and day by day the dawn is earlier and the dusk later, brightening up my daily taichi practice by the minute; even though I have work on my desk and exciting new projects in waiting; even though the rein of the 45th potus has come to its ignominious and shocking end, even though…even though…even though… The horrible toll exacted by this virus on every part of our usual lives seems never-ending. It feels as though we’ll be living with the exhausting mystery of unseen infection forever, and the most normal and essential human interactions and pursuits will remain a dangerous threat. Living alone probably heightens these weary and dismal presentiments.So, very unusually for me, I have begun to dream about taking little holidays abroad, safely – even, perhaps, in the sun. And now when the email from Trailfinders pings into my mailbox to tempt me with such ideas, I don’t delete it absolutely straight away…Working at home requires having plenty of stuff to hand, and then of course, by the nature of it, more stuff is generated: I have a lot crammed into my modest flat. Add to this the fact that I’m not a great thrower-awayer and there are times when the only actual space available is in the pathways between the piles. How I long for some more square meters! Things constantly have to move around, and be good-natured enough to take their turns in the limelight rather like Mr Rain and Mrs Sun in their little weather-house.The teaching collections get folded away into cases to make room for the new design collections to be pinned up, considered and worked on.The fabric paints have to take second place to the gouache – or vice versa depending on the work at hand, the sewing machine and fabric shears need to retreat somewhere when the paper scissors and glue are in ascendance. The bolts of fabric samples are stacked in a slowly decreasing monument, a sort of wood-pile construction, and are forever being re-arranged to get at the yellow flowers at the bottom, or whatever fat quarter’s been requested by a customer. I have to remember where to locate each item, and often hear myself muttering “this is a finite space, it’s here somewhere”. I even do that thing Jung suggested and call out to whatever is mislaid asking it to make itself known to me. It works!
In the shifting tides of tidying, different things float up to the surface; recently a little blue box appeared sitting on the top of a pile on my table.
I knew the contents of old, though it was a few weeks before I opened it this time. Inside, still snug in its satin and velvet surround (c/o Mappin and Webb), sits quite a substantial bronze medal. The face, the obverse, shows a coat of arms: two weaver birds, each with two threads in its beak, stand on a grassy knoll balancing a shield between them on which is displayed three shuttles, two distaffs, and an interwoven pattern. Atop it all is a globe, some fancy fabric flourishes and what looks like a top hat! Below the grassy knoll is a ribbon showing an insignia in latin: ‘omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo’. This is from Ovid, and can be translated: ‘all things human hang by a slender thread’. Hmm, so far so good. On turning the medal over it becomes clear why I have it here. It is The Textile Institute‘s Medal for Design; and in the middle of the reverse, amidst the bas-relief flowers, a sheep, butterflies, cocoons and banners with the names of the four main yarn qualities used in the manufacture of cloth – silk, cotton, flax and wool – is engraved “For notable achievement in the design of textile fabrics”.It was awarded in 1986 to our then company Collier Campbell Ltd; our name is incised round the edge of the medal. Built on our early success with Liberty and others, the ’80s were a time of great achievement for us – we designed and supplied fabric to many of the UK retailers – John Lewis, M&S, Habitat, Jaeger, as well as licensing collections for manufacture in Europe, the UK and the US. As ever, there were all sorts of economic and other disasters, but we flourished and remained busy pretty well till the end of the decade. The ’90s were a different story again. I feel rather proud holding the medal, pleased that our achievements were recognised in our industry, and hope the renewed contact I’ve now made with the Institute – thanks for your help with the latin – will be fruitful for all parties. By the way, Ovid then goes on to say ‘and that which seems to stand strong of a sudden falls and sinks in ruins’. Nota bene.It is certainly true that we did, and I still do, devote most of our time to textiles. Painting patterns has been more or less the sum total of my long career – and there’s always more to invent and discover. But textiles do a lot of important work themselves and give great service back to society. As well as being decorative, which is my general concern, they offer essential protection in many acute and dangerous situations. Think temporary shelters in disasters, hazard suits against contamination, emergency clothing for displaced persons, PPE in a pandemic, all of which require solutions made from one sort of fabric substrate or another.In our hospitals, tiny pre-term babies who need keeping warm require special small incubator covers, and sick children need comfort, colour and cosiness. Through Project Linus there are people busy all over the place generously sewing these little quilts and coverlets and donating them for families to have and to keep for their children’s stay in hospital and onward. A little while ago I gave some fabric pieces, via a friend, to one such group and I recently received pictures of some of the incubator covers and children’s quilts they’d sewn and sent to Kings Hospital in time for last Christmas – a fantastic 292 of them in all, from all sorts of different fabrics! It’s lovely to see some of what’s been made, and to remember the tradition of shared sewing and making.And what is the favourite image doing the insta rounds at the minute? Bernie and his famous knitted mittens! I do hope these memes of him appearing anywhere from sitting on the rings of Saturn to gatecrashing the display at the FTM are being collected somewhere.
The heavens are full of wonders. Yesterday morning I woke to this crimson sunrise and two hours later this was my view from the same window.And the other evening at about 7 o’clock, I took the parcel of my latest fabric design paintings down to the UPS depot – having missed the local collection cut-off time. The sky was deepest indigo and above the car park hundreds of gulls were wheeling and swooping about, looking pale and ethereal in the moonlight. It was a very arresting beautiful sight – I wonder what they were up to at that time of day. I had the fanciful notion that they were going to whizz off with my package and deliver it to the US themselves.I can’t yet share with you the exact contents of the parcel, or its destination, but I can talk about one of the areas that need attention before the ‘off’ – the preparation of the colours.
I paint my designs in repeat and to scale, and the colours, gouache, are mixed and balanced accordingly, without reference to Pantone or other colour systems. Designs will share some of the colours mixed, and then may have some that occur only in a particular pattern. I paint down an area of each colour as I go, so that at the end I have a decent piece to give to the customer and their printers for matching the inks and building the harmonies. Cutting, applying, sticking, naming the colours and annotating the paintings takes time.The fabric collection itself will be ready to see and then to order from midsummer onwards – not too long to wait.And also coming along nicely and available soon, is a new collection of stationery, cards, notebooks, wrapping and yes, my favourite – printed tissue paper. Meanwhile, our beautifully printed scarves, dolls, giclee prints, fabrics and hand-made specials are all available on the website, and I’m adding in new hand-painted cushions and other unique pieces. I’m also happy to consider commissions and new ideas for collaborations – in fact I love ’em! So do get in touch via my contact page if you’re interested too.At some point a few weeks ago, amidst the fourth-rate thinking and first-rate bollox of Brexit, I heard Michael Gove sliding and slithering about on the radio; these lines popped into my head: (thanks to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky)
‘Twas Brexit, and the slimy Gove
Did twist and ‘semble at the mike,
All flimsy were the Borisgroves,
And the Rees-Mogg sneer’d shite.
Anyone want to add another verse?