Survivors – 18th century Worcester teapots

Worcester teapots from 1760-1780

Survivors from the 18th century. Worcester teapots from 1760-1780. Blue teapots painted with blue underglaze and colourful teapots painted with enamels and gilt. Worcester Porcelains (the First or ‘Dr Wall’ Period).             The Twining Teapot Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum.

From the mid-seventeenth century onwards tea-drinking arrived in England and over the next century the English started making teapots and gradually formulated a version of porcelain that could be made into ‘china’ teapots. Originally porcelain production was a Chinese secret, but by the 1740s a form of porcelain was being produced in Britain. Chinese porcelain was very expensive and highly rated as noted by Nicholas Crisp in 1743.

The essential properties of China-ware, besides the Beauty of its Colours, are these: that it is smooth, and as easily cleaned as Glass, and at the same Time bears the hottest Liquors without danger of breaking.

Nicholas Crisp writing in the Public Advertiser in 1743


It was only natural that the innovative potters of England would want to be able to make teapots as good as the much praised China-ware. As a result of fierce, commercial competition to successfully copy these much admired Chinese imports, soft paste porcelain was developed. It was white and glossy and thinly potted to produce teapots similar in appearance to the Chinese imports. However, as soft paste porcelain is fired at relatively low temperatures some of the early teapots shattered when filled with hot water.

Some manufacturers recommended ‘Warming the Pot’. That is slowly warming a teapot to avoid it shattering. It didn’t take many years before soft porcelain was perfected and teapots became reliable receptacles for boiling water, however, ‘Warming the Pot’ persisted. I learnt the ritual from my mother without question, but I have thought, on more than one occasion, why am I doing this as boiling water poured over tea immediately makes the teapot more than warm! Well, now I know – and I won’t be warming the pot in the future! Unless somebody gives me a new plausible reason.


Posted in Cultural Objects, Porcelain and Pottery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Tell them summer is over

october-dahlia-arrangementIt is October, but the dahlias just keep on blooming. Some flowers are a little windblown and tatty, and the big blooms of dahlia ‘Crazy Love’ have been nibbled by earwigs, but they are still worth cutting and bringing indoors to cheer up a gloomy week.arrangementThis is the second week of October and that’s three small fresh flower arrangements with no heated greenhouse or air miles involved. Flowers grown with the addition of homemade garden compost and watered with recycled bath water. I am rather pleased about that although it has been a battle with the slugs this year.

dahlias-it-is-autumn2And, as I cleared away last week’s dying flowers I thought they still had a charm and grace in their faded condition worth photographing and perhaps using as the starting point for a scarf or two.

Finally, even the zingy lemony yellow dahlia (a potluck purchase as an unidentified tuber) has earned its keep as I have realised it’s acceptable in a blue and white vase on the kitchen window sill.


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Autumn UKHandmade Showcase feature

dark-green-leaves-scarf-autumnThe English autumn has yet to turn chilly and most of my garden is still verdant with the heavy, dark green leaves of late summer, but autumn it is and the light is changing. Last week’s photoshoot certainly underscored this change for me. The full sunlight was less harsh than summer sunshine and it cast longer shadows. Happily, I have bagged some interesting modelled product photos for my new Fenella series.

And, additionally, a couple of photographs have been featured in this month’s UKHandmade Autumn Showcase pages 18 and 19 (not the ones shown above).

Now, it’s time to get working on a new design. Lines and shapes first then paint the initial background wash.



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A Wool Church – Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk

raphaelFor anyone seriously interested in exquisite fifteenth-century stained glass then Long Melford in Suffolk is well worth a visit.


Finished in 1484 the Great Church of the Holy Trinity contains a collection of some of the finest medieval glass in the country including a Lily Crucifix image and a rare roundel featuring a three hares motif.

suffolk-wool-church-holy-trinity-long-melfordHoly Trinity is one of Suffolk’s so-called ‘Wool churches’ as the erection of these buildings was funded from the profits of the medieval wool-trade. Advantaged Suffolk landowners prospered from the successful export of high quality wool and wool cloth to continental Europe and invested their profits building fine churches in the hope of facilitating a speedy journey for their soul through purgatory to heaven.

The medieval glass we see today filling the large ground floor windows features portraits of donors. These portraits would originally have glazed the upper, smaller, clerestory windows. For about 100 years during the 19th century some of this glass was used to reglaze the east window (1828) with more being installed in the west windows during 1862/3, however today these windows are clear. The present arrangement of the medieval glass, all along the north aisle, was carried out during the late 1940s.


