reasons to be cheerful


It’s been quite a dreary wet winter so far. The other day, driving in the drizzle, I laughed

to see this graffiti on a hoarding – it really cheered me up. Thanks to whoever made it. And here’s Gene singin’ and dancin’ in the original Singing in the Rain – it’s bound to make you smile, maybe sing along and even dance too.


I’ve made a start on this new blog more than once – the days passed from Christmas to New Year, from mid to late January, and now February’s arrived. People have been asking, and the answer is that I haven’t felt like it, haven’t had the heart for it. World events have had a real effect on how I’ve been feeling – somewhat downhearted, strangely powerless, very worried, certainly furious. Every time I hear those words “The British people have spoken” in relation to the referendum I nearly explode with indignation – only 52% ticked the fateful ‘leave’ – who is listening to us, the remaining 48? Or to the majority popular voters in the US? Are we supposed to suddenly abandon our principles and beliefs?  These shutting-up phrases – ‘taxpayers’ money’ and ‘hard-working families’ and ‘open for business’ and ‘taking our country back’ (where, to the stone age?) – seem to be the signposts to polarisation, normalising a bully culture. I cannot avoid the feeling that we’re all being lowest-common-denominatored, shoved into boxes, manipulated, ridden over; and the dreary desperation I felt as a teenager about the nuclear arms race has returned.


BUT I know that for the likes of me the only thing to do is to do the only things I can – keep on inventing, making, painting, writing, doing, teaching even if, as in my case, it is simply in the field of decorative surfaces. So that’s what I’m doing. And this is what MoMA have done in New York. Inspiring!


And I’m glad to say that in the field of decorative surfaces lots of good things have happened! In my recent re-arrangements in the flooded storage units I recovered this printer’s lay of the wonderful Dufy design, Violins, that Susan and I bought at auction some years ago; a little the worse for wear but vibrant and brilliant still.


red-boot-solesMore modestly, these dear old boots came to light with their patterned flowery red soles worn down to nil. I asked the local cobbler could he revive them – I thought crepe might be impossible to rebuild. He did that sucking-in cheeks thing, said he couldn’t – at least he couldn’t remake them with red – and then agreed he’d try if I didn’t mind black soles and heels. I didn’t. He did – resuscitate them that is – so now I can march merrily about in those cozy favourites again.


student-mixing-colour-at-west-deanThey were ready just in time for my teaching trip to WestDean; it’s a great place to be – beautiful, friendly, generous – and in such an environment one can easily get completely immersed in work; in this instance my work was running the course ‘Exploring Pattern in Textiles’. Plenty of talking, learning and discovering went on in our studio, and we covered a lot of ground from the start – literally – getting acquainted with rhythm and repeat. Mixing paint, identifying pattern constructions, experimenting with layouts and building repeats followed over the three days – a lot to think about in a short time! 


fiji-dressThe textiles in the exhibition Fiji, Art & Life in the Pacific, at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich are made of bark – at least the inner part of bark, often from the paper mulberry tree, stripped, pounded thin, felted or pieced together and then painted or stencilled with natural dyestuffs. Vast lengths, gatu vakatoga, are traditionally made as gifts and mats for special ceremonies; smaller pieces of tapa, to be ingeniously folded, pleated and ruffled into garments, are habitually made from the fibre of the hibiscus. Limited in colour, they make all the dramatic impact of boldly placed pattern. These traditional textile methods, continue to be used and developed by designers now. The other pieces on show – among them carvings, woven baskets and containers, tools and weapons – have a simple elegance of great quality. The exhibition runs until Feb 12th.


Another exhibition well worth seeing is of Josef Frank‘s work, currently at The Fashion and Textile Museum. An Austrian-born architect, he left Vienna for the safety of Sweden in 1933 where he became a citizen in ’39; he worked for many years with Estrid Ericson, designing furniture, glassware, lighting and textiles. Defining Swedish Modern, his work for Svenskt Tenn is still being produced, and we see some of it here, set in domestic contexts, along with a collection of his original painted designs and some lovely and hitherto unseen watercolours. Decorative in form, varied in subject and bold in colour, the work is close to my heart. A group of special dresses from the Zandra Rhodes Archive Collection is also on show.


The Museum has a full and varied programme of related events during this exhibition; I’m giving a talk at the Museum next Thursday 9th – about the business of textiles – and over the next few weeks running several workshops for both adults (painting on fabric) and teens (making sketchbooks). Later in the summer I’ll be running two courses at Bradness Gallery again, and more in the next academic year at Morley College. I believe the imminent silk-painting course there is fully booked this time, but will re-run next spring. All the details and links for booking are on our website.


rooster-cushion-yellow-spotMoving on round the world, we’re celebrating the Chinese Year of the Rooster with a special cushion, printed from imagery originally hand-paintsandpipers-cushionsed on linen; it’s backed with our new spot, this time printed on an egg-yolk ground, and piped with one of the patterns from Sandpipers, the latest collection just about to ship from our US pals Michael Miller Fabrics. This little cushion, in stone, is from the same fabric range. And the spot’s looking good as a big silk scarf too – a new product coming in the spring…


I love to see my designs for West Elm translated into product: from these first paintings for vases we now have now the real thing.

