a solitarian celebrates

I certainly have some things to be celebrated, but it’s something of a challenge as to know how: I’m not drawn to zoom social gatherings. I had a bit of a birthday a few weeks ago, and I held an impromptu lockdown table-top tea party –

an entertaining way for me to pass an hour or so in play and make-believe madness – “please keep the noise down, stop that squawking, and pass the cake!” Not quite as flamboyant as this rendition of the Strauss Tricsh Tracsh polka that the famous whistling Ronnie Ronalde gave on his 75th! February and early March is a time of many family and friends’ birthdays – remember how frisky things can get in May – and it’s become a tradition for me to paint T-shirts for my grandsons on these occasions. All are avid footballers, and this year that’s been the theme for the two younger ones, now just turned 14 and 12. I also had a request for another painted T for a friend – he specifically wanted those big blue freehand circles. Birthdays have all been about hand-painting and hands this month – including a calico piece for my oldest great-niece who loves yellow, and some dear little finger-puppets sent across the Atlantic for my youngest great-neph. Maybe that’s because I’m missing out on real human touch, or maybe it’s that I’ve just been commissioned to write a book on the subject of…. hand-painting on fabric.Several happy days were spent painting the linen fabric for the re-upholstery of a dear friend’s chair, her grandfather’s in fact. This was a skillswap arrangement, in exchange for her beautiful sewing of last year. The panels for the chair were each drawn out on the fabric, and had been waiting patiently for a few months until their moment and my mood coincided. This is how it started, and here are the finished panels (save for the one, striped, for the very back) pinned up in my studio – I’m so looking forward to seeing the chair upholstered in all its glory.

March 4 not only marked one of the birthdays, and was not only World Book Day, but it was also the publication day of ‘The Performer’s Tale’ by Vanessa Morton, published by Head of Zeus  and elegantly designed by Alastair Campbell. I mentioned it previously, when it was on the way, and now it’s actually here in the world and available to order and buy from your local bookshop. Vanessa Morton has researched and written, absolutely beautifully, about my mother the actress Patience Collier, whose extraordinary life, 1910 – 1987, spanned fascinating and groundbreaking times in British theatre, and great changes and challenges for working women. It’s richly illustrated too, with images from her extensive archive – from her strange and tricky Jewish émigré family beginnings, to her days at RADA, to politics, to theatre programmes and posters, to fellow actors, to her personal diaries loves and lovers – who included, of course, my dad! Though I know her story pretty well, as a daughter one takes things as they are, however rum. So it’s breathtaking to see it all there actually printed and published, and to be able to appreciate the breadth of work and tenacity of purpose she achieved. I love this particular photo of her reading for Woman’s Hour at the BBC in 1950 – mainly because that dress was one of my childhood favourites: an intricate and very decorative design in ochres, ultramarine and venetian reds with dark lines, printed on some sort of soft flowing fabric. Vanessa has vividly brought the drama of Patience’s life as performer into focus for us, at a time when we’ve had no actual live performances for months. Gielgud, Scofield, Ashcroft, Plowright, Peters Brook and Hall, Joanna Lumley, all play their parts along with many many others. No-one pretends she was an easy woman – she famously wasn’t – but she was admired, referenced and loved by many. The foreword is written by her friend Penelope Wilton, and I very much like Michael Billington’s pertinent and generous comment here:There will be an audio version too, read by Julia Franklin.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the 4th also saw the publication of another book concerning a woman’s life in the last century – Marina Warner’s ‘Inventory of a Life Mislaid’. One reason I mention it is that my niece, Sophie Herxheimer, has made all the ninety or so accompanying papercut illustrations – brilliantly!Further celebratory feelings accompanied the first appearance of the new Sarah Campbell Ltd collection of cards and paper goods licensed to the company Museums & Galleries. This is a new collaboration brought to fruition through Sue Bateman of YellowHouse, which we all worked on together last year. M&G manufacture and distribute the goods to retail; we’ve taken a bold, exciting, hopeful step with our new range, which is full of life and colour. It’s a difficult and uncertain time and we impatiently long for shops and museums to open their physical doors again. The fancy paper goods – gift-wraps, gift bags, tissue papers etc – are still wending their way here over the oceans, but all the cards, notebooks and so on are available and will be showing up at a retailer near you in the next few weeks, online or in real life. I’m looking into stocking some products myself too.Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to have real gatherings to launch and celebrate both the book and the stationery?
Being a solitarian in this lockdown does make one sadly out of touch, literally; isolation can lead to insularisation – take care it doesn’t become the desolate daily norm. But last week I received envelopes which reminded me that yes, society’s wheels grind on and I’m still part of the system! Notice of the approaching census, a question about voting methods (by post or in person?), my tax code, the phone bill, and the regular questionnaire asking me whether it’s really true that I still choose not to have a TV licence. All are reminders of the structure to which I belong – society – and which is surprisingly still being maintained out there. There was even an envelope from the US postal service telling me how much they cared about me! The fact that it contained a letter from which an enormous bite appeared to have been taken offered an interesting definition of ‘care’ – if I were younger I guess it’d be the perfect proof for the ‘dog ate my homework, Miss’ scenario – though it looks more like the ravages of a wolf to me!

