Spring sunlight, apple blossom and photographing my work

Hetty-Blue-Apr-ModelFresh spring weather and I have been making the most of the late afternoon sunlight.

Valeria-viva-model-twoRe-photographing a few scarves with different styling.Hilda-jade-model-twoAnd, almost capturing a smile!Mayme-model-two-square

 

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It’s Real Bread Week

Bread-rolls-ovenThere is a movement to celebrate ‘Real Bread’. It is encouraging people to buy bread from a local, traditional master baker that bakes real bread or even for people to make their own bread. For those interested, you can find out more from the Real Bread Campaign.

Cinnamon-loaf

Cinnamon brioche loaf

Making your own bread is easy. People often think it’s very time consuming, but that’s mostly the time needed for proving the dough. Basically that’s when you leave the dough to do its own thing, rising in a warm, humid place.

Currant-buns

Currants buns

I’ve been making bread since I was 19 years old. I spent the year before I went to university employed in the labs attached to a flour mill and part of my work schedule was to bake bread three times a week.

Walnut-loaf

Walnut loaf

Over the years I have experimented more and more, and, I as I like nuts there have been more and more nutty loaves of various shapes and flavours.

Nut-loaf

Almond loaf

And, of course, I can’t finish without mentioning the influence of the Great British Bake Off, along with judge Paul Hollywood, which has done so much to promote yeast cookery for the home baker. I would never have ventured into Italian breads without seeing it on the GBBO and it has been well worth it. Olive breadsticks are a bit tricky (and sticky) but absolutely delicious and well worth the effort every time.

Olive-Bread-sticks

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Ah Etsy – that perennial conundrum: How to appear personal and local when you’ve become global and indifferent.

Brahms-quoteEarlier this week on Tuesday, 2 May 2017, Chad Dickerson, the Chief Executive of Etsy, quit his job following unexpectedly poor results for the first quarter of 2017. Etsy made an unpredicted loss of $421,000 (£325,000) during the period. The business is now under investor pressure to restructure – mmm, I wonder how many of those investors are crafters too?

Etsy-Nasdaq-listing-2015

Chad Dickerson applauds as Etsy listed on the Nasdaq in 2015.

I admired the original premise of the Etsy founders and the platform has certainly been extremely successful for over a decade. Dickerson once commented “Etsy is very much a community-based business. What we’re really trying to do is build an ‘Etsy economy’ that’s about connecting people.”

And from .  .  .

A handcrafted beginning (from the Etsy homepage)

Etsy was founded in June 2005 in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York to fill a need for an online community where crafters, artists and makers could sell their handmade and vintage goods and craft supplies. In the spirit of handmade, founder Rob Kalin and two friends designed the first site, wrote the code, assembled the servers and spliced the cables to get Etsy up and running. In 2008, Chad Dickerson joined Etsy as its first CTO, and created the company’s foundational engineering culture, treating “Code as Craft”. Chad became CEO in 2011 and began championing the “reimagination of commerce,” a transformation of every aspect of how goods are made, bought and sold. Under Chad’s leadership, the website that began in an apartment in Brooklyn has evolved into a sophisticated technology platform that connects Etsy sellers and buyers across borders, languages and devices, a company that spans the globe and a business that is committed to creating lasting change in the world.

Etsy has burgeoned into an enormous global ‘marketplace’. The successful original idea has grown and grown.

However, back in 2013 significant changes that broadened what was accepted as handmade work were introduced much to the concern of many Etsy crafters. These changes permitted the hiring of help to make your work and the opportunity for wholesaling your work.

thelma-progress-wordsI must admit at that time I was a newbie to Etsy and was more perplexed about ‘wholesaling my work’ than annoyed about it. I simply couldn’t imagine how I could create and physically paint enough silk myself and then offer it wholesale to be resold (mark up of at least 100%) at a price to even cover my costs let alone make a small profit. For me the wholesale idea didn’t fit with my craft. And, this is the rub – truly handmade, craftwork is neither cheap nor high volume. As you may remember just about a year ago I decided to close my Etsy shop as my one-off, handmade work was difficult to find, swamped amongst the thousands of laser printed or amateur silk pieces offered for sale.

