the busy bee…

birdsong 1984

…hath no time for sorrow’ is another Blake proverb my father gave me the benefit of in my childhood. Yesterday I learned a lot more about bees and their brilliant buzzing busy-ness.

Jen Moore gave a day’s workshop about honey bees in the garden; from her position of more-or-less non-interventionist bee-keeping (honey for tea being a delicious bonus rather than the raison d’être) she described the complex and subtle relationships between the bees, the colony and structure within their hive, and the outside world of sunlight and flowers. The combs of wax cells serve not only as the hatchery and the larder but a source of communication between the insects – they reverberate according to different bee activity, thus transmitting information and messages. There was so much to learn about the symbiosis between bee and blossom; I love the fact that bees store nectars from different plants in separate cell areas – so that when it comes to feeding they can choose a specific diet! Famously, foraging bees tell the others where the best pollen and nectar stores are to be found by performing a waggle dance.

Raw honey from Jen’s bees made a delicious aromatic snack at the end of my day.

My fitting necklace for the event was this charming beaded bee made by milliner Anne Tomlin.

anne tomlin bee necklace

The garden at Bradness is a joy – including the rather noisy marsh frogs – and will serve as fitting inspiration for the next round of calico-painting workshops I’ll be giving there. There are still a couple of places on the July course I think, so come and join us if you can.

tin frog hand made

Polly Leonard, the founder and editor of Selvedge magazine, gave a talk – ‘My favourite textiles’ – to celebrate its 70th issue; great to be reminded of the many and varied textiles that have been and are covered there. CD629EEA-15AC-484B-990E-16D81EB7D1D2_mw1024_s_nPolly told us her greatest favourites are the fabrics using indigo – a natural plant dye grown and used all over the world.



I I recall that in the ’70s we were printing at Brunnschweiler in Manchester; they were then printing and exporting wax resist prints back to Ghana and still had open indigo pits in the works yard. The manager at the time, Peter Jackson, was tasked with taking the industry back to Accra and setting up a ‘home’ printworks there. In the late ’80s I was in Ghana; I went to a family christening, also known as an ‘out-dooring’. At such a celebration the proper colours to wear are traditionally indigo and white. The habit then was for all the women of each (large) family group to wear the same printed design, but for each person to make up their particular 9 yards into their own individual style. The result was a dazzling array of elaborate outfits – and no difficulty knowing which family was which!


By the way – those magnificent headdresses we sometimes see sailing by were kept rigid by folding the fabric round newspaper! Note to self: there’s still time to see the exhibition Social Fabric: African Textiles Today – catch it at The Wiliam Morris Gallery before the 29th May.

There are more fabrics, designs, textiles and paintings to be seen at the Fashion and Textile Museum at the current Missoni exhibition; it’s well worth a visit. Their collection of paintings is a treat in itself, the exuberance and size of some of the knitted and constructed pieces is gorgeous, and so are the little sketches and colour experiments. The family has had such an enduring and important presence in fashion and textile and is still going strong – wonderful! At the opening I was pleased to wear my jacket and top (from the ’80’s and happily spared by the moths) – and to thank Rosita herself for all the pleasure they’ve given.

missoni outfit 80's

Alan-Kitching-Book-JacketAnother exhibition I greatly enjoyed was Pick Me Up at Somerset House – both seeing the work of the thirteen selected new graphic designers and the retrospective of typographer Alan Kitching. Having studied typography and graphics with Ed Wright in the ’60s at Chelsea this gave me a severe nostalgic jolt. Although the show has finished, Alan’s work, along with a new edition of his prints, will be at Snape Maltings this summer. 

caravan cote d'azure curtainsGoing back – going forward: this little caravan was spotted on the road sporting our Cote d’Azure, and I was sent these pics of a camper-van newly fitted out with the same dear old classic – still motoring you might say!

campervan cote d'azure fabric

New stock of the silk-satin scarf are in our shop (also available at the FTM), along with the wool mufflers for chillier days. Look out for the new crepe-de-chine Bedouin Stripe scarf on its way in the bright colours and later in indigos….

cote d'azure silk scarf

These sunny May days make for great (but never enough) times on the allotment; my absolute favourite thing after some hefty weeding is to sit under the newly-pruned apple tree in our miniature orchard.

orchard painting

Apropos the bee talk we’ll need to be leaving some of those tenacious dandelions for the buzzers – they’re a wonderful source of pollen and nectar. Last year I wrote about rain chains here; now we have a beautiful new bamboo gutter on the plot’s shed and a chain dangling from the end – I’ll report back on performance later.