Across the nave to the north aisle windows now glazed with the medieval glass that was originally in the clerestory windows.

The height of these lofty clerestory windows helped protect the glass from the various destructive onslaughts that occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries. The lost/destroyed stained glass would have consisted of biblical images and religious themes popular in the medieval period and similar to those of the Victorian glass found in the south aisle windows today.

victorian-windows-long-melfordIn the medieval period clerestory windows were filled with a variety of images from Old Testament prophets and local church dignitaries to ethereal representations of angels and archangels. Amongst the many surviving medieval donor portraits (to be explored in a separate post) there are two archangels.

Here, at Holy Trinity it is the archangels St Gabriel and St Raphael that have survived. They are both exquisitely painted displaying subtle and detailed work using silver nitrate stain. They have been painted by a craftsman that understood how to use the translucent quality of his materials to achieve an unearthly quality, literally letting the spirit/light shine through.

There is another little gem hidden away in the Clopton Chantry Chapel. One of only five examples in England, the east window of the chapel bears a ‘Lily Crucifix’ dated from 1350. Christ is not on the Cross, but is instead crucified on white lilies. The blue background and the white lily represent the Virgin Mary and the motif symbolises the joint suffering of Mary and Jesus.

Finally, an unusual and rare three hares roundel has been placed above the north door. This motif is believed to have come to Europe from perhaps as far away as China via the Silk Road. If you look carefully you can see that although there are only three ears each of the three hares has two ears!



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Autumn – endings and beginnings


It’s that time of year again when most of the tribe are back from their holidays and it’s the beginning of a new academic year. It was first starting nursery, then school, then university and now for this year’s graduates, hopefully, it’s starting work. September is also the fashion show season. London’s Fashion Week has just finished on Tuesday, New York was the week before and those interested will continue to watch as Milan and then finally Paris present their style innovations.


London Fashion Week 2016 trends from Google search. Still looks more like Spring Collections than buy now for autumn to me!

It is different this year as instead of showing a spring collection for buyers to order now with stock arriving in their stores next March/April, some brands were showing ‘see now, buy now’ or ‘runway to retail’ collections. Either way, in reality this doesn’t directly affect me as I only paint one-offs, but I do keep an eye on the changing trends. Mostly I’m interested in trends for colours and the feel of the overall palette that is on offer. This September I’ve noticed the odd glimpse of orange amongst all the very patterned designs from brands still showing designs for next spring. However, it appears the ‘see now, buy now’ presentations as shown by Burberry have logically chosen colours that feel more seasonally now, more autumnal, with hints of old gold, muted pink and dark plum amongst the black and grey.


London Fashion Week 2016 – Burberry

As you can see above there’s plenty of black and grey generally popular for northern winters. I’m not holding my breath that there is going to be a sudden shift away to more colourful clothing to brighten our grey winter days. Wearing high fashion can be akin to a high-wire act, and for women over 40 it can be downright treacherous and inevitably blacks and greys remain the tried and tested favourites for mortals. And, you can always add colourful accessories to otherwise understated combinations to refresh and update your look.

Blacks and greys are fine, but, I guess at heart I am traditional as when I think of autumn I think of warm browns, old gold and burnt orange.

Anyway, after all that, here are two little black crows flying off into their futures . . . . .


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100 years ago today



From 2014 to 2018 there have been and will be a number of different moments when people remember and commemorate the tragedy that was the First World War. For military historians the 15th September 1916 saw the first use of tanks on a battlefield. Tanks were deployed and active in the fighting at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. This battle was part of the long and infamous Battle of the Somme that had begun over two months before. It is hard for us to appreciate 100 years later the desperation of those times. Nobody could have imagined in 1914, at the beginning of the war, that two years later 19,240 British soldiers would lose their lives on the fist day of any battle, but that is what happened at the Somme on the 1st July 1916.


Remembering heroes, battles and wars is part of human culture. How we commemorate various aspects of World War One says as much about how we view war, violence and sacrifice today as it does about how we think about the horror and carnage of the past. Perhaps somewhere an artist is marking the arrival of the tank into warfare, but it is a tricky subject. Today we don’t want glorification. National memorials are seldom hard, enduring sculptures instead they are fleeting events or services, or, ephemeral installations attempting to capture the vast, incomprehensible loss of life. Such an art project was the ‘19240 Shrouds of the Somme’ by Rob Heard that was set out in the Northernhay Gardens in Exeter, Devon.