The Etsy craft platform business model appears to have a hit a bump in the road as those 2013 policy changes have eventually resulted in less one-off original pieces and many more ‘me too’ products.  And, if you are fine with the ‘me too’ world why not simply go elsewhere to buy/sell on Amazon Handmade or eBay. Etsy has ridden the crafting wave successfully, but nothing grows for ever and if, in the world of handmade, you water down your standards to achieve volume, quality will inevitably suffer.

Slow-craft-hooking

Handmade – work in progress hooking a textile wall hanging. There’s nothing immediate and speedy about making this type of artisan piece.

I used to think that Etsy helped promote craft, but now I’ve realised that the resurgence of interest in craft and the ‘so-called’ boom was well underway at the grass roots before Etsy came into being. (If you are interested fellow crafter and early member of the Etsy craft community, Grace Dobush, has written a superb article about craft and the Internet.)

And, finally back to Chad Dickerson. During the 947 days that I had my Etsy shop, I watched several Etsy ‘live chats’ with Chad Dickerson and his Etsy staff. He came over as an interesting, thoughtful guy.  He certainly appeared to believe in his quoted wish to champion ‘the re-imagination of commerce”. However, perhaps, at this point in time, we’re re-discovering that authentic craft has more local than global appeal.

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Outside it’s grey skies, but inside it’s . . . . . . more grey?

Grey-bathroom-antique-styleFashions and trends, and, what’s in and what’s not, isn’t just for clothing, but also interiors. Now I suppose I am a little old fashioned as I have never invested either time or money in the idea that your home needs refreshing every five years or so. That’s my excuse for not noticing that along with the recent weather, it’s all gone grey inside too.

contemporary-grey-bathroom

A contemporary bathroom white with grey.

Curiously, the marketing algorithms have gleaned that I am in the process of moving and I have received a slew of emails showing the latest paint colours, wallpapers and soft furnishing fabrics available. Does anybody actually take notice of this type of approach? Personally, I think there’s a whole lot more to rooms than mere products.

Grey-reception-raspberry-sofa

A grey reception room with a raspberry sofa as the accent colour.

Designing and decorating any room, for me, isn’t simply carried out over a weekend on a whim following a perusal of the homes column in the Sunday newspaper and a quick flick through a couple of interior design magazines. It takes time. I don’t know what type of rooms my next home will have, but I know I will be months living in them before I figure out how to use the space efficiently.

Grey-kitchen-units

Painted grey kitchen units in a country style kitchen.

During this time the gradual process of generating solutions of how to incorporate most of my old furniture into some kind of coherent whole will proceed one room at a time.

Grey-Inspiration-from-John-Lewis

Grey inspiration.

I like most of my old stuff and have no intention of buying anything new unless replacing items that no longer work (sometimes washing machines seize when in storage for too long).

grey-bedroom

A contemporary bedroom white with grey.

From a bedsit, whilst at university, through to my last home invariably there have been space and light issues. But colour has always been important for me and I use it to set the general tone of any room. However, at the moment I appear to be very out of step as the most fashionable look is all about grey.

Blue-wall-bedroom

My old bedroom with a very, very blue wall and my old furniture.

Yes, I know grey is a colour, but it doesn’t spring to mind when somebody says colourful, does it? Looking at the above ‘grey’ adverts I can’t image I will be decorating using contemporary greys with my old furniture and handmade rag rugs.

Kitchen-green-walls

My old kitchen with green walls, old china and a rag rug.

 

 

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I may be temporarily gardenless but . . .

