Earlier this week I was sorting through my stock of small, bandana-sized scarves to despatch one to a customer when I found this scarf. I started painting it last autumn, finished and steamed it just before Christmas and safely stored it away to add to my shop in the New Year. And then, I promptly forgot all about it.
Of course, I had taken the usual photographs as the piece progressed and after scrolling back and back through my work files I found them. Then the saga all came back to me. I had chosen, with an eye to Christmas, the colours cardinal red, azure blue and old gold to dye my loose design of the Queen of the Night (see header photo of her in full dramatic voice) accompanied by vaguely, medieval maidens.
However, when all the colour had been added we were well and truly into the dark, gloomy month of November and the painting just seemed all too bright. Initially, I had thought it looked rich and vibrant, but in the end I felt it was simply garish. It was time for the big brush, plenty of water and knocking back the colour. The final effect is more like a watercolour and the whole scarf has a soft, muted quality.
Speed forward to June 2022 and this week I finally got round to photoshopping the product photos for ‘Ama’ and adding it to the shop. It has only taken six months from start to finish!
Back in the depths of winter I painted a large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf that acquired the name ‘Nixie Noire‘. It had followed on from a small, bandana-sized scarf called ‘Nixie Petite’. Weirdly, I had forgotten all about Nixie Petite until yesterday when I was doing my annual stock take.
Doing my stock take isn’t an arduous task as I rarely have more than 50 scarves available to buy at any given time. Instead, my stock take becomes a short journey of rediscovery as I work through my boxes and find work I’d forgotten I’d painted.
It might seem odd that I should forget my own work, but seeing the photos of my scarves on the shop isn’t the same as handling them. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but even the best photographs are not a substitute for the soft and almost luminous quality of a scarf in real life.
In passing I would also say, that at the various craft shows I have sold my work, interestingly, most people still only look. I have to suggest that people can pick up a scarf and feel it. I also have a small, gilt mirror to encourage customers to try on a scarf and see how it looks and feels when worn. I guess we mostly buy with our eyes.
Anyhow, counting the stock requires seeing the real item and in the case of Nixie Petite being surprised by it. Goodness, those colours and all that fiddly pattern. I must have been in an easygoing, light mood when I started that one!
And, if you ever wondered from where I get the names for my scarves, I choose them from an old book of baby names.
Nixie – from the Old High German, nihhus, ‘nymph, sprite’. A mythological mermaid, half-woman, half-fish, who could be glimpsed by lovers on nights of the full moon.
There’s not so much to be positive about at the moment, but we can at least take a moment to think about and celebrate our mothers.
I have much to thank my mother for not least her interest in the visual arts. She was in the audience for one of my early forays into the world of fashion when she attended a catwalk show in London where some of my work was presented. And, she did see my daughter the evening she went off to her Prom in a painted silk chiffon dress I’d made.
However, sadly she never knew I launched a business with an online boutique.
Of course, for those of you lucky enough to still have your mothers in your lives there are plenty of gifts of all types and kinds these days. There are edible, wearable, watchable, doable, learnable and give-aid-able gifts on offer.
Naturally, in the ‘wearable’ option there are my hand painted silk scarves!
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.
January 2022 appears to be bringing with it more sombre greyness than just the weather. In truth the grey gloom of the weather and the pandemic has simply carried on from the end of last year into the beginning of this one. I remember when the news of Omicron first hit and, as is so often the case with me, the general mood of current affairs eventually filtered through and into my work.
When I began working on this large, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf in December I had intended the background to be entirely midnight blue.
However, as I added other colours to the scarf the blue background didn’t feel dark enough.
The blue, even as dark as it was, was not creating enough contrast to make the muted pinks and muted mouse browns as crisp and sharp as I wanted.
So, I got to work with the unadulterated black. Although, I frequently use small areas of black to achieve depth, it is a long time since I have used black for a background. I think you can see the difference it makes compared to the blue.
A large scarf like this takes some time for me to paint and, additionally, I had a break over Christmas when I cleared my studio to offer a comfy space for a large, visiting dog. When I returned to my work, I immediately saw that there seemed to be a gash in the design. It was not intentional. The order in which I had painted the colours had revealed this shape, gradually emerging running diagonally across the scarf as the pinks and reds were added.
At this point, and with the New Year fast approaching with hope in its wake, my mood changed and I felt I wanted the gash to be filled with soft colour.
The result was a background of the muted pinks with the seed heads painted with the mouse browns. I think you can see the line of the browns flowing diagonally from the top left to the bottom right of the scarf in this photo below.
