Well, well, well – alpha, beta, delta . . .

Omicron. Yes, the latest variant of concern has brought with it the return of compulsory mask wearing in shops and on public transport in England. A point to note here is that the rest of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (devolved for matters of health from the UK’s Westminster government) had not joined England’s laissez faire approach. Since, 19th July 2021, the so-called English freedom day, one has been encouraged to make a personal choice to wear a mask or not based on one’s own assessment of the Covid risk. And, naturally, following the example set by the Prime Minister as well as seeing the government benches stuffed with maskless Tories, many people simply assumed Covid was done and dusted and had stopped wearing face coverings.

Mmmm, I could embark now on an intense rant about the rinse and repeat poor leadership together with the sporadic wishy-washy messaging from our government, but instead it’s time for me to calm down and get out the silk and the dyes . . .

Find the last few rectangles of backing silk

Dig out the black elastic from the bottom of my sewing box

And sew up a few more silk masks.

Maybe or maybe not the last masks to be added to my online shop.

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.

Working up the Saz

Last week I posted about an inspirational visit to my local museum in Ipswich where I discovered the ‘saz’ motif of Persian ceramics.

Ceramic tiles decorated with the saz motif. ‘Saz’ is a rush or reed. This is an example decorating 16th-century Iznik Pottery

As I am always on the lookout for any interesting shapes, designs, motifs that I can adapt and use in my work, this turned out to be a particularly rewarding visit.

The ‘Saz’ motif is a design derived from the natural world. It is a stylised reed and as such I liked the idea of working it up with a stylised fish or two.

The Saz motif with fish.

Once I have finished painting a block of mask designs, usually about 10 at a time, it is time for the fixing process. That’s two hours in the steamer wrapped in paper.

The Saz motif used in a more simple design.

When the steaming time is up, the silk is washed and cut up into mask-sized rectangles. Then it’s all change in my studio. The dyes and frame are put aside and the sewing machine takes centre stage as I sew up the next batch of masks.

Adaptation

It has been both an interesting experience of adapting and a steep learning curve switching from painting silk scarves to painting and making silk face masks.

I am hoping it is a brief interlude as we wait for an effective vaccine – fingers crossed.

Naturally, the painting of the silk is the same, but painting for masks is generally on a much smaller scale. I have found that marking out rectangles is the most efficient and economic way to work. I have just finished a blue series of six different designs.

The sewing of the silk into face coverings has been the adapting and learning part. Making face masks isn’t difficult, just fiddly. Again it’s that scale issue. I have made clothing and curtains before, but nothing on this smaller size. I am not a natural machinist nor a gifted seamstress by any stretch of the imagination, but having now made over 70 masks, I am at least consistent. My early prototypes were ‘interesting’, but wearable, and I gave them to my daughter and my father and I kept a couple for myself.

Two of the above six have been sold.

Now, I am used to the making part it is a case of getting organised with the stock, the processing of orders and getting my books up-to-date.

Two of the six are available on the shop.

And, I have just checked- two of the silk rectangles from the above six blue are still waiting to be made into masks. Mmm not quite as organised as I thought I was!