Bouquet-kitchenFor the first time in 22 years I am not spending spring weekends both coaxing and at the same time taming a garden from its winter state. It is a strange sensation to be without even a windowsill of outdoor plant space. Dare I say it, for the moment it makes me feel rootless!

Here is my old garden last year on the 26th April 2016 . . .

26-April-2016And, here is my last photo of the garden taken on 27 February 2017 before the pots were loaded onto the lorry.

Back-garden-27-Feb-2017B&W

So it is thank goodness for the odd bunch of seasonal flowers.

seasonal-flowersFor me certain colour combinations are simply crying out to be tweaked and developed into some form of textile work .  .  .

sp2watercoourHere, above and below, are a couple of ways I have manipulated the images to emphasise the colours and the shapes in preparation for possibly a silk scarf or a hand hooked cushion cover.

sp2-sketchAfter working on these photos saving some and deleting others, I pondered my gardenless state. Reminiscing I scrolled back through hundreds of old photos featuring the gone garden when I came upon this strange picture. If you were wondering just how odd some people can get here’s proof. No, it wasn’t April Fool’s Day either when I concocted this visual yarn!

A-moment-of-whimsey

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Inspirational medieval stained glass

medieval-painted-glass-Long-MelfordLast year when I visited the Great Church of the Holy Trinity, Long Melford, I knew it had some of the finest surviving fifteenth-century stained glass in England. Naturally, I made sure I had plenty of time to photograph the beautiful windows.

I’ve previously blogged about the outstanding glass filling the north aisle windows of this Suffolk ‘wool’ church. I’ve also examined the single donor portrait of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and the possible link to the John Tenniel illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.

donor-portrait-windows-long-melfordHowever, there are many more medieval folk represented in this collection of stained glass. Today, almost all of the surviving portraits of the original donors can be identified by visitors as, when the portraits were re-glazed to their present locations a small lite bearing each name was inserted beneath. These labels are a modern addition.

Modern-name-litesExamination of original fragments of medieval gothic script legends, together with any related heraldry and further evidence from the historical record, has enabled accurate contemporary identification, hence the useful labels.

frays-windowThe use of heraldry not only aids modern identification, but in medieval times confirmed the various family connections and associations, and, would have maintained the significance of these people in the eyes of their contemporary congregations. However, the principle reason the wealthy aristocracy commissioned these glass portraits was piety. They wished to be remembered in the prayers of the clergy and congregations for a long while after their deaths in the hope of shortening their time in purgatory. Heraldry-for-Elizabeth-Annes-Margaret

fraysLittle were they aware that the very notion of purgatory would be rejected within the next 100 years following the Reformation and the establishment of English Protestantism. And, never would they have dreamt that 500 years later visitors to their church would be just as interested, if not more interested, in the skills of the talented yet nameless artisans who created this costly and elegant glass.

I have found the windows a great inspiration and have used the colours and some of the motifs to develop a silk scarf design.InspirationBut somehow I still can’t quite capture the tone of the original creations!

stained glass medieval portrait

Anne Darcy sister-in-law of John Clopton and wife of John Montgomery. Late fifteenth-century stained glass, Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk.

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Have you noticed . . . ?

Chloé-advertLast month I was flicking my way through a bumper fashion edition of The Sunday Times Style magazine when I was struck by how many adverts looked warm and cosy.

Kenzo-advert

That is they have either been shot outside during the natural ‘golden hour’ or the photographer has covered the lens with a warm/orange filter or added a warm filter adjustment layer in post-production.

Coach-advert

It occurred to me that maybe in times of heightened uncertainty and fearfulness people appreciate comforting pictures. Images drenched in soft, golden sunlight suggest intimate, homely times and offer a whisper of reassurance. Interestingly, interior shots contrived with a distinctly retro feel have also made a return.

Bottega-Veneta-advert

Indeed, the Gucci perfume advert has a distinctly late-sixties hippie feel with the vintage rattan chair and birdcage. Perhaps the freed birds within this setting is a discrete celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the ‘summer of love’, an outward-looking, hopeful moment that was drenched in optimism.

