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

Fossils inspiration – part one

A photo of 'Jerusalem' island in Barrow Upon Soar
Jerusalem Island in Barrow Upon Soar. January 2020 – the fairy lights are leftover Christmas decorations

I ‘m from Barrow Upon Soar in Leicestershire, it’s famous plesiosaur on the roundabout ‘Jerusalem Island’ just down the street from my house. The village was busy with lime working in the 19th century, and those mines yielded a number of marine fossils, including many complete plesiosaur and icthyosaurs. The whole Charnwood area was covered by ocean in the time when animal life was just beginning, so many fossil discoveries have been made locally. I’ve already posted about Tina Negus and her discovery of the Charnia fossil in the 1950s.

My mum Ann grew up in 1950s Barrow and remembers her Dad, a grocer, taking deliveries around the Charnwood Forest. Sometimes he took his daughter with him. I imagine Mum and Tina, being separated by only a few years and a few miles on that day in Charnwood. Mum has been an evangelical christian all her life, and sometimes struggled with the idea of fossils, dinsoaurs and evolution. But she’s cool with it now. (Good job really, or she isn’t going to like this project!)

In October 2019, I visited the Natural History Museum and checked out some of the fossils found in Barrow. I also saw plenty of other sea creatures, ancient and modern.

The holotype of the Charnia Masoni fossil found by Tina and Roger Mason is kept at Leicester New Walk Museum, as is the ‘Barrow Kipper’. I didn’t see any other Charnia fossils until I went to the Museum of Natural History in Oxford in February 2020.