abroad-thoughts, from at home

Try as I might, I can’t avoid the feeling that this lockdown has a doomy air about it. Even though some of us are getting vaccinated; even though spring is coming

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.Don't be Lonely 2So, 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.fabric pile 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!table, gouache, fabric paints

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.blue box 2

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; CC studio 1984our 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 2 other quilts, normaProject 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. fat quartersA 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 sunrisesunrise and two hours later this was my view from the same window.snowy branches SE19And 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.colourtabs in orderAnd 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.shop patchworkAt 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?

TTFNpainted runner


36 thoughts on “abroad-thoughts, from at home

  1. Pingback: a solitarian celebrates | Sarah Campbell Designs

  2. You like the rest of us in the world are getting restless to have human contact again. I sure pray this will not stretch out any longer than necessary. I see that you are setting tentative in person classes dates but wonder if you would offer more painting on linen and fabric classes online?
    I have felt so connected to the world (Im in the US) buy taking live online Zoom classes.

  3. 10 months since i ordered your lovely fat quarters and cards to send out for Easter. Came on line to order more and read your blog which made me smile.On top of feeling fed up l’m a shamed of feeling this way double whammy ,i blame my welsh bapist background and my mother Tomorrow i have my vaccine , Wales is now jabbing over 75s so I’m in .yippee we still can’t go out ,they’ve extended lockdown to March!! Take care

  4. Love the ditty Sarah!

    Lovely post

    Do you still have your storage room at the Creative centre?

    Take care

    Take care, Ros Green

  5. Really enjoyed reading this. Since visiting you late last summer, and with endless time on my hands recently (!) I’ve been compelled to start painting again, which I haven’t done since university. I was inspired by your studio and being completely immersed in the colour and creativity…it’s a wonderful space. So far it’s been a voyage of discovery re-finding my style and confidence with a brush and experimenting with different mediums, I am excited to explore how I may be able to incorporate alongside my photography and video.

    Thank you for the inspiration! 🙂

  6. Dear Sarah,
    Reading your blog strikes so many notes for me, wonderful memories, as I was lucky enough to be around during the 80’s when my eyes were opened to so many design possibilities (not only in fabrics) by you in your kitchen! I continue to love your work and just want to say that in spite of life’s ups and downs having your designs around has made the world a happier place for me! Big big thank you.

    • Hi Barbara, thanks for this – I was just remembering the washing-line mural I painted on that Clapham kitchen wall – to hide the damp!! I sent a card recently to your old address – I hope it reaches you somehow. love, Sarah

  7. I so envy your organising skills dear Sarah. I skit from one project to another with no purpose and no aim, leaving a trail of chaos .Just your tidy towers of fabric and family groups of brushes are a joy.
    Love the new version of the Jabberwocky ! Trying to think of another verse will lift one from this utter gloom.
    Keep safe

  8. Wonderful to hear from you Sarah – a “hello, I’m well” would have suited just fine but to get all the ideas and verse insults and brilliant images….lots to cherish x

  9. Hello SarahThanks for your news update. Terrific. A very thoughtful and good one.As you know- I’ve been trying to sort & chuck for nearly a year now- so I share your sentiments. Even though I’ve got more space, a lot more of it is now filled or shared with stuff from Drew & Dilou’s place. Did I tell you that they’ve moved in here now- to try & save money? Rented out their flat. Drew is still on Furlough but Dilou has got temporary work at a testing Centre in Burnt Oak, starting at 7 AM each day.Anyway- I’m hoping to get my first jab soon, have you had yours yet?BTW- I love the night birds painting you sent me and in your instagram. Totally wonderful.Glad your projects are going well. Keep smiling Love from S

  10. Dear Sarah, Your blog is another marvellous read and I love the photographs of the weather on Sunday. The winter skies have been beautiful sometimes and I hope the red sky earlier this morning means rain is on its way. I will ring you later. So glad you are ok and have survived the jab. love Lucy ________________________________

  11. Insightful and uplifting as always, Sarah.
    No words for slimey Gove and Johnson.
    I read recently an aide to President Biden descibed Boris Johnson as a “Shape shifting creep”
    That will do.

  12. Oh that final piece of….. 4th rate thinking and 1st rate bollox, with Slithery Slimey Gove et al did make me laugh out loud…..just love your blogs……Thank you. Keep safe x

  13. Dear Sarah,

    Lovely to have your new post ! I just sent an email where you tap in emails at the end but I’m having problems – my password denied, an old one ditto and now I can’t seem to be allowed to create a new one. Sorry to be a nuisance but perhaps someone other than yourself could help me. I’d be sorry if my email has been lost. It all seems so unnecessary to make these blocks when your post was sent to me at the email address I always use.

    Warmest good wishes, as always,


    Penny Wesson
    26 King Henry’s Road
    London NW3 3RP
    T +44 (0)20 7722 6607
    M +44 (0)7968 325054

  14. Sarah
    What thoughtful and heartfelt words about life in the midst of a pandemic! Your work ethic and trying to maintain a tidy but almost Library-like workroom … to thinking about colour and design choices! Well done you!

    Love your words and the stories within your message …. ! Keep strong and healthy.

    Well done.

    Annabel (in Tasmania – a little pretty much pristine virus free (almost) island down towards the south pole! Very hot days at present and on the watch for bushfires … and snakes at present).

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