the lay of the land

viewFlying over Newfoundland (the Newfies put the emphasis on the land part of the word) I looked down on countless lakes and forests.

sketch bookMy pattern-painter’s eye was entertained by the vast geophysical tartan I was seeing. The rivers and ridges ran strongly in one direction, while the clouds above – in white meringue dollops – ran counter in dancing dotted bands, each one casting its own soft pool of shadow. A whole planet of patterns. “O, my America, my Newfound land” says John Donne to his mistress.

The skies above the M40 to Oxford were also full of interest. The magnificent red kites, which were introduced as a conservation exercise, seem to have multiplied; crowds of them hover and dive very close – dangerously mesmerising.

kitesAnd they weren’t the only distractions populating that air corridor – there was a glider tilting and glinting in the sun coming in to land, alarmingly, on what I supposed to be a very nearby field. Then one of those one-man flying machines buzzed across my sights. I managed to keep on the road; as I emerged from the drama of the chalky cliffs of the Chilterns cutting a couple of helicopters chuggered overhead. It was a sunny day! On my return the only remarkable flying thing I saw was an elegant heron – do you remember Concorde?



In between those two journeys quite a lot has happened. The purpose of the Canadian trip was to attend a beautiful if freezing family wedding in a small quaint Nova Scotian town. The vows were exchanged and witnessed beneath a huge old tree, within the magical circle of its swooping boughs; two families were joined. Our three or four days there were full of merry-making, eating, dancing, discovery – and of course intense emotion, laughter and tears. 

NYC suitcase

I have to admit there were times on the journey from Halifax to New York when I really wondered why I’d thought it would be a good idea to take the train part of the way ‘in order to see a bit of the countryside’! My suitcase was heavy, I was tired, I didn’t really know where I was going.

train rideBut suddenly, queuing to board the express at Montreal railway station I got chatting with a former Glaswegian and her quieter partner and then up popped a woman who used to live in a neighbouring road to me in SE19 – so I fell among friends and we had a very sociable ride for the 6 hours to Toronto.

I did remember to look out of the window at the trees and the lakes; I had hoped to see the colours of the famous Fall – but for the most part it had already fallen, particularly from the red red maples. Some goldish leaves remained on the lower branches, clinging on in a sort of male-pattern baldness arrangement; they reminded me of sonnet 73 ‘Where yellow leaves, or none or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold’. 


pencil case

The destination in New York was my appointed spot at the studio table in WestElm’s offices where I and my paintbrushes were made very welcome – thank you. It was great to see the new products for next year coming along – while we were starting on Spring ’15! The year before I’d arrived a few days after the devastating storms. This time the weather was unseasonably balmy. It made a pleasant though solitary evening walk even better when I bumped into a couple of blokes on West Broadway: two inflatable sofas and a cardboard notice declaring ‘Free Conversation Here‘ was an invitation I couldn’t resist. Wandering home afterwards I was accompanied by a friendly person wanting to talk about London. I find Manhattan an hospitable island.

NYC streets

Johannes VermeerUptown at The Frick Collection some paintings from the Mauritshuis in The Hague have taken up temporary residence. What can I say about the three paintings by Vermeer – and the two piercing portraits by Rembrandt – that glow from those plush walls? They seem to be pictures of a moment and of a lifetime – tender, acute, sensuous yet calm. Brilliant. Within that overbearing building, a witness to the American self-made millionaire, their complex directness arrests and cuts through to the heart of the matter. 

Home again the week’s highlight was the happy opening of the My Nature exhibition; curated by Emma Neuberg it shows the work of eight makers (including myself) who have produced some lovely and lovingly inventive work printed, painted, woven, stitched and embroidered textiles.

My Nature paintings

Two artists also ran creative workshops, ingeniously embedded into the busy evening buzzing in a smallish space; I must take a lesson in compactness! This Saturday 16th brings the associated Symposium at the Gallery with many interesting speakers and discussion – and you can join in on-line. 

my nature

SelvedgeI’ve also had fun painting and stitching some textile-y presents – a pieced piece for the newly-weds and a wall hanging with pockets for a new-ish baby. And another unique one-off – a copy of our book bound with a specially hand-painted fabric – is to be won from the current Selvedge magazine – have a go on page 83, you may get lucky! Wedding present

On a very rainy Saturday many visitors were crowding to peer at the intense work of the meticulous Paul Klee. Much of his work is delightfully funny and playful, but as with many serious humorists it has an air of melancholy: I remember bursting into tears at his Hayward Gallery exhibition a few years back – triggered by the working and overworking of a tiny lacquered blue painting. It seemed to speak to me directly of the man himself, his intentions, his discoveries and his life; that is the puzzling power of such a creation. There are many such works in this Tate Modern show, but this time I was most touched by the three or four larger and untypically bold and colourful paintings in the last room which he made when he knew he was dying – as though he suddenly realised he’d better have a go at that before it was too late. I particularly loved The Flowers on Burlap. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy this rich banquet of paintings on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Paul KleeThanks to Alan, Molly, the families Collier and Rideout, and dear old Shakespeare.

babies wall hanging

14 thoughts on “the lay of the land

  1. Will you have bedding at West Elm next year? I missed out this time around. My precious sheets covered with your designs are all past 30 years old!

    • Yes, I think they have some bedding in the catalogue at the moment and more is on the way…and they use nice cotton. 30 years is a lifetime’s service I think, though I do still use my Granny’s linen pillow cases!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Have just read your latest blog and thoroughly enjoyed it and thought how much better to have an envoy noticing all the things which need noticing and not having to do it oneself, so well done at it is in reportage form. Continue travelling if you can find the time, your journeys are always intriguing.

  3. Lovely Blog Sarah, still waiting for my teacozy pattern ……. Always remember I’m from Glasgow, your two weeks are up! and I know where you live!!!!!!!
    Enjoyed our meeting
    “Former” Glasgwegian and her quieter partner!

  4. Running into a friend from your former neighborhood while in a foreign land . . . makes me think of your encounter of the bus in London with the stranger who knew your grandmother (I think it was) – I love how you continue to attract such colorful and meaningful “coincidences.’ Wonderful post, Sarah, especially your impression of Newfoundland! Glad your trip to NYC went so well. Lots of love from Wendy

  5. Sarah, reading your blog is like having a piece of home made brown bread with Dolcelletta cheese and rasberry jam on. A real treat. Packed with colour and flavour. Thank you so much for letting us peak into your world.
    Brandon Mably
    Kaffe Fassett Studio

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