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Three French Hens

Sometimes you get a commission that’s a little extra special and such a joy to work on. In this case a lovely bedcover for a two year old to be an heirloom piece. The little girl has three hens, one white feathered and two with black and copper. Her mum says she’s mad about them and upon seeing my whimsical illustrations, an idea brewed.

Instantly I loved this project and started sketches to ensure the hens were identifiable but mainly liked. They had to be able to grow with her too and not be too baby like. I worked on tinted papers as they give a warmth to illustrations and the colour choices were the base of the colour scheme. I have a collection of fabric samples from other illustration work I do on flowers, and there was one that had a very nostalgic 1920’s feel in pale shades of rose, yellows and soft greens.

Firstly I cut my fabric design on photoshop and laid out a pattern, fiddling alot with gaps and sizing. I wanted to add a strip or two to break up the density of the main pattern and reinforce the rose colouring to balance the other mix of colours in more grey green tones.

The hens were next added after trimming with a wobbly, sort of old fashion pinking shears effect and a light boarder to keep them seperate from the background. I find using a subtle colour drawn from the main body of fabric, taken down to say 70% translucency works fine. You can then see a little of the background still and it all remains sift looking. Bare I mind this is flat at the moment, but once printed on a textured woven fabric, that too wil soften and pull all the layers together. I play with positioning, balance of tone accross the whole piece and duplicated a few more hens. Notice too that I reverse half of the hens to ensure they look inwards to the centre. When the little girl sees the hens whilst in bed, affectively they will be looking in her direction and not out to the room.

I actually think this is what I love about fabrics. They can be very emotive and give rise to strong emotions, be in pattern, colour or image. Arts and Craft fabrics have a huge emotional connection for me back to my childhood. They were resurrected in the 1970’s and influenced many designers due to their brash floral patterns. When I see them I am taken back to camping in Epping forest, playing pirates and writing stories about Pinto ponies.

I hoped my design would resonate too and nervously sent over the hen illustrations first. Relief! Not only did mum and daughter love them, but the little girl recognised and named the hens. I was so happy. Next I submitted the final draft and that passed too. I had provided another four or five background designs, but the main one was chosen and that made my day.

So now I need to choose the fabric and get a sample piece made up. Depending on the fabric, the design may need a little more contrast. Textured weaves, like a linen, or a more open woven panama, have more gaps between the warp and weft and light and shadow are created. This affects the colour and pattern. I love this because it blends everything softly as opposed to printing on a tight flat weave cotton that, although your design will be perfectly represented, seems a little ‘plastic’ to me, a bit like a painting on flat paper rather than a textured cartridge. It depends on the detail you want too..the smoother the weave the more detail you see, but honestly our brains infill alot of information, so mostly I go with a light texture and try to get the best of both styles.

The hens are illustrated I colour pencils, some wax based, some oil with a few acrylic pen highlights. Working on tinted paper can be tricky. Blues can dull your blue shades, whilst pinks can get to look purple. But with a few dark and strong colour choices, I think the tints help unify the piece, a bit as first painting a composition with greys unifies shaddows and highlights in oil painting or tempera.

When the sample return and any adjustments made to tone or detail, I will order the full piece and sew. I found a beautiful backing cotton with a soft, almost huckaback quality to it, a bio cotton with no bleach. It will give a lovely textured reverse, but warm too. I will add some quilting stitching too and the hen names with my embroidery sewing machine, along with a little contrast piping on the edges.

I will post the finished piece on here, hopefully around the end of November ♡

4 thoughts on “Three French Hens

  1. really interesting to read and follow you through the various processes, really cannot wait to see the finished fabric. One little girl is certainly going to grow up treasuring this and this article can be kept to document how it was conceived and developed, you have a great talent!

    Liked by 1 person

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