I am sitting at my table, I am eating a late lunch, I am looking out the window: the light is clear, the sky is blue, the leaves flicker the brightest of greens in the sunshine: it seems idyllic. I gaze at the grassy patch over the road – where I practice taichi every morning with Isabel (we’ve only missed three mornings in all these lockdown weeks) and where the little girl twirling at the end of my last blog plays with her sisters. I see an older woman bring out a chair, then a couple bring their two chairs and then a toddler wobbles along. The woman, recently widowed, has not long returned from a distant journey; she’s been quarantining herself, and now here are her close family visiting for the first time. The sets of chairs are planted far from each other and the two households sit down; the child wanders too close to her granny and something – a voice, though it looks like invisible elastic – jerks her back. Suddenly the whole sunny scene is overshadowed by a sinister science fiction atmosphere – the terrifying and unseen threat of the deadly virus. It’s very hard to believe that this is all true – but of course it is.
In order to cope with the unknown future I concentrate on the present as much as possible. My dear little red diary, which used to be full of notes of meetings, appointments, commitments now records not outings but outgoings; these being mainly the results of trips to the post office – we have a system – and the weekly Sainsbury’s delivery, the most exciting part of which is the replacements they provide for the items that aren’t in stock – though I wasn’t altogether amused when one wag replaced my toothpaste with a tube of steradent tabs! I believe they’re very good for cleaning the lav… But I am fortunate, very, in being able to spend at least some of the time in the moment, the now, of making – the to and fro between the brush, the eye, the hand – the conversation between the vertical me and the horizontal on the table. The long lookings and peerings – carrying what’s seen in the air and recreating something of it to retell on whatever surface I may be painting.
As I mentioned in my last blog I’ve been developing a very small collection of hand-painted clothes for Livingstone Studio, Hampstead. In a pre-lockdown (just) meeting there, the styles, types and number were decided between us all . I have used four different types of fabrics, two linens, cotton and calico, to make six special and unique new garments – two jackets, two dresses and two simple shirts, with a seventh in progress. For each one the designs are painted on the cloth – the main areas, particular pockets, cuffs, sleeves, facings – the inks heat-set by ironing, then hand-washed to clear out any loose and excess colour, ironed again, packed in tissue paper and posted off to Chris in North London (thanks due here to assorted great-nieces and nephews for their post office help). Chris cuts and sews my fabric into the garments – simple, generous, beautifully constructed– and then takes them, finished, to Hampstead for Inge and Hersilia at Livingstone, and between them they’ve modelled for photographs. Isolation means that I haven’t actually seen or touched any of the finished clothes themselves, which is quite strange. The whole thing has been conducted as an act of faith, in the spirit of trust and optimism – rather remarkable I think. And successful too – although pattern and colour of ‘my’ sort is perhaps not the usual fare at Livingstone we certainly share a spirit of excellence, integrity and joy – two have sold and we have interest in others. Here’s a little ‘fashion show’:
Another occupation for some of my days is cutting, ironing, folding (yes, there’s a helluva lot of that going on) choosing and tying bundles of fat quarters. I mentioned these in my last blog, and along with an article in the May issue of Today’s Quilter magazine the result has been a lovely whoosh of orders. And re-orders. And some special requests. And now I’m beginning to be shown pictures of what they’re being made into, from a 7-year-old’s splendidly pocketed pinny to the start of a pieced quilt – I really enjoy the feedback. I love making the parcels too – I was thinking about making a video just of that.
I’ve sent out some copies of my little Liberty book – The Art of Pattern. Due to what we currently understand as ‘the times’, only part of the order arrived from the printers – tracking tells us they’re all on their way – so I’m sorry there’s still a little more waiting to be done by some customers. From sales so far I’m able to donate £200 to the charity Refuge – so thank you to all who have ordered it. It’s available in my shop here. UPDATE – they’ve all just arrived, and I have a few copies in hand now too…..
Going back a bit now to the very start of January 2019 – the same dear friend Stafford who designed the Art of Pattern book wrote saying he had a new project in mind: “Let’s talk about it”. What transpired was a challenge to me – to send him a new piece of work every day throughout the year for him to collate into a book! He knows I’m prolific and that my habit is to keep visual notes of one sort or another, and I guess he saw this as making a natural record of a year in my working life. It could be of anything – from a teeny sketch on a paper-bag to painted yardage to artwork for clients – just with the date and a short description of what, where and how.Of course I accepted the challenge, not at all sure how it might turn out. As it happens, it was a sort of lodestone, often pulling me back to the stability of ‘doing what I can’ in what was a very rocky year. When days were sorrowful, desolate, distracting, upsetting, worrying and equally when times were joyful, exciting, promising and unknowable… the discipline concentrated my mind wonderfully.
