Contemporary Decorations

TurquoiseTomorrow is the last day of Christmas and traditionally all the festive decorations will be taken down.

Going-blueSince early December there has been a contemporary Christmas Tree erected outside the University of Suffolk on the Ipswich Waterfront.

Blue-green-tree-IpswichFeaturing a gradually changing lighting scheme it has attracted plenty of attention and quite a few people have been taking photographs.

green-goldIt is interesting to see non-traditional displays. This one is all about lighting up the winter evenings as it references a traditional tree without being a chopped down fir.

Going-greenI saw it being erected and was unsure about its appearance, but once night fell and the lights were switched on I thought the subtly changing colours were rather beautiful.


Hard to grasp the scale, but easier with a human in shot!

Christmas is about traditions, but it is pleasing to see new contemporary, festive interpretations too.


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Claire – Outrageously flamboyant

Claire-GraysonFrom 4 November 2017 – 4 February 2018 the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool is hosting the exhibition ‘Making Himself Claire: Grayson Perry’s Dresses’. Regular readers of this Blog will know I am a big fan of Grayson Perry and his work. And, Claire is a force of nature.

Claire Turner Prize dress

Turner Prize dress, silk satin, polyester and computer controlled embroidery, designed by Grayson Perry, 2003.  Worn by Perry as his alter ego Claire when he collected the Turner Prize for Art in 2003.

The Exhibition is displaying ensembles designed by students of Central St Martins for this world-famous,  cross-dressing artist as well as outfits designed by Grayson Perry himself.

Sarah Hall Central St Martins

Dress, printed polyester and wool, designed by Sarah Hall, Central St Martins, London, 2009. Deliberately unsettling imagery reflecting the designs of Perry’s ceramics which often have darker meanings upon closer examination.

Angus Lai and Grayson Perry

Dress, printed polyester satin, designed by Angus Lai, Central St Martins, London 2014. And Angus with Grayson Perry in a similar dress in a shorter length. Photo David Levene for The Guardian

A friend of mine recently went along and took some photos to share with me as I can’t get to Liverpool to see these fabulous, outrageous creations.

dress and matching bonnet

Dress and matching bonnet, printed and appliquéd cotton, mixed fabrics and ceramic buttons, designed by Grayson Perry, 2008.

The Exhibition is taking place in the Craft and Design Gallery of the Walker Art Gallery.

high priestess cape grayson perry 2007

High Priestess Cape, silk satin, rayon and computer controlled embroidery, designed by Grayson Perry, 2007.

There is a perennial question ‘Is it art or is it craft?’ that bothers some folk, but I think we can say that both in his Turner Prize winning work, and, his personal expression as Claire, it is all first rate visual culture with no need for post-medieval boundaries.

Here’s a short video from the Walker Gallery of Grayson discussing the Exhibition.


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New Gift Boxes

Christmas-displayMost of the scarves I sell are bought as gifts. And, whether my customer is buying from me in real life, or online, I carefully fold each scarf within acid free tissue paper and place it in a box. Now there is more to boxes than just simply being a cardboard container.

Originally I chose a pale blue and black box design with a blue and black image on the lid. It was okay, but I always felt the boxes were too deep for a silk scarf.

Agnes-Ashe-signature-boxesLast year I changed my supplier and now have plain matt black boxes the appropriate depth.

Initially, I added my pink and black colourful logo to the lid. However, I didn’t think it really worked, so .  .  .

Box-old-logo-label.  .  .   for my recent outing selling my work at ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’ I decided to change the design for the lid to give a more muted appearance.


Mind you, the rest of my display was so full of colour, pattern and ornate props, I doubt anybody noticed the appearance of the boxes!Display-props

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Golden Hour in a Fine Urban Park

Golden-hour-leavesAlthough Ipswich, a town of about 134,000 people, is not a large place it has some beautiful parks. Recently I went along to Christchurch Park for the first time. The so-called golden hour for taking photographs may be a great time for capturing a weak wintery sunset and the fabulous rich colours of the last leaves, but it was a bitingly cold afternoon.

