Monday 2 January 2023

2023 Topic 01: Shrines {by Victoria Wilding} with JoFY stamps

Hi everyone

Victoria here with you today.

I hope you all had a magical festive season and welcomed 2023 with peace and happiness. The start of a new year is always so full of possibility, with new opportunities and adventures ahead, but, it is also a time of reflection and looking back at memories past. The topic 'Shrines',  naturally led me to thinking about how we remember those no longer with us, who won't join us on 2023's journey.

Pocket shrines have been used in many religions, over hundreds of years, as a way of keeping faith close during travels. Traditionally containing imagery of religious icons and prayers, they are extremely personal pieces and highly portable. The concept of something, or someone, leaving a mark also ties in nicely to the first theme of 2023 'Tracks'. Tracks leave a mark and this led me to thinking about the many ways marks may manifest. I started to consider the physical marks left behind by a person, through objects and possessions (e.g. jewellery, photos, clothes) and the emotional marks made in the memories of those they leave behind (e.g. characteristics, sayings, favourite pastimes and music).

It struck me that instead of using a pocket shrine as a religious object, one could also be made to celebrate the life of a loved one and so, I decided to create a deeply personal pocket shrine project, for my Mum, who I sadly lost in 2021. This would literally carry her with me into the new year, keeping her memory alive and make another kind of mark, one on the present from the past.

My finished pocket shrine is perfectly imperfect. It's a little treasure trove of Mum and provides a beautiful visual reminder of her. It celebrates who she was and offers a way for me to figuratively hold her close. And it got my new year off to a positive start, encouraging me to grow by developing new creative skills with embroidery, almost like Mum was giving me a little nudge.

I started out by deciding what objects and materials to use for my pocket shrine. I wanted to use fabric from Mum's old clothes as the main substrate and gathered some photos and jewellery that she was really fond of. In her final years she had dementia and she kept a small jewellery box of treasures close at hand which offered comfort and reassurance in her times of confusion. These were the perfect choice for inclusion in my pocket shrine.

I wanted to keep the project within my pretty floral style. My love of flowers comes directly from Mum and she nurtured my creativity from a really young age, so the combination of the two was always a very natural direction to take my creative practice in. I selected two PaperArtsy A5 stamp sets by JOFY (JOFY102 and JOFY103) and decided to use the simple outlines as a template to create some floral embroidery as a focal point on the finished piece.

Finally I decided to construct a tri-fold shrine case from fabric using a rectangular template which would be easy to put together with my limited sewing experience. My plan was to decorate the outside using the JOFY florals before placing Mum's jewellery and photo's on the inside.

I selected one of Mum's denim skirts (some of her favourite items in her wardrobe) to use for the fabric in the project. I marked out a rectangular piece of fabric (15 x5.5 inches) and split it into three sections (5x5.5 inches) before cutting it out.

Next I ironed in a folding line for each section to help me place the images on the top side. I then repeated these steps with a second piece of fabric (natural cotton) which I could use as a lining on the inside of the project.

I then selected some of the stamps and stamped out the images on the top of the denim using StazOn (Cloudy Sky) as I needed the outlines to be clearly visible but not too dark, just in case my embroidery revealed some of the outline. Remember that the finished panels will be folded, so the direction of your stamping needs to change according to each panel so that stamps are all the right way round once finished.

With the main elements of the pocket shrine, cut out and ready to go, it was time to learn some embroidery stitches and start work on the decoration.

Embroidering the flowers was always going to be the most time consuming part of the project, especially since I haven't done any embroidery before! To keep costs low since I'm not sure how much embroidery I'll do in the future, I bought a cheap pack of embroidery threads in a large range of colours from Amazon. I did a quick search for instructional videos of basic embroidery stitches on YouTube and with my iPad at hand, got comfy in front of the TV and made a start on filling in the flowers and leaves.

It's slow progress and I do begin to wonder initially if I've bitten off more than I can chew! I selected threads in a range of pinks and greens, to provide a nice contrast to the blue denim background. After a couple of attempts the stitches really started to take shape and I started to get a bit faster. I used the 'French Knot' stitch for the flowers, the 'Fishbone' stitch for the leaves, the 'Stem' stitch for the stems and a 'Split' stitch for the circles.

With the embroidery complete I needed to assemble the outside and inside fabrics. I hadn't initially considered how bumpy the underside of the embroidery would be so needed some padding between the two fabrics. I decided to use what I hand to hand and this happened to be some used plastic bubble wrap!

I cut three squares and secured it with double-sided tape to the back of the denim fabric first before placing the natural cotton on top.

It was then time to stitch the two panels together on my sewing machine. I have limited sewing experience so kept this really basic with open outside seems, stitching all around the outside edges. I then stitched along the two folding lines to create extra definition for the folding sections.

This was never going to be a perfectly finished fabric construction due to my limited sewing experience, but on the plus side, I actually really like the handmade quality of imperfections! This can most clearly be seen on the inside construction on the pocket shrine where the natural cotton is exactly cut in the top and bottom corners. 
To enhance the imperfections as a feature, I also kept the loose threads from the stitching to add an extra element to the project.

There are also some loose stitches to the embroidered flowers as it was tricky to pull the stitching tight without the use of an embroidery hoop. With hindsight I would definitely purchase one to keep the fabric flat and help with stitch formation when following the outlines.

With the pocket shrine construction complete it was time to include the jewellery, photos and sentiments.

Deciding which sentimental items to place inside was the trickiest part of the project. There's so many ways you could do this, but in the end I decided on the same design for each section so that the focus of the eye was on the objects themselves. I cut out four pieces of card (4x3 inches) and used a corner punch to give them a decorative edge. I also printed a range of photos, of Mum throughout her life, on my home printer. Finally I selected two PaperArtsy Fresco Finish Acrylics (Venice Blue and Steel Grey) to provide some background colour for the card and my trusty fountain pen to hand letter the text.

I decided to use my gel plate to apply the colour to the card, as this would give a more grungy finish. I started by applying the PaperArtsy Fresco Finish Acrylic in Venice Blue.

I then switched out the Steel Grey colour for Snowflake in order to soften the overall effect of the colour and make sure it wasn't too dominant. I wrote out the text on plain white paper and ripped around the edges and then glued these to the background cards, together with the photos. The cards were secured to the pocket shrine using fabric glue. The final step was securing the jewellery pieces with pins.

My finished pocket shrine turned out so much better than I expected. The embroidery adds a really unique touch to the stamp designs and the sense of accomplishment when all those little elements are complete is amazing! I love the texture that the embroidery adds to the stamp designs and can definitely see me incorporating this into future projects.

The outside feels like a real extension of Mum, and me living on in her memory; her denim and love of flowers, combines with the crafty, creative streak she helped to nurture. And the inside clearly shows this pocket shrine is in honour of my Mum, Christine Rowan, for who 3 really was the magic number!

I hope you feel inspired to create a shrine of your own, remembering someone special in your life as you embark on a new year of memory making and adventure.

Wishing you a creative, happy week


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