…looking forward…looking back…

children togetherIt’s lovely to welcome some new small people to the planet – several young friends have had babies this year, beautiful boys and girls, twins and singletons – congratulations to you all!

Elisabetta's oliveI can’t believe that it’s almost a year since I wrote here of two work ‘beginnings’, both of which have now come to fruition. The dishes designed for my friend’s new restaurant in West Beach Florida are now gracing the tables of Elisabetta’s Delray, which officially opened its doors in July. The ceramics were commissioned to complement and support the philosophy of the restaurant – good comfortable accessible home-cooked Italian food of excellent quality. So – plates, dishes and bowls were needed with a hand-painted ethic, simple, strong, direct, allowing the food to breathe in sympathetic visual surroundings. They also had to be mass-produceable. We worked hard at making a family of patterns and colours which would both sit together as on a rustic kitchen table and withstand the clattering rigours of a very busy restaurant. Hence these earthy tones.

elisabetta's colour family

                                                            Then we needed blue!

elisabetta's woadAnd furniture in an apartment overlooking the park in New York is now upholstered with the newly painted and beautifully printed linen fabric ‘Central Park’ – stories, trees and vistas inside and out. I’m so pleased to have had these two commissions – thank you Lisabet and Carlotta for setting them in motion – and for your patience while they were being completed.

Central Park artwork, detail of man & dogThe fabric is also available by metre here, and I’ll be making some scenic cushions for sale in the near future – keep your eyes open.Mexican dancing boyThe silk-painting course at the Hard to Find School in Guadalajara, Mexico was a marvellous week in March, not least due to the great kindness and loving generosity of my hosts.hard to find silk painting Of course I was in more than two minds about going at all, but I’m so glad I did – I think we all learned very much more than solely about painting on silk. I was also invited to write and give a public talk one evening at the School. I called it ‘The Ubiquitous Scarf’, and really enjoyed thinking about and researching this most fascinating of accessories with its endless iterations and meanings, personal and political, from the Chinese terracotta army to Her Maj, via the world and its weather.traditional european scarfThe V and A are having a show about The Car later this year, and have invited me to teach a silk-square painting workshop in honour of all those glamorous, wind-blown scarf-wearing beauties dashing along in open-tops…Grace Kelly, Audrey H and the like. That’s going to be fun, and cheer up the usual dreary start of February…Grace Kelly, car and scarf

model marching, John CowanIn the summer hols I ran a fabric painting workshop for youngsters, part of the VandA’s programme for young people, taking inspiration from the current Mary Quant exhibition. Looking at the show it was wonderful to be reminded what an influential and groundbreaking force Mary was, and how strong the spirit of the time for new ideas, new thoughts, new attitudes and quite a lot of cheeky ‘up yours’. And taking that theme on, this week at The Norwood School we did a short ‘black-and-white-only’ workshop, painting on fabric – really fun and full of invention. I think it’s going to be added to my repertoire of workshop subjects….
black and white on calicoBut what a genius with black and white, shadows and light, innuendo and nuance was Felix Vallotton; his woodcuts, so full of drama and suspense, were a revelation at the recent Royal Academy Show.Vallotton, guitarAnd thanks are due to the V&A, for keeping such a pristine and glorious length of our Bauhaus furnishing fabric design in their collections – and being happy, or at least willing, with my agreement, to lend it to the new show just opening at Nottingham Contemporary. I am very honoured and proud to see it in pride of place in these wonderful galleries. bauhaus:still undeadThe exhibition, ‘Still Undead’, runs until Jan 14th and shows us the influence in Britain, of the famous Royal Academy exhibition which in 1968 brought the works of the Bauhaus artists and designers together in London for the first time. I remember that exhibition well, and how influential it was for me, and us, and indeed Liberty, with whom we were working at the time. Having been asked to respond to Gunta Stolzl’s famous tapestry we developed the printed textile which became known as Bauhaus – first as a silk scarf, then in repeat as a furnishing fabric. The design remains one of our most celebrated works. I have to say it still looks very handsome.

Stone RosesWith quite a little collection of other materials relevant to the Bauhaus fabric in the archive, I exchanged emails with the Gallery: it was somewhat nostalgic to sift through the stash of paintings, fabrics and press cuttings we’ve kept and to find this fabulous Vogue page from 1972. Susan and I were so delighted with it, and the caption ‘Dress your house, furnish yourself in prismatic prints…’ was exactly what we were aiming at. This is also on show at the exhibition. The one of The Stone Roses tucked up at Rockfield Studios, Wales in1980 didn’t quite make the cut!

Vogue magazine, september 1972A lot of looking back to those optimistic early days, when invention, experimentation and newness were the stuff of life.ZANDRA screens and table Last week saw the opening of Zandra’s exhibition ‘Fifty Years of Fabulous’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum, and a new publication to go with it. Unlike Mary Q, I’d say that Zandra is at heart a textile designer, working from start to finish – drawings to print-table to sewing room to catwalk to market – to make her dreamy creations come to life; a rare and valuable instance of design and artistic integrity.