The work showed 19,240 figurines each laid out in its own handmade shroud. The artist obtained the seven volumes of the War Graves Commission’s lists of those who died on the 1st July 1916 and recited each soldier’s name as he wrapped a figurine in its shroud and crossed that name off the list.

The overall work has a desperate, poignant appearance and the scale allows the observer to see each discrete form, each individual death, repeated over and over again. It isn’t remotely pretty – why should it be. It is marking a terrible event. The work looks wretched, pitiful and sorrowful without being sentimental. It works in all the ways that the over-hyped, simplistic and incredibly sentimental ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ did not. That was the poppy installation that filled the Tower of London moat with gaudy, ceramic poppies in a trite representation of the carnage of war.


Sentimental – how to make the blood of war acceptable. Not 21st century art’s finest hour.


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Working up a fennel/morning glory design

Fennel-2Change of season and change of mood and I’m feeling like working stripes into my more floral scarf designs. Looking at Mother Nature’s versions of decorative streaks has given me a good place to start.

Some variations of Morning Glory have been worth stripping back to a slightly less intricate rendering and then worked with different colour combinations.

However, although these ideas would work well if I was screen-printing them onto a scarf, my freehand, painting style needs to have a looser starting point. I thought I’d combine these heavier looking floral shapes with my recent fennel inspired motifs.


Here’s work in progress of a version I’ve created combining the two ideas.


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Romantic reflections -Shakespeare in the window

Romantic-reflections-Yet-We-sleep-we-dreamOxford Street in London this summer has a visual treat. Selfridge’s, well-known for eye-catching and innovative window-dressing, has teamed up with some world-famous fashion designers to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. There are 12 displays – here are five I managed to photograph between the crowds on a very busy Oxford Street.

The Alexander McQueen interpretation is from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ using the quote “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream”

‘Romeo and Juliet’, was chosen by Christopher Kane with the quote “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” providing inspiration.


‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also gives us another romantic, inspirational couplet for Erdem – “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged cupid blind”.


Bucking the trend and displaying an alternative, challenging interpretation J W Anderson uses perhaps one of the most famous Shakespeare quotes “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from ‘Hamlet’.


Although I love the unashamedly romantic frills and ornate prints of the Alexander McQueen window, there is something haunting and long-lasting about the Issey Miyake display. “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better” from ‘Twelfth Night’ is the chosen quotation. The textured, structural coat shaped from cloth adorned/woven with words from the significant text captures our contemporary engagement with Shakespeare in a most memorable fashion. Particularly striking, I thought, emerging from the reflections of a 21st-century cityscape.


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Summer seals


It was very windy last weekend and the sea was rough with plenty of white horses. On the sandy beach granite rocks are strategically strewn across the shoreline in attempt to reduce erosion, but what’s that? – a rock just moved.

grey seals on the beach

A few members of the grey seal colony at Horsey Gap, Norfolk.

Walking down towards the sea we find members of the Horsey Gap grey seal colony flopped out and sunning themselves. Or, playing rough and tumble in the surf.

Or, simply having a little nap.

The seal colony at Horsey Gap on Norfolk’s east coast is popular with visitors in late winter when all the pups have just been born. We were surprised to find so many seals on the beach in August. Of course, there are always one or two of them watching the watchers. . . .

. . .  especially when some of those watchers come a little too close and then the whole colony clumsily, but speedily move a couple of metres towards the water and away from the nosey humans.


You can’t see in these photos just how windy it was, but every now and then a gust whipped up the sand stinging any exposed skin. It reminded my father of the Shamal that blows down from Iraq and across Kuwait almost continuously during June and July each year.



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High summer flowers – lilies, dahlias and hollyhocks


August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.

I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.

I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.


Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.

I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.


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Seen from a train

Summer-baked-FensJust over three weeks ago, when we had our mini heatwave, I was on a train crossing the Fens. It’s an agricultural and market garden region famous for being flat.


Up to the 17th century it was wet, low-lying marshland, until drainage schemes transformed the landscape. The Earl of Bedford brought the Dutch drainage engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to the region and, with royal support from Charles 1, draining began around 1630. The King received 12,000 of the 95,000 acres of the reclaimed Fen land for the Crown .


The process of draining was not entirely supported by the local population but gradually over the course of the 17th century the marshland became arable, workable farmland.  Eventually, over 300 years the marshes evolved into the Fenland landscape we see today.

The sepia picture was taken from the train. The original capture looked less interesting.

I had more luck when the train pulled into Ely and was stopped for a few minutes. One day I’ll get off and go and make a long overdue visit to the magnificent Norman cathedral known as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.



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