It’s March and whatever the weather outside, it’s spring (well meteorological spring at least). There are daffodils and eventually there will be sun. I am wistfully thinking that I do not live in a version of a 1950’s Hollywood musical starring Doris Day, but am definitely in Suffolk . . . in 2023 . . . although I do believe I spy a few green shoots of creativity pushing through the layers of murk accumulated over winter.
For me these lengthening days bring an optimistic outlook and I find myself instinctively reaching for pots of dye containing brighter and stronger shades.
And, fuchsia pink is back in the mix. There’s also orange, splashes of lime green and even highlights of yellow.
Once I’ve selected the hot colours it is a case of working from one end of the scarf to the other transforming a muted background into a scarf with plenty of zing.
The final part of the silk-painting process is steaming and even with bright shades the fixing of the dye intensifies the colour.
This coming weekend, the first weekend in December, the folk at Make It British have organised an online Pop-Up event.
Working with the platform ‘Tresstle’, this event will be similar to a virtual market featuring goods made in the UK with many of those products handmade too.
The Pop-Up opens on Friday, 2nd December and closes on Sunday, 4th December 2022. Some of the business ‘stalls’ will have special offers whilst others are offering free postage or a percentage discount.
To access the virtual market shoppers need to register (simply enter your email via the link below) to receive further information and the event’s Discount Code.
Well, this has been a week I wouldn’t want to repeat.
C O M P U T E R problems.
It’s now Friday and September and I feel I’ve been out of the loop for months not just a week. The problems started with my computer after I did the system ’emergency’ update. You might even have heard about it in the news. Apple issued a warning that required people to update their computers and their phones.
My updates went fine until I switched on the computer the next day and my security software starting informing me my computer was vulnerable and now unprotected. Oh the stress. And, it was particularly irritating as each time I thought I had followed the instructions to solve the problem and it had succeeded, 10-15 minutes later, it all kicked off again. To cut a long saga short, and with fingers crossed, I think it’s finally working properly again.
Now I know you’re all thinking these days we can post to our blogs from our phones and folks like me can also similarly access our online businesses too, BUT last weekend I dropped my phone. Now it isn’t working properly, and that’s an understatement! Along with a damaged screen half the functions have disappeared and you need the patience of a saint coaxing it into life.
Rather annoyingly it is going to mean buying a replacement, but the good news is I’ve written this post on my computer and all is operating normally. I am relieved as I have also been able to check the status of my online shop – looks okay, hooray.
In the end, all I can say is that the current hot orange of my shop’s homepage somewhat reflects how I have felt about modern technology this past week. Of course, I’ve been more hot and bothered than hot and orange although the security warnings did light up my screen with orange text.
What is unusual for me? Answer – hot weather equals working with really hot colours. Yes, but that’s not the entire answer.
How about hot weather means being inspired by the rich colours of the seasonal flowers? Well, yes that’s sort of right again, but not the full answer.
Painting the same scarf design with the same colours twice? Yes, that is the precise answer. And actually, when I think about it is the first time I’ve done just that, although the two scarves have ended up the same(ish), they are different sizes.
In the past I have often painted the same basic design in different colour ways, but repeating the same design and with the same palette is new for me. And, of course, it is now very clear that accurately repeating my work simply isn’t possible.
I guess this unrepeatable quality is why handcrafted work is appreciated more than identical, laser printed copies or even screen-printed pieces.
Back in 2014, one year after I opened my online shop, it became clear that ‘Agnes Ashe’ should be on Instagram. The occasion that prompted my boarding this particular social media train was when the US craft platform, Etsy, decided to make a UK television advert. In order to be included in the selection procedure Etsy wanted to see your work on Instagram.
The above is the first post I made on Instagram back on 8th May 2014 and over the next couple of weeks the pictures uploaded on a daily basis included my painted silk scarves, flowers, my garden and, of course, the ubiquitous coffee shot!
I haven’t posted a coffee photo in years and it is rare that I post any food or cooking pictures these days, but I still post many flowers and, needless to say, my silk painting work. But, in this fast moving world of everything social media, Instagram, is not the same platform it was back in 2014.
Instagram has been around for about 11 years and during the first five years there were no significant algorithm changes, not even when Facebook bought the platform in 2012 as Instagram hit 50 million active users. By the time I joined in 2014, Facebook had already introduced advertising the previous year despite considerable grumbling from their longtime users.
However, 2016 was the watershed year when ‘the Algorithm’ (basically how other people find and see your posts) was totally overhauled. From this time onwards Instagram and visibility have been a moveable feast. I guess for high profile Instagram stars and celebrities it is all part of the social media game, but for regular individuals or small businesses posting on Instagram whether simple posts, stories (recent example below) or reels, it is not quite the useful beast it once was. It has turned into somewhat of a voracious monster for me gobbling up my working time prepping not only photos, but videos and slideshows. I suppose some aspects of social media work are creative, but I would rather be creating and painting scarves.
