Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Gesture of the Lion

Even Cuffy and Mona found themselves interested in the progress of the cocoons: they were so ingenious, beautifully knitted, and in some cases lovely to look at. The monarch caterpillar, for instance, contrived a waxy chrysalis of pale green, flecked with tiny arabesques of gilt. It hung from the twig on a little black silk thread, like the jade earring of a Manchu princess.

“How lovely!” said Mona. “Oh, if there were only some way of preserving them. I’d like to have a pale-green dress all buttoned down the front with those.”

Oliver was outraged, and Rush said, “There’s a woman for you. Always thinking of the beauties in nature in terms of wearing apparel. Can’t see a shiny spider web without wanting to make a snood out of it. Can’t see the Grand Canyon without wanting to dye something to match it. Can’t—“

“Oh, Rush, if you could hear how stuffy you sound!” cried Mona. “Pompous and stuffy and about fifty years old. I suppose you’d rather have me quote a poem!”

“Well, you never lost an opportunity yet,” Rush observed. “What’s the matter, didn’t Shakespeare ever write any poetry about cocoons?”

--From Then There Were Five, by Elizabeth Enright, in Chapter 5, “Oliver’s Other World”

How I see my daily surroundings sometimes depends upon what particular project I’m working on at the time. When origami was my passion, I looked at objects and imagined how I would represent them in three-dimensional paper figures. After I learned to sew, I started to notice clothes and furniture in terms of the individual shapes of the pieces of cloth that came together as a whole. My mom had a friend who worked in interior decorating for awhile, and would think about how best to wallpaper the people she saw in the streets. (This scenario was preferable to the time that same friend was working with turkey parts.)

As I work on different figures for the circus-themed class project, I am attempting to picture how different animals would look as felt figures. I realized for the first time that tigers weren’t actually orange—their coats are orange-tinted brown. Lions’ tales sloped differently than I imagined. My first attempt to stitch a lion resulted in a bulky, four-legged figure that did not evoke anything catlike once it was three-dimensional, despite my efforts to capture the sweep of the back legs:

Bede has an artist’s eye, and encouraged me to simplify my sketches. My daughter’s assistant-kindergarten teacher said that she tried to make a sheep in one of her teacher-training classes, but she didn’t capture the “gesture” of the sheep. As I worked on the plans for the lion, I knew that I would have to figure out how to find the “gesture” of the lion. The basic lion form I drew for my pattern could just as easily have been a horse or a lion-colored sheep. I tried to evoke this:

This is what I came up with:

Elvis the lion and Buddy the circus friend (note that it is Buddy who is wearing the blue suede shoes)

I tried to get a little bit of white in the fur, as you can see here:

Despite all of the gussets (little triangles of fabric that add three-dimensional texture to the lion), finding the gesture of the lion was difficult. A second attempt will involve more attention to the shape of the face. I am glad that I had needle-felting tools to attach the mane, otherwise you might be looking at a lion-hued horse.

Materials used: wool felt, pipe-cleaners (to keep the legs from splaying), wool stuffing, wool roving (i.e. "fairy wool" for the mane), embroidery thread


Lone Star Ma said...

I think it's lovely. The body is perfect.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I agree with LSM. The felt/wool colors are perfect, too. We saw some lions up close this summer and noticed especially their tufty tales: nice work there!

BlueMamma said...

Oooh, the arch of the body is nice. I like the way it looks ready to spring, even though its back legs are fully extended.

Philip said...

I think that's a pretty good lion! BlueMamma says what I was going to, except my phrasing was to be that it looks pounce-y. (Not to be confused with poncey!)

Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks, everyone! I may (or may not) attempt a tiger next, though I think the stripes will have to be stylized. I wish I could find the right felt, though. I have a small, small piece that is of the perfect hue, but it came as part of a kit to another project.

Lady K said...

PIPE CLEANERS!!! I have a frog my grandma crocheted a LONG time ago, and it's gone limp. I never thought of pipe cleaners! Thank you! You are just full of such great ideas! :*

Clydesdale Jogger said...

On a slightly related tangent to looking at the world through one's passions, my wife is constantly looking at people's veins. She's an RN and has started countless IVs over the last 16 years. She is always on the lookout for "a good sticking vein."

I think the lion is adorable.

Camille said...

These are splendid!

holly cupala said...

Oh! Look at that wonderful Lion! Just seeing him there gives me courage.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Beautiful work and I love your process commentary. Make me want to pull out the felt and start something...

BookChook said...

I have a writing friend who made the artwork for her picture book, Rainbow Sheep, entirely from felt. Now she is working on an entire felt village for her web site. At, she has videos of her actually doing the felting, just in case you know some parents who would like to start the craft with their kids.