Adding a dark background

Along time ago when I was a student my textiles tutor once commented to me that she could always recognise my work by my use of black. At the time she had been looking at drawings for a floral fabric where I had used only the tiniest hint of black behind lime green stems.

Adding a dark mottled red to a red and pink neckerchief.

I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.

Adding purple to a square flat crepe scarf.

Over the years I have begun to include more and more colours in their darker shades instead of the black to add depth to my designs. Every now and then I think I am going to stick with a pastel background, but somehow I find I want the design to be a little more punchy . . .

Adding Prussian blue as the final layer.

And then a pot of a dark Prussian blue or an imperial purple or even a rich brown is unscrewed and the dark dye banishes the pastel.

Adding dark brown and dark grey to a large crepe de chine scarf.

However, as I write this there’s work on the frame where I have designed from the outset to use pure black. I know it might seem strange, but to get the best black it has to be painted onto the natural silk before any other dye has been added. You’d think that black would just cover any previously painted area, but some of the initial coloured dye binds to the silk and even though the black is strong, it never quite looks as sharp.

Currently using black again.

Finding myself working again with black it seems, as with so much in life, even one’s creativity can turn full circle as part of a cycle. Apparently for me it turns out I am on a roughly seven year circuit! Of course, it’s never a true repeat, but a revisiting with the benefit of experience.

An example of a black background from the outset. One of the first five scarves I created when I launched my online shop back in 2013.

Blue – Bright and Cheery

Perhaps because it’s been an unusually cool spring I have found myself painting brightly coloured highlights against very, very blue backgrounds.

Fuchsia pink and burnt orange were the starting combination.
I nearly always sign my work early on as it is awkward to almost impossible to add at the end.
And this is the first of the strong, bright blue being added.

I am not sure whether you would call this blue, cobalt blue, royal blue or ultramarine, but it’s certainly a bright and uplifting colour.

Nearly finished, adding a circle of a dark navy with corners of black.
The painting is finished and this 90 x 90 cm scarf is now ready for two hours in the steamer.
Finished and uploaded to Agnes Ashe online.

Well, whether the blue is royal blue or cobalt blue or even ultramarine, I still think, as usual, Mother Nature does it best.

Brunnera macrophylla aka Siberian Bugloss part of a partial shade, roadside planting in Ipswich’s town centre.

Painting Mask Silk Again

Slowly, but surely we are heading out of the third lockdown. Easter may have come and gone and it may still be chilly, but at least we have spring sunshine to accompany the odd foray into the wider world. And, if you’ve already been out and about and visiting the shops or enjoying a little outdoor hospitality, physical distancing, wearing a mask and gelling those hands still applies.

With this in mind and following a comment from a repeat customer, I’ve painted and made some more masks.

And, unsurprisingly, I have felt like using some bright colours to go with these more optimistic times.

As I think I have mentioned before, I don’t always start with a plan when painting and this selection has most certainly arrived courtesy of the springtime, colour muse.

Painted mask silk: One mostly orange and one mostly green.

Having painted all ten blanks and steamed the lot, it was then time to switch from the frame to the sewing machine, make the masks and then pop them on the shop.

A tricky colour to photograph

Sometimes for some strange reason, and unwittingly, I just make my life that little bit more awkward and this is one such occasion. I absolutely know that the one colour I find virtually impossible to accurately photograph is pale turquoise. Naturally, therefore that is the very shade that has ended up being THE conspicuous colour for my latest 90 x 90 cm silk scarf.

I simply cannot explain how this happened, as you can see below it all began innocently enough with simple, primary highlights of red, green, yellow and blue and then a few dark smudges of deep purple.

However, after painting in the black and grey border I pondered, considered and then decided the small corner details could be in a turquoise/sea green colour and then suddenly I find I am industriously splashing it all over the centre panel.

I expect you have heard authors say that often their characters take on their own life and lead a story off in a completely new and unexpected direction, and I, behind my hand, have thought right, okay, sure. But, after my experience with this scarf, I believe them. I am totally converted to the idea that a creative process can somehow evolve pretty much under its own steam.

So, there you have it a pale turquoise (or is that sea green?) silk scarf with a few highlights of other colours!

Tuesday, 9 March 2021: Made in UK Day

It is the 10 year anniversary for the folk at ‘Make It British’ and as part of their celebrations they are marking the day, Tuesday, 9 March 2021, as #MadeInUKDay.

