Conjuring up a tale from the past

Conjuring up a tale from the past

Thinking I would share with you something from my past – I went to search for various elements that I knew I had not thrown away and had just seen in the last few months. Suddenly, I was thrown into the midst of a magic trick….pooooof….they had completely vanished!

Much searching and wand waving resulted, some days later, with the completion of the magic trick….the big reveal….of that which was lost.

In deciding to share this ‘something’ from my past, I gave myself a shock….it was from 1997! Although off-piste re wool fibre, I think it might still hold some interest, so please ignore the date and 24 year gap.

To briefly explain the background – I had enjoyed upholstery and soft furnishing as a hobby for many years, then an opportunity presented itself for me to teach these skills. To demonstrate competence, I was ‘very-encouraged’ to get some ‘official’ qualifications, so set about studying upholstery. I managed to complete the two-year course in one year and won a significant award. Following this a few interesting opportunities came my way including an invite to be part of a calendar production, I agreed, and was then commissioned to make an upholstered item.

I was to be ‘April’….you can wipe away all images you might have conjured up of flower bouquets, artists’ palettes, extra-large buns or samples of fabric strategically placed. This was not to be a repeat of the Calendar Girls!



A few ideas floated around, but fairly quickly I had the….Tadaa moment….an upholstered screen!

I then pontificated (this word really does describe the process I went through) over how to represent the month of April in the screen. The big dilemma here, was that I normally used purchased commercial fabrics, so I was in a quandary as to how I could manipulate them.

Much of my early thinking revolved around the months, year and particularly the seasons and the continuum or seasonal cycle. There are four seasons so the screen could have four parts. Colours could blend from spring through summer and autumn to typical wintery colours. This also implied an organic quality. Another factor I had to bear in mind was that once finished with, the screen would be mine to keep, so I also needed to create something that would ‘fit’ into my life.

I then started to think more specifically about April and the first thing that came to mind was the phrase built into our British psyche – ‘April showers’ (in the UK April was always a month dominated by showers although global warming seems to be changing things a bit since). Then came the idea of which flowers bloomed in April – Forget-me-not, viola, wallflower, honesty, iris, primula, grape hyacinth etc. From this list I distilled the colours – yellow, purple, rose and blue. Then of course April is the fourth month….decision made – the screen must definitely have four parts!

So far so good.

Research & idea gathering

More research (there was no Google or Pinterest back in the day!) and thinking (my thinking, even to this day, involves doodles on scraps of paper, lots of them) followed, particularly in terms of how I could translate water/rain into an upholstered work. The only way I was going to achieve any of my ideas was to create my own fabric. So then started another direction of thinking and decision making. Fortunately, I had dabbled previously with painting on silk, so this seemed the natural path forward.

By this time I had also honed my thoughts as to the construction, made complicated by the fact that a screen can be viewed from two sides which meant attaching the fabric would be fiddly. With most of my main thoughts galvanised I produced a detailed drawing (the easiest task as an architect) that I sent off for approval from the relevant calendar committee.

I couldn’t quite get the organic element I wanted then I struck lucky and saw an image in a National Geographic magazine that set the ball rolling for the final layout. Sadly, I cannot find that image today, but from memory it was one showing the broken circular rim of a volcano protruding through an ocean.

I often trace lines from magazine images, but these just didn’t cut the mustard.

A carpenter made 3 sets of frames – the main screen frame which I then dyed to the right colour and finished, the inner mounting frames for the fabrics and the frames for me to stretch and paint the silk.

I had the ironsmith create the post finials (normally found on iron railings) which I kept deliberately removable from the posts so that I would be able to transport the screen without injury either to person or vehicle!

Meanwhile I concentrated on getting the silk panels painted for which I trialled some coloured pencil alternatives. Missing ‘something’ I stamped a golden design over the top to create more texture using carved/scored pizza bases.

The photocopied enlarged design. The outline was traced with a clear gutta resist before applying heat-set silk paints

The silk was laid onto a strong supporting cotton fabric and bits of masking tape were used to plot where the raindrops should be. After some practice, these were then machine stitched using lustrous shiny threads. This was quite a nerve-wracking point as you can imagine. Realising that from a distance, the raindrops would need more impact against the colour, out came a variety of beads from yet another of my stashes!

Developing the raindrops idea.

My then seven-year-old son giving me a helping hand.

The silk panels were combined with the commercial fabric and the screen completed in sufficient time for the photo shoot.

Designed to fit into my ‘then’ house (floor to top of iron finial the screen measures 1.65m (5ft 5in)and taller than me!) which had 3m high ceilings. In my ‘now’ house I have just 28cm (11in) clearance above the screen!!!
24 years later!

The flip side

Continuing another side to the story….I’ll make it short!

The venue was set and to take place at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Museum in West Yorkshire. All the equipment was set up and my screen placed in position – complete with a free standing shower head!….April shower anyone? – Someone had some fun-thinking in the planning….all of which took hours as you can imagine.

Organised chaos and smoke screens!

Finally, after they had tested and rehearsed everything including a smoke bomb to represent the steam train, ‘the’ photo was captured.

The final museum photo with a museum railway guard doing the honors – I love how the colours echoed each other.

The published 1998 Calendar photo

Throughout the morning the crew and I had been laughing and joking….then came an unexpected question….would I be prepared to be tied up, and lie on the tracks in front of the train?….WHAT?!?!

