OK, so it's just a week to Christmas Eve: NOW we can go festive, if you like!!
"THE HOLLY AND THE IVY,
WHEN THEY ARE BOTH FULL GROWN ..."
One of the smallest subjects I ever capture is the "fruit fly", or, indeed, gnat... very easy if you know how! Everyone remembers being taught how to work lazy-daisy stitch, don't they? So... two lazy-daisy stitches for wings, a few tiny short stitches to suggest legs and voila!
Although the long tail feathers make the long-tailed tit appear one of the larger of his family, the body of this tiny bird is actually the smallest! The tail feathers here are worked in very long stitches, running the length of the black feathers with shorter while stitches angled inward at the outer edges. Never be afraid to mimic nature to create a realistic effect!
As winter begins to bite, predators find it harder and harder to seek out their prey ... the little owl is the smallest of British owls, and often hunts during the daytime, giving him a better chance of keeping a full tummy! So why does he always look so cross?
Small tortoiseshells (centre and bottom) are the smallest of the "aristocrat" butterflies ... you can actually see them quite often at this time of the year as they can easily accidentally be disturbed from their hibernation - often by rummaging in the attic for the Christmas decorations! Try to pop them carefully into a nook where there will be cool (but not too cold) and they may well go back to sleep ready to wake up in the spring - so remember to check your attic again when the warm weather arrives. Usually, they hibernate with their wings closed, which gives you an opportunity to see the very different texture of the undersides of the wings. I always work these in mat or twisted silk, to contrast with the shiny floss used on their upper surfaces.
OK, so you want Christmassy? Which are the smallest choirboys in the world? Aconites! I always think they look like little golden haired choirboys with frilly ruffs around their necks! Getting ready to sing their carols for Christmas. They are some of the simplest flowers to work, but, oh, so effective on a black background.
Here's Mr. Fishy in more detail ... his belly is in laddering - needleweaving with one shade of silk darker than the other, this is then overlaid with straight stitching to give a slippery, fishscale back, with fins and spines in single strands of metallic thread - in this case, silver. Voiding picks out the gills, and the all important highlight in the eye brings him to life.
Sticklebacks are the smallest freshwater fish in England - this fellow is the three-spined variety... along with the tiny flowers of the water violet and water forget-me-not, a delicate design can sweep us back to summer on the river bank! I wish!
The intricacies of the mini-world can sometimes mean that even colour is superfluous to requirements! This almost monochrome study incorporates two techniques that we have looked at recently, cobwebbing and the tiny parachute stitch needed for the dandelion clock. And the spider? Two straight stitches, jointed, create each leg... lift up the top two to make him go "uphill" and vice versa!
A little detour from our "smallest" thread ... to celebrate (if that's the right word) the arrival of the really cold weather here in the UK! Winter has checked in over the last couple of days, and apart from the occasional winter moth, the only things on the wing are the birds... but at ground level there is still plenty going on.
And speaking of snowflakes, they are surely the epitome of the thought "small is beautiful". Let's look at a few... this one is worked in cobweb stitching with the addition of tiny seed pearls and seed beads. It is about 1" (2.5 cm) across.
An occasional rival for the pygmy shrew's tiny crown, is the harvest mouse - though certainly the smallest true mouse. Even a snowflake looks pretty big to a harvest mouse - though venturing out into the cold is a hazardous business. Differences in texture between, say, tail, feet and coat can be achieved by using floss silk for the coat and a twisted mat silk - or even cotton - for the more fleshy features, but always in a fine gauge.
Britain's smallest mammal? The pygmy shrew. It is so tiny that it's metabolism means that if it does not eat for 2 hours it will starve! In embroidery, as with most animals, large or small, the angle of stitching flows toward the nose, each stratum of stitching merging into the next to give the impression of fur. On a pygmy shrew's scale, though, the silk needs to be oh-so-fine!
Okay, back to our "small is beautiful" thread! Many people think that the wren is the smallest British bird, but it is actually beaten by both the gold- and fire-crest (this is the gold). He is basically very similar to the little fellow I saw a week or so ago in the Abbey Gardens. Don't you find it fascinating that the stitching techniques for a tiny bird like this are exactly the same as for a huge eagle?