peace, love and free enterprise on the Northern line

Time was when the Northern line was held in weary dread by many London Underground users.

The service was unreliable, the trains dirty and ill-kept, and it’s reputation for late-night flashers and rolling inebriates well-deserved. Things have changed. The other morning I hopped on at Balham en route for the Angel. The carriage was crowded but I saw one seat and made for it. I’d noticed the young man, sitting spick and span adjacent, was plugged in to something – not unusual. The woman opposite smiled and gave me an eyebrow-raised look. I smiled back. Then I saw that my neighbour’s eyes were closed and he was sitting with his hands in jnana mudra position on his knees: as close to lotus as feasible in the rush hour. He meditated motionless all the way to Bank. There, as the train stopped, he opened his eyes, stowed the phone in an elegant brief case and made off in his well-polished brogues.

No sooner was Mr Calm off the train than the Three Bandoleros jumped on and exploded into very loud Mexicanish music, playing, singing and hustling for money! Either I had to get up and dance to the rhythm, or tell them to shut up. Luckily they scampered off up the train at the next stop.Meanwhile a large lady with a shopping trolley and a black box had appeared. She wore a mysterious smile above her print frock. On the box was a label: ‘The Charcot Foot, Kings College Hospital’. Whatever could it mean? Of course I would have asked her, but I’d arrived at the Angel. As I alighted I rubbed shoulders with a colourful young man carrying an armful of roses – presumably about to offer them for sale amongst the passengers. Rather a nice idea. 

I arrived at the Islington Business Centre to see New Designers – week one shows the work of final year textile students from art colleges all over the country. From what I saw we might conclude that large floral prints are back in fashion; elegant and inventive weaves and knits were everywhere to be seen, and the graduates I met were ready, confident and happy to talk about their work, their plans and hopes. Week two covers graphic, product and industrial design and there I saw some very thoughtful inventions and solutions. Who knew that one of the commonest accidents in the home is burns to children who unwittingly pick up hot hair-straightening tongs? One young man showed me his clever solution to this problem – I hope it makes it into production. 

Every year a couple of dozen of the very best of the country’s textile graduates are chosen by Texprint to show their work in London and then at Premier Vision, Paris, where prizes are awarded. They’re further supported in industry opportunities, placements and internships. It’s a wonderful start for their careers, and great to see the tremendous variety of excellent work achieved.Back in SE19 we had our own fashion show at The Norwood School, where the theatre was transformed into a catwalk – or should I say a dogwalk – as the year 11s had a matching four-legged friend to accompany them and their canny canine-themed skirts! ‘My’ year12s and 13s really went to town with their Indian-inspired hand printed and painted textiles, designed and sewn into elaborate outfits, and worn with embroidered embellished accessoriesand wonderful hats concocted for the millinery module with input from our own local milliner Dawn WilsonI am so proud of them. They all, plus teacher, came to an end-of-year tea at the studio to celebrate, bringing me these beautiful peonies.

The commission I’d started in my last blog has been completed and sent off: two calico curtain panels each about 2m high and 150cm wide.

The extreme heat in week one of the painting made for rather slow progress, but a little trip to The Chelsea Physic Garden provided a wonderful fillip. A songthrush treated us to his virtuoso recital – it seemed ages since I’d heard such whistling – and as often I marvelled at the visual interlude given by the plain of horizontal green lawn amidst the vertical lush of leaves. A lovely surprise is the special summer theme of Weaves and Leaves – a garden of plants used for textiles, together with washing lines hung with samples of woven and knitted fabrics. There’s a special evening to celebrate this on 17th August.

It was during that very hot spell that some French bus drivers were told that despite the searing heatwave they couldn’t go to work wearing shorts – so they went in skirts instead. In Exeter a group of schoolboys came up with the same solution! 

