own self do it

painted top

This was the way my brother, as a little boy, let it be known that he could do whatever the ‘it’ was by himself, thank you. I’ve been seeing and doing quite a lot of it myself lately.

At the Fashion and Textile Museum a band of spirited workshoppers joined me in a new paint-your-own-summer-top enterprise. Working on calico cut to a very simple shape we discussed, planned, schemed and experimented before lunch and in the afternoon set to with nervous gusto to paint our own garments. table planPainting directly onto calico has its fair share both of splotty accidents and delightful unexpecteds; I think everyone experienced these ups and downs – and came out very up! In a short time a huge amount was achieved, as you can see. The sewing and finishing will need to be completed at home – I hope I’ll be seeing the final garments…. We’re running another workshop there on friday 15th April.


I used to fantasise that my Desert Island Discs luxury (should I be asked) would be some yards of a Dufy textile, or perhaps Matisse’s Red Studio. I think I’ve changed my mind: I felt I could look at some of Alexander Calder’s work forever.

alexander+calderHe captures mass with a twist of cable in the air, balance and movement turn eternally on a filament, lines drawn with wire live in many planes. I’m captivated by the strongman’s powerful pecs and the acrobat’s tumbling hair which are there so undeniably and yet with only the briefest of gestures in space. Calder has been, and remains, one of my heroes – not least because of his profoundly serious playfulness, his constant experimentation, his commitment to his original kinetic inventions. The recent exhibition ‘Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture’ at TateModern gave me so much pleasure – a chance to be with a real own-self-do-it-er immersed in his discoveries and then, as if looking up from his occupations with a smile and a gesture, showing us all the brilliance of his hand.

This little child and his cardboard travelling toy road has something of an echo.

One of my favourite books is a 1979 Penguin paperback ‘Louisa Calder’s Creative Crochet’. Filled with colourful projects and patterns based on her own, her grand-daughter’s and her husband’s designs, it includes a picture of the spectacles case she made for Alexander!

Calder defies gravity, Betty Woodman’s ceramics definitely sit on the ground. Yet they also challenge the expectations of conventional planes, with pattern and texture moving across borders and blurring boundaries. The surfaces are disrupted by decoration. I very much enjoyed her wall ceramics, which she calls wallpaper – another sort of three-dimensional drawing – with flowers, table-tops, flights of birds spreading freely across the surface despite being pinned to the wall.

IMG_2229cropUpstairs, among the drawings, large flamboyant vessels stand in front of painted canvasses, their absent painted silhouettes showing where they might have been; again a play with dimension. I like visiting the ICA in the Mall – it reminds one of the optimism and intentions of the post-war artists. There’s still just time to catch Woodman’s ‘Theatre of the Domestic’ exhibition there.

kimono lady

Galetting – do you know what that is? Not in this case to do with sweet round Breton biscuits, those delicious galettes, but with building. In Shere, a pretty Surrey village, the faces of some of the houses seemed from a distance to be decorated with little dotted lines. Of course I was drawn to such fanciful notions, and looking closer saw that the builders had stuck the pointing mortar with hundreds of small black pebbles – galets. It’s a practice very local to this area and also found in small pockets of Suffolk. What would I do without Alec Clifton-Taylor’s wonderful book ‘The Pattern of English Building”?


More decorative spots – I mentioned this hand-painted jacket in my last blog – the photo is in an article about my current working life in May’s Homes & Antiques magazine, out now; and to go with it, there’s also a little video of me made by the photographer Kasia Fiszer. It’s really very nice to be “One to Watch” – thankyou H&A.

Homes and Antiques article

Some very dapper new dolls have arrived from Modflowers, dressed impeccably in our Michael Miller Sea Holly range.

mmf dolls

We’re also producing a fresh spring scarf – a luxurious crepe-de-chine, 105cm square, printed with our classic Bedouin Stripes design; in bright colours now and with an additional colourway to follow. Both these and the dolls will be available imminently from our online shop. Meanwhile the Cote d’Azure silk satin scarf remains a very popular purchase.


Land ahoy! At West Elm we have four new SeaLife ceramic bowls, each differently patterned outside and in with a little coloured rim – I love the blue fish, perfect for serving bouillabaisse… and there’s also some new wall art available online.

Lastly – I’m intrigued by this home recycling plant. Have a look here – now we can all be doing it for ourselves!

Thanks to Molly, Steve and Margaret


There are further obituaries for Andrew Herxheimer, here in The Times and in The Guardian.

23 thoughts on “own self do it

  1. Thank you for the beautiful Cote d’azure scarf! I have been wearing it every day since it arrived – it keeps me warm on a chilly early morning/ late night walk with the dogs and cheers me up on a dull grey day when I am fed up of wearing my black, grey, dull winter woollies. You probably wont remember me -I did a silk painting class with you at Morley College last year which I loved So thank you and by the way I do enjoy your blog Best wishes Sharon

  2. Thank you for all your lovely blogs and this was extra special.I now have a work table full of garlands. Can’t stop ! Grania

  3. Quite by coincidence a fellow textiler Maria Thomas and I were at Painting the Modern Garden RA exhibition, she said to me, ‘you should paint directly onto fabric, make a summer top’. Your post has spurred me to do just that! Thank you Sarah, Sara.

  4. Sarah, did you ever visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice? There’s a wonderful silver(?) bedhead that Calder made for Peggy. Sadly no other furniture in the room but this wonderful piece gleaming on the wall.

  5. Hi Sarah, Thanks for the “trip” to the Calder exhibition, I would love to have seen it.Sounds wonderful, I have always enjoyed his work. Any chance you might be going to the Marion Clayden exhibition at the Fashion Museum???? Barbara

      • I would love to hear your thoughts on the exhibition, you write so well that I always feel I am seeing the work.
        By the way, there is a movie on Peggy Guggenheim – worth a look. It shows her commissioning a bedhead from Calder.

        Thanks Barbara – I mentioned Marian in my last blog, but not in detail – will try to revisit. I’ll look at the movie, thanks, good tip.

  6. Love the brickwork galetting and yes wasn’t the Calder show at the Tate just wonderful! What an inspiration he was and continues to be and he looks like he would have been a really fun person to meet! By the way I love the daffodil picture at the end of you post…quite charming!

  7. I could not agree more about ”The Pattern of English Building”. Thank you for your always inspiring blog.

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