I’ll be running several workshops at the Museum in the next few months, starting with a favourite – T-shirt painting for teens on Saturday 19 October. Send your young person along for a happy, painty and probably messy, day; they’ll go home with some experiments and a new T. Tshirt youngstersMy short courses and workshops at Morley College, the Fashion and Textile Museum, West Dean and Handprinted are all listed here on my website, ready to paintwith links to each of the detailed descriptions and bookings. No two courses are the same – they emphasise the process of learning (and sometimes un-learning), experimentation and discovery, and of re-finding the playful and surprising elements in mark and pattern making as well as the serious business of understanding the structures of design. There are still places available on the next course at Morley, which runs on two Tuesdays, 5th and 12th November – Rhythm Through Colour – it’d be lovely to see you there.I’m also running a collage and paper-cutting day again at the FTM on Saturday 8 November, which seems particularly popular in the run up to Christmas…folded paperThe colour workshops are a fairly new addition, looking closely at the colours around us and the influence of light and context: no colour is seen in isolation. Mixing palettes of gouache and working on paper we make changes in small increments, putting our observations into practice, building harmonies – what a difference a dab of Naples Yellow or a squeeze of Raw Umber can make! We work on compositions of colour balance, juxtaposition, weight and distribution and note how colours work as neighbours and companions or enemies and agent-provocateurs,  It’s amazing what you see when you look: here are some of the colours found lurking in our ‘white’ room…pale colour experimentsI got told off sharply the other day for looking too closely at the paintings of Mark Bradford in his current show Cerberus at Hauser and Wirth in Savile Row. These works are immense, the surfaces completely mesmerising; texture, colour, dimension, technique – of course I was peering closely! Go and see for yourself if you can. Mark Bradford, Cerberusmark-bradford-cerberus-hauser-and-wirth-0Peter DoigA friend had planned an afternoon art tour treat for us – lovely – so we nipped round the corner to visit the new Goodman Gallery in Cork Street and caught one of  William Kentridge’s amazing, disturbing animated films too. Earlier we’d seen the Peter Doig paintings at Michael Werner Gallery in Upper Brook Street – deep indigo and olivey mustard, glowing viridian lake and opera rose, fizzing marigold orange, calm violet grey – colours held in mysterious washes and dispersed onto gritty surfaces. A little walk in London is still fascinating and full of surprises, but much of our talk over tea was about the commodification of art – those gallery rents must cost a fortune.

As you’ve seen, the jacket I’m wearing in Nottingham is one I’ve hand painted – and the dress. Decorating fabric directly with paint, potato prints, hand-cut stencils is something I like to do for myself as well as teaching others. And the ‘engineering’ of pattern placement – marrying the painted designs and the garments – has endless possibilities . So what could be more exciting than the invitation to run a course doing just that in the US in collaboration with TheSewingWorkshop in the February; throughout the week we’ll be painting and then sewing bespoke garments…. wonderful to be involved in new adventures. I’ll be part of their April London Textile Tour too.painting a calico topAnd happily on my return I’ll be making a small studio collection of hand-decorated pieces which will be offered for sale at a very special place – more later…linen, potato printLooking forward – looking back – the biographical work about the extraordinary life of my mother, the actress Patience Collier, has reached the design stage. Called ‘The Performer’s Tale’, it’s written as nine sections – section three ends on this rather racey and tantalising note..Rene Ritcher

Talking of family – and raciness – Sophie‘s newest book of poems – 60 Lovers to Make & Do – was launched in magnificent style and to great acclaim at the fabulous Cinema Museum in Kennington (sign the petition to keep it going); a how-to book with a difference – don’t spend your time tidying up, put those scrips and scraps to good use and make a lover instead! Here’s one magicked up by an artist, in springtime:


Speaking of remnants and useful scraps here are two dates to save –  we’re planning a sale of just such pieces at the FTM on Saturday November 23: a real pot-luck of vintage pieces from our archive – a selection of remnants, samples and strike-offs of furnishing fabrics, apparel, shawls and sheetings. And I’m taking a table at the Selvedge Winter Fair again this year on Saturday December 7 and will have treats new and old! More details on both coming soon…


I’ve had several enquiries about the 2020 calendar – will it be appearing soon? It will – ‘HandPicked’ is on its way and can be pre-ordered now on the website here. It’ll take a couple of weeks or so to be with you.

Lastly, thank you for all the very kind, loving and thoughtful comments that were made in response to my previous post – I remain deeply moved by your concern. This has been a very difficult year; there is solace to be found in friendship.an apple and a bowl

Thankyou to Carlotta, Lisabet, Vanessa, Alastair, Cédric, Juana, Molly and FrancesWest Elm ceramicsavailable from WestElm



17 thoughts on “…looking forward…looking back…

  1. Hey Sarah,
    Christine H’s daughter Crystal here…
    I had your Bauhaus fabric for my bedroom curtains as a child and it still brings me terrific joy and wonderful memories each time I see it. When I become rich (haha) I aim to have a large sofa upholstered with it.

    Lotsa love and another inspiring blog from you to help the days go a little easier xxx

  2. Sarah I just wanted to share a memory with you. In the 1980s we saved up and bought our first sofa from Habitat that was covered in Collier Campbell union cotton (was the design called Sahara)? I LOVED that sofa and it brought me so much joy. No other home purchase has ever come close. I still love that fabric.
    Artprimitif (Jo)

  3. Dear Sarah. Stunningly colourful post. I love Dress Your House & Furnish Yourself. Want the sofa, the dress/robe and screen. Also love the bowls in last picture. Are they out there somewhere to buy? My sister & I have enjoyed this year’s calendar so much, must order 2020. Rochelle x

  4. Thank you for your posts, Sarah. I think you’re amazing! Your endless creativity, energy, and openness are a continuing inspiration. I’m glad that the year, although a difficult one for you, has still be so productive and rewarding. All the very best!

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