Textiles and nature were combined again at the South London Botanical Institute which hosted this year’s exhibition of work by the students on the Morley College Advanced Textile Course. It’s a fascinating place, and textile pieces of all sorts – dyed, cyanotyped, woven, constructed – were cleverly integrated into the rooms and gardens appearing on shelves and tables, even in the trees, extensions of the institute’s collection of curios. I particularly like Ross Belton’s witty and delicate constructions of almost-utensils. I’ve been enjoying the lovely lawns, leaves and lakes at Bradness Gallery this last week in the breaks between talking, showing, painting patterns – the first of two courses I’m running there this summer. We had a very congenial and productive couple of days painting on calico, and as often happens, my eight students seemed to surprise themselves by how much they learnt and achieved; we all went home tired but happy. As well as welcoming visitors to their verdant idyll, artists Emma and Mike serve remarkable tea and cakes every weekend, run all sorts of art and other courses, and have a gallery too. I hope to return to Bradness again next year – not least for those lunches! Further courses I’m running are listed on the events page on our website, with the relevant links added as the bookings go online. I’ll be back at Morley College with different short courses each term of the next academic year, and at West Dean again next spring as well as a second one-day workshop at Selvedge in April. And this coming autumn, at each end of the October half term, I’ll be running two workshops for young people at the V&A, painting on calico. The popular super sketchbooking workshop for teens will run again at the Fashion and Textile Museum during that half-term too. And further bookings are in the offing for 2018 and ’19, including two days next May at a new venue, Handprinted, in Bognor Regis … I’m pleased with our gorgeous new silk Ladybird twill scarves, now in our online shop; we have 5 elegant colourways partnered with classic cream – jet, coral, mimosa, french blue and cloud.  As well as these there are two very merry and bright duotone colourways – goldfish and peacock. They’re all printed in Macclesfield and hand-fringed – very dashing I think, and at 110cm square they’re big enough to wear tied simply as a summer top or silk sarong. When we had our shop in Conduit Street in the late ’80s we invited other makers, designers and craftspeople to collaborate and we sold their goods alongside ours. The artist Breon O’Casey was one such, and he made this brass head as a display for his fabulous earrings. Well, she’s come out of retirement and is here, framed by the goldfish scarf, and sporting peacock alongside my favourite Alexis Bittar lucite clip-ons. Liberace, the inspiration for the goldfish colourway, is swimming near a small pile of books which are all the products of members of my family or myself. Sophie’s latest publication – Your Candle Accompanies The Sun – was launched last weekend at The Art Stable, the result of a ‘ghost collaboration’ with the American poet Emily Dickinson, and a more temporal one with the artist Gigi Sudbury.

The exhibition is called Go I know not Whither. On the way to Dorset for the opening, I found myself creeping very slowly along the A303 – on four wheels, not all fours by the way – the Stonehenge pinchpoint. Where the A344 used to fork off to the right there is now a rather charming wide grassy track leading nowhere – the old road has simply disappeared in the re-organisation of the approach to the stone circle. As I sat in Saturday’s jam, the turfy trace of the tarmac reminded me of William Morris’s novel ‘News From Nowhere’, and his Utopian vision of the paved streets around Parliament gradually succumbing to the weeds and reverting to grassy paths as the need for government traffic, and therefore metalled roads, faded – I think. It’s a long time since I read it… I remember as a girl driving with my dad in the grey Morris Oxford (maroon leather upholstery) to visit ‘Devon Granny’, and being able to park alongside the monument and walk about beneath the stones – reading a printed leaflet picked from a little wooden box provided at the gate by the Ministry of Works. I still have our booklet version. I’d had a sudden longing to look again at some of the favourite books of my childhood, two in particular. I tracked down ‘Mary Belinda and the Ten Aunts’, 1946, via Abebooks. I am rather amazed now to see that the illustrations, which had stayed so strongly in my mind, were made by Susan Einzig; twenty or so years later she was teaching illustration on the Graphic Design course I was studying at Chelsea! I particularly loved this drawing – and still do. The other book I wanted was ‘The Getabout Bird’, 1944, with stories about garden creatures and other animals. Again I was rather taken aback to see that the author coincidentally shared my family name – Madeleine Collier – though I don’t suppose I noticed that as a child. Funny business, these little connections. 

If you get the chance, do look at this BBC/British Museum film about the Japanese artist Hokusai. I haven’t made it to the exhibition yet, but this is well worth watching. I’m with him in his lifelong ambition to be able to draw something properly, correctly, as it really is. He reckoned that he’d get things right by the time he was 110: “When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own.” He died just shy of 90; I think we can agree that his drawing skills were already pretty remarkable by most standards!It’s National Marine Week and a huge mural’s being painted in honour of the constantly colour-changing cuttlefish, which migrates to breed in the vast underwater seagrass meadows of The Solent. There’s a beautiful film of a courting couple here.

Thanks to Jonathan Dredge for the photos of Ross Belton’s implements, and to my Granny Ritcher for this fanciful summer chapeau. 

Happy Holidays!



8 thoughts on “peace, love and free enterprise on the Northern line

  1. Thanks Sarah for a most enjoyable and informative blog. I had never heard of Tulse Hill Botanical Institute – fascinating or Bradness gallery and other such references – just amazing. I did like your calico curtain panels – very engaging. Keep blogging, if you can find the time!l Cheers and love David x

  2. Charcot foot is a complication of diabetes. It leads to a lot of disability – let me know if you want to know any more about it. I’m just off out and that’s as far as I read – will return to finish reading it later.

  3. Hi Sarah – another inspiring blog, thank you. I was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney this month and it was good to see the museum shop featuring your Archive book! Best regards, Guy

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