I saw a picture of a tiny library squashed inside a Lewisham telephone box. I often used to leave books at the spot where I reached finis – train, bus, park bench – but now I’m rather fond of the book exchange arrangement at our local station and usually tuck a finished-with paperback amongst the others on the waiting room shelf. The other day I came to the end of an Ann Tyler, borrowed from said shelves, as I arrived at London Bridge. Leaving the station I saw five books spread out on a bus stop seat. One caught my eye – ‘The Short Reign of Pippin IV’ – with rather a bold cover. So I left my ‘Earthly Possessions’ and took up with John Steinbeck’s royalty! Strangely enough it was once the property of Lewisham Library Service!
Stories of the Raj floated through the airwaves on sunday morning as I woke to radio 4’s Open Country and heard very excited voices talking about the beauty of silk. The surprised presenter, guided by the Peak District National Park ranger Chamu Kuppuswarmy, had entered a church where a sumptuous and wholly unexpected array of gorgeously coloured fabrics met her eye. There was textile historian Dr Brenda King describing the relationship between Thomas Wardle’s silk-weaving enterprises with those of India in the 19th century, in her tone an air of wonder at these unlikely exchanges, rich connections.
In my mind’s eye I saw hot silk saris shimmering against the grey stone walls and skeins of threads reaching across the hilly moorland. A great way to greet the day. Much of Wardle’s archive now resides at the Whitworth Art Gallery, where some of our earlier work is also housed.
The visits to my studio by members of the Textile Society made for two very genial afternoons. There was quite an exchange of stories, connections, coincidences which gave me again that feeling that I so often have of the threads of life kindly joining us all up at some unseen subterranean level. This little video shows me giving the group a quick painting demo…
It’s clear that textiles – designing, making, collecting, using, sewing, enjoying – have enormous significance. As a designer my work has travelled into many houses and seems to have made itself plenty of friends over the years – for which I am happy and pleased. Thank you to all the visitors who came, and to Molly for her usual cheerful presence.
I made a visit myself to artist Lesley Hillings’ intriguing studio and workshop the other day. Organised by Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton we gathered for coffee, then strode along in the sun to her front door. Behind which, a modest-looking terraced house had been cunningly transformed with dense enrichments – carved and inlaid doors, secrety shelves packed with treasure built into the depth of the walls, little spyhole windows and apertures. Her work, intricate wooden assemblages pressed tightly together with small found objects and items, tell strange stories of miniature worlds. I enjoyed peering at these close intensities; then ascending to the top floor the space opened out and rather tasty cakes were generously served.
One evening I nipped down the road to meet the Women of the Cloth, who are showing their work together and running workshops over the next week or two. I bought this very sweet little felt bag. It reminds me that years ago, at the long gone Museum of Mankind (my very favourite) I saw a completely engrossing exhibition about the nomads of Mongolia, their magnificent yurts, their felt-making, their way of life. This bag is reminiscent of their traditional ‘little hill’ motif, and has an echo of the boldness found in the Mongolian felt patterns. And I’ve enjoyed again the felt story in Tales Told In Tents (Sally Pomme Clayton) – here’s a little out-take by my niece Sophie Herxheimer who illustrated it.
The exhibition at the FTM – both Artists Textiles and my display ‘from start to finish’ – continue till May 17th and is now open on sundays too. Whenever I pop in – last week it was to help make a photographic record – there are people keen to talk and more exchanges to be made, coincidences to be enjoyed. I very much like this overhead shot of one of the display cases – ‘silk, glass, grass’. Pattern is my currency, colour my coin.
I completed the last day of the 10,000 paces for the WIHS challenge and so far have raised £375 online and 30 off. Thankyou to all who have donated – and to those of you who may yet like to do so my page remains open…I’m glad to say I’ve got into the rhythm of enjoying quite long walks, especially now the spring has sprung. The nearby willows, their leaves always first in/to arrive and last out/to leave, appear festooned in trails of luminous green lammeter swaying like beaded curtains concealing a world within their weeping branches.
Another favourite sight from my window is the view of the departing UPS man. I love to see my regular parcel of designs setting off for Brooklyn to take their place at WestElm and become – well, we wait and see what. I’ve had a peek at some rather interesting products in the pipeline…
A fellow blogger over at Modflowers pointed out the celebratory re-issue of the magnificent Pat Albeck’s famous design Daisychain, made for the John Lewis partnership: many congratulations! It’s cheering to see a classic pattern given the longevity it merits. There was some speculation about the total number of colourways produced, and I have it from the artist herself that there were these 13 plus the original and 3 more – so that’s 17 in all! According to Pat – “The brown tonal one we called RankHovisMcDougall – very popular in the 70s brown period – it was much used for dog cushions and laminated trays.” Need we say more?
And lastly – taraar – the newly designed website is now up and running! Two years or so ago, at the beginning of this new phase of my professional life, my brother and sister-in-law insisted (thank you), very generously, on setting me up with a website and then this blog. At that time I hardly knew my ‘refresh’ from my ‘restart’ and blundered along as best I could. I’ve learnt a bit more since then, with very much help, many furrowed brows and a lot of make-do-and-mend dinosaur solutions on my part! And there has been plenty of fun and enormous progress too. Molly and I have been working hard redesigning the site and the shop. We’re rather pleased with it – and hope you like it too…take a look here.
taken by Jane Bown, circa 1950