Gucci-warm

It can’t simply be a coincidence that so many luxury brands have chosen this style intimating that expensive luxury products equate with feeling warm, safe and secure. Even the Times Competition at the back of the magazine had the picture of Paris soaked in a golden light!

Times-competition

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A few early spring flowers

Iris-KHMy favourite Iris reticulata cultivar is ‘Katharine Hodgkin’. Strictly speaking I. reticulata are late-winter bloomers brightening up the February gloom, but my bulbs often don’t flower until well into March. This cultivar is a hybrid between I.winogradowii and I.histrioides and, provided with free draining soil and some sunshine, flowers well. The above bulbs are in a pot. They were mistakenly dug up last autumn from beneath a weeping pear. They were then unceremoniously and temporarily shoved into an empty pot and forgotten until I found them blooming earlier this month. It appears benign neglect hasn’t been detrimental.

We’ve had a week of on and off sunshine here in Norfolk and most of the cherry trees are just about coming into bloom. However, even in more sheltered gardens the double blossoms are still only fat, about-to-burst buds. Sadly, the forty-year-old cherry tree in my father’s garden has died after a combination of old age and over vigorous pruning, but the Magnolia soulangeana lives to bloom for another spring.

1

View over the Yare Valley. Who said Norfolk was flat?

Magnolia soulangeana is a flowering tree. It is often planted as a feature tree as I think this one was. It was originally surrounded by lawn, but rebuilding of the house and the introduction of a terrace has resulted in it now growing up against the terrace wall. Its moment of glory is fleeting, but as it’s so early in the horticultural year it is most welcome after the grey, grey winter.

Magnolia

It has plenty of blooms which can now be easily appreciated from standing on the terrace and looking down into the tree – a new and unexpected perspective.

Over several winter weekends I emptied all my pots in preparation for moving house.

Empty-pots

I did take a few photos of the winter garden just before it was partially deconstructed.

Last-garden-photo-21-Feb-2017

It was hard, awkward work emptying the big pots and the biggest two pots with fifteen-year-old clipped yews had to be left.  I couldn’t even budge them and I couldn’t bear to cut the yews to pieces. It all ended up making me feel like  .  .  .  .  .  Sad-figure2

Still, an overflowing tub of grape hyacinths is an uplifting sight,

Pot-grape-hyacinths

as are the magnolia flowers.

Magnolia-flower

 

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A vast interior – Milan Cathedral

Sculptural-friezeThe impressive, ornate Duomo di Milano is unmistakable and familiar to anyone vaguely interested in medieval church buildings, but what about inside . . .  naturally it’s vast. The interior space can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres. It feels magnificent as you enter the immense, shadowy gloom from the bright Milanese daylight.

It is hard to capture the scale of the space which is dominated by the 52 pillars that make up the five aisles of the church, but a few shots down the nave to the altar and beyond . . .

and then standing in the transept to the right of the main alter looking across to the northern apse, encompassing the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree,  . . .

View-across-front-of-main-altar-to-altar-of-the-Madonna-of-the-Tree

Across the transept looking northwards to the Altar of the Madonna and the Tree.

and then turning around to face the altar of Saint John Bono (San Giovanni Bono) on the southern side of the transept, and you begin to get the idea.

Altar-St-John-Good-South-Apse

Altar of San Giovanni Bono filling the southern apse of the transept.

Milan Cathedral has taken over 600 years to complete and during those centuries various architectural and art styles have come and gone. Interestingly, although the Altar of San Giovanni Bono looks at first glance as if it was a whole, complete design created at one time by a single sculptor, it is actually a combination of sculptural pieces. The main figure of San Gionvanni Bono in the centre of this classical style altar, was sculpted by the 18th century sculptor Elia Vincenzo Buzzi around 1763. The statue stands beneath the inscription ‘Ego sun pastor bonus’ (I am the Good Shepherd) and it is flanked to its right by The Guardian Angel and to the left by St Michael. I liked the composition of The Guardian Angel grouping and thought it made an interesting photograph. Our guide simply walked past the whole altar affair, ignoring it and began to relate the details of the more famous Marco d’Agrate statue of St Bartholomew nearby.

