blue sky thinking

bugsIt’s just about five months since I received a mysterious email from a Mr Oswaldo Ibarra in Guadalajara.

The Hard To Find Institute had tracked me down and out of the blue came an invitation to go and teach a short course there in the spring. I could hardly say no, and as unlikely as it seemed that is where I found myself a week or two ago.


I’d returned from a sunny New York working at WestElm’s makers studio, got freezing cold at a grandson’s end-of-season football match (goal scored) gathered slideshows, talks, paintbrushes and lesson plans and got back on the plane across the Atlantic, this time heading south of the border – for my first visit to Mexico.

DSC00861I was welcomed by blue blue skies, hot Mexican pink walls, bougainvillia, jacaranda, laburnam and flame trees blooming everywhere – and that was just on the way from the airport! My room, one of six at the Hotel Trendy, was more like a little apartment, with a glass-fronted concrete kitchen sink and very clearly defined hot and cold pipes for those, like me, with poor Spanish. I looked down into the courtyard, where an outside bath and shower made an interesting water feature.


22124_452151984951497_1176349992062112851_nMy first job that evening was to give a talk at the University, kindly translated by Oswaldo. As usual the students were shy with their questions, but then found plenty to say as they crowded round after the lecture. From the university building the breathtaking view showed a deep valley falling away dramatically at our feet and magnificent cliffs rising in the distance.

DSC00872The workshop – Adventures in Painting Patterns – ran for five days, and certainly was an adventure. From the first tentative marks to the final confident patterns the thirteen students were keen, hard-working and friendly.

I really had a great time with them as we journeyed through making and understanding patterns and repeats, inventing and painting designs using new ways of working. As often happens, it’s changing the scale and method of work that is so freeing. Moving from small predictable computer screen imagery to unexpected marks made on large sheets of paper or cloth can be an exciting revelation.

The May 1st holiday allowed for voluntary attendance – most students turned up and I decided to celebrate that happy day by making some banderitas – little flags.

On the last evening we mounted a show of all the work done, friends and families were invited and I gave a little resumée of where each student had started and the progress they had achieved; certificates were presented and photos taken. I felt proud of what we’d done together – and I think they did too.

Untitled-1DSC01000Not knowing my fidgety go-home-quick nature, my ever-generous hosts had organised a few days extra for me as a little holiday.


Thank goodness they did. In the nearby small town of Tlaquepaque we sauntered in the sun wandering from modest shops with the tiniest doll’s dinner sets to elegant galleries offering artefacts of surprisingly Gargantuan proportions.


This merry little clay pair made their way into my keeping, along with these two painted canvas figures with coconut-shell heads – the big cat is a local character, the eclipse is also a favourite Jalisco theme.


The bakery offered a beautiful array of biscuits and breads, and at lunch the restaurant floor was strewn with aromatic herbs; glimpsed through a doorway – an unexpected saffron wall – and through gates – these painted trees.



The next day off we went to Gauchimontones – literally translated as ‘the bunch of round-shaped things’ – where ancient round pyramids stand witness to the much earlier civilisation of the Teuchitlan tradition, dating from around 300 BC. The stepped circles rise from grassy mounds within the ancient circular building complexes, the baking hot stillness ruffled by the rustle of cattle herded by a horseman and his dog, and the silence interrupted by the high cries of birds – and suddenly a noisily annoyed large American tourist!


Back in the city we happened on a gathering of dancers; their long-awaited performances were prefaced by groups of drummers drumming for ages, then a straggling march of indiginous peoples of the area and ten politicians making speeches – quite puzzling all round!

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DSC01084Finally the be-ribboned dancers set sail – whirled and clicked and stamped. I don’t know what these clown fellows were doing at all.

A wonderful treat came on my last day: through quite a dingy brown door we stepped – Oswaldo, Paula, their small daughter Alina and I – and found ourselves in the sunny little courtyard of an old two-storey house.


This is the home of Taller Mexicano de Gobelinos, a most extraordinary group of artist-craftspeople beautifully hand-weaving wool tapestries. The enterprise was started 50 years ago by an Austrian and a weaver from Oaxaca.


They were preparing some enormous works to be sent to an exhibition in New York. Hanks of local wool, both dyed and natural, hung on hooks in the walls; the small rooms upstairs were home to wooden looms where weavers worked singly or in pairs, father and son, interpreting the artists’ documents. We were generously shown some of the completed pieces, unfolded from their pile. Finished and cut from the loom they had been stretched on frames and watered to keep their shape, their slits sewn together and then backed with strong cotton fabric ready to be hung. How I would love to design for one of these.