It is a lesson for these times too.
And so there they were on December 31st– three hundred and sixtyfive of what I called my ‘dailies’ – and here’s the book that Stafford has made of them. I thank him for his very generous idea and all-embracing work. A couple of books have already gone to good homes – I’m considering my next move… here is a quick look.
Today we approach the twelfth week of the lockdown/up/in – what was to be 14 weeks of isolation, distanced living, solitary confinement and shielded protection particularly for, among many others, those of us born before 1950. As one of that gang I welcome being protected, and to that end have been extremely diligent. But I’ve felt undermined and affronted by some of the undercurrent implications that we have all come to the end of our usefulness. I, and my contemporaries, have so much more being to be, doing to do, learning to learn.
The infinite creative ingenuity of artists, musicians, performers, writers, teachers, students young and old offered via the internet is so marvellously, and typically, generous and impressive. I’m sad to admit that so far I’ve taken very little time to explore it properly, but I’m glad it’s there. On social media, I admire Alice Rawsthorne’s instagram posts generally, and particularly those about design solutions in this pandemic; find them here.
For myself, I seem to quite like silence – and actual conversations with my fellow humans when I can get ’em – by FaceTime or ‘phone or simply shouting.
Rather abruptly the isolation situation has eased, the risk apparently lessened, and despite extreme confusion and obfuscation on the government’s part it seems we can now have more, though still distanced, contact with our families, friends, neighbours, workmates. But we, you and I, have still to take the greatest care, even if it is tempting to take risks as the sunny weather beckons, seeming to whisper “it’ll be alright”, and the current behaviour of those in power is really provoking us to flick a V at precaution and authority.
I have such a mixture of feelings: caution, fear tinged with a furious devil-may-careishness. Pure anger at the lies and hypocricies we’re witnessing. Longing – just to hug someone, sit in a cafe and chat, meet my students and share a paint brush. And then too a curious compelling fondness for this being alone business – the safety of it, the enforced opportunities, the need to improvise in so many ways, the chance to experience time differently – to use it rather than spend it perhaps – to examine details and take creative risks, or to totally zone out and play solitaire for what seems like hours on end. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to give houseroom to all these inner janglings and external confusions.
On a walk yesterday I fell in step with a man, a black man, and we shared a few socially distanced paces up the hill: “Beautiful day” “Yes, a beautiful day, but a scary world” “What can we do?” “We can listen, and be kind and be friendly.” “Yes, we can do that, we must do that.”
And we must do so much more too.
Thank you to Sophie for help talking some of this through – and for her vibrant new flower paintings.
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Hello Sarah, might you ever consider giving classes online? I live in California. I notice the paint on your fabric does not bleed. How do you do that? I’ve been painting on linen with Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow Fabric Paint and it bleeds every time.
Hi Nancy, thanks for getting in touch: I’m likely to be giving a class online in September, but am not sure what subject yet! I saw your question on Instagram too. Dye-na-flow is lovely ink, and it certainly can run; you can paint a layer of a clear no-flow medium before you start to ‘hold’ it on the cloth. On linen or cotton I tend to use ink as light and ‘dry’ as possible and build the colour up in layers to avoid it running. I also often use a different thicker paint which I buy here; and sometimes I might tape off an area in order to contain the ink with a sharpish edge – but again I’d use the ink sparsely at first. Hope that helps a bit.
Thank you so kindly! I just love your hand painted fabric and clothes. So inspiring!
Thanks for yet another colourful and thoughtful post…stay safe and well
Thank you Anne!
I have been a fan of you and your sister’s work for many years and as a textile student at Belfast Art College in the late 60s and early 70 collected scraps of your fabric on infrequent trips to London. 45 years on they are still with me! And as I now approach a significant birthday I feel the need to give myself a significant present ! I would love to buy your Dailies Book. I would be very grateful if you could let me know when this can happen. Please add my name to the list.
And please keep blogging.
Hello Deborah, thank you for your generous thoughts and comments. I’ll keep your name on the list for the book – I think it’ll be going online pretty soon. Have you stayed in the world of textile design? Sarah
Yes. In a way! I was a knitwear designer, then came to London to work for a major retailer as a knitwear buyer, ended up in babywear, had a baby, and became an art teacher. I continued to weave wallhangings and learnt to make felt, wrote a book about feltmaking, and now have scaled down to weaving small tapestrys. Much more portable! Thank you for asking. And thank you for putting my name on your list.
