Imagine naming a cat after the second stitch you learn in knitting – knit one, purl one – Purrl, a gloriously crafty feline pun. Now that’s what a true crafter does (any ideas for my next pet’s name on a postcard please – I failed woefully with Jeffy). And this cat belongs to a true crafter – a wonderful pet portrait artist, Michelle Staub, who I got to know by watching her work a long while on Instagram, until finally I screwed up the courage to say something.
Isn’t her work amazing? – there’s something about hand embroidery (I nearly wrote “real” embroidery for a moment – I’m clearly a self-hating machinist) that tugs at my heart. It reminds me of my mother I suppose, or, if I were feeling romantic, of generation after generation of (usually) women, sitting at frames, patiently ornamenting their world, or, less romantically but more practically, making, mending and renewing. You really need to go onto Instagram (check out her stuff here) to see her hands at work to get a sense of the scale of the venture, the time it must take alone (and it usually is her hands, in the picture, I don’t think she has yet trained her cat to do the work for her – though looking at the picture on the left, I could be wrong).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, at some point, for some now undecipherable reason, I offered to make her a portrait of her Purrl for a wedding present.
I say undecipherable, because after offering a pet portrait to a supremely talented pet portrait artist, I spent some time trying to decipher the reason. There’s the coals to Newcastle aspect of it (is there an American equivalent, this being an American cat?: aspiring actors to LA, maybe), but worse, there’s the highly critical audience aspect of it. Sending a picture to someone trained in the art of embroidering pictures. Hmmmm. I decided not to worry about it, and was so successful, that I put Purrl to one side and left it there. For a while.
But there she was, nagging at my conscience. Here she is, still nagging:
Sweet and gently forgiving of my idiocy and long delay. She also started reminding me of a World War II propaganda poster – I think it was the upward lift of the head, the eyes, staring off into a sunny uplands future: ‘one day, she will just sit down and do it’ (as my father would have said). I’ve been looking for the poster since then, and can’t really pin it down. This one, maybe? both the tilt of the head, and the colour’s almost spot on.
Anyhow – I gave myself a severe talking to, put my stage-fright to one side, and got on with things.
I gave Michelle the choice of backgrounds at this point, and she chose purple, a lovely dreamy watercolour of a Liberty print (and tho I completely had completely fallen for Purrl on denim along the way, I think she was absolutely spot on).
And now Purrl wanted nothing but her crown. Tiny flowers cut out of more Liberty scraps, and in honour of her owner, some hand stitching too.
And, OK, I suppose I do know that Purrl’s name was probably more about being a pearl amongst cats, than a knitting puss. But that’s good too – it being a wedding present and all, it gives me the opportunity to end with one of my favourite bits Of Anne of Green Gables – when she chooses her engagement ring.
“But pearls are for tears, the old legend says,” Gilbert had objected.
“I’m not afraid of that. And tears can be happy as well as sad. My very happiest moments have been when I had tears in my eyes—when Marilla told me I might stay at Green Gables—when Matthew gave me the first pretty dress I ever had—when I heard that you were going to recover from the fever. So give me pearls for our troth ring, Gilbert, and I’ll willingly accept the sorrow of life with its joy.” -Anne”
― L.M. Montgomery,
you can’t beat a good bit of Anne.