‘us in the life’

Look what just arrived – newly printed fabrics! In January this year I sent a group of just-painted designs to Free Spirit Fabrics in North Carolina for my collection, ‘Fresh Picked’ – my first for this company.

It’s all in the name! They’ve just been launched to the company’s retail audience and I’ve been expecting to receive the fabric strike-offs for the last few days. I was introduced to the wonderful team at Free Spirit by my good friends in the industry, Kaffe and Brandon; setting out afresh with a new working relationship is exciting, and a little nerve-wracking too – an opportunity to explore, communicate and conjure afresh. These pure cotton fabrics are aimed largely, but not exclusively, at the energetic quilting and home-sewing market in the US and beyond.

Thinking about their end uses and users, and the general wielding of scissors, is of great importance. This group juxtaposes tiny flowery dots with huge blooms, coloured grounds with all-overs, geometrics and stripes with floral fantasies and a chorus of tiny checks that echo across the group dancing alongside as the supporting cast – endless play! You can see the online catalogue here – an actual one has just come through the door; it’s rather a grand 4-fold, luxurious in both size and colour. And there’s also a special extra sheet: along with the quilts and yardage, we’ve made a great new collaboration with my colleagues at The Sewing Workshop – teaming their paper patterns and sewing know-how with my FS fabrics. The idea came to me during the night and here’s one of my first sketches I made on waking – and how it’s turned out with their help. In all there are seven outfits, including an apron and plus a fabric bag.

Collections take time to come together, and a lot of ideas fall by the wayside as the group gels. For me, mixing the new colours is the exciting start of the journey.

If you follow my blog you may recall that I love the physicality of painting and especially using my favourite medium – gouache. I’m always fascinated by how great an influence one colour has upon another, and how the tiniest addition to a mix – a dab of raw umber, a scrinch of vandyke brown – can effect such a huge change. The vibrancy and opacity of the colours, their accommodating nature – dry palettes come to life with a few drops of water – and their willingness to be overpainted with some correction or second thought as the pattern progresses. Apart, that is, from the seductive Opera Pink, which although a fugitive colour, seeps and stains and asserts itself through thick and thin, literally – it will not succumb!

I admit, I talk to my work all the time as I try to get it into shape; the marks, the drawing, the balance, the harmony, the structure, the content – all part of the jabber. I often tell my students to let their work talk back to them – listen to the conversation back and forth between the eye, the paper and the hand.

There’s other newness to be had too – patterned mobile phone cases, and wireless chargers, are now available from Stringberry. With quite a lot of my different designs to choose from here – stripes, flowers, animals, butterflies and birds, scenics and geos – you can always carry a little artwork in your pocket. And on all my products, you can get a special celebratory 20% discount! Enter the code sarah_stringberry at the checkout.

The two A5 journals from my Museums&Galleries collection – Cote d’Azur and Sandpipers – are now available from my online shop: 60 pages with coloured edges, and fancy endpapers – they’re particularly nice to hold and use.

Hot on the heels of Fresh Picked I’ve sent off a baker’s dozen of new paintings for my second collection with Free Spirit. So now all my energy and thoughts are going into completing the book commissioned by Bloomsbury – provisionally titled ‘Painting Textiles: The Art of Pattern Design’, due for publication in autumn ’22. Recently at a short course I was teaching at Morley College about painting on fabric, a student commented – you should write a book about this. I answered, a little nervously smugly: ‘I am’!

The lion’s share of my working life has been spent painting designs in repeat on paper, for commercial reproduction. Painting directly onto fabric is a very different pursuit, full of chance encounters with wayward inks, unintended splodges and unforeseen ‘effects’ along with the tremendous fun and liberation of planning bespoke pattern making. Writing some favourite William Blake words on my sleeve, or painting a vibrant coloured hem to my dress; adding a flowery pocket for a striped smock, making a special cushion for a friend or a party jacket for a customer, pattern placement makes things particular. The form and its function are in my hands – for better or for worse.

Over recent years I’ve learnt, experimented with and invented various different techniques and methods, teaching myself and many others too. The book draws on this story – how I do it, what to expect, how you can do it too.

Teaching in person again has really been a joy. The 2+1day course on making pattern repeats at Minerva Workshop gave us time to think a little about colour balance as well as design structure. Understanding the notion of a repeat – that it continues ad infinitum, with the motifs remaining in the same relation to each other throughout – can be quite a challenge. But all the students were game, and magnificent progress was made. Don’t you love those cows, calmly reappearing in their half-dropped repeating grassy meadow? We plan to run the the course again later in the year – it’ll be posted on my Events page as soon as the date’s decided. More workshops are planned at The Fashion and Textile Museum later in the summer and autumn – again, the dates will be posted on my events page. Due to the wild pinging that’s going on at the moment, many places are running with a tiny fraction of their usual staff, so planning ahead has to take second place to just managing to stay open.

This week saw the opening of ‘Margins’, an exhibition of works by the studio holders at Rye Creative Centre; I’m proud to have my ‘Eulogy’ painted fabric panel chosen to be included. It’s been curated, and designed, by Matthew Burroughs, the inventor of the magnificent Artists Support Pledge scheme, and runs until August 20th.

Along with gathering the last of the red and blackcurrant harvest at the allotment, last weekend’s project has been painting these tiny patterns, some rather reminiscent of the redcurrant dots: more art dolls are needed.

The last group, which were made specifically for my Painted Treasures exhibit at the Anthropologie Gallery in the Kings Road, were a great hit, and all but two have found new homes. I look forward to seeing what modflowers and her magic fingers make of these new fabrics – here’s a tantalising peak … they’ll be making their way to my website soon.

I’ve talked about some of my very latest work. This scrap is the very earliest piece that I have: the oldest thoughts from my youngest days.

‘Us in the life’ – I’ve used this favourite little phrase many times over the 70 years since I coined it. Written on the back of one of my mum’s radio scripts I never quite know what to make of the puzzling cliffhanger on the last line – could it be a direct response to having suddenly, and shockingly, been enlightened at school about poor old Adam and Eve, or a reflection of the adult life I saw around me? But I like the thought of my knowingly being part of the general continuum of humankind, even at that young age. However – as far as my very recent ‘us in the life’ is concerned – I wr good – I picked over and prepared those lovely currants. But then I wrn’t so good: involved in something else, I forgot those same lovely currants were bubbling in a pan. Result: Hammer horror hob scene! They’re still delicious.

I must mention more nourishing family newness made, and now available, by two generations of my nieces – Sophie Herxheimer’s box of poetic and prophetic cards INDEX, published by zimZalla, and Lola Milne’s new recipe book One Dish Fish, published by Kyle Books.

And keep an eye open for the next issue of Selvedge magazine, due to be published on 15th August….

Thanks to James Balston and modflowers for their photographs, and Tristan Summers at www.broadcastgraphics.co.uk for the logo animation.

7 thoughts on “‘us in the life’

  1. Darling Sarah,

    Hello from David in Royal Leamington Spa.

    And am glad to see you are as busy as ever with some amazing designs.

    Will be in touch soon.

    Love David xxxx


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