Immersing myself in Jacobean crewel work

A sketch of  a bird of paradise
A sketch of a bird of paradise

I have made a start on my research for the first module of my RSN certificate.  The topic for this module is Jacobean crewel work – not something I have done a lot of, except for the little robin sampler that is my current “work in progress”

Crewel work robin from a Nicola Jarvis kit
Crewel work robin from a Nicola Jarvis kit

As you can see, that is not a vast amount of experience….

Crewel work is very Venerable.  It makes it clear in the course notes that the project should have a traditional flavour – we aren’t looking for anything too creatively contemporary.  And that’s quite good for a first assignment, because Jacobean work tends to draw heavily on some staple themes, an there is a huge amount of inspiration easily available via a quick “Google image” search.  The central  part of a traditional crewel work project is a stem with large and fanciful leaves, called a “tree of life”.  The idea is that these leaves are shaded and filled with lots of different intricate patterns and textures, worked in wool (the term “crewel” seems to derive from an old English word for wool)  The colours are very important too – you often see the same sorts of khaki greens, saffron yellow, duck-egg blues and rusty reds cropping up – I guess that reflects the sort of dyes commonly available for wool in days gone by.  You use a palette of very closely matched shades to achieve depth and shading.  All of this is really very new to me, so I am reading and surfing and gathering ideas.  Three things leap out at me from my quick skim.  Obviously, the tree of life and some foliage.  Then another common thing is fruit  – often a stylized split-open pomegranate, which gives a good opportunity for textured lattice type fillings.  But the one that really made me quite excited was the bird of paradise.  I am a real nature lover, and I love taking photos of birds, so it isn’t surprising I am drawn to the birds.  Tonight I have spent a very pleasant evening sketching my own bird of paradise.  It has a way to go yet – it think it might need to go a bit more “stylized” (read:”wacky”) yet, and I need to work it in to a complete design.  I think I might try to get birdy looking at a pomegranate on a tree.  But the other thing I must not do is get too carried away!  I need to hand over my ideas to my tutors, and they will have suggestions for how to make it into a “proper” jacobean design.  There is no point rocking up with a completed design – just something to work with.  So I need to work through some elements, think about colour balance etc.  That is my project for a little while, I thought you might like to see it from scratch.

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