Each morning when I comb my hair I twist any stray wisps together and float them off through the open window in the belief that they will be found by some sharp-eyed avian and soon be lining a cosy nest. And each morning as I do so I repeat these lines of William Blake “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship”. I am clearly a creature of habit and, to some extent, ritual! I wrote a blog with this title some years ago reflecting on home. Now I’m thinking more about friendship and what it means. These are extraordinary times, when our threads of connection are being tested, being valued, being stretched. Some of us are finding new ways of being together via the internet, for some the good old-fashioned postcard and telephone call connects, for some simply meeting with neighbours for a jabber over the fence does the job. But the pain of enforced solitude – of not to comfort the dying, not to hold a newborn, not hug the grandchildren, not touch a hand, not kiss a lover – is acute and cannot be mitigated by a screen. What will be the cost of these losses?
On a lighter note, the question on everyone’s lips is this: are there really more birds around, or are we just hearing them now that their song isn’t being drowned out by cars, buses and planes? And by the same token are they feeling bolder, hopping about closer and able to find insects that haven’t this year been sprayed out of existence? Robins we know are sociable and curious creatures, ever on the beady lookout for a succulent snack, and particularly attentive when a human is at work with a spade. A pair were confidently feeding their young right there on our allotment table the other day. My brother tells us how he’s been conversing with owls in broad daylight in Richmond Park! Here, early one morning the first thing I saw through my rather grubby windows was an unusual group of black and white stripes – on a small fluffy bird. I’ve been hearing someone hammering away in a nearby tree lately, and here was a rather ruffled lesser spotted woodpecker fledgeling exploring the branches right outside my window. These close encounters make one feel favoured in some way. My natural habit of finding pleasure in small things is a great advantage when obliged to live the confined life we do at present. With the excuse of thinking of new things that might be fun for children to do, a few sundays ago I made a little indoor moss garden – hoping to encourage some young people to enjoy a thing I loved doing myself as a little girl. Amazingly it’s still going strong – in fact growing strong. Those sycamore seedlings, so annoyingly ubiquitous in the garden now, make perfect little trees, and have ditched their cotyledons in favour of the first pair of grown-up leaves. The moss is flourishing and racing towards the pond, the tiny trefoils are spreading and the daisies are flowering like giants – so exciting! A landscape in miniature, ripe for story-making, story–telling, drawing, painting, just dreaming. And it was a perfect place for my isolation easter egg hunt – how that Lilliputian bunny managed to hide the eggs I’ll never know!
I’ve been filling bags with scraps – papers, fabrics, ribbons, buttons, beads, postage stamps etc – for children of my acquaintance, both in my block and further afield. I’ve got plenty of stuff stashed away as resources for my collage and paper-cutting workshops – and I was right: “It’ll all come in handy one day”. Quite a good bagful, mainly fabrics, also went off to the South London Refugee Association
My latest ‘make’ has been a weekly journal created from a cereal box and some old envelopes. With scissors, glue and some wire (could be string) to bind I’ve made a book of seven envelope pages, into which a little something for each day can be put – a leaf collected on a walk, a drawing, a poem, a thought… mine is very rough and ready, the cover decorated with a potato print. You could do far better I think!
Like many people in my type of business, the usual paid work which I need to earn my living has completely dried up for now – very scary stuff. So I’m trying to develop new thoughts and ideas with the future in mind, as an investment in myself. It’s been quite difficult at times to keep the creative action going. In the belief that one thing leads to another, I tend to work on the principle of ‘start where you know, do what you can’; but there have certainly been days when I couldn’t actually do either, when my usual energetic optimism disappeared. I feel a little restored now, and looking round my small flat I see that every inch is taken up with invented and potential projects. What a mess – but, as Bob Marley didn’t say – no caller, no seat!I’ve been selling fat quarters online for a while – bundles of 6 quarter-metre cut pieces of lovely cotton, my designs, perfect for patchworking or small makes. These have been collated by colour, and spurred on by my enterprising neighbour (and taichi partner) making us facemasks with my fabrics, I’ve put together some new bundles – stripes, spots and checks – all of which can be found here. I’m still despatching a full range of my goods – thanks to the wonderful Post Office and very kind family and neighbours – and am also offering a pick-up service for people who live locally in the SE19 area: order and pay online as usual and I will contact you direct to arrange. And I really have to thank UPS too – despite all, and with only a little delay, they duly delivered the two Cote d’Azure cushions which were the prize in The 80s Interior recent instagram giveaway – the winner lives in Oakland California! Wonderful – I’d begun to fear they’d be swirling round dusty doomy depots for months to come.We have used various patterns for the facemasks, and you’ll know there are plenty to be found on the internet. I like those offered by Pajotten, a small independent clothing company in Kent; they have 2 styles – a bandana type and a smaller ‘ear elastic’ one that can be made easily without a sewing machine, and can be seen and downloaded here.All this cutting of fabric has led me to some simple piecing and sewing myself. One such endeavour, a summer coverlet, has gone off to a brand new baby.I’ve also been investing in another piece of the future by making a small collection of hand-painted garments to be shown at Livingstone Studio. This was to have happened last weekend alongside a special new late spring exhibition. Of course everything is postponed, but I’ve been working away on linens and cottons and the little group is building, sewn beautifully by my old friend Chris. As soon as I have more news about how and when they’ll be shown I’ll let you know.