Christchurch-Pond-at-sundownNevertheless, despite my fingers becoming stiff with cold, I managed to take a few interesting photos. As I have already mentioned previously my favourite park in Ipswich is Holywells Park, however probably the most well-known park is Christchurch Park.

Originally, this parkland was the grounds of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity founded around 1177.

View-back-to-townHowever, the land has changed ownership several times since it was seized by the Crown as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The park is also the site of the beautiful, late-Tudor mansion, Christchurch Mansion.

Christchurch Mansion winter golden hour

Christchurch Mansion. Red Tudor brick built between 1548 and 1550. The mansion’s upper storey was rebuilt after a fire in 1674 and some remodelling was carried out in the 18th century by the Fonnereau family.

The Mansion’s last private owner, Felix Cobbold, gave it to the community in 1895 on the condition that the Ipswich Corporation purchased the rest of the associated property within which the mansion was set. And, as an urban space open to the public, it has belonged to the people of Ipswich since 1895.

The park is slightly bigger than Holywells Park with more open spaces and vistas, and consequently feels less intimate and domestic than Holywells. It is more like a traditional urban park, but still offers a restorative green space within a five minute walk of the town centre.


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Old hands and newbies

BB-OneLast weekend and again this coming weekend I will be selling my work at ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’. The venue is a fantastic, timber-framed Suffolk barn dating from about 1550. Over its long history the Barn was used for threshing and storing grain. Indeed, the Barn was still used as a grain store up until 1985. It is a beautiful airy space with the massive timbers supporting a 30 metre long, thatched the course of the weekend it was a pleasure to meet so many people, especially some very talented crafting folk not least my neighbours, Karen, of Karen Risby Ceramics, and, Kerry, Kerry Richardson Designer Jeweller.Karen-and-KerryA big thank you to these experienced and accomplished designer makers for their warm welcome to this newbie to ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’.


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British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn, Suffolk

Blackthorpe-Barn-bannerIt is now the season of Christmas Fairs and the ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’ weekends are already in full swing.


I shall be joining a host of other crafters selling their work at Blackthorpe Barn on the weekend of the 25th & 26th November and the following weekend of the 2nd & 3rd December. If you are within striking distance of Bury St Edmunds turn of the A14 and come and see all the great work on display .  .  .  . And, say hello!


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Update on upcycled silk scraps – Part II

Norwich-shawls-headerIn Part I of ‘Update on upcycled silk scraps’ I wrote about my research in preparation for making a wall hanging to be considered for the exhibition ‘Norwich Shawls: Past Glory, Present Inspiration’.

Ruminating on the harsh and often poorly paid lot of the Norwich weavers, I didn’t want my work to focus purely on the beauty of the Norwich shawls nor particularly draw attention to their privileged owners.

With this in mind, I decided to work in the ‘folk’ medium of rag rug, hooked textiles. Rag rug making was a domestic craft, a necessity practiced in Victorian Britain by the poor, working class. Cloth was never wasted. Clothing was restyled, mended, patched, let down and taken up, and cloth was reused and recycled until unwearable when the ‘rag’ was prodded or hooked into rugs.

Having chosen the medium I had to decide on the design. I could have simply worked up a design based around the famous boteh – tear drop or Paisley shape (known in Norwich as pines) or used the traditional shawl colours, particularly the rich madder red, in an abstract piece. However, this felt like a more remote and detached response to the weavers’ and dyers’ skills, and offered no hint as to the conditions of theirs and others’ lives associated with the making of the shawls.

After much thought I chose to illustrate an almost faceless, maid servant holding out a shawl for her mistress. I hoped that by choosing to depict a lady’s maid, emerging ghost-like from the background, the viewer would feel the contrast between the luxury shawl and the grey life of Victorian working folk and be less interested in the wearer of the shawl. After all, it would have been one of a lady’s maid’s duties to care for the shawl.