With the scarf completed it is clearer to see how much black I’ve ended up using. Dark and moody, yet with more pink than I planned when I changed the blue for black. I guess the daylight hours are increasing and maybe Omicron is not as bad as it was first considered and the result is a little more colour and a little less black.
The scarf has now been steamed and photographed and added to my shop, and as usual, the photos don’t really give an accurate portrayal of the piece. I must say that considering the times in which it was painted, I at least, am very happy with the finished scarf. In truth and unexpectedly it’s turned out to be one of my favourite pieces of work! Clouds . . . silver linings . . . and all that.
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
Well, it’s the 25th November and it’s four weeks to Christmas and that’s it for my backyard for this year. There are a few pink cosmos plants limping on and the hydrangea blooms will be slowly fading, or rotting away for the rest of the winter, but until next spring they’ll be no flowers from my yard to cut and bring into the house.
Just as well I took the time to photograph some of my favourite combinations from the summer and early autumn flower arrangements.
I keep a selection on my iPad which I use when looking for colour inspiration.
And, every now and then I do sort of copy an arrangement and include the vase as well. You may even recall that I painted a picture of the tall vase arrangement before the design ended up on scarves.
The example below will probably be the last one of this series as the season and the light have moved on and I am feeling the arrival of winter and with that a change of palette.
About once a year I paint an experimental, trial scarf for myself, then tweak the design and when I’m satisfied paint a very similar more refined version for the shop.
Not long ago I reviewed my stock and assessed the different colours available. I realised recently I have been mostly working with blues, turquoise and pinks. On my shop there’s also scarves in pink and green, soft green and gold, but no strong green.
Last time I did this ‘one for me (prototype) and one for the shop’ I was working with strong, vivid reds. This time I thought I would use the same approach to work with some zestful, bright greens.
Of course, sometimes there’s a fashion for a certain colour and I notice green has become popular of late. Now, this bright green is quite a change for me and for a first experiment it was always going to be working with my smallest scarf size.
Also this small ‘neckerchief’ size is a personal favourite as it can be worn to add a small accent splash of colour, especially when it is such a zingy colour.
Finally, both green scarves were finished and steamed and now one is on the shop and I am wearing the ‘trial’ one as I type this post!
It might be a cool and wet start to July, but recently I have turned to painting with a warmer range of colours.
It is another layered mid-sized scarf which has ended up more patterned with the second layer than I had originally intended.
And, after steaming the colours have turned out to be stronger and hotter than expected as well. Perhaps this weather is going to get the idea and also turn hotter too and then we’ll have a summer after all.
Like most people before the pandemic and the restrictions and the lockdowns, I used to go out. I went out locally as well as further afield to visit churches, museums and galleries always looking for inspiration for my work. Medieval sculptural details and the patterns painted on Victorian stained glass, so common in our parish churches, have been a great resource. However, for the time being most churches are locked and entry is not permitted.
Naturally, like many people working from home I have turned to the Internet and have found viewing online Fine and Decorative Art Sale Catalogues very worthwhile. These catalogues often have great photos with good colour showing off the beautiful detail that can be found on unusual antiques such as this Carlton Ware vase by Violet Elmer (1907-1988). (And, to my surprise, Violet had a link to Suffolk as her great-grandparents had lived in Scotland Street, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, in the early 19th century. There is an interesting article in the East Anglian Daily Times about a couple of collectors from just outside Ipswich who have filled their home with Carlton Ware and hunted down some biographical details for Violet. She was born in Oxford in 1907 and moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1928 to work as a designer at the Carlton Works. Sadly, for us, she stopped work in 1938 when she got married.)
This fine example of her work is vase decorated with exotic birds (disappearing round the top righthand edge), flora and foliage on a pale plum ground. I think it is both beautiful and charming and you could imagine that perhaps Violet Elmer had herself been inspired by a Victorian millefiori paperweight. The shape of those little flowers is so typical of millefiori.
Inspired by or maybe stealing from artists from the past has a long tradition and I am happy to join in and make my own reinterpretation in a different medium.
It is just a pity that the silk I have painted was for those unglamorous, yet currently necessary, face coverings.
PS – I actually painted these silk pieces during the second lockdown and have only just made them up into masks. Lockdowns have seemed to roll one into another. Sigh. And, now I hear they’ve cancelled Glastonbury and UEFA are also proposing this summer’s tournament to only take place in one country (and I have tickets for a game in Glasgow) and, well, Easter? 🤞🏻 Who knows!