The coffee table in the hotel lobby was a shiny wooden slab incised with a map of Manhattan. In the middle a deeper rectangle was carved and planted with grass – Central Park. The whole thing appealed to me in more than one way: clever, witty, useful and whimsical – and I love maps. Most of all I liked the idea of the grassy park; it reminded me of the little moss worlds I used to make on an old red tin tray when I was a child. Those mounds of soft spongey sphagnum with their tiny stalks of stars, dense green whiskery fernlets, cushions of moist velvets, pale lichens on twigs were all magical marvels to me. I loved to collect them with pebbles and gravel and set out miniature landscapes, hills and vales and river beds – and of course a lake made with an old powder-compact mirror.
As we flew in over London I looked down and for a rare moment had the feeling that this too was my land. At the same time I thought of the millions of displaced people with no place to call their own, the hundreds of seekers now in their watery graves, the last-chance world of desperate hopers, and remembered my dad quoting these famous lines of Robert Burns:
I’ve taken to travelling with my little mousey compass – it makes me feel as though I know where I am!
And regular journeys in a new place quickly throw up new landmarks. In Brooklyn, despite the mess, muck and mayhem forever gathering beneath it, the statuesque green structure of the elevated BQE became a daily fascination, dipping and swerving on its green curvaceous bolted iron struts.
A newly painted yellow wall with blue lettering, an orderly stack of tyres, wild graffiti, huge trucks and mobile homes parked under the dusty belly of the highway became my reference points on the way to building 7 Industry City, where inside Door 33 WestElm have their swish new Makers Space.
It’s a most imaginative venture for a company to devote so much space to the hand-made and individually developed, and I’m proud and pleased to be part of that commitment.
The Open Studio day was filled with interested visitors fascinated by the processes shown – from first sketches to finished samples; we had rooms with weaving, embroidery, sewing, pottery and wire sculpting along with our studio of painters, designers and makers.
And there were childrens’ activities – largely hijacked by their parents as it turned out! I enjoyed meeting so many people and talking about it all. And I enjoyed the other days too when I was there working quietly on my own – in a very luxurious version of home from home; particularly as the cuckoo that chirped on the hour reminded me kindly of my own birdy clock in London.
My hotel room in the East Village faced a park – admittedly a car park – with the famous crazy clock and rooftop statue of Lenin to the north. The cars way below me were parked on racks four shelves high. I spent quite a lot of time in awe as I watched the guy sort them out like a game of motor solitaire, moving the platforms up and down, repositioning the cars – this one in, that one out – with Vladimir Iliych keeping an eye on the lot of us.
Back home preparations accelerate for my short teaching trip to Guadalajara next monday; I’ve bought a new red suitcase in its honour – it does that great wheel-beside-you thing, like a big friendly pet. And for the students I’ve invested in some of those wizard auto-fade pens from the ever-helpful George Weil – they’re always a comfort for drawing straight onto cloth, and I think unavailable in Mexico. We’re also organising things for the Textile Society visits when I return in May. I’m told there’s one last-minute vacancy on May 11th – so if you’d like to take it, and are a member, do get in touch with the events dept here.
I’ll miss the opening party next week for the ‘Re-work it’ installation at Selfridges but expect to be there for the live auction on 9th June. Madame Chair finished up as quite a high flyer and will soon be swinging and swanning around in the best artistic currents; there are already a couple of nice blogs written, including an account by Dr Alasdair himself…
As for me – there’s talk of turning me into a living book in the Museum of Empathy’s Human Library on sunday May 10th at The Whitechapel Gallery. As part of Hubbub’s Refashion East project and with twenty or so others in the fashion and related industries, our experiences will be free to be referenced much as a book might be – except that we’ll be speaking our ‘pages’ as they’re metaphorically riffled through by the audience of questioners.
And much further ahead – on October 17th I’ll be leading another workshop for young people at the V&A as part of their Create learning programme; this time we’ll be taking the Fabric of India exhibition as our starting point. It’s a great day, especially for GCSE and Btech students to enjoy a bit of hands-on work from a slightly different point of view.
I finally opened those big boxes in my hall – and now the contents are sitting patiently on my sofa waiting. In New York I visited the Michael Miller Fabrics offices and saw lovely new photographs of some of their product ideas and quilts made from the Melodies collection; and I’m busy hatching a few plans of my own.