I think it is difficult to be inspired by beautifully crafted work and not think about the people who made it. In the 21st century it is natural to consider the makers as well as the patrons. Here is my finished work.


I am guessing that most of the lucky Victorian owners of these shawls never gave a second thought to the people that wove them, but hopefully they were at least kind to their own maids.

As I mentioned in Part I, photographs were not permitted at the exhibition, but I did manage to sneak a few shots, apologies, not all in focus.


Postscript – I recently found this Review by Nicky Eastaugh of the 2016 exhibition.



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Golden times – inspirational plants

RudbeckiaRecently, just before the first full, proper frost I took some photos in the local park of the classic warm golds of autumn. Drifts of rudbeckia capped with their rich, dark brown top-knots looked fabulous in Holywells Park and they’re also very useful in a domestic garden.

Personally, I am not a fan of grasses in my own garden spaces but, I think that in larger grounds, when they are planted in graceful drifts, they work very well. And,

then there are the autumn berries. Another plant that I don’t have in my garden due to its inch long spines is pyracantha. I can understand its value in some situations as a ‘deterrent’ plant whether that is to deter persistent, destructive wildlife or feared burglars. If you need the long spines you also get the bonus of clusters of vibrant, orange or red berries. These berries of pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ fairly zing. Quite inspirational.



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UK Handmade Winter Showcase

UK-Handmade-Winter-2017It is now November and I think we can safely mention ‘Christmas’ and yesterday the Winter/Christmas UK Handmade Showcase went live. One of my silk scarves has been featured, and, I love the way the UK Handmade folk have chosen a scarf that complements the beautiful flowers by Larkspur Floral Designs.

I didn’t submit any pictures of chiffon scarves this autumn, but seeing recent photographs from Vogue reporting on the forthcoming fashion trends for next spring, it appears that chiffon is going to be popular again.

It is odd looking forward to spring when we’ve only just had the first full frost of autumn, but that’s the fashion business.


Valeria Lilac long chiffon scarf

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Update on upcycled silk scraps – Part I

Norwich-Shawl-Last year I entered a competition ‘Norwich Shawls: Past Glory, Present Inspiration’. It was to feature both exhibits of original shawls and new textile work inspired by the shawls. At the time I blogged about the initial re-dyeing and reusing of my silk scraps in preparation for working into a hooked textile wall hanging. My work wasn’t accepted, but it was an interesting experience and gave me the opportunity to find out about the weavers and wearers of Norwich Shawls and consider how to interpret their legacy.

Now as I write, with my Art Historian’s hat on, I know that the production of a creative work and the audiences’ reception of a creative piece, is not without context. As far as the original, very expensive (then and now) Norwich Shawls are concerned, there is plenty of context. The Norwich Shawl was popular in one form or another across the nineteenth century with at it’s height, a royal wearer. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had provided the weavers of Norwich the chance to exhibit their shawls. When Queen Victoria visited the exhibition she saw some of their work and was duly impressed with the beautiful shawls and later ordered two.

Originally Norwich Shawls were produced by weavers working from home and many of the weavers and their families had a hard and precarious existence as recounted in the following extract.

REPORT OF VISITS TO HANDLOOM WEAVERS, 1850 (Extracts from the Morning Chronicle, 29 Jan 1850, Letter XVII)

