“Thy curious-knotted garden”

Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 1 Scene 1

My second Shakespeare by Design Collection has just gone on sale in the Gift Shop at the newly re-opened Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford Upon Avon.

The Knot Garden Collection is inspired by Shakespeare’s life, with the stunning patterns of the re-imagined knot garden at New Place being the focal point of each piece.

Herbals from the Rare Books Collection in The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archives provided an insight into the gardens of Shakespeare’s England and the importance of fragrance and colour in the creation of the Elizabethan knot garden. Knot patterns were prevalent as design motifs in the jewellery of the time, as was the use of hollow forms, openwork and buttons.

These styles and techniques influenced the creative process behind this Collection, which brings together elements of historical research with theories about Shakespeare’s life in a range of handcrafted, contemporary silver jewellery.

The main pieces in the Collection are a series of buttons and hollow pieces featuring fretwork in each of the four patterns from the newly planted knot garden in the grounds of New Place.

You can view a gallery of the main pieces in the Collection by clicking here.

Milestones

“But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” 

Lady Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7

The beginning of 2016 has been incredibly busy. I began the year with a trip up to Stratford Upon Avon and came back with a long list of things to do. Not that I’m complaining, busy is good. Busy is always best as far as I am concerned. However, it does feel rather good to have reached a major milestone this week, so I thought I would take the opportunity of a slight lull in the proceedings (call it procrastination if you must) to put some thoughts into writing.

In July, New Place, Shakespeare’s home in Stratford Upon Avon, will re-open to celebrate his life and work and the 400th Anniversary of his death. Plans for the site include a number of Artist Installations inspired by his plays, a recreation of his gardens and the outline of what is thought to have been his house, and a brand new Visitors’ Centre. You can read more about it here.

In May 2015, I was invited to design a jewellery collection for New Place and in January, after months of researching, designing and testing, a Collection of 27 pieces was agreed and I began working on the first set of samples for publicity and display.

Yesterday, I delivered 24 pieces of finished jewellery to the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office for hallmarking. The sense of achievement I felt at having finally reached my first milestone, was huge. But the process to reach this point was fraught with stress, self-doubt and quite a few injuries! Despite several cuts from my saw blade, stabbings from my files and burns from my torch, I succeeded in producing a set of pieces that make me very, very proud.

Being commissioned to create a Collection for an organisation like the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is scary, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s also a challenge and it’s been a brilliant way to push myself beyond my comfort zone. At times, my perfectionism nearly got the better of me and I was often plagued by self-doubt, wondering why I was putting myself through this agonising process – surely an office job would be better – but I did it and I’m glad I had the courage to persevere and see it through.

So as I contemplate the next milestone – finalising the designs for three Signature pieces, two of which promise to push me even further away from what I know – I look forward to embracing the difficult tasks ahead and to reaching the next stage in this exciting journey.

Expectation Whirls Me Round

“I am giddy: Expectation whirls me round.

Th’imaginary relish is so sweet

That it enchants my sense.”

Troilus and Cressida, Act III, Scene ii

This time last year I had just set up Shakespeare by Design and began sharing my story on this blog and in social media.

I had discovered my design inspiration, I had the beginnings of my first collection and many ideas for more. I officially became a designer of Shakespeare-inspired jewellery and began to explore, research, discuss, test, sketch and fretwork.

It’s been an incredibly exciting year, during which my trips up to Stratford upon Avon and forays into the world of social media have paid dividends. I launched my first collection – The Noble Fool – in October and was recently commissioned by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to create an exclusive collection for the re-opening of New Place.

As we embark on 2016, I’m excited to be putting my own interpretation on Shakespeare’s work during the year that marks the 400th Anniversary of his death. This year my Noble Fool Collection will move to the Gift Shop at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, my Stolen Kisses pendant will be featured in a book celebrating artworks inspired by Shakespeare, and my new collection will be launched. I also plan to develop my Words, Words, Words and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Collections.

But who knows what this year will bring? All I know is that I am incredibly lucky to be combining my two favourite things – jewellery and Shakespeare – and I look forward to sharing my journey with you in 2016 and beyond.

I wish you all a very happy, exciting and prosperous year.

