Design Inspiration – Charnia

A sketch of a harts tongue fern

Telling the story of Tina Negus and Charnia in words was one thing, but I also needed images and motifs for my lace design. The first stop was to look at the Charnia Masoni holotype held in Leicester Museum , and I even managed to buy a resin model of the Charnia fossil. The cast was really useful as it helped me get a feel for the segmentation of the ‘fronds’, tying back to that Sprigs idea of smaller pieces making up a larger whole. I drew the Charnia animal several times, recording a little video of a continuous line drawing using a fountain pen (see the post about ‘Sketchbook Woes’ for more on this! ) which was popular on Instagram, having quite an ASMR feel.


The drawback to using the fossil holotype, the hard material of the cast (and of course the fossil being solid rock) and the ‘solid’ feel and look to the holotype. Charnia fossils from around the world (see the examples at the ‘First Creatures’ exhibition in the gallery below) seem stiff and flat. Well, of course they do they are made from rocks formed under high pressure over millenia, I get it.

So how could I get some movement into the design, whilst keeping to the theme? My visit to the Natural History Museum found some ideas. In the significantly less busy Marine Creatures room I found samples of other sea creatures, anemones and Sea Pen among the coral (images above). The colour palette of creams and greys is a little washed-out, bleached by being out of water. In life these creatures can be vibrantly coloured, even changing colour to match the surroundings, and importantly, under the water they MOVE (check this Youtube video of a Sea Quill, full of water, moving on the sea bed)

See also this video from Oxford Museum of Natural History ‘s First Creatures exhibition. Here was the sense of colour, translucency and life I was looking for. Ammonites with tendrils, Charnia, Corals and Sea Pens shimmering with life.

Alongside this I was looking at ferns and leaf shapes from everyday life, drawing on the repeat pattern in their shape. It gave some something to sketch in real time, from life. I tried an number of techniques including ink and brush, pencil and my favourite fountain pen continuous line.

I set about drawing a vertical Sea Pen, each frond completed with a different type of lace filling, hand drawn from different sources, historical lace, photographs and samples. I tried to capture some of the movement as the creature sways in the tide. When embroidering, I captured some of the softness of the Sea Pen by adding stitched fringing to the design, and tried wiring some motifs too- to shape the lace after washing.

A picture of embroidered textiles