Friday, 27 December 2013

Colour bombs: Shonibare, a big bird at Christmas... and more rainbows

Amid all the decidedly unfestive rain, puddles and grey unpleasantness that even the fairy lights and tinsel are struggling to enliven, I was delighted to come across some determinedly bright splashes of artistic colour over Christmas.

The first was on the lawn outside the Queen's House in Greenwich Park: a large painted metal work by Yinka Shonibare, appropriately named Wind Sculpture and seemingly made of yellow, green and orange Dutch-wax cloth that remained proudly unruffled by the strong gusts of rain-filled wind. A shaft of African sunshine in southeast London. (I'll be blogging about the Shonibare exhibition later.) 

The next day, Christmas Eve, I was walking across Trafalgar Square in the inevitable damp gloom when my eye was drawn - how could it fail to be - by the bright blue Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch on the Fourth Plinth. I had seen pictures, and read the news stories about its unveiling by the Mayor of London with all the inevitable bad puns about Boris's cock, but my goodness I hadn't realised it was so HUGE. And so BLUE. Magnificent.

To round off the year with another blast of midwinter colour (it's hail today just for a change) here are the finished rainbow quilt commissions from my previous blog.

 I am indebted to  Mary Grace McNamara for the design of the boy's quilt, above, complete with instructions - I love the way the coloured squares seem to dance over the surface - and to my quilting friends who helped to supply fabrics for the girl's quilt, below: by using their pale colours in the middle (I don't usually do pale!) I realised they could give the illusion of sunlight shining through the rainbow.

Here's hoping for a light-filled, colourful and creative year ahead.  

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rainbow quilts: an adventure in pure colour

Everyone loves rainbows.

I'm fairly confident no one would contradict that statement.

As a child and into early adulthood my recurrent dream was of  being irresistibly drawn to try to touch a rainbow while at the same time fearing its other-worldly power. In the few dreams where I was able to put my hand into the colours without the mirage evaporating as I approached, a shock, like electricity, thrilling but terrifying, would pass through my body. Even now, sometimes a photograph like the one above, or a real view of the end of a rainbow, from a passing car perhaps, can magic up the same tingling enchantment and frisson of fear.

It was with a similar, but far less visceral, mix of emotions that I accepted the commission to make two rainbow quilts - excitement, with a touch of anxiety. Because let's be honest, images of rainbows, like sunsets and kittens, can easily sink into kitsch and cliche. Some of my favourite exceptions are by Sir Peter Blake, of Sgt Pepper's fame  - among his rainbow designs is a multi-coloured floor that cheers up the waiting area of a clinic at University College Hospital, which I discovered with delight a few weeks ago  - and the iconic album cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

(I pondered the significance of album covers being a factor in both choices, and decided that Pop Art has it right: perhaps it is foolish to try to add to nature's rainbow. Instead, the only way to go is to subtract - reducing the rainbow to sharply delineated bands of pure colour.)

I drew up a few designs, but the two that were chosen were both "charm" quilts - meaning that each square is a different fabric. I confess I hadn't thought through the implications when I submitted my ideas, but quickly came to the realisation that I would need to supply 48 "little boy" fabrics and 88 "little girl" fabrics. What a challenge. But what fun. 

And of course the challenge didn't stop there.  Each fabric had  to be in a predominant red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple. And they had to go together; those with a slight grey, brown or even pink tone were ruthlessly rejected, however lovely in themselves. And then there were the "maverick" fabrics: ones that I didn't expect to fit in but, because of their bold colours - bright turquoise and a wavy red and yellow stripe -  were essential to make the whole sparkle. 

Small-scale dots and stars had to be balanced against larger designs, whether Superman or a full-blown flower. And talking of flowers,  in many ways the little girl's quilt was easier, although I needed twice as many squares, because so many fabric designs rely on flowers to bring in colour. There are far fewer checks, stripes, spots, dots, dinosaurs, cars and animals with which to make a boy's quilt. (To save me going off on another full-scale rant, check out my earlier posting on men and flowers.) 

I don't wish to appear as if I am complaining. It is easy and seductive to over-intellectualise one's work, but making rainbows has allowed me to revel in pure colour. Designing a child's quilt magics me back to the child that dreamed of walking among rainbows. And that has been a pure joy. 

The quilt "tops" are now complete, and I shall let The Beast loose over the next few days. See the finished quilts in a future blog posting...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Too busy to blog, and gremlins to boot

Less of the art gallery please...

