through the lookbackroscope

It’s quite a few days since the turn of the year, and even more since Christmas; I hope you had good times and I wish you a productive and peaceful 2016, full of new thoughts and projects.

I’m wondering – was the lookbackroscope an invention of Professor Branestawm?


UnknownThe news that Peter Rice, the theatre designer, died on Christmas Eve is sad indeed. It set me thinking that in a way I owe my career to him. In 1958 the musical review (an old-fashioned theatrical concept now) ‘Living for Pleasure’ was playing at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End.stage9009a

My mum was one of the cast, the sets and costumes were designed by Peter, and as an evening job my sister Susan was working backstage as a dresser. Peter was married to the textile designer Pat Albeck; he mentioned to Susan that they both really needed some help – a clever and artistic ‘Girl Friday’. Susan did become their assistant – and later I became hers – and that’s how it all began. The Rices remained an important part of our family landscape, our history – a sort of anchor; his death leaves me feeling somewhat at sea.

Seeing John Hoyland’s paintings at Newport Street Gallery also gave me a nostalgic jolt.

He was teaching at Chelsea School of Art in the 60s when I was studying painting there; the colours, the dash, the grandeur, his photo – all took me back. Back to a lost time though as far as art school education is concerned, unfortunately.



The huge paintings look magnificent in this new voluminous space – they zing into the air, the colours intense and vibrant. To feel them pounding from afar and then to look myopically at the detail and tension of the painted marks – I find both grandly dynamic and very personal.

Within Damien Hirst’s elegant building, which is in fact a series of three fused together, the staircases are eliptical spirals with every detail beautifully considered – nicely echoing the shells of my necklace! The architects are Caruso St John.

The handrails, inset so comfortably into the walls, fitted perfectly. Strangely enough I found my fingers feeling exactly the same device on a staircase at West Dean, where I’ve just spent a very satisfactory few days teaching

paintsa course about Pattern in Textiles. It’s a really beautiful house, generous in all particulars, the gardens and courtyards no less so. I have to confess that I felt a little apprehensive about spending four days and evenings consistently with the same group of students – I normally lead quite a solitary life – but I really enjoyed the experience; my friends said I would – and they were right.


In the adjacent studio Robert Race’s students were inventing all sorts of automatons – moving toys – wonderful!

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 14.44.01

After discussing the rhythm and pace of design, we looked particularly at understanding what a repeating pattern does, and how it does it; students worked hard at drawing, tracing and painting repeats themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 14.51.07My next teaching/workshop days will be at Bradness Gallery scattered throughout March, April and May – another beautiful and generous setting in Sussex. There are several different courses and we’ll be painting directly onto calico, looking at textile pattern and repeats, thinking about designs on simple summer garments and making lampshades. Much later in the year I’m invited back to teach at Hard to Find in Guadalajara, and again at Morley College in the Autumn. All these dates and details are on, or will be added to, the events listings on our website news page.

painted garments

But before all that there’s a Study Day happening at the Fashion and Textile Museum. The 3rd February will be given over to a full day of discussions and talks relating to all aspects and more of the current Liberty in Fashion exhibition. There’s a varied programme, with many interesting speakers (including yours truly), so do come and join in.

Damien Hirst is an avid and wide collector, both of artists’ work and objets; apart from the Hoylands, items from his collections were also on show at The Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, in The Magnificent Obsessions show. This exhibition is about artists’ personal collections and how they might influence their own work; it started life at The Barbican.


For me the star here was Pae White’s display of her collection of textiles by the American designer Vera Neumann. The last White show I saw and wrote about was at the South London Gallery and comprised many many lengths of yarn criss-crossing the space with geometric precision. This interest in lines in space was echoed in the installation of the Vera scarves and fabrics, which hang and flutter on outstretched tension-wire arms – an expanding web of pattern. They are at the start of the show, we can look down the stairwell and see them, drink them in, as they joyfully fill the space with colour and movement. This was the only collection in the exhibition belonging to a woman and of works made by one artist, also a woman; for me it was really the only exhibit that had life and movement – not that I’m biassed in any way of course…! As I found myself saying more than once last week – our relationship to cloth, colour and texture is an intimate one, our response often immediate – from swaddling onwards.