Now back home, I have spent some time digging around in the literature and at the same time examining my photographs. I’ve discovered that the two statues flanking the central display were created by a different sculptor and not Buzzi. They are the work of Giovanni Bellandi and were carved 140 years earlier than the Buzzi work. If you look closely the Bellandi work is less stiff and formal than the Buzzi statue. In any case I just liked the idea of such a grand altar being a successful composite of more than one artist’s work carved over a century apart.

Another decorative element of the building that significantly adds to the drama of the experience is the beautiful stained glass.

Soaring 20 metres up towards the ceiling the windows are filled with stained glass some from the 15th and 16th centuries with more additions in the 19th century and some new windows commissioned as recently as 1988. Stained glass is more fragile than stone, and requires regular maintenance. The cleaning and repairing work began in the 17th century and has been carried out ever since.

Of course, over the centuries, many hundreds if not several thousands of people have worked to build and adorn the cathedral and most of them remain unnamed. In our individualistic times celebrating named, famous artists, it is refreshing to think of the extensive collaboration of these unnamed people, working together over hundreds of years, to create such a magnificent building as the Duomo.

 

Magnificent patterned floor

Magnificent patterned floor of Candoglia white, Varenna black and red marble (1584) designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-96) – laid by many hands.

 

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day – 26 March 2017

 

UKHandmade-Showcase-feature

As we approach Mother’s Day (here in the UK) I have been lucky once again to be selected by UK Handmade to have a couple of my scarves featured in their Spring Showcase.

As you may already know I take all my own product and publicity photos. I have been photographing my own work for four years now, but try as I might I still can’t get my head round photographing in advance, in preparation for the next season. I always marvel at the wintery Christmas television adverts that were most likely shot in high summer.

Agnes-Ashe-spring-banner4

The best I can manage is to create the feel of a season. For spring this year I initially had a go at working with yellow, but in the end I have chosen pink for the main colour. I’m going all out with spring pink. In fact I have even rearranged my shop homepage to start with all the pink and mostly pink scarves. Who doesn’t love a little double pink cherry blossom?

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Visual Impressions

craft-platform-imagesScrolling through various Instagram accounts for craft marketplace platforms, I noticed there was almost a ‘house style’ for images. This is despite photographs being selected by different platforms and originally uploaded by many different crafters. Neutral rules the day with plenty of white. Is this style just for the world of handmade, or, are some of the luxury brands presenting themselves in a similar manner?

luxury-brandsNaturally, I looked at the Instagram accounts for Hermès, the world’s most famous brand of scarves, and Liberty, a store famous as purveyors of pattern and colour. And, it is easy to see – hardly any computer white and plenty, plenty of colour.

Now, how about an Instagram account promoting the work of specialist, artisan crafters. Displaying craftwork that is neither particularly homespun nor high-end, big brand luxury – I chose to look at the feed for the Craft Council.

inbetweenImages chosen by the Craft Council do have more white than the luxury brands, but also considerably more colour than Etsy, DaWanda and Folksy pictures. I made a comparison with my own recent postings to Instagram and although I don’t stick rigidly to scarf photographs the overall feel of my account is most like the Craft Council.

Now I have attempted to put this insight to use. I have experimented adding and subtracting colour to one of my scarf photographs aiming to make the image more interesting.

cora-spice-colourful

Firstly, too much colour with no white in sight. Next near enough devoid of colour  altogether. Then finally, a corny compromise – the colour pop!

cora-spice-sq-insta-copy

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