Since its launch 10 years ago, the Make It British site has been visited by more than 6.5 million people looking to buy UK-made products and search for UK manufacturers. This year alone has seen a 68% increase in enquiries since the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union. UK manufacturing is currently worth £192 billion to the UK economy and employs 2.7 million people.

The campaign, mostly using social media, is to remind everybody of the wider benefits when buying items made in the UK. Below is a series of images and graphics that will be appearing on various social media platforms in the lead up to next Tuesday’s #MadeInUKDay.

There are plenty of well-known manufacturing names listed on the Make It British directory, but let’s not forget all the small businesses and solo enterprises creating a wide range of crafted products too. And, some of these makers have offered products that will feature in a special Made in UK Day competition.

A Romantic Time of Year?

It is hard to believe or maybe not, but it is about a year since all this Covid business began plaguing our lives. I am still amazed that during February last year I visited my daughter in London who had just returned from the French Alps! We travelled around on the buses and Tube, and then spent nearly three hours sat amongst a tightly packed, full-house to see Cyrano de Bergerac in a traditionally ‘cosy’ West End theatre. I am going hot and cold just writing about it.

A year on, another February and another Valentine’s Day, but this time it will be a first. It will be the first Valentine’s Day in the middle of a lockdown. Over 10 million folk in the UK have already been jabbed with one kind of vaccine or another and some lucky people have even had the two required doses. Even so, it won’t be a Valentine’s Day of restaurant visits or theatre treats. And, despite my father being fully vaccinated, there will be no birthday trips (he’s a Valentine’s baby) to the opera or even up the road for a concert at Snape Maltings. All closed.

The marshes and reed beds backing onto Snape Maltings.

As an alternative to those standard treats, I expect some people will turn to the Internet looking for a special gift. I have read in the British press and heard on the radio and television that the pandemic has accelerated the decline of many High Street stores as more and more of us have become familiar and comfortable shopping online. What is bad news for some is inevitable good news for others and I have definitely benefited with more visits and sales from my online business.

In fact this week I have just sent one of my scarves to Canada. I think receiving the gift of a silk scarf is a romantic gesture, but I am not sure how I’d feel about being given a silk face mask for Valentine’s though! Is that a maybe or a definite no? I am not sure.

Stealing from ceramics

Like most people before the pandemic and the restrictions and the lockdowns, I used to go out. I went out locally as well as further afield to visit churches, museums and galleries always looking for inspiration for my work. Medieval sculptural details and the patterns painted on Victorian stained glass, so common in our parish churches, have been a great resource. However, for the time being most churches are locked and entry is not permitted.

Naturally, like many people working from home I have turned to the Internet and have found viewing online Fine and Decorative Art Sale Catalogues very worthwhile. These catalogues often have great photos with good colour showing off the beautiful detail that can be found on unusual antiques such as this Carlton Ware vase by Violet Elmer (1907-1988). (And, to my surprise, Violet had a link to Suffolk as her great-grandparents had lived in Scotland Street, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, in the early 19th century. There is an interesting article in the East Anglian Daily Times about a couple of collectors from just outside Ipswich who have filled their home with Carlton Ware and hunted down some biographical details for Violet. She was born in Oxford in 1907 and moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1928 to work as a designer at the Carlton Works. Sadly, for us, she stopped work in 1938 when she got married.)

Carlton Ware ‘Fantasia’ by Violet Elmer. Lustre and gilt, 18 cm high. circa 1930/31. Sold April 2017 for £439.

This fine example of her work is vase decorated with exotic birds (disappearing round the top righthand edge), flora and foliage on a pale plum ground. I think it is both beautiful and charming and you could imagine that perhaps Violet Elmer had herself been inspired by a Victorian millefiori paperweight. The shape of those little flowers is so typical of millefiori.

Millefiori paperweight. Glass. 1832.

Inspired by or maybe stealing from artists from the past has a long tradition and I am happy to join in and make my own reinterpretation in a different medium.

It is just a pity that the silk I have painted was for those unglamorous, yet currently necessary, face coverings.

Inspired by a ceramic vase design.
And, another version.

PS – I actually painted these silk pieces during the second lockdown and have only just made them up into masks. Lockdowns have seemed to roll one into another. Sigh. And, now I hear they’ve cancelled Glastonbury and UEFA are also proposing this summer’s tournament to only take place in one country (and I have tickets for a game in Glasgow) and, well, Easter? 🤞🏻 Who knows!

Returning to Scarf Painting

After several months of working at a smaller scale painting patterns for silk masks, I have recently returned to painting scarves.

