at the St Bride Foundation.

I have spent the best part of a week working on the embroidery for one of my latest commissions, and have the sore fingers to prove it. Rather appropriately, given my current location, I have been tying lots and lots of French knots for a particular part of this cover design.

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George managed to surreptitiously catch me at work on this book whilst remotely controlling the camera with his phone from a concealed spot – I look like I am concentrating very hard!

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The book itself is about Benjamin Britten’s time spent in the seaside town of Aldeburgh in the UK. It is a lovely text block by The Whittington Press with many wood cut prints by the author, John Craig, throughout it. I decided to base the design on the seaside with the fishermen and their boats, scarf-jointing some pale blue and cream leather together to create a horizon. 

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For this particular book I was very keen to try out a new technique I had seen the results of, but never actually watched being done before. This is using watercolour paints, washing a colour over the surface of a piece of paper, and before it dries dropping large sea salt crystals over the wet paint. 

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The salt then draws the colour from the watercolour paint as it dries, ultimately producing a very interesting watery effect once the salt crystals are brushed off – perfect for my seaside endpapers and doublures! I have since added a light wash of yellow and green to add some more depth and have applied a layer of paste over the top to fix the pattern and colour.

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I have also spent a fair amount of time over the last few weeks embroidering some leather for another binding, which is for the second of two I have done on the same text block. In 2011 I bound a copy of the Midnight Paper Sales publication of, ‘Mayflies of the Driftless Region’, for the Designer Bookbinders UK touring exhibition which took place that same year.

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At the time of completion on this binding I was commissioned to do another. I am writing an article for the 2014 publication of The Bookbinder (The Society of Bookbinders annual journal) on embroidery techniques, and I am basing it on this particular binding due to the wide variety of embroidery stitches I used to create this design. 

At the time of doing the first binding I used a lot of imagery relating to the wings of he mayflies, namely on the endpapers and book edges, plus on the pad inside the box.

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This is also true of this version, however I am lucky to be experiencing such nature first hand here in our French garden. The other week I captured a dragonfly happily perched atop the lavender outside and was amazed when I zoomed into the photo I had taken – the detail was astonishing!

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We have also encountered some very strange occurances of nature this week. Whilst sitting out in the garden the other day I saw what appeared at first to be a very pale looking wasp-sized insect clinging to one of the chairs. In the half light of the sunset it appeared to almost be see-through so I set about taking some photos, trying not to get too close incase it jumped out at me!

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The following morning however the same insect was in exactly the same position on the chair and we spotted many more around it clinging to other surfaces. In the light of day it became clear that whatever these strange insects were, they were long gone and we were looking at their discarded exoskeletons. 

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I turned to the power of social media, namely Twitter, to see if anyone @insectweek (who I have recently started following!) could enlighten me. I heard straight back and apparently they look like some kind of orthopteroid, possibly a mole cricket. Having now searched a bit further online, and with the added clue of the very loud noise coming from the trees throughout the day, it turns out that they are in fact the abandoned skins of Cicadas, also known as tree crickets. 

The following is an amazing time-sequence recording found online of a cicada emerging from it’s skin. The bit I find most amazing, and creepy, is that they leave their whole body behind, legs and all. 

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This large insect appeared upside down in the pool the day after we found the abandoned bodies so it is possible this is one of the adult cicadas that had emerged. It was about six centimetres long, taking into account the wings. Don’t worry, it was rescued very shortly after this photograph was taken and happily buzzed off!

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On a closing note, the lavender is now out in force in the garden, with a menagerie of insects buzzing around it all day long. Given the colour scheme of recent blog posts, I almost certainly will have to do a purple feature very soon – watch this space…

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