I was thinking about this venture as I was teaching painting on fabric at The Sewing Workshop in Topeka Kansas in February – what an age ago that seems now! I just managed to squeak my trip in before the extent of Covid19’s deadly reach began to really make itself known. Teaching a week’s course there was quite something – eighteen assorted women from all over the States, ready to learn. We had a most creative and good-humoured week, lubricated by the generosity of Linda Lee and her assistants – though not as much sewing happened as I’d envisaged. I was eager to see how the painted fabrics would develop onto garments – all students being excellent and experienced stitchers; by the same token, they were eager to use the time to paint, developing all sorts of techniques and ideas in leaps and bounds. But I have seen some completed garments now – so beautifully made and executed. I hope they’ll be worn with real pride. It was good to stop in New York on the way there and see friends and colleagues – doesn’t the Brooklyn Library have a magnificent portal, which leads, by the way, into an equally magnificent interior – and also to get a glimpse of our Central Park fabric in situ – overlooking Central Park itself, naturally.
On my return, the long weekend course at West Dean went off beautifully too, though we were all becoming more and more conscious of the looming threat to our health, and the college made new provisions daily to keep us aware and safe – for which many thanks. It really is a wonderful place and space to work in. Naturally all my teaching, talking and any lectures have now been postponed and are being rescheduled. The colleges and companies contact all the students independently, and I am adding the new dates to my events page as they are decided . Many of my courses were sold out, and I do hope the re-scheduling will suit those of you who were already booked. Of course, things will continue to change, so I urge you to keep an eye on listings. That’s a lot about fabric! Turning to paper – I’ve participated in The PrintBlock’s Offcut Project and my print ‘Music’ is now on sale from them for £30 – with 10 going to the Trussle Trust, 10 to the artist and the remaining balance going to the Printblock itself. Thank you Suki for setting this up. I’m also keen to participate in the Matthew Burroughs’ Artist Support Project – though I still need to sort out enough pieces to offer for this. These could be some of my prints on paper, original little paintings and/or painted cloth pieces – any views? Please investigate both these initiatives if you can and are interested. They are real ways of helping artists to sell while helping each other and giving to charities tooAnd here is something new – a book, ‘The Art of Pattern’! It’s a visual record of the exhibit we put up at the Fashion and Textile Museum to complement their show ‘Liberty in Fashion’ in 2016. Stafford Cliff helped me mount the show and has designed the book too. As you can see here, it’s a delicious little tome, chock full of Susan’s and my work for Liberty from 1961 to 1977, full of colour and pattern. This is a self-published book at present (so quite costly), and can be pre-ordered here now. I plan to gather orders and print in batches when we see a favourable moment, so customers will need to be patient please! I will sign each book before despatch. There’s very little profit in it for my company, but a donation of £5 from each sale will be made to the charity Refuge.
There’s another interesting (I hope) book in the offing – ‘Dailies’ – but more of that another day… and the family’s been busy too!
Who knows how long we’ll be in isolation and having to keep our social distance; it’s hard to maintain optimism and drive, and to envisage our futures. Many people are making and doing it seems; for me momentum and energy can arrive and then vanish again just as abruptly. Times of not doing – of simply being, thinking, grieving, dreaming are important too.
young neighbour twirling – through the window
Sarah Campbell Designs is now represented by YellowHouse for new licensing collaborations….