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.

Brighten Up to Lighten Up

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.

A Popular Piece at the Barn

This year at Blackthorpe Barn, as usual, the scarf that caught the attention of the casual passersby was not my favourite. You would think by now I would be used to the well known truth ‘to each their own’ – and so it was on this occasion the blue was popular and yet my favourite, the rich red, was not. I realise that this isn’t quite that simple as within different cultures, particularly where colour is concerned, some colours are more popular than others. For example, red is the most popular colour in China and is traditionally considered to bring good luck and success.

However, despite red being a Christmassy colour here in the UK, and, having several of my red scarves on display, it was this blue neckerchief that received the most appreciative comments, and sold first.

Perhaps it was the way I had displayed it draped across the source photograph of my homegrown flowers, clearing showing from where the colour inspiration had come. Perhaps this little detail intrigued people.

Also, it wasn’t as though it was the biggest one on display which naturally was another one of my favourites. This scarf of soft pastel pinks and lilacs on a parchment background only garnered a couple of appreciative comments and it didn’t sell.

After the weekend’s experience I would like to be able to conclude that I have a clearer idea of what my customers want to buy. However, each year the preferences are different. Fashion trends are ephemeral, and at the same time individuals have their own favourite colours and colours that suit them, and, in the end buying any clothing for oneself or as a gift is a matter of personal taste. And, what’s more no directive from the fashion police or Pantone ‘Colour of the Year’ folk will make somebody choose peach (Living Coral, 2019), or purple (Ultra Violet, 2018), or lime green (Greenery, 2017) if they don’t already like those colours.

An Influential Mention for the Crafters at Blackthorpe Barn

As I wrote last week I will be at Blackthorpe Barn for the British Crafts this weekend. Obviously there has been publicity in the local press and for Suffolk that means a splash in the East Anglian Daily Times.

But the really good news is that the pre-eminent organisation, The Craft Council, has also recommended the British Crafts event in their list of the best eight Christmas Craft events across the UK.

I don’t actually take the Crafts Magazine myself, but I looked at their online listing and found this engaging photograph showing Margaret Gardiner presenting once of her beautiful pieces accompanying the listing for Blackthorpe Barn.

Screenshot from the Crafts Council

I think it is quite a coup for Blackthorpe Barn to be included in this feature and my fingers are crossed that all my fellow crafters will do well especially during these uncertain times.

Revisiting a less than successful design

Every now and then I find an idea I have been keen to develop for a scarf goes awry in the painting. This was the case when four years ago I attempted a ‘bluebells’ scarf.

The finished scarf was a delicate pale pink dotted with stems of bluebells. The pink was subtle in real life. It was a soft, easy colour to wear close to your face especially for those of us over fifty. However, this scarf when photographed, well, it looked totally washed out and almost dreary. And, now when reviewing the design, I see the overall appearance was too messy and busy, and failed to be dynamic. Time for change.

Initially I adjusted my creative process making some large and bold additions to the scarf. I overpainted with broad flowing brush marks of coloured resist in order to balance the small bluebell motifs.

I then added some mid-sized periwinkle like flowers in a bluey green and created depth to the whole piece by painting small areas of the background in black.

The scarf has been steamed again to fix the dyes and the finished, more interesting piece has now been added to my shop – click pic to see.

Mother’s Day and remembering mothers

Agnes-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Ophelia-goldMy mother is no longer with us, but, she still lives on in my memory. Of course, she was not always a mother and she had some fun times despite growing up during the war years. She was an entertaining storyteller and liked to reminisce. I remember her vivid retelling of how when she was a teenager she and a friend secretly went to a call for extras for a film and she was picked. Unfortunately, my grandfather was absolutely furious when he found out and would not allow her to take up the offer. When she was older she enjoyed amateur dramatics and particularly loved dancing. Naturally, as a teenager she liked to dress like the Hollywood stars of the day and people often remarked she reminded them of Rita Hayworth.

MotherThis will be the eighth Mother’s Day when I’ve not been planning a special lunch for her and it only seems like yesterday I was painting a silk scarf for her in her favourite colours. If she was still here today I think she’d like one of these scarves with plenty of old gold, mustard and a hint of chartreuse.

She used to joke she was a blonde in a brunette’s body. She was a spirited, golden girl with amber coloured eyes and one shade or another of blonde hair. Much missed.