In Brittany near my brother’s house, the wild Atlantic waves were leaving all sorts of debris at the top of the tideline, offerings to the dunes. Amongst the slithering seaweed and brittle chalky urchin shells, viridian rope and liquorice nets were myriads of plastic shards, a temporary mosaic of bright blue smithereens. At every tide the jetsam altered; heaps of pebbles came and went, clattering and jostling against each other in the waves. Against those smooth grey stones the funny little darting silver birds that whizz along on invisible stick legs were hardly discernable until they took flight. Then it seemed the beach itself was rising – on the move, like Burnham Wood to Dunsinane. All this in the driving wind and battering spray.
The ever-changing sands seemed to echo the process of our feelings. Later, Jon Adams‘ poem – field of fragments – brought the picture to me clearly, tenderly of searching for the pieces, pulling them together, putting some aside, making – or trying to – some sense of the scatterment and fracture.
Waiting for the rain to stop, the naughty wind to subside, we passed the indoor days gently. Time was spent in the merry companionship of cooking: as a lunch for old friends we built a tourte – a marvellous little round glazed mountain of a tart, a Silbury Hill of savouries, filled with layers of bacon and slenderly sliced spuds, with a foil chimney at the top through which, when cooked, warmed cream and chives was poured and allowed to seep and permeate the whole pastry-covered hill – a real tour de force. Of course ours leaked, but it was delicious and so simple to make – and cheap too.
The Spitalfields Huguenot Festival has offered a rare visit to the house in which Anna Maria Garthwaite lived. Built for her in the early 18th century she lived there with her widowed sister. She was a painter of patterns for the silk trade, and the light-filled room on the second floor still makes an ideal studio; she seems to have had a shop or office on the ground floor. The area is famous for its silk, and in her house unusually the weavers’ windows on the top floor are integral to the original roof structure.
She herself did not weave but her patterns, elegantly painted with remarkably realistic flowers, are intricately marked up for the process – numbers of shuttles and repeats etc – and her invention of weaving white flowers into the cream ground is charming indeed. She also made this papercut! I very much enjoyed talking with Clare Browne Curator of Textiles at the V&A, with us for the evening. It all seemed uncannily familiar – I felt completely at home.
The bedroom in Dennis Sever‘s house round the corner housed this extraordinarily flamboyant chimney-breast, a theatrical assemblage of old and new.
The packing boxes remain folded for the minute but I have bought myself two tiny presents for the new flat. A dear little sparrow keyring – the bird’s tail is a whistle – lives in this house so the new key won’t get lost! And this small painted box from Pakistan, which set me thinking of the time I spent there printing a few years ago: transport gets a lot of respect there – the trucks are famously decorated, elaborately adorned and enhanced with tin additions.
Those of lesser horse-power – the donkeys – are patterned with henna spots and stripes, to match their drivers’ coloured beards no doubt! I managed to find a few of the painted tin extras in the market – much to my minder’s amazement – but could only bring the donkeys back in my memory. Now, where’s my motor?
At the Patternity talk I found myself thinking hard about the function of pattern, which I believe in its very broadest sense to be fundamentally about comfort; the reassurance given by a pulse, the comfort of order and harmony, of something reliable and pleasing in rhythm and form, of balance and beauty or simply of the expected. The dissonance of discordant patterns and beats, rather like pain, is a sure way to tell us that something needs attention, or is untypical: the existence of black holes was discovered by noticing an absence of the usual signals. Many patterns and rhythms of life seemingly go unacknowledged until they’re somehow interrupted – we feel it, we say ‘this doesn’t seem right’. That mysterious sense of wrong-ness is a good indication that something needs to be recognised, put right, re-assessed, an opportunity for change. Familiar patterns can get broken and distorted by events or become un-useful as life develops, so we endeavour to make new harmonies as we go along, re-arranging the elements. But surprises can be good! Blown expectations can release! Adaptations expand!
It’s nearly May, with the buds bursting at last, so let’s celebrate by sending a May Day card. That and other cards and scarves will be available at the Stroud International Textile Festival from next week, and from Livingstone Studio in mid-May. A new selection is already at Joss Graham‘s Gallery, Review Bookshop and DoSouth and of course from the online shop.