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.

I have been layering again

You may or may not recall that last year I was inspired to work with some Tudor motifs following my visit to the splendid exhibition ‘Wolsey’s Angels‘ held at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. I was particularly taken with an oak fire surround with beautifully carved details that included a repeating pheasant motif which I stole and reworked for a scarf design.

Initial drawing and painting of Thomasina

Sometimes when I finish a scarf and steam it I am very pleased with the result, but this is not always so. As I’ve mentioned in the past the steaming process intensifies the colour, but it is not entirely predictable. When the scarf is finally washed and pressed I can properly appraise the results. And, I have to say I was very disappointed with this pink one.

Thomasina after initial steaming

The pale background did not deepen as much I thought it was going to during the steaming and consequently the balance between the heavy lines of the motif and the pale background was way off. Fortunately, having a very pale background has allowed plenty of scope to successfully develop a second, richer layer.

I added more darker lines to the central area and generally softened the whole design by adding pale greys and a mouse brown over the pale pink.

After steaming, washing and pressing the scarf was ready for another assessment. A little surprisingly it as turned out much better than I thought, but, rather annoyingly the tonal range has also turned out to be awkward to photograph satisfactorily. You can’t win them all.

Another in the Edlyn series

I can’t always put my finger on why I choose certain colours for a scarf, but after painting three muted scarves in the Edlyn series, I felt the need for something a touch more brash.

After drawing out the basic Edlyn design it was time to start selecting the colours.

The colours were definitely not from a medieval palette, but they were still too pale and pastel and needed a bit more zing somewhere.

Yes, I liked the fuchsia pink and the chartreuse green and the whole design was better pulled together by adding plenty of the chartreuse to the diagonal swag.

And, mmm, yes, adding more of the chartreuse worked, but to finish off the scarf unquestionably required just a little more fuchsia.

On the frame and finished, next step will be to steam it.

‘A Nation of Shopkeepers’ for the 21st Century

How time flies – I have had an online boutique for over five years and this 21st-century way of shopping has become routine.

And, in the last decade everybody, but everybody I know uses online shopping for some aspects of their lives, but sometimes for me it is pleasant and beneficial to meet my customers in real life. This was the case the other weekend at Blackthorpe Barn. I set up my display, took a quick tour round to meet fellow artists and stood by my stall ready for the first customers at 10.00 am.

By 11.00 am the featured scarf displayed was sold to an enthusiastic customer who used to be a silk painter. Obviously, the large poster-style photograph caught people’s attention, but there is nothing like seeing and feeling silk in real life and I hope she enjoys wearing it. 

British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn is a good venue to attend, but there is a newer, 21st-century form of selling. Since the first experiments in Los Angeles, the ‘Pop-Up Shop’ phenomenon has spread across the globe. Pop-ups in all sizes, selling all types of products, from all types of venues temporarily open their doors to the public. And, in my little corner of East Anglia a local artist transforms her charming house into a Christmas Pop-Up Shop for three days selling work by fellow artists from the surrounding creative community. 

The Pop-Up Shop at East Cliff House, 24, Harwich Road, Mistley, CO11 1LQ, will be open Friday 7th from 3 pm to 9 pm, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th December from 11 am to 5 pm.