As usual the loom was in the upper room, which was used as a workroom, bedroom, and in winter, to save a second fire, as a sitting-room. A diminutive little woman – all Norwich weavers are so – was busily engaged at the loom, and during the intervals of putting the fresh bobbins on the shuttle, I obtained the following information from her:- ‘I do the best kind of barege work. If I commence work at light, and keep on till eleven at night, without being called off to do anything else, I can weave eleven dozen in a week, and I should get 11s. 11d. for that – that is, 13d. a dozen. I pay a girl, who does the winding, 2s a week and her dinner; then ‘beaming on,’ candles, and other expenses would be about 10d.- so that would leave me 9s. 1d. for my week’s work. I am rather a privileged person, and if there is any work to be got, I usually have the preference, but I am often obliged to ‘play’… I suppose for the last twelve months I have played four at least. I am married and have four children; they are all at school. My husband sometimes works the other loom. When I do not have this girl to wind for me I can get it done for a penny a dozen.’ A person unacquainted with the process of winding could scarcely form an idea of the quantity of manual labour thus performed for a penny. The ‘dozen’ referred to is a dozen skeins, each containing 560 yards, or 6,720 in the dozen; and this quantity has to be transferred from the hank or skeins to small bobbins for the shuttle, by means of a small wheel, turned by the hand of the winder. A great loss of time constantly takes place in consequence of the threads of silk breaking, and of the constant change of bobbins required when full. At the winding it is physically impossible to earn more than from 2s. to 3s. per week. Of course, the great proportion of this kind of work is done by young 8 children or old persons; but that is not always the case. The person employed as winder in the above instance was a young woman of eighteen years of age, and she received 2s. a week and her dinner; but in addition to winding she was expected to assist in the household duties, in taking care of the children, and other matters, while the woman was at work.”


The Jacquard loom at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, Norwich, Norfolk.

During my research I read about the advancements in weaving technology through the nineteenth century and, in particular, the ability to weave complex patterns with the invention of the Jacquard loom. Specifically in Norwich the industrialisation of weaving was a slow process. The first power-looms introduced by Henry Willett in 1828 were met with a negative response from the city’s hand-loom weavers who smashed the windows of the Willett & Nephew factory premises viewing the new technology as a threat to their livelihoods. Nevertheless, modernity advanced, albeit slowly, and towards the later half of the nineteenth century the larger, more complicated, all-silk Norwich shawls were mostly made on Jacquard looms either in large workrooms or factories.  The Jacquard looms were usually too big for domestic houses and so factory life became the norm for most Norwich shawl weavers.

This is a short video showing the Jacquard loom (pictured above right) in action.

Despite, the industrialisation of the weaving process throughout the 19th century the employment of children in the weaving business was routine both in a domestic and industrial setting. The more I read and learned, the less I felt like ‘celebrating’ the ‘Norwich Shawl’ as simply beautifully woven pieces. The context of their production was as significant as their history of being exemplary textiles prized and owned by a few lucky ladies.

In Part II, I will discuss my creative response to these contexts and the final work I submitted to ‘Norwich Shawls: Past Glory, Present Inspiration’ as well as photographs of other textile artists’ contributions that were exhibited. (Sadly, for some reason which couldn’t be explained, photos weren’t allowed at the Exhibition and it was firmly policed by the volunteers, but I did capture a few snaps on my phone. I would just comment that some of the contemporary artists’ work featured in the Exhibition was/is displayed on the artists’ own websites.)


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Oxymoron or not?

Here’s a little question. Can a High Street retailer such as John Lewis, in all seriousness, offer ‘Modern Rarity’ through it’s 34 department stores across the UK? Maybe I am a bit too old-fashioned, but to me rarity means uniqueness, scarcity perhaps one of a kind.

JL-rarity1Something may always have been rare


One of a kind – ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ – Frans Hals. 1624 Oil on canvas. Painting size: 83 x 67.3 cm Wallace Collection

or simply a lone survivor of a once common everyday item.


Now scarce – 1960s Christmas bauble originally mass-produced in their hundreds of thousands.

Perhaps it was a Friday afternoon at the branding/advertising agency when someone suggested ‘modern rarity’ and they all thought ‘Mmm, sounds intriguing, not too edgy, but maybe just unsettling enough’ – for a clothing collection. You might have guessed that I am rolling my eyes!

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