Thus far the whole experience had been quite magical, and as I have a reasonably adventurous spirit….I agreed.

I won’t show you the photo where I was asked to ‘pretend’ to scream as if I was about to be run over by the train….I totally and utterly failed….it came out as a very real, loud, blood chilling, scream (definitely not a good photo)!

Waiting for them setting the camera up – thinking….“Did I really agree to this, it is soooo uncomfortable!”

What I haven’t mentioned is that all this took place on a Saturday and this popular museum was fully open to the general public….you might now be ahead of me….yes, we had built up quite an audience with our general activity behind the barriers….the ‘scream’ was the finale!

I will simply finish by saying – there was so much laughter all around, with folk bent over, much stomach holding and tears just rolling down.

Caught on camera, ages later, wiping away yet another round of laughter tears!

A long distant memory that continues to make me smile as I recount the tale 😊

24 thoughts on “Conjuring up a tale from the past

    1. I wish I could have had it on video & made it even more real for you. Glad you enjoyed my story Jo.

  1. Wow Antje, what a great story. I love all the processes you’ve shown us, and the end result is magical.
    Typical that the “extra (guard)” got cut out of the calendar picture – it’s always happening in professional productions, they daren’t do it to us amateurs though!
    I think it’s amazing that you took so many photographs of the progress of the work, something I’ve only learned to do since I joined the Forum.
    Got any more “historical” stories for us?

    1. Ann – a career essential….taking photos as evidence of building condition etc. I have continued to use photos to record things to this day.

      Yes I was disappointed that our friendly guard got cut too. Are you an amateur thespian?

      I’m delighted my happy story struck a cord for you….thank you.

  2. Oh Antje – what a fantastic post! We love your screen and it still looks fab all these years later. Wonderful calendar photo and what a hoot it must have been for the photoshoot.

    1. Lynn I’m glad you liked the post and my screen.
      I haven’t had the screen out of it’s corner in years and had quite forgotten how heavy it was. In fact it’s ‘corner’ is totally the furthest from any exit point from the house! I was delighted too to see how it has survived the years and managed to photograph it between showers (appropriate).

      Even now writing my reply to you I have a smile remembering the photo shoot & of course to public reaction to the scream!

  3. Antje, the things you’ll do for your art! Looked like too much fun. The screen is absolutely gorgeous

    1. Thank you – I’m glad you like the screen.
      You put it so well….the things we do for our art. Except in this case it might have been the photographer’s art!
      Developing the screen was a challenge I enjoyed and the photo shoot really was a full-on fun experience….so yes, too much fun!

    1. Thanks Ann.
      Developing the raindrop idea came relatively easily but their execution was nerve racking to begin with as I didn’t think the silk would take kindly to stitches being removed. Adding the mélange of beads was fun, fortunately my stash had just what I needed!

      Yes, the shoot was an incredible experience that still brings a smile to me.

  4. What a wonderful story. I am looking at this on my phone and can’t see the photos very well. I will have to read it again when I have a PC available. But your screen looks magical even on the phone.

  5. Thanks Ruth
    I hope you will check it out again on your pc. Unfortunately the sketch photos are darker than I would like, but the screen pix are fine.

    I hope my story brought a smile for you on your travels! The lengths we go to for our art!

  6. Gorgeous screen, Antje, and I love being led along your creative journey, helped by your beautiful drawings. It’s fantastic that the screen seems to look as good now as it did then!

  7. Thanks Lindsay. Hope the ride wasn’t too bumpy!
    Thankfully time has been kind to the screen which was a pleasant surprise.

  8. In your usual fashion you have me laughing here Antje. All I can think of is the silent movies where the ‘baddie’ has tied the beautiful damsel to the tracks as she awaits her fate. I can just imagine your blood curdling screams and the impact that had on the bemused and then thoroughly amused audience, That experience made their day out extra special and very memorable.

    As for your masterpiece, you are a woman of many talents (even if theatrical screaming is not among them lol). This is a thoroughly fascinating read and your process is really interesting. As for the result – it is absolutely fabulous! I’m delighted that it travelled with you to your current abode (especially glad that it fitted with the new roof heights). Love it to bits x

  9. Helene….if you had been with me that day we’d be shedding laughter tears now remembering it!!!
    I’m glad you approve of my efforts….those were the days (energy, youth & time – lol).

    Having moved from one height extreme to another, yes I’m fortunate that the screen fits, albeit with minimal wiggle room.

    1. I’m picturing the scene here Antje. We both would have been thrown out of the place lol!

      As for the beautiful screen, it’s a bit like buying the gloves and then heading off to buy the outfit to match – I would have demanded a suitable extension to the abode to house it 🙂

  10. You really are the Joan of All Trades, Antje 😀 Love it! The screen came out fabulous, and I love it that you didn’t go the “usual” route for the calendar. What other specialty will you uncover in a future blog post?

    That photo of you tied up: you look so uncomfortable that it all just reverts back to being hilarious! I’m happy it was a fun experience.

    1. What a title, but precisely what my former career was, I hadn’t thought of it related to my hobbies too!

      Whilst i can attest to the rails, bolts & track ballast being exceedingly uncomfortable, I have the wonderful happy memories.

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