For the second part of my review looking at a decade of selling my work online I thought I would take a look at a few favourites that are currently available.
To begin with let’s look at two of the first five scarves I painted for my online boutique. I painted the same design in five different colours. One sold within the first month of my shop going live. That was the yellow version. Then during the next six months the green one sold. And, at some point, and I can’t remember when, the pale honey coloured version went, but the pink and lilac versions are still on the shop some ten years later.
As is the case with the early pink and lilac long scarves above, you can’t tell what’s going to be popular and what isn’t. Below, in this selection of five 90 x90 cm squares, the three on the left are recent pieces, but the two on the right are a couple of my personal all time favourites and they too have been on the shop for nearly nine years.
It has surprised me how many of the sold scarves along the way that I have entirely forgotten, but I do remember those that were favourites as I painted them.
When I think about the body of my work and what has sold quickly and what hasn’t I have come to the conclusion that it is probably the photographs that make the difference, especially if they are interesting good pictures and particularly if they feature a model.
With the beginning of spring comes Mother’s Day and there are daffodils aplenty to presented in bunches to lucky mums, but what of the so-called Mother’s Day traditional flower, the pink carnation?
If you have ever paused your busy life to consider the environmental impact of commercially grown cut flowers then you probably already know it’s not great. I decided to have a look at the growing of pink carnations that are coaxed into flower over two months early to be available for Mother’s Day.
Apparently, pink carnations were the choice of the wealthy Victorians with greenhouses and gardeners able to nurture carnations to bloom as early as March. That is they could afford a heated greenhouse that keeps the temperature at seven degrees celsius or above for the entire winter. I think you can see where I am going with this. The wealthy Victorian had access to both cheap labour and cheap fuel and was more concerned with ‘progress’ than social and environmental concerns. Fast-forward 150 years and the idea of heating greenhouses for out-of-season food let alone cut flowers has become contentious.
Naturally, research and new ideas and new technology are being busily discussed by the UK government and associated farming and horticulture key bodies with a target to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. Whereas the Dutch horticultural industry aims to be CO2 neutral by 2040. Since 2020 they’ve had an experimental, emission-free greenhouse up and running. They have been researching all aspects of growing food and flowers under glass with greenhouses constructed from smart materials using heating from ground source heat pumps or air source heat pumps and drawing electricity from solar panels. The are also experimenting with the use and conservation of water, the cultivating of new varieties of plants to better suit ‘new’ conditions and finally to managing pests and diseases in a manner to minimise horticulture’s environmental impact.
But is isn’t all only talk here back in the UK as you can already buy British grown tulips in bloom during March from Smith and Munson who are a family run business producing premium quality flowers. They are well on the way down the road in reducing those negative environmental impacts associated with commercial horticulture. They grow their full range of tulips hydroponically, their glasshouses are heated with biomass boilers and their coldstores are powered by electricity from solar panels. Sadly, they do not grow the pink carnations that would have been the favourite for a Victorian mother as these days carnations are not the most fashionable choice for a mum’s bouquet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.