Christmas 2016 – UK posting dates

christmas-giftIt’s the first day of December and we can now ‘officially’ mention Christmas! Round my way we’ve already had an increase of delivery vans and hardworking folk dropping off parcels well into the evening darkness. Each year the Royal Mail issues its last posting dates. You don’t want a special Christmas gift to turn up in January!


But, of course, things don’t always run as smoothly as hoped for and just to be on the safe side my dates are not quite so last minute.


In the last three years I have found the Special Delivery service very good and only once has a silk scarf, boxed and packaged, temporarily taken a detour to the wrong sorting office. With the full tracking information I saw it arrive in Scotland at a sorting office on the wrong side of the loch. What was probably a 15 minute trip across the water was a 30 mile trek by road and another day added to the delivery time. A worrying time for both me and my customer, but a successful delivery in the end.


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Taking it for granted

flying-out-from-heathrowIt’s a while since I’ve flown out of Heathrow and had such a good view. Not only did I get a window seat just clear of the wing, but it was a bright day and I had my camera to hand. It is surprising to see when you look down over the immediate area south and west of London how many reservoirs store the capital’s water.

I was so busy taking pictures I didn’t look up and check the route we were flying, but the chalky cliffs of the south coast are unmistakable. We passed over Brighton and if you look carefully you can just make out Brighton Pier. As we flew out and on over the Channel the chalk cliffs ran along to the famous Beachy Head. The chalk headland is a distinctive landmark with the town of Eastbourne a blurry mass of buildings a little further up the coast.

over-the-alpsPeople these days take flying for granted, but when you can see and recognise the places below there is still a little thrill. And, who can deny the drama of snowy Alpine peaks as they break through the mountain mists.


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If you can’t wear wool

double-looped-warmth-painted-silk-wpLike many people I can remember being bought a scratchy woollen school scarf as a child. Worn once and never again. No winter scarves for me as I discovered that all wool next to my skin brought me out in a fine rash. Unfortunately the message didn’t reach my grandmother. One Christmas she gave me a beautiful, hand-knitted, wool tam o’ shanter from the Isle of Arran. I dutifully wore it for a photo and then popped it out of sight.


A few years later and another Christmas she bought me an oatmeal, cable knit pullover this time made from synthetic fibres. It was my favourite sweater and I wore it until the cuffs came up to my elbows as I gradually grew out of it.

Another Christmas and another generation and my daughter received a woolly looking top, but by then knitted woollens had been superseded by fleeces.


Silk scarf for winter – warmer than you think! Hand painted silk scarf 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine.  Silvia Clover from Agnes Ashe.

And finally regarding wearing woollen scarves. Sometime in my twenties I acquired my first silk scarf and soon realised looping it a couple of times round my neck and trapping air made a silk scarf as warm as any synthetic winter scarf.


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detail-exptiiiSorting through my collection of fabric I found a piece of silk I painted years ago with a colour combination I no longer like. It was pale enough to be over-dyed so I thought I’d experiment and work boldly with just one colour.

First the whole piece is covered with red and allowed to dry. Then a pattern is painted in a clear resist, allowed to dry and another layer of darker red applied.

It is difficult to see in these photos, but there are hints of the underlying original still present (more visible in real life). I have found it liberating and easy to be bold when working over a design rather than adding colour to a pristine white background. However, I have discovered just how difficult it is to photograph a large area of saturated red. Thankfully the wonderful resource of online photography forums saved me many, many adjustments on my camera by indicating that post-processing after shooting in RAW solves issues of accurately capturing this rich colour.


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Romantic Victorians capturing the hues of autumn

andrew-lloyd-webber-pre-raphaelite-exhibitionThe work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their later followers has become more popular since the 1960s. Brought in from the cold after spending over half a century shunned by the art world. The Pre-Raphaelites had originally challenged the order of their day, then gradually their work was accepted and paintings such as Cherry Ripe by Millais and The Light of the World by Holman Hunt became incredibly popular – until the arrival of Modernism.

Victorian British Art is not for everyone, but I am a fan of some of the works by the Pre-Raphaelites. However, if I see more than a handful of their pictures at one viewing then I find the experience a little too cloying for my taste. The paintings are, after all, very richly coloured and dense with detail.

I vaguely remember going to the 1984 Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the Tate Gallery. I went with my mother and remember standing with her as she gazed at ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Waterhouse. Even then I preferred some of the more stylised works by Rossetti.


Detail of ‘The Lady of Shalott‘ by John William Waterhouse, 1888. Whole painting 1530 x 2000 mm. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.

Let’s now scroll forwards a couple of decades to 2003 and my interest was still keen enough to visit the Royal Academy when they displayed the Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection – ‘Pre-Raphaelite and Other Masters’. However, far too much real life had happened to me and changed my way of seeing the world, and, also by then I had completed my Master’s in Art History. Wandering through room after room (over 250 works were on display) of sentimental, contrived images was all too much and my lasting memory of the exhibition was rushing through the last two galleries trying to get out as fast as possible.

Despite that experience I still admire the work of Rossetti and as the autumn takes full grip and the leaves turn to every shade of orange and brown, images of Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth posing for his paintings softly float into my mind’s eye. And, then, once in a while a contemporary photograph captures the essence of another century.


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Are we in tune?

Sometimes you feel totally out of step and then suddenly with one extra long stride you’re right back in time and notice that you’re also in tune and on trend. That’s how I felt when scanning through lines of photographs from the recent round of fashion shows.

Much to my surprise and pleasure there were pictures of large bows. A bit like . . . . .


Agatha Pink as featured recently in the Autumn 2016 UK Handmade Showcase!

And here are a few shots of the Agatha Pink scarf being painted.

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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.


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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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