Staying with Devon Granny in the holidays had one particular upside – breakfast!
Sifting through my books I came across one of hers (my dad’s mum) ‘The Highways and Byways in Devon & Cornwall’, and I recalled two, though there were many more, specialities of her morning table – the bowl of moist dark muscovado sugar and the little Prinknash pot of topple. And this set me thinking about bluetits! Topple was the top of the milk – the cream that had risen to the top of the bottle and was obviously the treatiest bit. That part of the milk contains no lactose but plenty of calories; bluetits are lactose intolerant! So those clever little creatures learnt to pierce the foil caps and drink in their energy supplies from the bottles the milkmen left, and because they go round in gangs they all quickly copied one another.
I was wondering how they’re doing these days when full cream milk is a rarity on the doorsteps of Britain. Well, luckily they’ve taken a liking to the caterpillars of the invasive Leaf-miner moth who are threatening the well-being of our lovely horse-chestnut trees – so they’ve seized another opportunity for nutrition, one which will also help to keep us in conkers, an autumn delight.
The conkers are not quite ripe yet hereabouts, but these winged seeds made me smile:
Friends told me that their dear old tortoise, Marmalade, habitually hibernates in the same spot in the garden every October. It digs its way under the earth but manages by some cleverness to leave no bump on the surface to give away its exact whereabouts.
I’ve felt a bit hibernatory myself these last few days when the pouring rain and gloomy light conspired to keep me rather silently indoors. But I’ve had a lot of painting to do. Projects for both new and returning customers have had me setting to happily squeezing tubes, mixing colour, taping down paper – lovely! It seems there are always fresh patterns to be painted and cunning repeats to be construed. At the moment the Proms, live and recorded, fill the room several times a day on BBCRadio 3 and quite often the lilt and beat and melodies wave in through the door and have me tapping and dancing about!
And how I love my brushes – especially, at the moment, the da Vinci Novas numbers 3 and 8 which are behaving so beautifully. All too frequently brushes made with synthetic whiskers don’t hold the colour reliably and it can all come landing on the paper with a splurge; added to which the points very often break up and fray so it’s hard to get decent definition. I like these other Vario-tip brushes too, which give the chance to paint a soft broken texture.
One of the pleasures of seeing the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery – ‘Art and Life, 1920-1931’ – is looking up close at the quality of the brush strokes, the textures and the marks. I really enjoy seeing how the lush and oily paint was applied, feeling the laden brush or the stubby pencil, imagining how the grounds were rubbed and scraped. Winifred Nicholson’s deceptively sweet paintings were the stars of that family’s work I think; really, during that period Ben could’ve made himself more useful doing the housework! It’s great to see again Alfred Wallis’s dark ships sailing solemnly in his uncompromising perspectives and the large pots of William Staite Murray are magnificently confident and bold. To make such sweeping incised marks on to the surface of the tacky clay would’ve taken some doing: an eye-opener.
Patterns on damp grounds – travelling in South East India earlier in the year my friend Stafford began to notice the ground was strewn with patterns. Everywhere he went he came across these Kolam – elaborate or simple – which are drawn fresh before sunrise every day by pouring rice flour onto the newly swept damp earth. Ancient symbols of harmony and welcome (and a good way to divert the ants from your kitchen) the interlocking lines must be made, traditionally, in an unbroken gesture. Stafford, being who he is, was compelled to photograph as many of these impromptu arts as he could and has now made a beautiful book – Brief Life – which you can see and even buy online from Blurb, click here.
This cut-out of mine from some years ago came to light in the sortings-out; it has a little feel of the Kolam intricacies – I’ve got it taped up as a temporary window blind at the moment!
And now for some showing-off: the products made for Habitat’s Design Reunion in celebration of their 50th birthday will be available to buy instore and online from the 13th September, and shown in a special exhibition at Platform, Habitat Kings Road, during the London Design Festival. There will also be an open discussion there between the designers and David Nicholls of The Telegraph on the afternoon of Friday 19th September. So if you’d like tickets for that click here, and if you’d like to see me talking briefly about the Fifty Leaves rug – click on the image below.There are also interviews with the designers in the current issue of Grand Designs magazine too.
And as this blog is about friends and celebrations have a look here at the lovely video of Raymond talking about his life and his beautiful and extraordinary work for Erhman. Family lore has it that he sold his first design, Snowdrops, to Susan for Liberty (some time ago), and that he painted twice as much repeat as necessary both so that he could be sure it worked – and so that he could keep a good reference for himself. A man after my own heart, though I see his brushes look very much sprucer than mine!
At that time, ’60s ’70s and into the ’80s, patterns for printed varuna wools and worsteds were part of our stock in trade, so to speak, and the International Wool Secretariat was a champion of our designs. Since then the use of wool in both apparel and the home has declined; there’s now a move to remedy that and to increase the happiness of sheep with the Campaign for Wool. It’s such a great and versatile textile – have a look here and visit the show if you can. I will be printing some new wool-rich squares later in the year – both cosy and glam.
And finally, we’re often asked by interested overseas customers whether and how they can buy our cards; well now the answer’s yes – they’re available at our Etsy shop, can be bought singly and sent worldwide. Our full range is still available online here.