some sweet uses of adversity


The other weekend I went back to school; at least, I became a student again, trying to understand and get to grips with some of the techniques of mono-printing. I loved it.

Thanks to Trevor Price – his expertise, generosity and patience – and the other students, I learnt a lot. In two days, one of the elements we were short of was time: he encouraged us to treat our work with spontaneity, which resulted for me in some interesting surprises in my rather clumsy experiments. mono experiment As he explained, a fundamental part of the process is the over-printing, gradually building up colours and imagery with layers – everything changes with the next plate. He himself has a pile of monoprints which he can revisit over time and adapt as he sees fit – rather a fascinating process. So, unlike a design which has to be finished and sent off to the customer by the deadline, the end is never quite in sight: it’s rather a question of knowing when to stop. DSC05418We were necessarily curtailed by the clock; other students, some of them printmakers, were planning further printing developments to their works, and I am left wondering whether any part of mine might evolve into textiles….

The week before I had been in my more usual role as teacher at Bradness Gallery running a workshop about painting directly onto calico.

bradness 3It’s a subject I teach fairly regularly, and every time the experience is different, as one might imagine – the dynamic of the group, the atmosphere, my mood. One student had sewn a beautiful jacket from fabric she’d painted with me at the FTM earlier in the year, and arrived this time keen to make a dress length – which she did! Another left beaming after the two days – so happy with her merry lampshade and cushion fabric – her slight early gloom lifted in the excitement of the doing.

bradness 2

It’s most satisfying to see everyone moving along and making discoveries. And of course, Emma and Mike provide the most generous and beautiful setting for our endeavours. I hope to be teaching there again next year – and perhaps introduce a different emphasis on patterns and how they work. Meantime Bradness is open every weekend for teas, coffees, truly scrumptious cakes, a sit in its peaceable garden, and a visit to the gallery.

bradness 4I have two courses coming up at Morley college – Painting and Drawing for Textiles will be running over three fridays from the end of September, (students have said two isn’t quite enough), and a weekend of silk-painting is scheduled for next February. There are places still available on both courses I think, and there’s also room on the course at West Dean at the start of January exploring and making pattern. I’m sometimes given as a Christmas present! It would be lovely to see you there…

silk scarf

I’ve liked to think that the fact of my birth consequenced from the end of the second world war – my birthday being exactly 9 months after the VE day celebrations. The idea of my parents forgetting their wretched differences on that joyful night has always secretly rather pleased me. Eagle_1950_issue_1_front_pageWhen I was a little girl I worried about the constant and ubiquitous references to the war, the enemies, the fighting, even the futuristic hero stories in my brother’s comic, and wished them otherwise – perhaps a metaphor for my parents’ unhappy battlefield of a marriage. But my dad said we must never forget the war, never underestimate our capacity for ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, never imagine it couldn’t happen again. I have always thought of myself as a European, perhaps due to my eclectic geneaology and a strong feeling of not belonging by geography or culture to any one spot – nor wanting to. You know where this is going: I was distraught at the outcome of the referendum, emotions not to do with economies or borders or ‘great’, but of unity, peace and humanity. That extraordinary feat of seventy years co-operation after so much war seemed suddenly close to demolition. I cried into the pool on my early-morning swim, I could hardly form my words when I took the car to be mended, I was surprised at the depth of my unhappiness and dislocation. I have taken solace in my creative, hands-on work – and music.

The night before the vote I went to see a performance of Rupert Goold’s production of Richard the Third at The Almeida. The opening speech is brilliant, setting the scene, the history, his own malformity and consequent contorted and ruthless ambitions. It’s pretty-well downhill all the way from there, the toll of bloody murders escalating until someone finally nips in and picks up the pieces – and the crown. The resulting political fall-out from the referendum has chimed eerily with this dark play. On a personal note – it was great to see Vanessa Redgrave on stage again, and here’s my mum’s old friend Susan Engel, distraught as his mother the Duchess of York.


In Hyde Park the summer pavilion is a masterpiece by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels – a complicated construction on the simple premise of a wall of stacked open-ended boxes.

It’s ever-changing perspective, light, subtlety of form is delightful; we were there on a cloudy day (naturally) and I’d love to see how the sunlight changes the experience. Talking of light, we had lunch in the rather disappointingly dark cafe next to the Serpentine Galleries building currently showing Etel Adnan’s exhibition The Weight of the World. Her constant and lifelong investigations into colour, sequence and light as paintings had a charm. I particularly enjoyed the leporellos, the concertina books, with text, drawings and colour. 

A-folding-book-Leporellos-by-Etel-Adnan-photo-credits-Gilded-BirdsI’ve been pleased, too, to see students’ work at the end-of-year shows; the Morley College foundation year, the graduate shows at Islington Business Design Centre – New Designers – as well as the Texprint finalists below. A lot of work and hope for the future – congratulations and good wishes must be given.

