two for joy


Outside my window the top of the Crystal Palace transmitter disappeared into the rain clouds, the whole sky was a dirty white, the trees dark silhouettes. In contrast two noisy magpies cackled and played on the branches, handsome plumage sharply showing in the mizzle, the black and white patterning adding to their general air of bossy smartness.

What is it about black and white? A few days earlier I’d been turning the pages of a book I’d co-written in 1985 – ‘Decorating with Fabrics’ – and came across a picture of a black and white stripe; I remembered how much I’d liked the weave, how lively it is in its directness.That chapter in the book is about colour and pattern, my forte I suppose, and I recall feeling the need to start from the simplest point and the importance of using that particular beautiful stripe woven by Helene Jungnicke in the 1920s. I still like it.

'decorating with fabrics' book

black and white painted boxesAnd it chimed in; funnily enough over these last few weeks as christmas faded and the year turned I’ve been concentrating a lot on positive – negative pattern making. I enjoy the idea of giving the two colours turns – balancing both the elements of dark and light, and sometimes adding a dash of something else as a little playmate. A friend, looking at the studio wall, commented on the compelling quality of the classic combination of the two colours – or two non-colours as clever schoolchildren like to tell you!. 

The pattern ‘Jazz’ that we did for Martex bedding in 1983 was a tiny cream spot on a charcoal ground with a matching cuff of hand-painted stripe – the two were joined by a carmine and cream checkered trim, woven especially for the job, the tiny scale and specific colour based on Susan’s treasured childhood hair ribbon. It was the simplest idea – very successful and much copied. Here it is on page 208 of The Collier Campbell Archive book.

jazz bedding

Playing with opposites, uniting the two sides of the coin, airing the argument – these ideas fill my head as I work. The two extremes of the spectrum bring their own magnificent theatre – shades of grey don’t get a look in, fifty or otherwise!

folded paper

necklaces and plateI look around and spot this uncompromising plate on the chest next to the necklaces, sitting on darkest rough-woven cotton embroidered with metallic thread.

On the table the oranges and lemons look especially vivid in these bold bowls. I know the light plays and softens the extremes, as do the planes and folds of the fabric; and the colours used aren’t really as stark as black and white – charcoal and cream, ebony and ivory, slate and bone – and the hand-made marks temper the resolute nature of the drama.

lemon painted

painted dressOn the pile of ironing is my  best dress, made of hand-painted silk it’s weighted at the hem with black and white beads and trimmed at the neck with tiny scarlet ones. I don’t think it’s an entirely flattering garment but I love it, especially as it packs up so tiny but unfolds with such surprising generosity! And I enjoy the memory of making it – I sewed the two panels together on an aeroplane high above the Atlantic. Despite the last-minute nature of my wardrobe decisions I think I must have been quite organised to have assembled the wherewithal for this enterprise – in the days when a pair of small scissors, needles and pins were allowed on board. Haute couture you could say!


On my table now pots of colour sit beckoning along with a promise to paint some fabric for a friend’s window blinds. The sweet sunny hues of spring begin to demand attention for the leaves and birds and I think how lucky I am to have all these colours to hand, the currency of my trade. 

painted birds and leaves

Image 1Don’t forget that the exciting new Artist Textile exhibition starts on the 31st of January at the FTM. I’ll be giving a Teachers’ Evening talk on the 6th of February and sitting alongside will be a small show relating to the commissioning of new design. West Elm’s new spring cushions, below, are a current example….

cushion west elm

Thanks to Alan and Molly.

painted enamel

19 thoughts on “two for joy

  1. Dear sarah
    I find your blog so relaxing. Appreciating the wonderful world that i too think is all around us if we only just look. Thanks for the experience.
    At the end of your work came 4 windows of adds. One said. Vice news: black, white and Greek. I wondered what colour Greek was? Also, are colours a vice?

    • Thanks Mary, happy to share it! I have no control over the ads I’m afraid – I’m subject to WordPress – and it’s very annoying to have them at all, they’re most unwelcome, the lot of them! But you ask two good questions…..x

  2. I loved your glowing, burning, colour mad, bowl of fruit 2014 and even though you made the b/w designs regal there always seems to be a limitation on what can be done but you with colour, well that’s another world.

  3. Lovely blog again Sarah, so perceptive and apt! You should write a novel, your thoughts and writings are always so rounded, complete and pleasing for it!
    Happy New Year to you! I missed the calendar, is iit too late to buy one now?
    Much love,

  4. Oh, Sarah . . . your “favorite dress” as mentioned here sounds divine. Let us be the judge of whether or not it flatters! Please model it for us and include a photo (or a painting) of it in your next post. I’m sure it’s lovely. x Wendy

  5. Lovely fresh news from you. Enjoyed the winter enterprise at Michael Ruhs glass studio.
    Cheers, April; and enjoying using your 2014 calendar.

  6. Sarah, I love your posts so much! They are so charming and inspiring and make me approach my design from angles I hadn’t even though of before. I look forward to your talk at the FTM in february.

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