Thank you for yet another glimpse into your life……….since the late 70s i have followed your work, and I once saw you surrounded by people on a rare visit to London at the Fashion & Textiles Museum…it was a bit like glancing a rock star from a distance! Can you tell me more about the delicious book you had in your hands, I’d love one. Keep safe and thank you for always being such an inspiration x
Thank you Sue – the idea of me as a rock star is quite funny – not the usual definition! The book is a visual journal of 2019, as I describe in the blog. I’m considering putting it in my online shop, for customers to pre-order – the same arrangement we currently have for the book The Art of Pattern, on the publications page. It’ll have to be quite pricey – around 80-85 – so probably a limited market… When /if it goes online I’ll let people know via the blog, instagram etc. Sarah
Thank you……I remember it vividly, you were surrounded by adoring fans and I did the classic short intake of breathe, nudged my friend & had an ‘oooh look’ moment!! My simple life in Devon can be so quiet – Hurrah for the internet!
I’m blushing! And indeed the internet can be a wonder-web.
I really enjoyed reading your blog today. We were sent the link as my husband bought my wedding anniversary card from you last month. It arrived with two others with an envelope with a little added doodle.
I came across your huge body of work when visiting the Liberty exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. I had organised a school trip for home schooled children and we did a workshop on fashion drawing and lots of you and your sisters designs for Liberty were on display.
When I discovered there was a big beautiful book devoted to the Collier Campbell catalogue of work over the years I tried to find a copy. One on eBay for £100 and even more on Amazon.
I love my library so thought I would try. No joy but tried a special request. The result was for a charge of £10 I had a copy sent to my Library in St Albans all the way from the reference library at Edinburgh University. I was only allowed to borrow it for one month but I enjoyed it very much. What a brilliant service . When I collected it the librarians were pouring over it too.
Hope you continue to find joy in your craft during this unsettling time.
Hello Tina-joy – what a lot of nice stories – thanks. I like the idea of inter-library lending, sounds brilliant. You may enjoy my new little book The Art of Pattern – about that very Liberty exhibition you saw; it’s available from me here https://www.sarahcampbelldesigns.com/shop/the-art-of-pattern-hardback-book?category=publications . I am indeed fortunate to be able to work at what I love doing – and I’m expecting to carry on for a while yet…! Sarah
Dear Sarah! I love the story about observing the family gathering of long-missed relatives. Lovely. Now, please tell me when the clothes will be available for sale . . . I did visit the Livingstone website – so pretty in itself – but no mention about when your clothing line will be available, or how it’s priced. Can you enlighten me, please? Love, Wendy P./S. L.A. is still under curfew during the uncontrollable rioting and destruction by punks. I did attend the protest on Saturday morning, which was peaceful and inclusive and beautiful. After I left, the rioting began. Living right across the street from the flashpoint, it was a disturbing day. So much violence . . .
Thank you Wendy; the clothes – they’re available now from Livingstone and the best way to find what you need to know is to email or ring Inge and Hersilia and they will talk you through as they are handling the retail – the number is +44 207 431 6311, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. love, sarah
I want that book! Beautiful xxx
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What a rich and wonderful blog, Sarah, thank you so much, it’s really made my day (as it always does), I’d love to buy a copy of your ‘Dailies’, it was inspiring just to see some of the pages, would you put me on the list for when it’s available, please ?
Don’t underestimate the Steradent, by the way – it’s great for removing the stains in cups, and in glass vases and glass generally.
Thank you Penny – it seems that steradent has plenty of usefulness – what exciting days!! I’m finding that a few people would want a copy of Dailies, so will certainly add your name to the list.
Beautiful post Sarah
Thank you Valerie.
Dear Sarah, your blogs always brighten up my day and the book and clothes look fabulous
Thanks Lizzie, always good to hear from you. x
What a thoughtful, touching and inspiring blog Sarah. The word blog seems to downgrade it as it’s beautiful!
Thank you for your lovely comment Sonia. I agree that the word blog seems an ugly lumpen sort of affair in any event – we need to invent a new one! But the fact that a blog can be written and broadcast is pretty brilliant.
Steradent tablets are good for getting reluctant stains out of mugs and tea cups…..should you happen to have any mugs or tea cups in need of a deep clean! Break a tablet up into small bits – you don’t need much. An overnight soak will do it.
Thank you Irene – a very useful tip!
What a wonderful post- so inspiring Sarah. You are a gem and your ‘usefulness’ is only getting stronger not diminished with each year! The Dailies book looks like a feast of wonderfulness. I must get a copy when it is available. I was quite overcome with emotion when I saw the clothes that are being made from your beautiful handpainted fabrics. So very special in every way. Thank you.
Thank you so much Rachael; I’m thinking about making the book more available… of course it’ll be quite pricey.
isn’t this dappled light magical !
Thank you – an iPad drawing’s a good way to be able to get those overlapping/underlapping colours.