I’d been pleased with the effects achieved with a limited palette of black and white in several of my textile pictures – when I came on two companion cotton fabrics printed in blue and white folk art flowers that I became instantly, totally enamored with, I thought – if scenes limited to black and white shades can be striking, why not try a picture entirely in blue and white tones and see if that can be equally striking?
Over the years I’ve collected pieces of patterned blue and white china, mainly of English manufacture, but I also have some old tiles, several vases and other odd bits of Delftware from Holland. I decided to create a bouquet of the blue and white folk-art flowers I’d just fallen in love with and stuff these into a white Delft vase that I would set on a window sill; a fantasy Neverland Dutch landscape would be the background. This blue and white folk art bouquet would be my ultimate ‘can’t go any farther out on that limb’ statement as to precision cut fabric folk art flowers in a vase – each bloom would be beaded to the hilt and many would glitter with Swarovski crystals; I also planned to include stylized pewter beads I’d found made in the shape of a stylized flower and having sapphire crystal centers.
As this was a folk art bouquet in the strictest sense, each side had to mirror the other, but for the center I wanted a spectacular one-of-a-kind bloom. It was only after weeks of studying, backing, and cutting the flowers that I selected the specimen I thought the right size and configuration to place in this eye-catching middle spot.
My stash had a good number of blue and white cotton eighth yard strips and fat quarters displaying tiny flower motifs and abstract dots and squares that could suggest fields, plus at some point I’d purchased a quarter yard of blue and white toile de Jouy* printed with an old castle and stone arch, rabbits, swans, doves and blossoming branches. There was also a treasured piece of blue and white stripe fabric I’d always hoped to find a use for – the stripes were of varying widths with tiny stylized motifs – checks, circles, zig zags, leaves, daisies, while the widest stripe had a thin upward curling stem showing repeating folk art flowers and leaves facing alternate directions. This fabric, I decided, would create sill, valence and side panels around the window.
I quested near and far, online and in stores in my local area and beyond, seeking the windmills essential to this landscape; never finding quite the right ones, I made do with several nursery rhyme fabrics sprinkled with a few, along with useful church steeples, houses and towers. It was necessary to cut down two of the windmills and reassemble them into smaller configurations so they would appear to diminish in size with distance.
As always, the sky had to be set in first, and I chose a sahade of blue satin lighter than the one I purchased for the main river and canal, then overlaid it with pale blue gauze. A fat quarter of cotton woven with glinting metallic silver thread from the Monroe Ben Franklin and showing puffy clouds floating in a summer blue sky gave me the perfect cumulus clouds for this scene; I made nine little swallow shapes out of the blue background in this fabric that I didn’t use, placing them to swoop joyously about the sky.
The first thing I tackled was getting the proportions for the main river/canal right – I knew the zig-zag shape I wanted for this but it took quite a few trials before I felt it was right and I could cut with confidence into the vivid blue satin I’d purchased for this, and the smaller side canal. Wavy bits of lighter blue gauze – the same gauze that was used for the sky overlay, indicate current in the water; the canal has a tumble-down old tower by a bridge over it, and two white swans are swimming down the river – both these motifs cut from the toile de Jouy fabric.
As to the bouquet on the sill, this is the one that will stand as my Ultimate Beaded Folk Art Bouquet – which meant both sides had to match, and disguising the fact that all the major flower motifs – including the crucial tulip shapes – all bent ‘one way’ made this a real pull-what’s-left-of-my hair-out challenge. I mostly succeeded by rotating all the large flower shapes to about the same angle, then using abundant leaves and a myriad of smaller flowers to distract the eye from dwelling on the not-quite symmetrical aspect of the bouquet’s two sides.
Besides using the teeny size 15 beads in both round and hex shapes and several sizes of bugle beads, the bouquet also displays Swarovski bicone and round crystal beads, blue glass leaf beads from Bohemia and the pewter flower beads with two colors of centered blue crystals. The beading on all the blooms and the leaves of each motif is the similar – after deciding on beads and crystals for each flower and leaf, I then used the same number of beads in the same pattern on every similar motif, paying special attention to the spacing so each would come out looking identical – when I was off by a millimeter or two, stitches were pulled out and beads re-sewn.
The small figure of a woman walking under the orchard trees, and the little herring boat in the upper left corner where a sun shaft shines on the boat and the sparkling sea are also cut from the precious bit of Dutch fabric sent halfway round the world to me. The blossoming trees are from the boughs in the toile de Jouy fabric that I made into larger trees; tiny blue and white butterflies with beaded wings flitter about the orchard and the banks of roses below the windowsill. The varying width stripes in the blue and white fabric I planned for either side of the window were, inconveniently, lined up in a non-symmetrical strips that didn’t give the mirror-opposite striping I desired for each side of the window – I had to slice most of the strips apart, then re-assemble them again so they would appear precise inverses of each other on the right and left sides. I have to admit this exercise tried my patience fairly high – after a session of yet another cut-swear-iron-reinforce-stick together-Oops! that line wavered so cut another, then repeat whole process with yet more earthy Anglo-Saxon words flying about the room, Fitz-William Fizzy Wits was often found head down behind a corner cushion on the settee!
The window valence and the sill are cut from this same striped material, and indeed I had to slice and dice that dang striped fabric again for the motifs to line up as I wished – fortunately these strips weren’t near as many as on the side panels. The triangle medallions – cut from the Dutch fabric – decorating the ends of the valence each have a flat-back Swarovski crystal accent centered in the design with a clear blue bead; a length of prized lace made in the fine-point triangle shapes that I’d held on to for years is sewn along the bottom.
When the window surrounds were glued on, the little toile de Jouy rabbit set in the foreground rose bank, the vase placed on the sill and the two fallen blooms fallen from the bouquet arranged beside it, the Blue Monster was at last finished and I held an Unveiling Party. Fitz-William settled his fuzz and everyone invited enjoyed studying the new piece and the other textile works on display while sipping sparkling pear from crystal glasses; all sorts of positive comments and exclamations flew about the room – great fun! The artist’s main emotion was a vast sense of relief and the realization she can now state with absolute certainty she will never again create such an elaborate, dense-beaded bouquet – this one’s as far into crazy-max beadwork on fabric as she’s ever going to go!
*gimp – a narrow, ornamental trim of silk, wool or cotton often stiffened with metallic thread, wire or coarse cord.
*toile de Jouy, or ‘cloth from Jouy-en-Josas’ – a fabric that started being manufactured in France in the 18the century that shows scenic vignettes on cotton, linen or silk printed in one color against a lighter ground and famous for portraying idyllic country life with pretty maids, amorous swains, doves, flowers, brooks and picturesque tumble-down cottages.