Earlier this year, I went with my pal John to visit the Bass Rock and look at the Gannet Colony. We went out by boat, on the Sula. As you approach the Rock, it looks white, then like velvet, ad then you see a cloud around it, like the electrons around the nucleus of an atom – if there is an atom with ten’s of thousands of electrons in its cloud. As you get closer, these resolve into thousands of gannets nesting on the rock and thousands more flying around it. John had recommended that I wore a hat. I’m glad I did.
On the boat approaching the Bass RockHere is the view from the boat. I was finding it hard to stay upright. The sea was roughish, for a landlubber like me, and there was lots to catch the attention; puffins, seals, kittiwakes, gulls, gannets, the ever-changing sky and sea.
The visit resulted in a design for and the execution of a picture quilt. I managed to work this on really quickly. I made a quick sketch of my impression of the rock and the boat trip:
I bought some materials in a fabric shop in Stirling, and sat on John’s dining room floor playing with the pieces. I had found materials in blacks, greys and blues, and in a range of textures and patterns that reflected the sea and sky colours, the white and black of the gannets, the specks of bright colour from swimming puffins, and the swirl and shift of the sea. And then I played, pinned, stitched and altered. John showed me a website with a print of the Rock done in the 17th century; I was pleased to see the bird cloud.
Here is the first placement of fabric pieces: I had ruched some of the grey satin to give the idea of waves and billows, and also the black and gold material – a printed cotton in a pattern called flying cranes reminded me of the gannets, puffins and kittiwakes on and above the water around the boat. I used two shades of patterned grey to make the sides of the rock where the gannets nest. And the darker grey and black made the cliff on one side where the kittiwakes next. The top and side of the rock are white with birds and guano. Once I had placed those pieces, I started tacking them in place, and thinking about the eventual quilting. I used a piece of the black and gold to make the reverse of the quilt, and then a mix of hand and machine quilting to hold it together, indicating waves and bird flight paths.
Here is the quilt part way through machining it; you can see I have folded the backing to the front to make a border.
At this stage I also did another sketch, this time with watercolour pencils, to remind me of my initial vision.
Finally, I stitched in the cloud of birds using pale grey running stitch in curves.
Here is the completed quilt, with hand stitching done, you can see the bird cloud around the rock, and the stormy, grey billows of the sea and foam.