Friday, January 16, 2015

The journey of an artwork: 'Coast Pennywort' from start to finish

The inspiration for my new piece Coast Pennywort (hydrocotyle bonariensis) came from a plant I picked up on a walk around my local area. This plant, commonly known as Coast Pennywort or Kurnell's curse, is a weed in most parts of New South Wales but I have always loved the shape of it's fleshy leaves with their intricate internal vein patterns.  

When collecting plants for study I always make sure that I am collecting from an area where it's permitted. Don't ever be tempted to pick plants or flowers from national parks without permission, that is a big no no! Being a prolific weed, I don't think anyone minded that I picked a bunch of Pennywort leaves and squirrelled them back to my studio for study.

A leaf from the Coast Pennywort or Kurnells curse plant (Hydrocotyle bonariensis).
When you hold the leaf up to the sun you can clearly see it's intricate vein systems. 

Wherever possible with my work I like to work from life. I like to have a physical specimen in front of me to touch, examine and sketch from when I develop my designs. I find that physical study gives me a much deeper understanding of a plant than what I could glean from photographs alone. Also by collecting multiple specimens I can compare the leaves and identify common characteristics which helps with identification.

Once back in the studio with my specimens I make a few quick sketches and identify the main characteristics of the plant/leaf. I then do a bit of research to identify the plant (my trusty Les Robinson plant field guide being my first stop then PlantNET being my back up). I also photograph the individual leaves with a macro lens for future reference.

After identification I draw up a design for an embroidered work. In this case I focused on the vein systems of the leaf with it's beautiful radiating pattern.

Sketching and studying Pennywort leaves

Once the deign is finalised and lightly sketched onto some base fabric I embroider the design on the sewing machine. One clear characteristic of this particular leaf is it's bright yellow/green centre where the stem attaches.  In an attempt to emulate this feature the outer edges of the leaf are a deep green that gradually fades into a bright lime green in the centre of the piece. This is done my gradually alternating thread colours as I stitch to get a (hopefully) seamless gradation of colour. 

embroidering 'Coast Pennywort'

When the design is fully embroidered and connected the base fabric is removed and the piece is carefully mounted on pins so that it appears to float above the base board. This mounting process is very important because it results in delicate shadows that add another dimension of depth to the piece and brings it to life. The piece is then custom framed in a shadow box behind glass like a precious specimen that is ready to hang on the wall. 

Coast Pennywort (Hydrocotyle bonariensis) - embroidery by Meredith Woolnough
Coast Pennywort  (detail) embroidery by Meredith Woolnough

This piece will be exhibited at the Newcastle Gallery Collective's upcoming exhibition; 'Small, Medium, Large' which open's on Valentines day (February 14th 2015). 


  1. Fragile and beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing,Love Your Work -Houston,Texas,USA

  3. Meredith this is (as usual) a beautiful art work. Thrilling to read your details from start to finish. So impressive.
    Wow! thank you.

  4. Amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wonderful! (Question: what do you use for your base fabric?)

  6. Your work takes my breathe away - beautiful

  7. See your work brought tears to my eyes, my late mother would love to have seen it.
    She did Richelieu all her life I have magnificent pieces, the only difference was that her work was all done free hand, Bernina embroidery tools.
    Your work is more like a vision, not to be touched, look with your eyes only. I do hope that you have plenty of recognition. Its astonishing crafted. You should make divine summer hats...Some of your piece are perfect. All the best.

  8. Mary, I notice she hasn't answered your question but I've achieved this by using water soluble "fabric"

  9. Beautiful work, I love it. Tried to do some earlier this year but it did not turn out well. Might try again to see if I can improve a lot.

  10. What kind of stitch is this? It is beautiful.