The Grasses of Great Britain Part Three: Onlays and Embroidery

Once the book block was complete it was time to start working on the leather. I opted to use pale yellow bull skin for the binding as I felt this colour would compliment the grasses.

The grasses I chose to illustrate on the back cover were the following: Elymus geniculatus (#120), Phalaris arundinacea (Reed Canary Grass #11), Lepturus incurvatus (#138), Polypogon littoralis (Perennial Beard Grass #24), Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet Vernal Grass #1), Triticum caninum (#132), Phleum alpinum (Alpine Cat’s-Tail Grass #14), Nardus stricta (#2), Alopeccurus pratensis (Field Meadow Foxtail Grass #4), Alopeccurus bulbosus (#7), Polypogon monspeliensis (Annual Beard Grass #23), Agrostis stolonifera (Creeping Bent Grass #32), Phalaris canariensis (Canary Grass #10) and Hordeum sylvaticum (#125).

The grasses I chose to illustrate on the back cover were the following: Lolium arvense (#137), Triticum cristatum (#129), Leersia oryzoides (Rice Cutgrass #3), Alopecurus alpinus (Alpine Foxtail Grass #5), Phleum arenarium (#18), Stipa pennata (Feather Grass #22), Calamagrostis epigejos (Bush Grass #25), Calamagrostis stricta (Slim Stem Small Reed Grass #27), Alopecurus agrestis (Hunger Grass #6), Phleum michelii (#17), Triticum repens (Couch Grass #131), Phragmites communis (#118), Calamagrostis lanceolata (#26), Aira caryophyllea (Silver Hair Grass #36) and Triticum junceum (#130).

I cut out onlays from thinly pared leather in a variety of colours to match the colours of the grasses from the book illustrations. I rarely throw leather scraps away so have a wonderful array of colours and textures to choose from for such projects.

~ Leather onlays

Using a tracing paper template as a guide, the onlays were glued down into position using PVA glue. The onlays were then painted using acrylic paints to add depth and colour variation to them.

The idea was to build up the underlying colour of the leather onlays ahead of working on the embroidery.

Once I was happy with the colour applied to the onlays with the acrylic paints I began working on the embroidery. I started with the outlines using a mixture of different stitches.

The bull skin leather I used for the cover was supple and easy to stitch through. I rolled up the leather into a coil around some paper to keep the exposed leather concealed whilst embroidering another part of the skin. I chose darker colours to create the outlines of the grasses. Initially sewn using small running stitches, and then these stitches were whipped around to consolidate them.

~ Adding detail to the Anthoxanthum odoratum grass (#1)

Anthoxanthum odoratum, known as sweet vernal grass, is a short-lived perennial grass that is native to acidic grassland in Eurasia and northern Africa. It is grown as a lawn grass and a house plant, due to its sweet scent, and can also be found on unimproved pastures and meadows.
~ Adding detail to the Polypogon monspeliensis grass (#23)

Polypogon monspeliensis, commonly known as annual beard-grass or annual rabbitsfoot grass, is a species of grass. It is native to southern Europe, but it can be found today throughout the world as an introduced species and sometimes a noxious weed. It is an annual grass growing to heights between 5 centimeters and one meter. The soft, fluffy inflorescence is a dense, greenish, plumelike panicle, sometimes divided into lobes. The spikelets have long, thin, whitish awns, which give the inflorescence it’s texture.
~ Adding detail to the Triticum junceum grass (#130) and others

Triticum junceum is a synonym of Elymus farctus which is a species of grass known by the common name sand couch-grass. It is found in Europe and temperate Asia, and grows from rhizomes (a continuously growing horizontal underground stem which puts out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals).

Once the outlines of each grass were complete, I was then able to add finer detail within. Using the painted colour from underneath on the leather onlay I was able to build up the colour and texture of each grass stem.

I used a mixture of thread weights to vary the look and texture of the embroidery work. Thicker threads were used from skeins to build up the coloured grass seeds on the topmost layer of the embroidery, using two lengths of thread combined to build up the texture.

~ Adding embroidered seeds onto the Alopecurus pratensis grass (#4)

Alopecurus pratensis, known as the meadow foxtail or the field meadow foxtail, is a perennial grass belonging to the grass family. It is native to Europe and Asia. This common plant is found on grasslands, especially on neutral soils. It is found on moist, fertile soils, but avoids waterlogged, light or dry soils.

We live in the countryside and we walk our two young daughters to and from each school every day. On one return from school my older daughter ran up to see me in my studio grasping a handful of grass exactly matching the one I was embroidering at the time! (as seen in the below image on the right)

As well as adding thicker thread for the grass seeds, I also started to build up little ‘dashes’ of threads in different colours in between the grass stems to add further texture to the cover of the binding.

~ Adding embroidered seeds to the Anthoxanthum odoratum grass (#1)

Anthoxanthum odoratum flowers in late spring and early summer, i.e. quite early in the season, with flower spikes of 4–6 centimetres long and crowded spikelets of 6–10 mm, oblong shaped, which can be quite dark when young. The lower lemmas have projecting awns. The ligules are quite long, up to 5 mm, blunt, with hairy fringes around the side.

Below shows an image of the completed embroidery on the front cover of the book. The dashes of threads are denser close to the central blank area of the binding cover, I was rather pleased with the appearance of this in combination with the grass stems.

~ The completed embroidery on the front cover of the binding

Part four of this blog post will go into how the title was created for this binding and how the leather was stuck to the text block.

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