Jane x

‘Thou she be but little, she is fierce’

I’ve been visiting Stratford Upon Avon and the surrounding area regularly for quite a few years now and although the main purpose of our visits are most often Shakespeare-related, we realised this week that we have never really done anything ‘touristy’ in town.

It’s ironic to think that with such a love of Shakespeare and the theatre, we hadn’t actually explored Shakespeare’s houses for example; well I had, but it was in 1983 I think, so it probably doesn’t count. In fact, over the past year, I’ve been up to Stratford even more frequently for my research and I have spent many hours in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive and The Shakespeare Institute, but I still haven’t ventured any further…

Two of the very talented actors in the garden of Shakespeare's Birthplace performing a scene from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in a less than summery, chilly wind.

Two of the very talented actors in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace performing a scene from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a less than summery, chilly wind.

So, this week as we drove up from Hertfordshire for a few days we decided it was about time we did. We did the Stratford Town Walk, visited the Church where Shakespeare was christened and buried, took in some non-RSC theatre, visited the Birthplace and, well obviously we went to the RST to see the unmissable ‘Death of a Salesman’, but that was planned a while ago.

The Stratford Town Walk was fascinating and extremely enlightening. John, our guide was very knowledgeable and had some great little anecdotes. I was surprised to discover that many councils around the UK, and indeed many countries, have donated lampposts to the town. In all my wanderings, I’d never noticed the lamppost outside The Swan Theatre that was donated by Israel and features an owl, Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof (an interesting trio if ever there was one!). I hadn’t realised that the town still occasionally flooded, or that a frog’s spittle could cure a sore throat, and I had no idea that Shakespeare’s grave was actually cursed.

The lamppost donated by Israel

The lamppost donated by Israel

A visit to the Birthplace, was equally educational – seeing Homer Simpson doing Macbeth was disturbing, viewing the First Folio was interesting and treading the floors of Shakespeare’s first home was actually more exciting than I had expected. Even better was the discovery of new inspiration for my designs so watch this space…

The First Folio in Shakespeare's Birthplace

The First Folio in Shakespeare’s Birthplace

I could go on, but I’ll come back to this in a later post. Until then, I’ll just say thank you to John from Stratford Town Walks for his handy tip on how to remember the titles of all of Shakespeare’s plays and wish you a very Happy Easter!

An unusual setting for a touchstone

Deciding how to set the touchstone was a major design decision. In ‘As You Like It’ Touchstone is most comfortable in Court, the Forest of Arden is his unusual setting. But how was I to show that in jewellery?

I wanted to ‘set’ a touchstone in my piece and it was important to set it in a way that reflected the character of Touchstone in the play. Whilst other characters change in the play, Touchstone never fully embraces life in the Forest of Arden and I therefore decided to retain the stone’s original functionality.

So I created a precious metal testing kit: A silver box pendant with a swivel hinge opening that holds a fragment of a real touchstone, which can be removed and used with the Touchflower pendant to test precious metals.

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

Many of the fools I looked at in past productions of the play wore the traditional ‘motley’ patchwork of a Court Fool. This ‘harlequin’ patchwork inspired the diamond shape of the box. The fretwork pattern common to both pieces was inspired by the embroidery on the costume worn by Touchstone in the RSC’s 2000 production. The fretwork lines around the edge of the front and back of the box were inspired by the marks made on real touchstones during testing.

David Tennant's Touchstone costume from the RSC's 1996 production of 'As You Like It'

David Tennant’s Touchstone costume from the RSC’s 1996 production of ‘As You Like It’

Sketchbook work on the fretwork pattern using swatches of fabric from Touchstone's court costume in the RSC's 2000 production of 'As You Like it'

Sketchbook work on the fretwork pattern using swatches of fabric from Touchstone’s court costume in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘As You Like it’

The Touchflower was inspired by historical images of decorative touch needles, its shape being reminiscent of a flower that appears in an Elizabethan tapestry depicting a forest scene. The tapestry was inspiration for the RSC production that I researched for this piece. Each petal of the flower acts as a touch needle for a known alloy: 925 sterling silver, 9ct, 14ct, 18ct and 22ct gold.

