Did you know that the Blackpool Tower was opened in May 1894 after 3 years in the making. It cost nearly £300,000 and consisted of five million Accrington bricks, 3,478 long tons of steel and 352 long tons of cast iron. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower is not free standing and the base is hidden by the building housing the Blackpool Tower Circus.
I didn’t know anything about the Blackpool tower until I was given it as a challenge for this series of landmarks. I visited Blackpool when I was a teenager to see the lights and again about 15 years ago when we decided to take our children to the pleasure beach. Looking at it now it is quite remarkable to think of the skills that went into designing and constructing the Tower and it continues to be a great attraction in the north.
When the challenge was issued I jumped in and was pleasantly surprised with the landmark I was given. I had an idea of a technique I wanted to try and this was influenced by the brilliant Hilary Beattie; in particularly her ‘Language of Flowers’ series. I intended to mount this piece on canvas and so the first thing required was deciding on a size and this was determined by what is readily available. The canvas purchased was 60 cm by 50 cm (approximately 24″ by 20″).
I prepared a backing of cotton with a 3″ overlap on each side of the canvas. I cut the batting slightly larger than the canvas and layered this on top of the backing. My intention was to make a border of collaged fabric with a centre panel of cream to frame the image of this landmark. For the bottom of the frame I wanted the fabric to represent sand / grass / flowers / lights and the top to represent the sea and the dark sky. I had some lovely ice dyed fabrics which I used on the bottom half of the frame and a selection of scraps for the top half. These were cut, arranged, re-arranged etc. until I was happy with the border.
For the centre panel I found a vintage linen cloth with embroidered corners and thought this would be very effective. Trying it on the border arrangement I found I needed to reduce the inner edge of the border so that it wouldn’t show through the linen (yet more cutting and re-arranging!). Finally I heavily tacked the border fabrics to hold them in place.
I used HeatnBond to bond the linen to the batting. and more HeatnBond to attach a lace edging. Now the fun began!
I used the dots of embroidery to mark out a centre diamond for the image to sit on and I started (from the middle) to heavily quilt the centre. The machine was prepared by putting on a Free Motion Quilting foot (FMQ), putting the feed dogs down and reducing the top tension. I started at the centre top, running up and down the full length of the diamond with lines stitched very close together. Once I had done one half I started again from the middle to the other side. This did pull the fabric in but I was hoping this would flatten out after blocking later in the process. Deciding on a diamond in the middle of the linen meant that the embroidery stood in relief against the heavy quilting and the embroidery didn’t distort.
Next in the process was heavily quilting the lace and the borders. Anything on linen and lace was done using a cream top thread, anything on the border was done in a variegated matching thread so I could ‘blend’ the patches of fabric; stitching vertically and horizontally. The bright blended bottom half did remind we of looking at lights through a car windscreen on a wet night.
The border quilting was started in the middle of each border and worked outwards to the corners. Occasionally I had to realign pieces but on the whole the work stayed flat apart from the top lace border which pulled in the work significantly. Again I hoped that blocking the piece on completion would pull it back into shape. This was a long process and not one that you can do for hours at a time as it is tiring (and sometimes boring).
The A4 image I had of the Blackpool Tower wasn’t quite the right size so I had to play around with up-sizing it until I felt it fit in with the space available. The image was transferred to tissue paper using a light box and the tissue paper was then pinned to the quilt for thread painting. There were a lot of straight lines and I didn’t know if I could do it justice but I was going to give it my best shot.
After thread painting I had the job of removing the tissue paper and this took time, patience and a pair of tweezers. Next, I needed to block the piece. My sewing table is a big piece of wood (generally hidden) but it was a great size for me to pin out my work after wetting with a water spray. I was able to pull out the tight bits and reform it into the correct shape and size. It was left to dry for 24 hours and it worked a treat.
All that was then left to do was cut to size (60 cm by 50 cm) and attach to the canvas using an acrylic gel. This is a lovely way to display textile work and I shall be using it again. So here it is…… Blackpool Tower!