My living room is on the ground floor of a windmill. The walls are the 1798 brickwork, with patches from wear and tear since. In a modern home, obviously we need cables to get power upstairs, and there are radiators up there. And the previous owners had an idea about an ensuite bathroom in the top room. Normally, of course, all this gubbins would be in the wall. Someone did suggest cutting out the brickwork and bricking it all in, so the wall was flat. On such a large drop, I think that is going to be really difficult to blend in, particularly as this wall is circular, and it slopes in at about 85°, so it would be a difficult job.
The subject of boxing it in comes up regularly, but I don’t like that idea. For the same reasons it would be a difficult job, but that isn’t my biggest worry. I think if you did a really good job, it might look too modern and clinical, and if you tried to blend it in a bit, it might just look scruffy. And, as you would expect from the interior of an old industrial building, the surface of the brickwork is nothing like smooth.
So I decided to go down the textile route. Two surplus curtain pole hooks (you get strange leftovers in a quirky house), a piece of dowelling, and a long strip of fabric of some sort. I spent some time dithering about what sort, and how wide. I decided I wanted hessian, as that room was originally used to put the flour into sacks. Then I found Hobbycraft sell a long narrow piece of hessian, with fringed edges. The width fulfulled all the requirements, so I sewed a channel for the dowel in the top, hemstitched the sides to stop the fringe from fraying, and did some drawn thread embroidery across the bottom. This was surprisingly quick to do, as the weave is fairly open, so taking even one thread out makes a decent space. This means that the bottom of the banner looks as though I have finished it, but it isn’t a key part of the overall design. At the moment, the bottom is behind a nest of tables, but you never know how long that will last.
For some time, this blank canvas has been hanging while I think. Even just as a plain piece of fabric, it makes a huge difference to the room. I was going to keep to sacking and unbleached calico for the colour range. The first idea was a silhouette of a windmill at the top, with a winding road through the fields leading up to it, and perhaps a miller with a sack on his back.
Then I found a book with a picture of this mill with its sails still on. I traced it to get a sketch outline, and took it to a copy shop to get it A3 size. The piece of paper was pinned on the top of the hessian for about 18 months. The windmill has much more detail than I had originally planned. I could see how I could work the windmill, but I couldn’t work out how to do the rest so it would all blend together.
Eventually, I decided that I liked the windmill idea, and I would make a start and think the rest out later. I traced the sails and fan mechanism onto ordinary paper, and transferred the shapes to calico by machining through using a small stitch. The perforated paper can then be torn off, leaving the pattern. For the solid shapes, I appliqued cream felt. The more flimsy details I embroidered by hand, so I could control the width of the lines.
The building is two pieces of calico, seamed together. I cut out the shape in wadding, and pinned it inside (with the pins on the right side) before turning it the right way out. This manoeuver was a bit awkward, but resulted in a ready stuffed shape. I cut the cap from felt, to avoid struggling with the curved turnings and the difficult shape at the top. I then pinned on another tracing of the sketch, and quilted through it to get the doors and windows. This worked well, but I doubted it would show up from floor level, so I went round again with a darker thread, and put some planks in the door. This was good close up, but when it was in position, you couldn’t see the windows. I’ve coloued them with a bit of soft pencil.
Then I came upon a jelly roll that I’ve been playing with for ages, and realised it would make wonderful ploughed fields. Because I was limited to furrows about two inches wide, the finished width of a jelly roll strip, the field had to be shorter than I would have liked. I had thought of writing the miller’s names on the furrows, but as the field was so short, I decided to use the same fabrics to make a time line. I have one column for millers, another for owners, and the rest is taken up with local dates, like the building of other local mills (all later) and the coming of the railway to the nearby town.
Some of my dates are estimates, which may be clarified by further research, but at a scale of 2 inches per decade there is a limit to how accurate I can be. If I cut my strips narrower, I could do something else with my scale, but it could make the background too busy, and distract from the embroidery. I thought about using 5 years for 2 inches, but:
- Some of it would disappear behind the furniture.
- You can write 1850s, but you can’t write 1855s. That would be silly.
- Writing even as much as 1855-9 takes up more space.
- Drawing it out on paper to see how it would work got very confusing. Is 1855 the bottom of the stripe or the middle?
Having decided on a structure, I sewed the strips together and added the dates and lettering freehand. I filled in the spaces with a few relevant motifs.
There was still some space at the bottom that is partly visible, so it needed filling. A couple of patchwork blocks with a windmill theme filled in the space nicely, and they blend in because I’ve used fabric from the same jelly roll.
A few tassles finished off the dowelling. I was planning to go to town more with this, but I had forgotten the slope. Of course, cords hanging vertically, so by the time you get to the tassle, it is well away from the wall.
The slope is also the cause of the uneven hang. If it hangs vertically, the gap between the bottom and the wall looks silly. I’ve attached it loosely to whatever is available: the curtain pole, various hooks, and in a couple of places a ribbon runs behind those cables. I don’t want to stiffen it, as that will add to the weight, so I’m just living with it. In real life, it is considerably less noticable than on the photos.
Right. Now I need something similar, but shorter, for the spare bedroom on the floor above.