skilled hands


This tangle of yarn made me think about the inside of my head.

I’d been feeling that my brain had become rather like it – a complicated mass of threads, connecting and interconnecting, impossible to straighten out, to make clear sense of. So many thoughts and ideas, joinings-up, leadings-on, reachings back – an intense whirr. Thank goodness for a dear friend who calmly, skilfully helped me unravel this unruly gathering into words and then onto two sheets of A4 paper – headed ‘the now’ and ‘the future’; together we made some sense of the many commitments, plans, hunches, dreams and wishes.

truth on a hillSifting and sorting and skipping on – reminds me of lines by John Donne about the nature of gaining the truth:

On a huge hill,

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must and about must go,

And what the hill’s suddenness resists – win so.


And why was the yarn itself on the table in the first place? Having been invited to contribute work to two shows I found myself longing to rifle through my stash and use it in different ways for both pieces: as a detail in the work for Art of Mexico exhibition soon to be coming at the FTM – here’s a peak…

Robozzo wrap

clock face wrapand also as an integral element of the piece for Face Time, an exhibiton of works made to be shown at the Mall Galleries in June and sold for the benefit of the charity The Artroom – here’s another little sneak…part of the fun was space-dying the yarn to give an ikat effect…yarn detail

ikat yarns

While the fabric inks were out I painted some new little silk hankies, 28cm square, available in our shop here. Along with my recent work there are others on display for a few more days at the Fashion and Textile Museum in ‘from start to finish’ – on until the 18th May; then those will be available too. The museum is open late on a Thursday. By the way – my display’s upstairs in the Fashion Studio. If they’re hosting a course in that room when you’re there and it seems to be shut – it’s ok to ask and go in.


Paolo VeroneseAt the other end of the scale at The National Gallery is an exhibition of paintings by the master of depicting fabric in art – Paolo Veronese. His magnificent brush brings to life the silks, brocades, velvets, damasks, furs and muslins of renaissance Venice with all the glamour and majesty of those rich, luminous and exquisite textiles. Never mind the sky – slap in the blue – never mind hands – those fingers will have to do – it’s the textiles that come to life in all their significant richness, and in the most extravagant and unlikely compositions too. Though when it comes to portraits none are so touching as his two early and tender paintings of Livia and Iseppo da Porto and their children. Dated 1552 they could be of any time, of any loving family.

Paolo Veronese

Another master of shape and colour – Henri Matisse – was raised among textiles in a family and town of weavers in Northern France. His profound understanding of pattern both as surface and form must have come with his mother’s milk. For many years this little edition of ‘Jazz’ has kept me company: ‘Dessiner avec des ciseaux’ as he writes.

Matisse Jazz

Matisse cutoutsThe entire collection of his cut-outs are currently to be seen at the Tate Modern. His last works – the scale, the energy, the purpose – fill me with hope and passion and tears. And so do his words about them, and the little films of him skilfully wielding his huge scissors. All I can say is get a ticket and go and swim in the lagoon of his genius.

Matisse TheMatisse The Parakeet and the Mermaid

I listened to a former prisoner proudly describe his second-to-none sewing skills at a talk given by Tracy Chevalier at Danson House. On the strength of her latest book The Runaway and at an invitation from Fine Cell Work she has both curated an exhibition and commissioned a work for it. ‘What we do in bed’ examines, through the medium of the quilt, five of the things that may happen under the covers – birth, sex, sleep, illness and death. The quilts shown are a collection of old and new pieces.

Fine Cell WorksTaking the theme of sleep the prisoners worked together to make many squares showing their personal stories and responses to the subject; they were then stitched together into a patched quilt. The show made me think again about the exhibition Frayed, which I wrote about here, and the tremendous value of making and doing, of working through, of skilled hands. As one maker put it: ‘all the sorrows and joys of my life are held here.’ I’m hoping to be able to work on a project with Fine Cell Work myself in the near future.

Palm Leaf quilt

When another friend popped round with a box of some old bits and pieces she’d been keeping by I opened it to find the last scrap of our classic design Cote d’Azure printed on heavy canvas. It just so happened I’d been needing it for another little project – good timing! In the meantime we’ve used a detail from the design as one of the six new cards now available to buy here.

Sarah Campbell cards

New products are also coming in to WestElm – some rather glamorous cushions join the gang, and a handsome new dhurrie too.

Sarah Campbell for West Elm

Lastly – there’s still time to book tickets to the workshop and talk I’m giving on May 24th at SITselect. The subject for both is this blog and how I approach it – ‘the world as I see it’. It won’t be about computer technicalities (not my strong point) and I don’t expect workshop participants to necessarily want to be or become bloggers – just to be interested in exploring ways of seeing, looking and recording. Do join me if you can.

SIT blog

Thanks to Molly, Steve, John Donne’s Satire III and some very helpful friends!

painted floral


21 thoughts on “skilled hands

  1. Pingback: A list – but a good one! | Sarah Campbell Designs

  2. I’ve got some of your Cote d’Azure in my fabric suitcase store. Bought it years ago. Fabulous design!

  3. Hi Sarah, love reading your blog, always so bright and vibrant with words to match. I especially enjoy the ‘London scenes’ that are so aptly painted! As your in the Stroud area this weekend(hectic scedule permitting) try and indulge in the Cirencester Hare Festival( and see all the ‘dressed’ hares. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I am swaying towards the one by Debbie Stirling! Keep on blogging!

  4. Love this one especially. Would like to see your future and present list. I am such a tangle that my to-do list is a tangle. Will I see you in June? At P on 17th and 18th. With your vibes player! Well, the one you loved. Will Matisse still be on around then? xx

    • Thanks Tessa – the list is really a diagram of likely pursuits – as much to evaluate times required as returns gained. Am not sure about June at the mo – a journey mooted – but Matisse is here until 7th september. xx

  5. Hi Sarah,

    Dazzling as ever and phrasing great, ‘swim in the lagoon of his genius’. I might even borrow that in the future with acknowledgements!

    Cheers Dave

  6. Much enjoyed reading this, particularly about the ‘tangle’ as that is how I’ve been this past couple of weeks … I think I’ll try your ‘now’ and ‘future’ technique!

    There have been so many interesting exhibitions to see this year – I am planning to see the Matisse – in fact very much looking forward to it. Not sure if ‘Vikings’ is still on at the BM, but I want to see that too. Just been to Italian Fashion at the V&A as well!

    Look forward to seeing your future posts.

  7. Hi Sarah, I took part at the weekend in Dulwich Festival Artists Open House with Women of the Cloth, and took a moment out to visit another house full of textile artists who had bunting around their front garden fence which included triangles of your Cote D’Azure fabric!! They are open next weekend too if you want to go and see their lovely work – (and your fabric bunting bits)

  8. Hi Sarah. I love the shiny new West Elm cushions and the Dhurrie! I went to the Matisse exhibition today (the first of several visits I hope) and I was so inspired by it. Wonderful to see an artist in his twilight years producing so much new, vibrant work.

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