Shortly after Christmas I received a commission for “one of my ‘buttons'” in memory of Professor Michael Hattaway who died last year. The commission was from his widow (a friend), and the brief was a 12″ roundel on the theme of the ‘Forest of Arden’ from Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’ – design to be my choice. No pressure then!?!
I had already got in my head a vision of a ‘forest’ piece, involving trees on both sides of clearing; this seemed to fit the bill. To me, this summarises what a forest is – open woodland with large areas of open land, which may or may not be grazed by deer or other animals. Think New Forest – it is after all where I come from!
The plot of ‘As You Like It’ (which I admit to not ever having seen, though now I really want to) seems to involve grumpy parents, young love, banishment, ‘The Forest of Arden’, disguises and at least one shepherd – what you might call a pastoral affair. An internet search for images related to the play emphasised that idea, but I knew that people and animals would not be my forte (with my current skill set), and the best I would be able to achieve would be some sheep.
So, I set to and created the outline that I had visualised, trying to bring together two trees (which because of the yarn colours I had were in my head a Birch tree (left) and a Beech tree (right). The ‘clearing’ was the most authentically ‘Dorset Button’ element. I had already sourced some lovely leaf shaped beads, which I augmented with further supplies of colours that seemed to fit the summer-y feel of the piece. There’s a list of suppliers below.
Once the embroidery hoop was blanket stitched, and basic outline completed with acrylic yarns (for strength), I used art-yarns to fill in the clearing, and wired additional branches into the two trees, with the leaf beads attached. Branches were then blanket stitched. The slightly hilarious bit was working out what size the needle-felted sheep would need to be, which involved cutting out shapes and laying them on the partly completed piece. These would be only my second attempt at needlefelting, but I had some lovely British fluff to work with (from another ongoing project) and felt the results were worthwhile. The only way I could infer the love stories that lie within both the play, and the commission itself, was to include two intertwined wooden hearts.
Further explorations of the text of the play by my husband suggested that a chain necklace featured as a love-token and created a desire to obliquely reference the famous ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech that features in ‘As You Like It’. The chain I located from a collection of ‘upcycled items’, remnants of my great-aunts collection – she was artist who used plaster to mould sculptures (having had to leave Birmingham Art School for the family jewellry business in the 1920’s when her father discovered she was ‘drawing nudes’!) I referenced the schoolboy element of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’, by making a tiny school satchel using some upcycled suede patching from materials left by my mother. Other items used included modern seed beads, upcycled beads, and a piece of driftwood, probably from Shingle Street in Suffolk last holiday.
It ‘just so happened’ that I completed this piece on Valentine’s Day, and delivered it to my friend, the Professor’s widow on what would have been his birthday! I was very pleased, and not a little relieved that she was delighted with it, and gave me permission to share the details with you. I also discovered that one of the Professor’s ‘things’ about ‘As You Like It’ was his insistence on the concept of ‘forest’ involving wide open ‘lawn’ areas, just like those I grew up with in the New Forest! My only regrets are that I never met Prof Hattaway myself, and that I knew enough to have included at least a cast antler – or a visual interpretation of one – as his penultimate book, the 3rd edition of his work on ‘As You Like It’ published shortly before his death, features a stunning Fallow Buck, just the sort of animal I grew up watching.
Leaf beads – Spellbound Bead Co
Art yarn – Gaia Fibre Studio and Spin and Wander via Etsy
Super-chunky Rasta Merino by Malabrigo – Beaker Button at Weyhill in Hampshire (It was a little kit from Jen that started this Dorset Button ‘thing’ in my life.)
Seed beads – Beads Direct and Beads Unlimited
Synthetic yarns – include Lion Brand Homespun Thick and Quick Stripes sourced via The Knitting Network
British wool for the sheep – Thomas Wood and Wool
Embroidery hoop 12” – Hobbycraft (but I’ve got plans for an sustainable alternative – watch this space!)