 I like this secret tree artwork – an ash dome planted by the sculptor David Nash in 1977. As you’ll see on the link, it’s grown quite a bit since then.

ash dome david nash

It reminds me of the first palisade built by Robinson Crusoe – Defoe describes how the cut wood took root and flourished.

A very different and out-of-the ordinary sculpture is this dynamic kinetic version of Kafka’s head in Prague, made by David Cerny.

From hi-tec to low-tec, another ingenious and equally arresting use of imagery, this time flat but appearing 3D, is this zebra crossing in India.

3d zebra crossing india

Also from India came this very yellow couple, caught red-handed and ready for temple celebrations – thanks Stafford.indian yellow couple

And at the other end of the sculptural scale, but still using clay and fire, is the ancient art of bronze casting. I haven’t seen this film, but here’s the trailer if you want to follow it up.

As usual I’ve been busy painting for West Elm, Michael Miller Fabrics and others – but of course I can’t show any of this for months. It’s great that new is always on its way, as well as the best of ‘what is’ remaining vibrant and valuable. I’m happy to see, c/o friends’ photos, that the Viva ceramics have been spotted in shops all over the country from north to south.

I was in Ireland (in great-auntie mode); you know you’re in Dublin when the post-boxes are painted green!

green irish post box

Thanks to Molly, Steve, Stafford, Gillian, Rosemary, Charlotte, Doug, Peter and Raymond

Did someone say ‘mad as a box of frogs’?

24 thoughts on “the busy bee…

  1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed my Bee Talk Sarah! It was great to meet you, and a lovely day all round at Bradness Gallery.

  2. Dear Sarah I have to report that Amy and i went to see old friends in Walberswick this weekend, Amy wearing her Provence scarf. We were touched when it produced such a rich vein of reminiscence and anecdote from our hosts . Not only had they had Provence curtains back in London, but plenty of furniture covered in Bauhaus, the remainder from which they had recently made into cushion covers for their daughter appropriately living in the Barbican. On the way home we stopped to see oldster pals in Saffron Walden, where Amy’s scarf provoked yet more historical review – delicious. They’ll both be joining your blog, of course. Love Andrew >

  3. Joy to see that little caravan again, in your blog this time, such a sweetie. I am about to sew curtains for our camper, scouring the loft have found maybe ‘leaf dance’ or ‘birdsong’
    Pictures will follow!

  4. Dearest Sarah, As usual an intriguing blog. I loved the references to particular artworks and found the Land Art very gripping. Must see you for real sometime this summer -okay love David

  5. My sister went to the wedding of a Ghanaian friend last year and was the only non-Ghananian to take up the challenge and make an outfit in the chosen fabric. She was overwhelmed at the reaction – she made a skirt and top – and they were so thrilled that she’d done it that there were tears all round. I see you mention moths – there are other dangers to fabric – cushions in my conservatory made from one of your fabric have succumbed to sunshine after 7 years. I made them for the guests to sit on at the wedding of a friend’s daughter during the ‘tea and sandwiches’ interlude between the ceremony and the meal. Still, a chance for something new and exciting!

    • Thank you for that lovely story of your sister’s adventures with Ghanaian cloth and customs. Sorry to hear your fabric, whichever it was, has faded – or maybe even disintegrated – in the sun. It can happen – but perhaps we don’t expect it in this country – climate change??

  6. How lovely that you mention Brunnschweiler and remember my dear father.
    I recall him meeting you and Susan off the London train on your first visit to the print works. He told us that he’d never seen so many colourful layers and scarves worn at the same time!!

  7. Sarah, what a wonderful surprise seeing my bee in your blog. Thank you so much for including him and I’m glad you enjoyed the bee day at Emma and Mikes.
    Your writings and photos are so uplifting, I love them and you ! X

  8. The bee article was fascinating and so was the film. Here in S. Morocco they make cactus honey which burns your throat after eating it. A very good medicine.

  9. Lovely lovely inspiring stuff, I am still enjoying so much your bluebell wood in the last blog, never has anyone portrayed the blue of the flowers and lime green of the beech trees so well, and now the little round table under the blossom, brilliant, thank you.

  10. Sarah, I absolutely love receiving your bulletins and their beautiful images! There are always so many interesting and varied things to read about….I am very envious of all the wonderful exhibitions and workshops that are on in the UK… in Sydney on the other side of the world, I know I’m missing so much in the field of textiles….but I love hearing about them, so thank you.

  11. I do enjoy your jolly, positive and upbeat posts and the accompanying lovley little images of your artwork. Love the orchard seating area one here!

  12. This blog is aiding my recovery from a hysterectomy on 13th May no end. So much to savour Thanks Tina

    Sent from my iPhone


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