winter lights

saami sunIt’s nearly the solstice, the shortest darkest day of the year. I long for the turn-around when the morning begins to break a little earlier and the daylight stays a little longer.

The sun, its light and its effect on our circadian rhythms was discussed on BBC radio 4 – from the oscillators of the blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, millions of years ago to our own internal clocks now – fascinating – listen here. My strongly held belief that ‘sleeping on it’ will help to resolve a knotty problem, or bring new ideas to the table, turns out to make a lot of sense: repairs and reconstructions go on in the brain during the hours of darkness.


Saami_Family_1900And late one afternoon we heard the story of Akanidi on radio 3, read by Jonathan Pryce as part of their Northern Lights festival. She was the daughter of the sun, and as she looked down on the Saami people of the North she wondered why they were so sad and cross. Down she flew to bring them warmth, light, happiness – which she did by teaching them how to make lovely patterns for their clothes and homes – what else?! And they became happy – so happy in fact that the jealous Old Guard felt threatened by this new-found contentment and disregard for the ancient order of misery and conspired to kill poor Akanidi with a moss green rock. They threw it at her and she dissolved out of sight, never to re-appear – but she left behind a special song, a joiking, and a wonderful array of decorative joy.


One of the considerations of working alone is how to schedule courier pick-ups – they require such a huge ‘window’ of time which it isn’t always possible to accommodate. At this time of year a perk of taking the package to the depot myself is that the road passes a spectacular array of seasonally-decorated houses, which hitherto have got more elaborate every year. With this in mind I set off at dusk anticipating the show to lighten the journey. I was rather disappointed. No santas were clambering down the walls, no reindeer cantering on the rooftops, no sleighs perched by the chimney-pots. It seems austerity’s caught up with Father C on the A23! There were two neighbourly houses, though, that shared this very decorative array – though their reference seemed more eastern than polar.

christmas decs

DSC03055The work of Olga de Amaral is full of aureate light – literally gleaming with gold leaf and zinging with pigment. Born in Bogota in 1932, she has developed her fabric structures with single-minded devotion and vision. Surfaces are meticulously woven, twisted, interleaved, sewn and built into huge intense panels of texture; they read differently from all angles, and from within their density comes a shimmering light.

They’re to be seen at the Rook and Raven Gallery until the 20th December; I went with Jennefer Penfold, the inventor and author of Jennefer’s Travels, a little shopping handbook well worth consulting for all things textile, who was passing through town on her more-or-less annual recce.

Built of green oak and lined with painted wood the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe is a little jewel of a theatre. The only light is thrown by candles – ninety-two flickered in chandeliers and wall-sconces as we listened to the English Concert playing works heard, described and collected by the energetic and somewhat dry eighteenth century traveller and musicologist Dr Charles Burney – ‘Burney’s Journeys’. The young violinist Nadia Zwiener was particularly engaging and really seemed to enjoy herself playing the rather eccentric Biber sonatas. The aria Total Eclipse, sung by Mark Padmore, was extraordinarily moving, the zenith of the evening’s performance – the words ‘No Sun, No Moon’ filled the air with dark drama. Listen here


Lighted windows are one of the pleasures of the season – both domestic peer-ins and commercial premises. Passing on the bus I caught my breath at a surprising sight: an absolute beauty of a double bass had appeared in the window of a new shop in Herne Hill – Laurence Dixon’s Bass Place. Even at a dash, the intriguing glimpse of a room full of wooden stringed instruments sang out a beckoning call; I must go back on foot.


At The Do South Shop we have decided to formalise last year’s painted windows by reproducing one of the patterns we used then into a printed and laser-cut form; so now it can be applied as and when – rather smart I think.


At Morley College we had two very good days of painting on silk; the new frames have made a great difference, and once we all got the hang of them and their little ways the students really set to with gusto and produced all sorts of beautiful pieces, surprising themselves at their own ingenuity and skill I think. morley 1Tentative marks, first acquaintance with new materials, unintended splodges soon gave way to some confident work, and I’m sure we all went home happy.

morley 2

We’There’s still time to book a place at West Dean for my course in January – a longer look at textile design and a chance to understand and make pattern. In those beautiful surroundings – what could be a nicer present? Further 2016 courses and workshops are planned and listed in ‘events’.

I can’t pretend it’s not Christmas time; at our block of flats we gathered again in the freezing foyer for the family workshop to decorate the communal tree. randomsMy collection of small chairs and tables comes in very handy for this, as does the cupboard of ‘randoms’, and along with other very generous contributions – pompoms, pipe-cleaners and the like – a glue-and-glitter fest ensued. Small fingers worked away, mulled wine and hot chocolate were on tap, a beautiful tree emerged. And a teeny tiny one was decorated to welcome the newest little member of our block, born ten days ago.
christmas tree

Talking of Christmas, there’s still time to have an artistic shop-up on our website.
Hand-made, hand-painted, small print-runs – there’s lots to choose from: the unique textile dolls, made from both our Liberty vintage and our current Michael Miller Fabrics,
scarves hand-painted and printed, silk hankies, cushions, tree decorations, fairies, and novelties, cards and of course our 2016 calendar – ‘People Places Pattern’. Don’t forget –  to receive a 10% discount just add the code XMAS at the checkout.

scarffairiesScreen Shot 2015-12-18 at 15.19.29

And if you’re at the FTM shop, the stock of hand-painted silk hankies has just been replenished…


My grandsons speak in reverential tones of Lamborghinis and Aston Martins – the flashiest cars they know. The other day, on the way to the Fashion and Textile Museum, a silver such-a-one was parked beneath the Shard, outside the Shangri-La hotel. I approached the burley doorman to ask if I could take a pic for the boys – “Of course, Madam, but let me take one of you standing with the car.” What a brilliant idea! My street cred should go up when they see this…

At the other end of the scale perhaps, the cash dispenser at the station has been the victim of a very bad tantrum! Looped around with blue and white SoC tape it stands battered and broken; stuck on it’s screen is a message written in caps on a betting-shop slip – ‘cash-machine, you had it coming to you and now you’ve got it’. I have often felt anxious at an ATM, disappointed and sometimes embarrassed; that must have been pure fury.


But I shouldn’t end on such a note – there’s fun and happiness to be had at Christmas, lots of sticking, painting and making still to be done, and I, for one, have plenty of newness to look forward to in the coming year.

Thanks to Molly, Steve and Frances

13 thoughts on “winter lights

  1. I discovered your blog shortly after I bought one of your scarves earlier this year and have enjoyed all of your colourful posts! Wishing you a happy colour filled Christmas and another creative new year!

  2. Another lovely post full of colour and light and I know, that under my tree is a special scarf also full of colour. Who needs to go to the Cote d’Azure if I can wear it. I can’t wait. happy Christmas.

  3. Merry Xmas Sarah, thanks for your bright often cheerfull blogs. A ray of sunshine each time!
    Wish you a happy and colourfull 2016!

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