I paint silk. I have painted silk for over three decades. I have mostly painted silk scarves, but I have also painted silk for dresses, jackets, trousers, skirts, blouses and cushion covers, but this is the first time I have painted silk for face masks. Or, should I properly call them face coverings. This is my response to the so-called ‘new normal’.
Back on December 31st as midnight struck and folk celebrated the arrival of the New Year who knew it would be bringing us Covid 19. A highly contagious, nasty little virus that would suspend global normality as country after country entered lockdown.
After much procrastination and discussion our ‘leaders’ finally decided that perhaps face masks (sorry face coverings) could help reduce the spread of the virus. And, now, here in England, as the restrictions of lockdown are slowly eased, covering your face is to become part of the new normal. If you want to travel on public transport or visit your local hospital you will be required to wear a face covering and we are all encouraged to don them when entering small shops where social distancing is difficult.
I expect like me you have already seen the odd ‘used’ face mask littering the environment. I read that people can buy packs of disposable face masks quite cheaply. The consequence of being cheap and disposable means thousands of non-recyclable masks end up as waste in landfill. Surely, if you don’t need a single-use mask for medical reasons why buy any disposable ones when you can make your own reusable and washable ones. And, if you can’t or don’t want to make your own there are now thousands of cloth versions available online. There are plain, striped, spotted, floral, paisley or even animal versions of face coverings made from cotton, linen, polyester, non-woven fabrics and even silk. Like many people with access to a sewing machine I decided to make my own mask. Then I’ve made some for my family and friends. And now, I have also painted and made some silk face coverings for my shop.
It is most definitely a stranger world when you can only see people’s eyes. Talking and evening breathing with a mask on your face is not a pleasant experience, but we are requested to wear these masks/face coverings to help stop the community spread of Covid 19.
Yes, yes, we have been asked to wear a face covering, but nobody said it has to be dull or dark or serious. Why not take this new normal regimen as an opportunity for a brighter, lighter-hearted or even amusing response to this awful crisis.
Now I’ve always known that my creative work varies noticeably with how I am feeling. Obviously this personal acknowledgment is not from a serious, in-depth, psychological assessment, but just a vague, airy-fairy type of observation.
I expect you’ll find this mini challenge/quiz all too easy. These ‘sequence’ photos are a selection of the scarves I’ve painted so far this year. They are a before lockdown and during lockdown series. As an aside, how good it would have felt to have been able to type a sequence of ‘before, during and AFTER images’. Soon, we hope, soon. So which are the before and which are the during scarves?
I think it’s quite obvious, you’ve probably guessed but here are the answers to confirm your no doubt perceptive choices.
For me it goes thus – chirpy, energetic, outward-looking, and my work is bold, loose and conspicuously colourful. Conversely, hit a pessimistic period and it’s all introspection, lethargy and hints of moroseness, and my work becomes contained, restrained and muted. I have to say it’s never been quite so obvious as this!!!!
My painted scarf, Venus Falls Blue, has undergone the layering treatment. And, again the finished scarf is most definitely an improvement in my opinion.
I have kept and uploaded before and after pictures. These show how adding even pale dyes in large overlapping sections across the whole work can significantly change the look. In this case I used pale pink and pale blue.
Obviously, the second layer has knocked the original yellows back considerably.
Even though it is spring at the moment and there are yellow daffodils, yellow tulips, yellow forsythia, yellow mahonia, yellow primroses and even some yellow dandelions already out, I am not actually feeling it for ‘yellow’.
As you can see below, the yellow is slowly disappearing.
And, finally after steaming again, it’s finished and in the shop.
It’s not really surprising, but it is very annoying and it most certainly isn’t flattering. One of my photographs of my original work has been used by a website promoting mass produced scarves.
Last week I was doing my monthly online research and tidy up, and checking my Google Analytics, when I saw this search results page and noticed one of my scarves. Naturally, I had been expecting to see my work on an image search for ‘hand painted silk scarf’, but not my photograph associated with another website, and, to add insult to injury, wrongly describing the scarf as hand dyed and not hand painted.
Over the years I have been contacted by various people and asked if they could use a photo. I’ve always said that’s fine and mentioned in passing it would be nice if they included a credit for me. However, these people have not only purloined my photo, they are also using my painted scarf to advertise their website, all entirely without my permission and with no acknowledgement or link to my online shop. I did a quick recce of their site and it is a puzzle, oddly changing and without any details of who or where in the world it is based. Something doesn’t feel quite right about it and I won’t be clicking on any of their links again even if they do pinch another photo.