When we first worked in the USA in the early ’80s Vera textiles were very much in evidence, though I had no notion of the tremendous variety and verve of her output, and that of the Printex studio. It was a pleasure to see her enjoyment of so many different patterns and ideas. And I particularly loved this top, sewn of two sailor-shirt printed scarves back-to-back – witty and pretty and bright, to quote the West Side Story song!

vera sailor shirt scarf

How Susan and I larked around singing that song using the coarsest, croakiest voices and ugliest expressions we could muster – and then fell about laughing! Rather more gracious tones were to be heard at Mansfield Street, where Bob and Elizabeth Boas host lots of small concerts in support of new young players. The music we heard was a preview of part of what was programmed for the Wye Valley Festival, due to start the next day in Monmouthshire – including chamber works by Mozart and Fauré. The elegant surroundings, the generous hosts, the charm of the players …. all made for a special and, for me, unusual evening. The Nicholas Boas Trust is well worth investigating if you’re interested in discovering more. On the floor by my feet a scattering of white feathers decorated the big Turkish carpet; I imagined a cunning cat grabbing a little white dove, though perhaps it was more likely the result of a dog attacking a cushion. Anyway, it was most timely as I’d just started a new pattern of feathers, so I gathered them up as reference!

painted feathers

The first Michael Miller collection – Melodies – is featured in the new Style at Home magazine, and from the second one – Sea Holly – we’ve made cushions available from our website; all the fabrics, 100% cotton, are available by the metre.

The third group is just about to go off to the printers… We’ve chosen fabrics from both ranges for our brilliant art-dolls, made for us by Modflowers, and there are some adorable new vintage Liberty dollies too coming soon to the shop at the FTM and our website. Look there too for our lovely new fringed wool mufflers – Cote d’Azure and Bedouin Stripe

liberty dolls

And just launched this weekend and now available in Liberty is Viva – our ceramic collection with Magpie. Nice to see it featured in the February issue of Period Living. And I’m also very happy to have been included as an interviewee in the Lucy Loves Ya blog. 

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I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Tibor Reich exhibition coming to the Whitworth Gallery at the end of January. Famous primarily for his weaves he had fled from Hungary in ’37 and like others similar brought new life and modernity into British textiles.


And to me there’s an echo of weave in this fabulous new work by Stephenie Bergman; commissioned to stand in a Tangier garden, the ceramic columns echo the warp, the glazed colours the weft..


Thanks to Molly, Steve, Joe, Stafford, the Mortons, Lucy and Lola

And just in case you’re thinking you’ve made every effort to please your loved one – have a look at this fellow

painted animals

20 thoughts on “through the lookbackroscope

  1. I have only just seen this blog. One aspect of your recall of life experience as revealed here is how important events trigger the memory process. Can hardly imagine the two sisters Susan and Sarah singing as though in a performance(to each other). How wonderful Susan creating a slot for a worthy assistant and how powerful Peter Rice was in providing this opportunity. A very telling and enjoyable read Aggrey

  2. Thanks for a fascinating, intriguing and delightful blog so multi-perspectival that one wondered whether it was the experience of just one artist or several. Your diary must be creaking but don’t forget the trip to Royal Leamington Spa with David some time this year?

  3. Lovely round-up as usual Sarah! I’m hoping to get to see the Pae White exhibit as I’m a big fan of Vera Neumann’s designs – the idea of an installation made from her scarves is too glorious to resist! I’m also in love with automata, particularly Tim Hunkin’s humorous creations. If you haven’t been already, a visit to Southwold’s Under the Pier Show is well worth a visit and guaranteed to raise a smile or two.

  4. Have forwarded the link to both my children – one has been busing making card automata and I’m sure he would like to go to one of Robert Race’s course and the other has just started work as a structural engineer -sure she’ll be interested to know how a small part of a design like a handrail can give pleasure.

  5. Fascinating blog to start the new year. Just to let you know that we have just acquired a campervan, and I am busy jazzing it up by making some loose covers for the bunk seats in Cote d’Azur fabric salvaged from various lengths ( tablecloth, curtains etc) bought forty years ago!

  6. Oh Sarah! Your blog seldom makes me cry…….Thank you for the lovely things you said about Peter. He would have been so pleased, he loved and admired your work so much,
    deep love Pat

  7. Sarah

    What a delightful interwoven part autobiographical story.


    Can¹t wait to get the opportunity to introduce you to Moorcroft ­ Chelsea Pottery

    Currently waiting on confirmation from them up in Burslem/Stoke on Trent for an appointment next week!


    Leslie x

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