Lately this has been dangerous as our heat (my belief) has encouraged some vicious little critters to jump up and bite our plump and tasty calves – tiny punctures turn into angry swellings. So now we try to remember to wear socks. We don’t as a habit look down – we look up and out. Looking ahead I see the lovely mountain ash tree that’s been covered in red berries for weeks. Keeping his eye on us, the resident backbird beadily makes for the higher branches and snaffles a few – he’s already helped to strip the other two, less well-grown rowans of their scarlet jewels. Earlier in the year it’s fascinating to see that the sward is richly full of many different leaves and plants – buttercups, daisies, clover, speedwell, dandelions thrive amongst the grass. This morning I picked up some leaves already showing autumn colours.
Above us a new gang of parakeets squawk and zoom about. They’re a colourful crew, maybe they’ve migrated here from the nearby park – they certainly make a racket. And they make a fine mess of the car too, if I park under their trees. Normally by this time of year the usual birds aren’t roosting and therefore pooing there – that’s a spring-time risk – but these garrulous green gadabouts have different habits. Judging by their cackling they think it’s funny!
My studio window gives onto these same old trees, lush sycamores and bony corrugated acers for the most part. The parakeets are noisy all day, but their distracting busy-ness has been superseded recently by a different hazard – a plague of end-of-the-year wasps. They’ve been buzzing and tip-tapping at the studio window, on the inside. Where they really come from remains a mystery – through an airbrick possibly – and at first I patiently ushered them out between two paintbrushes, and, knowing they weren’t long for this world anyway, set a completely ineffectual syrupy trap too. But then not one but two of the little devils decided to sting me (I didn’t feel them on me until too late) and the stings swelled up and were painful, so I’ve taken to murder, the other cheek having been stung! Luckily my taichi partner had some spray, so it’s a final goodbye to those striped visitors.
As my dad would say – black and yellow, red and black – they’re nature’s warning colours, and he should know. I remember that as a child he was for a while investigating stings – what the chemical nature of that pain was and how it worked in the brain – and for several summers we’d be collecting nettles, wasps’ and bees’ nests, and any other stingy thingies he could think of. The word that has stuck with me is 5hydroxytriptomine.
At the allotment the dahlias have beaten the slugs (with help) and are flowering magnificently. They bloom with such bold colour and form, always raising a smile waving their yoohoo hues as we plod up the hill. I love digging for potatoes – finding a nest of perfect eggs in the earth – these Charlottes are delicious, especially with a little garden mint.
In the quest for proper storage the new studio sideboard has been joined by the start of the excellent bookcase project. A series of very discreet French cleats ensures that each shelf can be moved, and some have little ply arches beneath, mainly for entertainment value. There was a struggle getting the central cluster up the stairs – they came fully-formed – but then Oliver and I had fun populating them. I’m so happy to have my reference books easily to hand again. The right wing runs to the window, and I haven’t had time to sort out the proper books for those shelves yet; the fanciful left wing – for poetry I think – is yet to materialise and the alcove solution is some way in the future I feel… The same nephew organised an inaugural Makers’ Raft Race over at The Islington Boat Club in City Basin; six teams took part, building their rafts and dressing as pirates for the event. Some capsized impressively in the first heat (a prize was awarded for best sinker). I was happy to make the flag for our craft, ‘The Kraken’, (second in the finals) and sat up sewing late into the night. Consequently I’m rather surprised how neat the reverse looks.
Flags and washing lines – I love seeing cloth and colour fluttering in the air. Recently I was treated to some gorgeous raiment being worn in celebration of the first day of Eid; I happened to pass a group of families on an early stroll smiling and greeting each other in the street wearing sparkling colours and twinkling jewels. Another day this magnificent outfit brought splendid crimson elegance to the bus stop.
I’ve been busy with my own local colour too – even though for some work I had to re-locate to the sitting-room to avoid the stingers. This sheet of painted tabs went off to New York with the fourth collection for Michael Miller Fabrics. The third, Sandpipers, is due any minute – we can show you the range at the start of September… While completing the designs I’ve been listening to the Proms on BBCRadio 3; it’s really the first year that I’ve done that and I’ve heard some great music. I also enjoy their daily In Tune programme which treats us to all sorts of news, visitors, and performances. The other day I had to stop everything to listen to Stephen Hough’s recording of the last movement of Dvorak’s piano concerto in G minor (on Hyperion). I’ve always loved Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, and for ages my favourite version’s been played by the Labèque sisters which I think I first heard in the ’80s. But last week I heard another arrangement, by Tobias Brostrom, with the fabulous trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger swooshing his way through the 6th dance like the most sticky-out dance dress whirling round the floor at a gallop. It really perked me up! Hearing both of these again I notice that I like a bit of action with my music!
Creating stuff – painting, making music, writing, performing – often seems like the most precarious of high-wire balancing acts – but have you seen these daredevil Catalan human castles in the making?
This summer a young French student spent a few days with me and among other things enjoyed herself painting on fabric. Her solution for comfort (cushion) and convenience (pocket on reverse) is rather natty! She helped paint some little reindeers for Christmas decorations too – the press have to photograph those products now!
We’ve had some other nice PR lately – Viva and I were included in the High Street Heroes article in September’s Ideal Home magazine, which features Nicky Sloan of Magpie, and there’s an interview with me in the current Sew Style too.
Talking of planning ahead – not my strong suit normally – there are workshops running at Morley College for three consecutive fridays starting this September 30th – still some places available I believe. I’ll be running other and various courses at West Dean and Morley College in January and February next year, and two new workshops are scheduled at Bradness Gallery next summer. All details can be found here. And Mexico calls again – I’ll be off to Guadalajara at the end of October for another stint at the Hard to Find School – exciting! It’s Day of the Dead time then – perhaps I should take the flag!