West Elm run many collaborative enterprises, valuing artists, makers and artisans all over the world; some are described in their new catalogue , including the story of the bedlinen below – the design journey from my first sketch in London via their design studio in New York to the makers in India and then to the finished duvet cover for wherever you are. And there are always more exciting surprises in the pipeline.


One of the nicest enquiries we received recently was about the design Cote d’Azure, which we’ve printed as cushion panels; the writer had loved the design when it first came out and loves it still. She asked whether we could supply it as running yardage. Well we could and we have – 50 yards of beautiful fabric are newly printed and on their way to Miami as I write! Enquiries for printing to order can be made through the contact form on the website .cote-dazure-yardage

The palms and foliage in that design tell the story of summer colour, warmth and sunshine. For christmas I had the notion to make a collaged tree on the wall stuck with leaves cut from last year’s cards (you see – they did come in useful!) and framed by the fairy lights. On twelfth night I turned it into a celebration for the new year, removing the lights and adding a bird. I think I’ll continue to stick on cut-out birds and bugs throughout the spring.



And at christmas I was given this luscious little jewel of a szopka – a traditional Polish nativity scene made of twisted and folded foil, sparkling spangles and paper prettiness – especially sent from Krakow. I rather fancy these carved rolling pins too, made and shipped by an enterprising young woman in Warsaw – more entertaining ways of decorating surfaces!polish-rolling-pin

One of these days I must write about my Jewish forebears, some of whom left Krakow in the mid 1880s and went on to make and lose and make and lose small fortunes around the world…


Further East lies the fascinating land of Mongolia; Aishol-pan is a 13 year-old nomadic Kazakh girl who longs to achieve her ambition to train a wild golden eagle to hunt for her, thus breaking into a traditionally all-male elite. The film The Eagle Huntress tells her remarkable story, and shows us something of the rich and surprising life she and her family lead in the somewhat forbidding landscape of the Altai mountains. See it if you can.the-eagle-huntress

So back to SE19, where I finally got the 1250th piece of the jigsaw puzzle in place in time to enjoy an evening of board games and olives with assorted neighbours. I don’t think we’ve got the hang of Codenames yet – there must be more to it – but we did get to grips with the quick-on-the-draw Pictionary, which I’ve never played before either. Will we manage Monopoly next time and still remain friends?  


Thanks to Vanessa, Sam, Mariana, Peter, Lucy, Rohan, Ali at ThinkPositive and Carlotta

20 thoughts on “reasons to be cheerful

  1. Dear Sarah you don’t realise what your post has meant to me…I agree absolutely with every word you wrote about the dreadful state of post Referendum Britain and the wider world at large! I thought it was just some hideous demotivating malaise I had succumbed to but am heartened to know I am not alone! My foggy Eeyore mood I had put down to post Xmas January dark days but now realise that domestic and world events have made me feel so powerless. So your colourful post and upbeat words has cheered me no end! I shall follow your advice and do the things that I can to bring some colour and cheer into life and beauty into my clients gardens! Oh and I am so pleased that your red shoes have been refurbished to wear once more! Thank you for your great post! 💐

  2. Just read your uplifting blog after day in London to see Paul Nash and the (rather ancient looking ) computers at Tate Britain had crashed due to demand for Hockney tickets ! Then train delayed because of a “medical emergency”! However now revived after looking at your joyous images.
    Henrietta G

  3. Hello Sarah, I couldn’t agree with you more about the truly challenging times we are living though at the moment. But as you say, all the more reason to create, innovate and celebrate all that is beautiful. I am looking forward to going to the Frank and Hockney exhibitions this week, and have been enjoying an excellent printing course at Morley College. The evenings are drawing out and I saw a huge carpet of snowdrops in a square in central London the other day. There are many reasons to be cheerful…and your colourful and wise blog is another one! So – thank you. Olivia x

  4. The morning after the US election, I caught a show at the Jewish Museum, of ceramics. A case of De Waal in nearly-white, him putting in the time in repetition by hand, his baked-hard clay still somehow squidgy. The big surprise a tiny cabinet of the glazed and fired buttons and buckles made by Lucy Rie and her small staff in her London workroom during and after the war, she having arrived as a refugee from Vienna. Press moulded for quantity — they did glass too, and as jewellery and umbrella handles. (Because of wartime/austerity the early plastics that had taken over the market during the 30s were unavailable.) Everywhere else in the exhibition, tragedy beyond speech: degradation, loss and death, remembered in mud baked hard as stone. In this one case, the necessity of having to do, and doing, the almost-absurd not-quite-necessity, to get by day by day, year by year, through it all. Thank you, Lucy.

    And thank you, Josef Frank. And Sarah. The mind and the hand shan’t be fettered.

  5. I attended a party on Saturday evening where everyone there echoed the words of your first paragraph!
    However, your colourful blog has lifted my spirits and also the info/ events mentioned in it. Let’s also be uplifted by other little gems e.g. the Hockney retrospective at the Tate Modern and Andrew Graham-Dixon on Monday nights 9pm (BBC4) in a new programme titled ‘Art of France’.

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