Four Days of Angst

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.

Made in the UK Day 2022

Next Wednesday, 9 March is ‘Made in the UK Day’. The campaign is the idea of the folk at ‘Make it British’ – a community of UK-made brands and manufacturers.

Words from Kate Hills, Founder, Make it British

This year I’ve decided to mark the day by offering 20% off my hand painted silk scarves. Even though I have been running my online shop for over eight years, it is only recently my daughter showed me how to use the backroom tools to make a ‘Coupon’. It magically gives my customers the discounted price when they add the code during the checkout process.

I have also made a short video for the day too.

Painting Mirelle

Sometimes I am a forgetful idiot. A sensible way of painting a large silk scarf is to start in the middle and work your way out finishing with the borders.

Painting the border first.

There is a logic to that as often a border will use the predominant colours of the main design of the scarf, but in a different amount and at a different scale.

And, then there is the time I began by painting the border in its entirety first .

Next drawing out the centre.

I did have a rough idea of the colours I wanted to use for the whole scarf, but as I painted the borders they looked dead and dull and despite deciding I was NOT going to use any turquoise, there it was added to the border and bringing lightness and energy.

Adding the colours to the centre panel.

I think adding the turquoise to the borders worked and in the end it didn’t significantly change the colours for the centre panel except for featuring as a 50% dilution on the vase motif.

Very nearly done with source painting (top left).

As I think you can see in the original painting which I used as the source for this scarf (above top left), the vase was blue and white with red flowers with not a single brushstroke of turquoise in sight.

Finally finished and ready for steaming.

Unusually in my case, it turns out on this occasion it was better for me to start painting the more restricted borders before splashing out in the centre.

Mirelle is now finished, steamed, photographed and on my shop.

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.

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.

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.

Extremely irritating

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.

My photo of my work promoting another site.

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.

And this is my scarf as it appears on my online shop.

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.

Silk Scarves for Valentine’s Day

This time next week it will be Valentine’s Day. I do have a couple of red scarves on my online shop at the moment, but they don’t feel classically romantic to me. They’re too bright and, too, well, red.

Thinking about it in an old-fashioned way and despite the supermarket aisles of red Valentine’s merchandise, I find I associate the colour pink with romance more than red.

So with romance in mind for this Valentine’s post I have put together a selection of my work that features pink more or less.

The first scarf (at the top) has accents of zingy fuchsia, but the rest of this mini collection are all rather dusky, muted affairs.

In general I think that softer pinks are easier to wear, and, who doesn’t like a touch of pink lippy every now and then.