what designers talk about

fabrics of indiaWhen friends asked me to join them for a second visit to The Fabrics of India I jumped at the chance: there were so many things I’d missed on that quick first recce.

I particularly loved all the films showing dying, printing, weaving, embroidery and those miles of gossamer silk being unwound from the cocoons. fabrics of india 2My eye was taken again by a silk-embroidered hanging depicting the mythical battle of Kurukshetra, somewhat reminiscent of the Bayeux tapestry. There were the warriors mounted on prancing striped horses, the archers and striding swordsmen, the elephants carrying the toffs aloft, the pantalooned bandsmen marching along blowing curly horns and banging drums. Everyone progressed energetically from left to right.

Below them, at the edge, was a parade of birds, and then a little decorative floral band – all was in order till I noticed that the birds in the top border were upside down. This seemed an oddity in such a directional design. I checked the caption – yes, it was a hanging, no it wasn’t a cloth to be laid flat and seen from any direction. I moved on, mentioning the inconsistency to my friend, and noting that a nearby flooorspread was indeed designed to be read from either side, and therefore had purposeful upside-downeries in the drawing.


We went to have lunch; I slowly became aware of waving arms and a familiar face smiling at me across the bustling café – it was Mark Hearld, inviting us to share his table. After some quick pleasantries we started on about the exhibition, and immediately : “Did you see that hanging?” “The one with the upside-down birds at the top?” “Yes, what were they thinking of?” “It must have been left to a junior” “It’s the only explanation!”. We fell about laughing – in all that huge exhibition we’d each spotted the same design anomaly and for both of us it was a sort of fascinating mystery – that’s what designers talk about! Of course, it’s true that we both particularly enjoy painting birds…


For the most part the exhibition showed the grandeur and elegance of Indian fabrics – huge panelled tents, delicate silks. It was good to visit Joss Graham‘s new show of more everyday, but no less decorative, Indian village crafts, and see the charmingly illustrated book The Golden Thread by Lorna Tresidder, which came packaged in its own block-printed cotton bag.


My own kitchen-table crafts have been going full-tilt – freshly hand-painted silk hankies and newly hand-made cards using our vintage Liberty fabrics have been delivered to the FTM shop, along with more of our delectable hand-sewn dollies.


They’re all available on our website too, and we have some new cards with Christmas in mind and of course the new calendar ‘People Places Pattern for 2016’, which is printing as I write – here’s a peek.

2016 calendar

And if you want to make your own hand-painted silk scarf to wear or to give as a posh present, come along to my workshop at Morley College in December, there are still a couple of places left – it’s on the 2nd and the 9th – I know midweek can be tricky. I like it when people tell me one of my courses has been given as a gift to someone – it makes me feel like a very unruly parcel!


Evening cake has been quite a feature lately: naturally a slice of home-made was on offer at my tuesday talk to the Palace and Penge Womens Institute. By the way, they’ll be making chrismas wreaths at the next meeting (first tuesday of the month). That was followed next day by a soirée at the Poetry Cafe in honour of The Listening Forest and to hear Sophie read. It coincided with her dad’s 90th so it was celebrations all round; the birthday song was sung, cake – chocolate with Venetian chestnut flour – was sliced, and crumbs were licked – top quality!


I exchanged ideas with a young Hebrew scribe, and remembered that as a teenager I had wondered whether I could make a career as an addresser of envelopes – very fancy ones of course. I had a boyfriend who lived in Edinburgh; I wrote to him often and took the letters up to Euston to post directly onto the night train’s Royal Mail sorting-office coach. The posting box had a flap that folded down flat when the train got going – for aero-dynamic efficiency. Sometimes I handed the envelopes directly to a postman – they would remark on their dazzling nature and tease me that they’d need dark glasses to sort them!

royal mail

The next evening I very much enjoyed giving the talk at the FTM about our Art of Pattern show, fuelled this time by a little Portuguese pastel-de-nata. The room was packed – it’s always exciting to have a full house. I was pleased to include pictures of Susan’s sitting room, and of us both in our studio of the time: they give a marvellous insight, setting the scene, and really showing the fabric of our lives and the context in which we dressed, lived and worked in the 60s and 70s – pattern, texture, colour gathered from all over the place! Stafford and I are making a little book of the exhibition and we hope to get it printed and available in the next couple of weeks…

sarah and susan studio

DSC02396At the beginning of the day, there are certain early-morning treats not to be missed either. One is the trip to Covent Garden market to stock up on flowers for the Do South shop; the dahlias and physalis have been so beautiful this autumn and it’s always fun to wander round and see the sumptuous extravaganza of decorative florist fare on offer, from huge polar bears to faux trees sparkling with fairy light cherry-blossom flowers. An early breakfast at the Brockwell Lido cafe is also to be recommended, and another regular early morning date is often spent at grandsons’ saturday football fixtures, though with three boys playing for three different teams it can be a bit of a slithery scramble.

mmf cushions

I’m enjoying the different permutations of these zipped cushions, using our new MMF SeaHolly fabrics; they look sweet with the piping on this little re-upholstered chair, and will soon be available on the website. These are in the Retro colour family – and here are some in the Lilac group.

mmf lilac cushions

on the spotThe earlier Melodies range is featured in an ‘on the spot’ interview in December’s Crafts Beautiful magazine.

And I’m really looking forward to carrying in the tea and toast on one of these new printed bamboo trays – part of our Viva collection of homeware made in collaboration with Magpie, coming in January.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 16.15.41west elm artMeanwhile WestElm have some new canvas prints on show, made from a series of my abstract paintings with the theme of layered colours and textures. 

It’s a while since I went to any live music; the London jazz festival is on at the moment and Saturday’s performance by Cecile McLorin Salvant was really not to be missed. What a voice and what delivery; the atmosphere was already charged as, poignantly, she sang in French a song of love. She also seemed to be conducting quite a public love affair with her pianist Aaron Diehl, but it all added to the power, wit and intense sensual drama of the evening. If you want to know how to shimmy, listen here.


Thanks to Molly, Steve, Rosemary, Stafford, Peter and Fred, and to Howard, for sending me this reminder of how things should be done:

14 thoughts on “what designers talk about

  1. Maybe (an embroiderer writes) it’s more that the design was drawn on freehand when the fabric was already laced-in to the big rectangular frame in which it was to be worked, so that the (plural) embroiders could all get equal access to the tautly stretched fabric. It’s awfully easy drawing on the framed-up cloth to see its edge as the bottom line of your image, the place for — birds’ — feet. I’ve done it accidentally, and, since it’s hard to rub out on cloth, gone with it… Let us all know when the Pattern Book is out, shelf space awaits.

  2. Now Sarah, it’s obvious the birds were only fitting themselves tidily into the space ad any textile designer knows! X

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