Recently my thoughts and time have largely been taken up with gathering and hanging our display The Art of Pattern at the Fashion and Textile Museum.
Susan and I produced many many patterns for Liberty over the years of 61-77, and The FTM’s latest exhibition Liberty in Fashion, which opens this very day, has given us an opportunity to show some of this work, complementing the comprehensive collection of garments in the main exhibit.
We’ve amassed lots of our paintings, swatches, colourways, fabric lengths and clothes, and also have some less well-known work – ceramic tiles, paper fabrics, ban-lon, the centenary Coalport Bowl – as well as sketch-books, magazine articles of the time, and other memorabilia and studio stories. That the name Liberty stands for quality, colour, variety and pattern in textiles is a given. For us it gave the particular benchmark of excellence to which we aspired all our working lives – and I still do. From the start they valued good drawing, varied design, imaginative painting.
So when everything was installed I stood back, and looking round the room of our display I was struck by the breadth not just of the work we produced, but, by definition, the work Liberty commissioned and encouraged; the satins and silks, linens, cottons and wools sang out. I suppose I took it for granted at the time – it was just what we did – but in retrospect I’m very impressed and thankful. My mother’s advice was usually ‘start at the top’ – for everything from theatrical negotiations to housework – and in our work we were lucky enough to be able to. So we were fortunate to build our careers with such a generous and imaginative company, where art was allowed to flourish – possibly, sometimes, at the expense of commerce, one of the risks of designing with integrity.
And thinking about painting patterns for textiles, and how to do it, has been more than usually on my mind this past couple of months thanks to running recent workshops on the subject at Bradness Gallery and Morley College.
I’ve been meeting all sorts of students longing to replace their screens and mice with paper and brushes – just for the weekend at least.
I think everyone without exception found the experience exhilarating – though sometimes annoyingly difficult – and the pleasure felt in the act of painting came as something of a surprise to many. This fact explains my general cheerfulness of course!
I’m back at Bradness next week, and as this course is full we’re running more, and different, next year – see here for dates, and here for bookings. And I’m back at Morley to teach two days of painting on silk in December – I think there are still places left – and at the venerable WestDean in January looking at aspects of textile pattern.
Apart from being so immersed in sorting, editing, hanging our exhibition – and thanks to Stafford, Rosemary and Molly for their huge helps – I had a great day at York visiting the Art Gallery there.
We went particularly to see the newly constituted ceramics exhibit, but the whole place was a treat – interesting, informative and beautifully presented. Upstairs the re-make of Anthony Shaw’s sitting room houses his personal ceramic collection; a light-filled sequence of spaces which put some marvellous work into his domestic context. Very exciting to see work by friends David Garland and Stephenie Bergman sitting there. Strangely neither of them were aware of being on show.
In the main upper gallery Clare Twomey’s installation ‘1000 Hours’ reigns magnificent, and downstairs it was intriguing to see Mark Hearld: The Lumber Room – Unimagined Treasures; I much admire his lovely bold drawing. A sunny day, we had lunch in the square outside the gallery, wandered through the crowded streets, felt rather depressed by the minster and then had to make a mad dash for the train – which we caught with a minute to spare. A lovely day out.
The Tribal Art show was full of life’s treasure too; sitting with a cup of coffee I happened to share a table with the photographer David Godfrey and made a new friend – it turned out he’d been as enchanted as I was with the Seth Siegelaub’s show at Raven Row three years ago. And he had photographed the amazing hats that I had painted and written about here – a very satisfactory coincidence!
I have a real bee in my own bonnet about what’s happening to the London skyline, our streets, and the housing – they all seem under siege by developers who appear to have little or no interest in the proper daily life of this city – ordinary people’s ordinary housing and lives are disappearing by the day. New developments invade every corner and our eyeline is crammed with banal buildings. So I was pleased to catch the architect Barbara Weiss talk about this on BBCRadio4’s FourThought the other day. A lot of people I talk with seem to agree, but what can be done? We appear to have sold the family silver in the panicky wake of the banking crisis – to bankers no doubt.
On a happier note I’ve had two very acceptable Sunday mornings lately, both birthday celebrations (not mine): The Wolseley’s a great place for a breakfast – always good to have kippers when another kitchen has to deal with the lingering smell – and coffee and cake in the autumn sun at the allotment really can’t be beaten, especially with an embroidered cloth on the garden table and bright yellow picnic cups and plates.
And my feet have been made happy too – artistic socks have appeared chez moi: this pair from Lola – the eyes peep over my boots and keep watch – and these woolly delights from Lucy, made by a keen west-country knitter, which are waiting for chillier days. Perhaps they’ll get their first outing on the next leg (haha) of the Capital Ring Walk, due in a couple of weeks. It’ll be an especially important occasion, delayed for almost a year due to Rohan’s cycle accident – she’s now so well recovered and able to make the five and a half mile walk – wonderful!
And the next range of fabrics for Michael Miller Fabrics, ‘Sea Holly’, is online now and shipping in November. I love the colour combinations and the somewhat zingy stripes that pull it all together. These lovely supple cottons are perfect for all home-sewing from patched quilts to clothes to accessories. That rather nice ‘Artisan’ article in Period Living is now online too.
The Art of Pattern show has given us the perfect opportunity to make a special edition of adorable dolls from of our vintage Liberty pieces. Lads and lasses sewn especially for us by Modflowers, each one is a unique character, and has its own little patch-worked calico bag to travel home in.
We’ve also printed six new greetings card designs for the occasion – you can see the original paintings in the exhibition. All new products are available from us online and at the Fashion and Textile Museum shop – and they’re also carrying some of our special hand-made cards, using only Liberty vintage scraps – all gorgeous! The exhibition runs until the end of February and no doubt I’ll be there now and then – so perhaps we’ll meet..
Somewhere along the line I painted these walls for the beautiful newly-launched The Do South Shop..
And here’s how to open new doors…