Sketchbook work - looking at flower shapes in an Elizabethan tapestry that features on the front cover of the programme for the RSC's 2000 production of 'As You Like it'

Sketchbook work – looking at flower shapes in an Elizabethan tapestry that features on the front cover of the programme for the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘As You Like it’

The Touchflower

The Touchflower

As a set, the Touchflower represents the Forest of Arden and the box pendant represents Touchstone trapped in his Court persona. He is able to step outside his ‘box’ on occasion to enjoy the freedom of the Forest, but he always returns to the comfort of what he knows.

The quote that appears on the back of the box – “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (Act V, sc i) – is to me both a good illustration of Touchstone’s character in the play and a great reflection of the actual role a touchstone plays in the identification of counterfeit or sub-standard precious metals.

The back of the box and touch flower

The back of the box and touch flower

Please note: Although I have taken inspiration from its productions and costumes, the Royal Shakespeare Company has not endorsed my jewellery collection or had any direct involvement in this project. I would like to thank the RSC for granting me permission to use images obtained during research as part of this blog. 

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Stolen Kisses was inspired by the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and forbidden love. I’d fallen in love with fretwork and was going all out. But geometric fretwork was not an obvious part of the piece when I started.

I did experiment with a geometric version of the statue silhouette. It was interesting and I may still do something with it in the future, but it wasn’t happening for this piece. I looked at roses and the Fibonacci sequence. Again, it was really interesting but it still wasn’t doing it for me.

Geometric version of Romeo & Juliet statue

Geometric version of Romeo & Juliet statue

Experiments with the Fibonacci Sequence and rose petals

Experiments with the Fibonacci Sequence and rose petals

As I studied Romeo and Juliet, I thought about the setting. Whilst I hadn’t visited the fictional setting of the play, I had been to Italy in 2013 and been completely bowled over by the most incredible architecture – not least of all by the beautiful rose windows and interior cornices and arches.

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Milan – Ceiling inside Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City 

Italian architecture is rich and varied and rose windows are intrinsic to many of the churches and buildings we saw. A rose window starts out with a hexagon and when you take it apart, it resembles the petals of a rose. So with this as my starting point, after a lot of experimentation, I created a geometric rose window pattern that I could fretwork.

The Duomo, Milan

The Duomo, Milan

Experimenting with hexagonal shapes and rose window patterns

Experimenting with hexagonal shapes and rose window patterns

The edge of the pendant is not symmetrical, echoing some of the asymmetric shapes I saw in Italy, particularly in the Vatican City.

Inside St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Inside St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

In my final design, I placed my silhouette of the lovers behind the window, so that it gives the impression of stolen moments, hidden love and secret assignations.

Pendant/brooch

‘When I saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew.”

Pendant/brooch

Fretwork: An unhealthy obsession?

‘Stolen Kisses’ was part of my College requirement and so I had to follow a brief. Part of the brief was a requirement for geometric fretwork. Thus began my slightly unhealthy obsession with producing ornamental designs in silver with my piercing saw…

After a class on fretwork – how to design it; the importance of interconnecting sections (cut out too much and you could end up with more ‘gaping hole’ than ‘openwork’); selecting the bits to cut out and the bits to leave in place (positive and negative spaces); how to pierce out really tiny holes etc., I started experimenting.

In fact, I was so excited about fretwork, I ended up including three different kinds of fretwork in my final piece…that’s a lot of piercing and a lot of back ache!  So in ‘Stolen Kisses’, there is the silhouette of R&J, the fretwork quote around the edge and, for the geometric bit, a rose window pattern. Not only that, I actually then continued with fretwork for my second piece – ‘The Noble Fool’ – and have now begun working on a fretwork quote collection.

The art of fretworking:

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The design – in this case a quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ – is drawn out on paper.

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The design is transferred onto the metal and holes are drilled in the ‘negative spaces’. A saw blade is then fed through one hole at a time and secured in a saw frame.

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The holes are cut out one at a time with a piercing saw.

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Once the holes are cut out, the paper is removed and then the cleaning up starts.

Fretwork is a long and fiddly job. It’s complicated and challenging but the results are well worth the effort… and the back ache!