On the plus side I’ve listened to and joined some interesting, enlightening lectures and talks hosted by, among others, Selvedge magazine, the 20th Century Society, the Collect Talks Programme, and The Fashion and Textile Museum – events I would have quite likely missed in former times. So thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! Independent museums in particular need support now – please give them any help you can.

And it’s testing for us small businesses and designers too. Looking towards Mothers Day I’m currently running an offer of a 20% discount on our long printed scarves, and will extend it to some of the one-of-a-kind hand-made and hand-painted products as well. There are lots of my colourful  greetings cards to choose from too….


Despite the magnificent NHS vaccine programme, we’re still going to need to continue to be covid19 precautious for some time to come; I’ll be offering some new cotton face-masks for a spring perk-up in the next few days, merry and smart.  But come what may, Dame Nature has issued her springtime memos: flowers are to start  flowering, birds must chirp up their birding, leaf-buds – prepare to burst! So we must celebrate that too!

20 thoughts on “a solitarian celebrates

  1. Dear Sarah many thanks for your great workshop yesterday at the Fashion and Textile Museum. It really was a masterclass given with extraordinary modesty and grace. So many years of experience and talent compressed in to a generous teaching day. All your samples and examples
    were stunning, but it is your composition of African animals and nature that I cannot stop thinking about. Should there ever be an opportunity to buy it, please let me! With best wishes and many thanks Fiona

    • Thank you Fiona – yes, there was a lot to take in during a few short hours; I’m glad you enjoyed the day. The length with the animals is a favourite – who knows whether I’d ever offer it for sale… Sarah

  2. Pingback: page turning | Sarah Campbell Designs

  3. Sarah, you’re such an inspiration and i dont know if you’ll remember me, Claire from Crystal Palace who asked you for a coffee (we met at the now sadly closed ‘water cafe’ on the triangle) as i wanted to change my career from surveying to textiles design and i was looking for some guidance….finally, it took a few years as needed to save the pennies but i quit the job and have moved to Glasgow and i’m on the 1st year of an HND in Textiles and LOVING it! Thanks for the guidance which eventually pushed me to where i wanted to be.
    Thank you and all the best
    Claire x

    • Claire – thank you for writing and for telling your story – congratulations on making the change. I’m so glad you’re happy on your new path studying in Glasgow, and of course I’m pleased to have been a little help on the way. It’s always nice to know what happens next… best wishes, Sarah

  4. Well not as flamboyant as your table top party but I have renovated Little Ted who I made many years ago. Has new paw pads, a new eye and a quirky smile. Companion for Big Ted who is somewhat younger and who has a useful wardrobe including dressing gown but only one slipper… must remedy that….

  5. Hello Sarah
    I shall buy the book in memory of our mothers – who were great friends, as were our fathers. I remember Patience very well as she and Harry used to come to our house when I was quite young. She was indeed quite formidable!
    Sadly my mother died a few weeks ago, at the grand age of almost 97. She respected Patience and her work greatly, and was very excited to have met Edward Albee (with Patience) in London many years ago.
    I have also been a solitarian for the past 2 years, it’s so much worse since Covid arrived.
    Warmest wishes

    • Thankyou for your thoughts and memories, Nikki. Yes, Daphne and John were certainly an important part of the family landscape. I’m sorry to hear of her death, though as you say 97’s a pretty good age to reach.
      I too was excited to meet Albee all those years ago.
      Enjoy the book…
      Very best wishes, Sarah

  6. Dear Sarah
    Such a lovely post and so much to celebrate indeed! Hope you are well and looking forward to doing the outdoor everyday things again. I know I am.
    All the best
    Stephanie x

  7. Dear Sarah,

    Your posts always brighten my day and it was great to receive your email just now. It is comforting to hear what you have been doing and your reasons for producing new pieces of work/reviewing past treasures. I enjoy your humour and comments/observations on our day to day lives too.

    Thank you,


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