Texprint 2016cote bikinisAlong with going forward myself, I’ve been revisiting our past too; the Spanish photographer Anna Huix has rather fallen in love with our work. As a result fun has been had with some of the clothes, fabrics, products and paintings from our huge collection – here’s a little peak at a shoot she did this week – including some new swimwear to sit with our classic design Cote d’Azure. I was busy painting that the day before! I’m so looking forward to seeing her pictures and what she’ll make of them all.

photoshoot1I don’t use purple a great deal, but dipped in to paint the sweet peas from our allotment. They’re an ongoing joy – we spent half an hour picking a dozen bunches yesterday evening. The creamy ones are the fragrant Mrs Collier – a must in our household! And here’s an article about the invention of the dye colour purple, the hue, not Alice Walker’s book. 

sweetpeasAs it says, ordinary paint is not a succesful medium to colour a fashion or household fabric, and I always use inks that penetrate the cloth surface and can be set with heat to withstand washing, wear and light. I had a yen the other evening, to paint this huge floral backdrop.

painted linenI love painting on the linen, though it’s impossible to keep the creases at bay unless it’s lined. The t-shirt dress is a new experiment too.

photoshoot 2I was asked in an interview recently whether I thought the enjoyment of colour is a natural instinct. My neighbour reminded me the other day that her baby, when very little, was intrigued by the colours on a painting of mine, trying to pick them off with her fingers. And I remember my toddling son kissing up the colours of the bright Bauhaus print sofa. So I think the answer’s yes! And the result of another interview by Hikaru Noguchi came through the letterbox – the magazine Quilts Japan; it also includes commentary on the exhibitions at the FTM – Liberty in Fashion and our own The Art of Pattern.

japanese magSay it with a poem, sometimes it’s the only way. It’ll be National Poetry Day in October – Sophie has been instrumental in its new website. To celebrate this 400th year of Shakespeare’s death we’ve recoloured our Sonnet 116 scarf in indigo and saffron – wear it on your shoulder and you’ll always be ready to whip it off and give a quick reading! And you can listen here to Serena Williams speaking Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’ before playing the Wimbledon final. 


Thanks to Molly, Steve, Stafford, Lucy, Rohan and all the many people who have been so supportive in response to my last blog

photoshoot 3

16 thoughts on “some sweet uses of adversity

  1. Thanks Sarah for your kind comments , but I feel so extremely privileged to have spent 2 days with such an inspiring & exciting designer. It reminded me of how important colour & less prescribed structure is in our lives. Got all my bits now, so eager to get going before the memory fades.
    I too regard myself as European and still feeling sad. We have betrayed our neighbours.
    I read little bits of your book daily and linger over the very varied designs.
    Thank you & warm regards

  2. Sarah a great post covering lots of interesting news! I too share you grief at the referendum result and for some weeks felt like a huge hole in life had opened up…the news each day filled with another twist and turn….an incredible and quite unbelievable period in the history of our country and one from which I fear it will never recover….
    Thanks to creative people like yourself you have helped to fill the hole with colour and life. I thank you greatly for your uplifting posts!

    • Thank you Anne, and for your FB comments too: you confirm my (rather shaken) belief that doing and sharing even a little bit of creative good can make positive ripples.

  3. Dear Sarah, like you I was heartbroken by the referendum result, to the point that in the end I had go on a complete news ‘detox’. Maybe a bit Ostrich-like, but it did help me to lighten my mood somewhat. But what really made my heart sing again was the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern. What an incredible show. Her use of colour, blending it so subtly in her paintings, quite literally cheered me up. Thank heavens for beauty and creativity – where would we be without them? Best wishes, Olivia xx

  4. Sarah again a totally inspiring blog. I too was born in 1945 and share many of your memories and feeling about the war and my parents talk of it . As always I adore your painted cloth and want to do more and more . Will look into morely but I am going to Japan with Barbara Kennington around that time , and to India in Jan what a sad little life I have! Seriously at our great age it is time to go through every door I feel. Your blog does not come to me anymore I pick it up via Barbara on Facebook , can it come to my email again? I find your stuff totally heart warming! Sending you much love

  5. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you very much for mentioned my article and Quilts Japan magazine. then somehow, I have missed to read your last blog and very sad to hear about your copycats’ story. I am dealing with a legal issue against a big international retail store. It is stressful!
    Also, really nice to read about WM gallery’s social fabric exhibition. I can not visit it but I would like to find our more about it.
    have a nice weekend.

  6. Amazingly yesterday I had a class on monoprinting, a really interesting subject for the infinite possibilities that it offers. I will be interested in seeing what you will come up with.
    A delightful post, Sarah, thank you.

  7. Dear Sarah, this is a very rich blog with so many interesting aspects, that one has to come back repeatedly to take it all in. I share with you despond at the ‘Leave’ decision. All those who died in two world wars to save Europe. And now we have left – how shameful – lives lost in vain. Dave xx

    • Thanks Dave, yes, it’s so disappointing to say the very least. Interestingly at the photographic shoot I was the only person born in England – five were Spaniards, one German and one Australian. I felt a little crestfallen.

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