currents and cloth

Tshirt message in a bottle

A drifting gin bottle, tossed into the seas in 1886 by Germans hoping to track ocean currents, has turned up on a beach in Western Australia.

By coincidence I painted this T-shirt a few weeks ago. As makers – off go our creative works – designs, music, paintings, writings, poems, musings, makings, compositions, inventions, words, colours – bobbing out into the oceans of society: we hope they fetch up on welcoming, or at least interested, shores. germanmessage in bottle, AustraliaHere’s another way of getting a message across – I’ve never seen a police warning notice sprayed on the pavement before – and this one looks to me like a label with stitched edges. To be seen outside Pizza Express on the South Bank. Very satisfactory.police noticecabbage fieldsOn a journey to north Norfolk the colours and textures changed constantly in the driving rain and wetly glimmering sun – ebony earth and skeleton trees, papery willow stalks, rooks nests, and cool skies. I wonder what makes this seem so very English – the soft light on the teal blue cabbage fields, the gentle contours?Norfolk fields

portrait of Hannah Ryggen weavingAt the tremendous show of the Scandinavian weaver Hannah Ryggen‘s work in tapestry at Modern Art in Oxford, I marvelled at her complete immersion in every process of the work from the sheep to the dyes to the wall. Living a hard, rigorous life, she had a sturdy and extraordinary passion for telling her stories in colour and composition, however difficult and traumatic. A recent brief visit to the tapestry studio at West Dean was a treat too – seeing works in progress is always a privilege.Hannah Ryggen tapestry detail.jpg From the French Huguenot silk-weavers of Spitalfields to the refugees from ’30s Europe, immigrants have made huge contributions to our textile industry. The designers such as Zika Ascher and Tibor Reich are well-known; the more modest George Weiner, who was the producer at Liberty of London Prints when we first worked there in the ’60s, made a great personal difference to us. Recognising Susan’s design ability, he called to her as she left their first meeting: “You can draw, you can come back.” Anna Nyburg’s film ‘Refuge Britain’, exploring the theme of refugee designers, was full of resonance and meaning; a visual language can be carried across borders and cultures to be shared with strangers and brothers alike, as can music. It’s so much harder for the strange words of an alien tongue to make connections. Bauhaus scarf artworkphotoshoot at archive

On the way to West Dean in that sudden blizzardy snow, I travelled via East Sussex opening up the archive of our works to show some interested visitors. At the risk of delivering an ear-splitting blast from our own trumpets, I was struck again by what a great and varied collection it is, and what a remarkable history and resource. This was taken at the archive a couple of years ago during a photo-shoot by the Spanish photographer Anna Huix.

Lisa Milroy excels in and enjoys the painting and making of the seemingly everyday – shoes, clothes, pattern, studio scenes. The work is sensuous, with the deceptive air of simplicity. As you walk through her painted life, on show in ‘Here and There’ at Parasol Unit, there’s an invitation to rearrange some of the pieces to your own liking, and to experience the performance of Minyoung Choi (I think) who, by donning one of the painted garments and moving among the others, becomes a living exhibit, but not an exhibition. It made me wonder about the words play and drama: the drama of play, the play in drama. You can catch this show until the 18th March – and there are performances on that day too. Lisa Milroy 1The beat of a jazz quartet swung out one night at 2 Temple Place amidst all the artefacts on show in the exhibition there, ‘Rhythm and Reaction – the age of jazz in Britain’. The influence and sometimes supposed subversive nature of jazz music and culture is examined and some fascinating footage, and fabrics, are to be seen; I love these straw-skirted costumes from Bronislava Nijinska’s 1925 production of ‘Jazz’.Nijinska Jazz costumestango steps strike-offsI have a customer who lives to dance the tango – wherever she travels she finds a tango party to join, and she’s off! I’ve been commissioned to make some fabrics for her clothing range to reflect her love for the dance, even using the tango dance-step routine as the starting point for one of the patterns! First samples are just coming through. I’ve been approving the colourways of the new MichaelMillerFabric collection too, due online in April I think. Here’s a tiny peak.Kashmir Gardens

supersketchbookingOne of the favourite workshops I run in half-terms and holidays at The Fashion Textile Museum is for teenagers – two hours of ‘super-sketchbooking’. What inventiveness they come up with, making marvels with the boxes, scraps, off-cuts, envelopes, stamps, carrier bags, ribbons and papers etc that I hoard for them. And in readiness for the two new workshops I’m running there in conjunction with the current exhibition I’ve been practising painting T-shirts
– including one to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dog; and one each for my birthday-celebrating grandsons, P and Q – which of course need to be minded! One of those workshop days is for teens, one is for all-comers.

