It was a long morning of small reverses. The plug in the washbasin – that chrome pop-up
sort – became disconnected.The dust that lurks on the lino behind the sink – well, heart-sinking’s the word isn’t it? And kneeling there embracing the pedestal while struggling to re-join the two hinged metal stalks without biffing off my glasses had annoyed the start of the day. Nevertheless, I did it!
TaiChi practice, despite the drizzle, restored my equilibrium somewhat, but then long and difficult phone calls ate into the morning. As I rushed to the post office to send packages of orders and fifteen newly-painted silk hankies, I caught the strap of my dear little red shoulder bag and ripped it from its moorings. Drat!
And then the small post office was closed for lunch – until 2.30 would you believe? I tried quick-thinking solutions, but the local cobbler wouldn’t sew on the strap ”Not through that zip, Miss”, and at the next postal counter I got “No special deliveries to public buildings on a Saturday, Madam, even if it is a museum, and even if it is open.” Things were not going my way that friday. But next door at the bakery, when asked how I was, the assistant heard my frustration and took action: she offered me a coffee ‘on the house’. I wasn’t in take-away coffee mode, thinking I’d be bound to spill it, so she immediately made me a fully stamped-up loyalty card so that I could get one next time – both clever and kind. The day changed.As planned, I met my local pal at the bus stop at 4.00pm to visit the Royal Academy and see the Matisse in the Studio exhibition. For me it was a most exciting, enveloping experience. Despite the crowded rooms (it was almost the last day) I had such strong feelings of recognition and intimacy that I could have been alone there watching him draw.
His repertoire of favourite objects and textiles was quite modest; it is touching to see how much he loved and valued them, how carefully he observed and drew them. And how their often curvaceous forms and particular colours came to new life and relationships in the paintings. In 1946 he wrote on the back of Hélène Adant’s photograph “Objects that have been of use to me nearly all my life.”
I was so pleased to see this particular small painting of the grey culottes. Susan would tell a funny story about this picture and herself as a child; she called it ‘Matisse’s Big Mistake’. She studied that painting in our family book and couldn’t understand why he’d painted all that plain old grey – how could he have made such a terrible mistake? She was worried – she knew he really loved proper colour and pattern. Years later she came to realise the importance of the grey as a quiet companion to all the warm vibrancies of colour and rich rampant pattern; greys, and her favourite lavendar-grape, often became very useful foils in our designs and colourways.
During our long career we were often asked by marketing types, what our ‘customer profile’ was. Long before I ever heard talk of modern tribalism, Susan and I used to say we had our own tribe, and that fellow members would always recognise us and be our customers, whatever their age or income. At the exhibition a friendly woman turned and complimented me on my old but somewhat flamboyant attire. She asked where could she get such a thing so I had to admit that it was bespoke, lovingly sewn into a garment for me in the ’80s from panelled shawls of our design. We’d never met before but had a long and concentrated talk – about her work and mine, mutual interests and of course the exhibition. We exchanged names and cards and said goodbye. The next day she sent me a photo of her landing curtains at home – made of none other than our Cote d’Azure; we’d waved the flag of pattern! A serendipitous meeting, as she said – I hope we’ll meet again.
It happens that was the second artist’s studio I’ve been in lately. A few weeks ago I found myself in that of the late Howard Hodgkin in Bloomsbury, to hear a private talk given by his dealer. This was just before the recent auction of some of his possessions at Sotheby’s. The large, spare square space – a former dairy – had no windows but a roof entirely of glass, and on the white brick walls a baker’s dozen of significant later paintings. There were no drawings, but there were some of the many individual chairs that he collected and loved. When working he’d spend many hours sitting there, contemplating his paintings and considering his next move. He always painted on wooden panels, some old, some new. There were many large canvases stacked against the walls. When I asked about them we were told they were used as moveable screens to hide paintings that were hanging but not being worked on, and to reveal different works at different times to prospective buyers. We were in the theatre of his painting where he was actor, director and audience too. It was a privilege to be there.
I love this little film of Kandinsky at work.
Pretty-well all my working life I sat alongside Susan and others in our studio; in the last few years I’ve worked almost entirely on my own. I was invited to join a small group of friends for a day of sewing, knitting, making and being together – at the glorious Marchant’s Hardy Plants, the home of one of our number. It took me a while to settle into it and I hadn’t taken any sewing – though I’ve darning a-plenty to be done. At a little table by the window, I got out my paints and attempted to record what I saw of that beautiful autumn garden and the Downs beyond – not easy! A lovely day, ending with the fast-moving drama of a carmine sunset.
At a friend’s house-warming party recently it was clear that the moment of her really being properly at home again came after she’d hung the paintings. My own space is full of small personal treasures too, and I often refer to them here. At the moment the place is packed with not-put-away-nesses – the overspill, partly, of examples taken to the course I just taught at Morley College on colour rhythm and repeat. During the four days we practised mixing limited colour palettes sparked by analysing various references – fresh flowers, paintings, fabrics. I hope to be teaching this course again next autumn.
More courses are coming up – as usual all the details are on my events page here; as well as returning to the eminent West Dean, Morley College, Selvedge and Bradness Gallery next year, I have two new venues on my list. At HandPrinted, Bognor Regis in May a weekend course can be taken as one or two days; and in France at Chateau Dumas in August we’ll have a whole summery inspirational week to investigate, invent and paint pattern for textiles on paper and fabric – check them all out, and do come and join me at one or more of the courses. They make good presents too, for participants – and plus ones…
Adding to the air of fullness on my oak kitchen table are the samples of new cards, notebooks and the 2018 calendar, ‘ZOOM’. I’m especially pleased with the new little notebook packs – four different designs packed together in the A6 ‘Our Yard’ gang, and two in the A5 ‘Scarlet’ group. This year the calendar takes a closer look at some of the work I’ve done recently: February cheers up the end of the winter. All the product, including new greetings cards and scarves, is now online. Christmas is coming – silk hankies are being painted (and also sent along to the shop at the Fashion and Textile Museum) and a newly decorated menagerie of birds, kittens and horses. And down-times are being filled with the making of bundles of fat quarters to take with me for any customers at the talk I’m giving in Richmond at the Loving the Fabric shop on the evening of the 23rd November. I’ll have some of all of this at the annual December open house sale in Balham.
There’s a special box of treasures in our shop too – containing the new black velvet cats! Dressed in folk-costume in the gipsy mode, they wear vintage Collier Campbell fabrics from my archive collection, enhanced by gorgeous and fascinating details of beads, buttons, pompoms and lace – dolls that are real heirlooms. They travel in their own velvet-trimmed sleeping-bags. The tiny stitching is worthy of the Tailor of Gloucester; in fact these unique characters are made especially for us by modflowers.
Thanks to Isabel and Lucy, Carol, Chrissie, Barbara and Sarah.