My last visit was to the magnificent Hospicio Cabanas, where in the museum we saw an exhibition of works by Mexico’s foremost architect and graphic designer, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez – think 1968 Olympics. I would have liked more energy to really appreciate the huge output of his varied and creative life.


DSC00927It was a full and intense few days, vivid and fascinating; simple things as well as grand caught my eye – this telephone booth, another message without words, and a clever way of dealing with a chain-link fence – interwoven with plastic strapping. I can imagine a whole colour-woven run of it making a rather ho-hum boundary DSC00909into something beautiful. I was sorry to leave. I returned home just in time to vote, heaven help us, and to join a family dinner in honour of Susan – it’s four years since she left the planet.

While I was away some little completions happened to various of my works – Madame Chair made her appearance at Selfridges on behalf of the ArtRoom and is hanging round with 89 other chairs in the escalator atrium there. The online auction starts on May22nd, and a small actual auction event will take place there at the store on the 9th June. Let everyone know – the more money raised for the charity the better.


And our ‘Melodies’ range was formally launched by Michael Miller Fabrics. Fat quarters have been sent out for some rather exciting new sewing ventures here – thanks Modflowers for your lovely blog – and they themselves will be showing at the Minneapolis Quilt Show any minute now.


Another work completed – this time not mine – is Sophie’s new book ‘The Listening Forest’ – the culmination of her AiR time at Fermynwoods. There’s a ‘simple’ edition, available from her, and there’s also a ‘work-of-art’ one printed on a large scale, both made beautifully by the Henningham Family Press.


And on my return almost my first work commitment was at the Human Library, the Museum of Empathy, at the Whitechapel Gallery last sunday as part of Hubbub’s ‘Refashion East’ event. Us dozen or so talking books each sat opposite an empty chair which was then sat upon in three sessions by three different visitors for three minutes each – a sort of speed-dating with human encyclopaedias. The room was a-buzz – a lot of people came and learnt a lot about how clothes and textiles come into being – it was an exhilerating affair.


Following hard on its heals, the next day brought a group of members of The Textile Society on an outing to my studio – the first of three such visits. On both days I was struck again by how people of all sorts and backgrounds have such strong affinities with cloth, pattern, colour and texture; it really does seem to be the stuff of life.


After all of that I slept for twelve hours, got up and started on the next project.

The Rebozo show has transferred from the FTM and opened in Mexico City at the Franz Mayer Gallery this week – a pity I couldn’t stay long enough to be there for the occasion. And there are dates of some further workshops, courses and shows on my news and events page – have a look, there’s quite a lot going on.

To try to recapture the lovely Mexican sun I painted this fabric the other day:

11148843_464790753685332_1710120794882204357_oand here’s what happened to it – I’d painted the backing fabric in Guadalajara, and it seemed just right for a handy hanging wall pocket thingy.

pocketsThanks to Molly, Steve, Mariana, and Oswaldo, Paula and Alina and all at Hard to Find – until the next time…

mexico logo

pip pip!

20 thoughts on “blue sky thinking

  1. What a wonderful, colourful story of your visit to Mexico, a place dear to my heart. This is one of the best blogs I have read and as a budding silk painter, the colours and patterns are inspiring. Thanks for sharing and I’m happy to have discovered you and your beautiful textiles!

  2. I have only recently come across you and your work after my husband bought me one of your silk geometric scarfs in a local boutique in Worcester UK. It is wonderful and is much admired by friends! Thank you for this colourful sojourn in Mexico…love the circular landforms and the local colours and patterns! Thank you!!

  3. So glad to hear you got out into the sun. I last met you in the tunnel at Clapham Junction Station. But all journeys start somewhere.Thank you for such a joyous, uplifting, interesting, tale of your adventures. Nice patterns too.


  4. Are you ending paid by the Mexican tourist board? I am ready to book tickets after reading that. As ever, your blog is joy of colour and anecdotes. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

  5. Wonderfully inspiring as usual Sarah – brightened up the end of the week.
    What an amazing time you have had – your Mexican trip sounds absolutely wonderful
    A thought also for Susan – always in our hearts
    Christine Hanscomb xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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