Teaching a new long weekend course at West Dean – working on fabric this time, rather than paper, I loved seeing students, both as a group and as individuals, discovering the fun of new skills as they practiced painting on calico and linen and building personal libraries of techniques – as well as some ambitious beginnings on simple garments. Here’s the start of a calico top, and some experiments with using impromptu paper stencils onto linen.

After working on samplers and instances for and with the class I couldn’t resist getting to work on my favourite but very old Shirin Guild shirt. It started with a potato… and there being a lot of cloth, I finished it a couple of days later at home in my studio! I’m looking forward to all the different courses I’m running throughout the year, particularly to a week in France at Chateau Dumas where we’ll have time to build up quite a body of work. Do come and join me – details of all courses are on my website page, and new events get added in as the year unfolds. One recent Tuesday, we met a known-of but unknown cousin who had got In touch, tentatively, via Joe’s blog. Strange yet utterly familiar, we came face to face with some extraordinarily strong and recognisable patterns and stories slipping through the generations. Now chez cousin, this portrait of our shared grandfather (my ma’s pa) used to hang in our dining room, where we habitually ate family Sunday lunch. I have a clear memory of his ghost visiting me one afternoon as I was standing at the kitchen sink – I was about nine at the time. I wasn’t at all frightened; we spoke politely and then off he buzzed!

And that recent Tuesday was indeed momentous – my brother’s first grandchild was born, a new great-nephew for me. Here’s a little jacket and hat I’ve knitted for him – with pearl buttons selected from his great-great-grandmother’s tin which is still in my keeping (my pa’s ma). 

We have some new spring kitties in the shop: here, to continue a brief blueish theme, are Harmony and Henry, dressed in vintage fabrics from our archive, with antique lace trims and details too. There are others…. and now, for dapper dressers, there’s a rather elegant pure silk printed paisley tie available.Harmony & Henry & puss

Up on the allotment we were ridiculously excited to see that this little creature had cleverly found our freshly-sunk tin-bath pond; with a red speckled belly I think it’s a smooth newt – Professor Newton.professor NewtonAnd to celebrate that spring has finally sprung – perhaps – here’s a brief slideshow of recently painted and drawn flowers – on paper, calico, cotton jersey – in no particular order:(it may take a second to load….)


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Thanks to Joe, Rohan, Geoff Ritcher, Charlotte, Doug, Sophie, Adam and Peter

I just can’t help a bit of showing off! Here in La Rabota blog and in Maker Profile, Make it Today magazine.

make it today article

Coup de coeur blog 2.png




16 thoughts on “currents and cloth

  1. HI Sarah,
    I love your blogs! I would love to attend one of your workshops at some point. I wondered if, when you paint on calico & linen, you use special paint or do you use acrylics?
    Best wishes,

  2. Dearest Sarah, Magical as ever, your designs are wonderful. I’m just amazed how you can turn a slice of countryside into a stunning song of colour. Professor of Design is what you are and I hope soon a discerning institution will recognise this truth and so honour you with the title. Astonishing, simply astonishing – from the 60s onwards you have sung nothing but arias in colour and form.
    Cheers David

  3. My Samoa scarf arrived last week . It’s wonderful. So looking forward to wearing it to Hauser and Wirth over Easter. Thank you.

  4. Sarah – you are an inspiration as always. Certainly brightened and motivated me even though the weather forecast for snow again by the end of the week didn’t. Your snips of colour and design so bright and fresh – I must look harder in all the mud all
    around me!! Keep well – Glynisx

  5. Love the little jacket and hat you’ve knitted for your newest great-nephew! Congratulations to all. My second great-nephew, Harrison Werris Marcus, who will join big brother Samuel Anthony Marcus, will be born on April 16. Sam turns one year old this weekend – hooray! Alas, I have to put my visits to them (they live in the Bay Area) on hold as I recover from major back surgery on 2/23. I also love the story about your mysterious cousin, Sarah. How nice for you and Joe. Much love to you.

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