I have worked hard to promote my business. During the past five years, as well as designing and painting the silk, I have spent hours photographing, photoshopping and managing the presentation of my online shop. I have paid for and attended a photography course to improve my product photography and photoshoot skills. I am both angry and disappointed that my work (the silk painting and the photography) has been used in this way and my luxury scarves have been linked to a dubious, mystery website. I suppose this kind of episode is to be expected in the ‘Wild West’ world of the Internet even for a minnow venture like mine and it’s simply a case of shrugging your shoulders, forgetting about it and getting on with business as usual.
I have been having a serious clear out of cloth. I am trying to be disciplined about this. I am attempting to organise all my work materials so there is studio space that is conducive to work and not one that is so chaotic it drains me of all my creativity.
During this protracted endeavour I came across some of my old silk work. In the photo above there is a bird hidden within all the colours. The original idea came from a medieval bas-relief bird I photographed on a visit to a cathedral (possibly in Germany, but it could’ve been in France) a couple of decades ago. In my memory it was always Speyer Cathedral on the Rhine. However, I have just Googled Speyer and though the magnificent 11th century Romanesque church is the building I have in mind’s eye, I can’t imagine where I thought this bird was ‘perched’. Strange how our memory plays tricks with us, isn’t it?
Anyway, I can now see that my ‘stork’ and ‘heron’ phases had a long forgotten forerunner lurking somewhere in Europe.
Of course, a freehand one-off motif once designed doesn’t remain fixed for very long.
Over time my bird motifs have lost most of their definition and morphed into little more than blobs with spikes!
Might be time to track down my old photos and revisit the original ideas and try working up a new motif or two from the primary source material. I haven’t unpacked either box marked ‘photos’ yet, but I am hoping that I didn’t bin them all the last time I had one of my ‘once every 10 years’ clear outs.
Put “reading wr” into Google, and before you’ve completed typing the word “writing”, ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’ appears in the top five most popular searches. Also known as ‘the three Rs’, the expression ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ was a great favourite with the Victorians. Within the English school system it has been shorthand for the basic essentials of education. But all is not quite as it seems, not least as it is obvious to a competent six year old that only one word of the ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ actually begins with the letter ‘R’!
One suggestion for the derivation of this concise gem was put forward by the late Professor Bruce Archer following some research into design practice. He proposed that it evolved from a similar expression commonly used in the eighteenth century. The three Rs then were considered to be ‘reading, reckoning and wroughting’. This was where reckoning was the usual term for mental arithmetic and wroughting was the word used for making.
Portrait of a Boy Artist – Nathaniel Hone (1718-1784)
Portrait of His Son Sketching – Nathaniel Hone C.1769 Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The value of making, physically creating with one’s hands, was considered of more value in the past than it is in our ‘cerebral’ contemporary times. The process of forming and fashioning in a material way was about acquiring skills but also at the same time it was seen as a means to learn about culture. For fortunate folk of the eighteenth century educating their children was not simply an education in how to make a living, but how to live a cultured life.
Then, along came the Victorians with ‘The Factory Act’ of 1833, that imposed a duty on employers to provide half‐time education for employees under 13 and then ‘The Education Act’ of 1870 which aimed to provide education up to the age of ten on a national scale. Here is the opening statement made on 25th July 1870 by Earl de Grey and Ripon when introducing the Elementary Education Bill, second reading.
EARL DE GREY AND RIPON
My Lords, it is a satisfaction to me, and a circumstance which will very much shorten the observations it is my duty to make, that in moving the second reading of a Bill, the object of which is to establish a system of national education throughout England and Wales, I need not, in the present political and social position of the country, detain your Lordships by any arguments as to the importance of the spread of education, or as to the advantage to be derived not merely by those immediately affected, but by every class in the community from the establishment, as speedily as possible, of a system by which the means of elementary education may reach every home, and be brought within the reach of every child in the country.
There is absolutely no doubt that mass education was a positive development, but it was mostly the rote learning of the ‘Gradgrind’ type and the ‘3Rs’ were most definitely reading, writing and arithmetic with wroughting considered manual work eventually confined to the world of the apprentice. A contemporary version of learning through wroughting is this submarine pictured below. It is a replica of the Victorian original built by trainees.
Since the Victorians the value of art and craft and learning through wroughting has gone in and out of fashion with educationalists. The famous Maria Montessori was a great believer in learning through doing and considered that it was essential for nursery aged children to learn through physical activity and hands on pursuits.
Earlier this year, for the Crafts Book Club, the value of including art and crafts and making within an educational system was debated as part of an intriguing discussion on craft. The interview with Sir Christopher Frayling (below) was recorded following the recent launch of a paperback version of his 2011 book ‘On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus’ .
And, if the book and/or the interview are too long here’s a link to a pithy summary article penned by Frayling setting out his eminently valuable views.
As I have been writing this post I have reconsidered the 3Rs in the light of computers and Google, and think that perhaps for the 21st century we should instead have the 3Cs, Comprehending, Coding and Creating!