This change in scale is more tricky than it appears. I experienced and learnt that when I first started painting the smaller pieces for masks. With a move back to larger work I didn’t want to misjudge the gear shift whilst painting a full 90 x 90 cm square, so I have returned by first painting neckerchiefs.

Pinning out the 55 x 55 cm squares and loosely laying down the first outlines became a poignant experience as I reflected on the intervening seven months since I last worked on any scarves. I then reached for the darkest, dark blue I have and painted in the background.

2020 really has turned out to be a ghastly, ghastly year.

And, finally now, the 31st December, we can say goodbye and good riddance to it.

Old Dress Inspiration

Spring cleaning is one of those jobs that I never quite manage to begin let alone complete in spring and this year, well, as we all know life took on all kinds of other new directions. Eventually, however when the second lockdown came along, I found myself sorting out my understairs cupboard. This is where I keep all my craft fair paraphernalia and as this November there was no ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’ I thought I’d take the opportunity to reorganise all the gear.

Of course with any sorting, cleaning and clearing-out there comes that moment when you find something tucked away you’d completely forgotten about. As you may have guessed I have a fair amount of fabric stored around my house. Most of it is in boxes and despite my attempts to keep track of what is where, my hastily labelled boxes approach has much to be desired.

My sloppy ‘filing’ system.

I am appalled at the time I waste looking for some offcut I know I have somewhere, opening and digging around in boxes and wishing I had kept the contents list up-to-date, but then comes the moment for a nice surprise.

An old dress also known as a ‘vintage silk shift’!

One of the understairs boxes contained a favourite silk I painted in 1980s. I have long since stopped wearing uber-short, sleeveless shift dresses, but have not been able to part with this one.

Painted mask inspired by my 32 year old silk dress.

When I rediscovered it, screwed up at the bottom of a box, I thought, oh yes I’d like to work with these colours again. However, when I came to use the pattern and colour combination I didn’t think it worked for a large scarf, so I scaled it down and instead painted silk for face masks.

It’s Tiers and more Tiers

Last week with all the recent positive vaccine news there was a sense of relief and from some folk a hint that it’s nearly all over. However, although there is most definitely a strong light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a long way to go dealing with this virus.

Explaining the tightened Tier system . . . Tier 1 . . . Tier 2 . . . Tier 3 . . .

Today, following government presentations and briefings it appears that it’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 for most of England. It is only the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight that will be in Tier 1. There are also, we now know, rules for Christmas and all those that are going to do Christmas this year they can go ahead with preparations for their own ‘Covid safe’ arrangements.

What, sorry, you mean you don’t understand. Well, for example take West Suffolk, it has the lowest case rate for over-60s in the whole country, yet will be in Tier 2 with the rest of Suffolk.

Family and friends that know me well, will know I like to root around behind the managed political announcements and simplistic headlines. I am not sure if any news outlet in the UK has uploaded a similarly helpful sequence, but this ‘Aerosol transmission of Covid’ in English published by El País, is fascinating. This is by no means a peer reviewed science paper, but an enlightening visual representation of how this virus spreads so efficiently inside rooms. I thought it was worth sharing before the Christmas get-togethers.

So when travelling during the festive Covid season it’s wear a mask. And, perhaps with visitors inside it might also be wear a mask. And, it should most definitely be all about ventilation.

Note. I would just like to say thank you to Sophie Mitchell Photography, London, (top three images) taken as part of a commission for UCL.

The Make It British Virtual Pop-Up

It is gloomy weather and gloomy times with the Covid pandemic raging again, and it looks as though Christmas this year is going to be a muted affair. And, along with many other changes, Christmas shopping is going to be a little different too.

One difference for me will be that I won’t be exhibiting at the annual British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn as this year it is not running. This is because despite the barn being a large space it isn’t possible to have the crafters and customers physically distanced enough with the required ventilation. I see also that many indoor craft events across the country have been abandoned and the Christmas Markets in Edinburgh, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and even Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland have already been cancelled. It’s not all negative news though as the folk at ‘Make It British’ have worked hard to offer customers and makers alike a virtual pop-up experience with plenty of Christmas gift ideas.

In these weird and ghastly times it feels strange to me to have temporarily changed from painting silk scarves to painting and making silk face masks. It seems even stranger to me that face masks have become a ‘small gift’ or ‘Christmas stocking’ item, but that is where we are at the moment. In another way I suppose it is about making a bad situation slightly more tolerable.

Anyway, this ‘virtual’ event is on for just three days and many of the participants will be offering special promotions and discounts for all shoppers who register.