The Country Living Fair and the weeks before it passed in a blur of activity. My annual sojourn to the Isles of Scilly last month was filled with walks, birds and the making of cot quilts. (Yes, I took my sewing machine on the boat across from Cornwall and lugged it up the hill from the quay to our holiday flat, there being no bus and few taxis, to the amazement of the woman in the shop where I managed to buy sewing threads from a dusty box under the counter.) And so the weeks passed without a blog, although my fingers burnt and my brain  almost burst with all the things I wanted to share: the glorious colours of Scilly; the fun I had with baby quilts that can be knocked up in a matter of hours with small pieces of left-over but much loved fabrics; the excitement and jitters of preparing for a Christmas fair attended, so the official bumf told me, by 27,000 visitors. Then the highs and lows of the fair itself. And the realisation that my blog had become the victim of hackers, rendering it impossible to access.
...and more of the jumble sale

So, where to start? Why not with pictures of my stand - before (top) and after?  As a newbie at the Country Living Fair, the regulars took me under their wing and kindly pointed out that this was not an art gallery but a market stall. Out went the shelves of carefully folded and rolled quilts at the back of the stand, to become rumpled and crumpled piles of colour at the front, practically tripping over potential buyers who thus were tacitly given permission to rummage. How different from the implicit command in a gallery "Do not touch"; and how difficult I found it not to wince when fingers reached up to rub the surface.
It soon became apparent too that the nice, safe pastels I had assumed that Country Living readers might like were less of an attraction than the brightly coloured, in-your-face quilts. When I saw that the first cot and child quilts to go were those in jazzy turquoise, purple and yellow, rather than the more traditional pale blue and pink, I realised that people really are looking for something different. When I hung a scarlet and emerald green floral quilt on the back wall of the stand in place of a grey and pink one the "oohs" and "aahs" doubled. Memo to self: stick with what you love and don't try to second-guess the market.
The highs? Delicious gluten-free apple muffins for breakfast from a food stall before the show opened to the public, the enthusiasm of visitors who stopped to chat even if they could not buy, and the mutual excitement when one of these visitors said she owned a quilt that had been in the family for years and had been sent from Canada during the war.
The lows? Aching feet, a stand selling cheap imported quilts from China by a company cynically calling itself Forever England, and a woman who walked past, glanced at my quilts and said to her companion: "I like those. My sister bought one from TK Max." Although, upon reflection, the latter was probably one of the highs.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The back story

Child's quilt, approx 36in x 48in £85

Several years ago, a quilt that I was particularly proud of - I still am, actually - and which was personally dear to my heart, was selected for an exhibition at which volunteers acted as stewards. As I approached from afar, I could see that whenever anyone neared my work to get a better a view, the steward on duty turned over the corner of the quilt, whereupon the would-be viewer slunk away and went elsewhere. When I went closer, I too was shown the back of the quilt and told how awful it was. And when I disclosed that I was the maker, the unabashed steward berated me for my poor fabric choice.

I still haven't decided whether to be appalled or amused by this incident. But it has certainly made me aware that the back of the quilt can be nearly as important as the front, especially if it is a cot or bed quilt that will become rumpled, unlike an "art" quilt whose reverse-side secrets are known only to the wall and to over-zealous stewards. It is a last chance to add an unexpected thematic detail. And a great way to use up scraps of fabric too small for another project.

Here are a few of what my Swedish quilting friend refers to as "back sides".  


Child's quilt, approx 36in x 48in £85

All quilts are for sale. Please email for details or visit 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Pink for girls and, er, pink flowers for boys?

Having dedicated myself for a couple of weeks to designing and making babies' and children's quilts in preparation for the Country Living Christmas Fair, and, it has to be admitted, choosing pink for girls and blue for boys, I find my mind turning again to a question that preoccupied me for several months while doing my degree: what is it that makes flowers an almost no-go area for boys and men? I'm not talking here about gardeners, who have presumably nurtured the blooms by the sweat of their manly brow and leave their wives to put them in vases, or even about artists - Van Gogh was not considered a wuss for painting sunflowers - but about what men and boys are allowed to dress in and surround themselves with.
Much has been made recently about the obsession of little girls with pink, and even the Daily Mail has raised the alarm about sexist stereotyping and how this might affect house prices There is, indeed, a campaign against the "pinkification of girlhood", called Pink Stinks

Yet very few people are questioning little boys' rights to a gender-neutral nursery. Fabrics designed for boys are full of tractors, trains, boats, rockets and superheroes  (the one above comes from my favourite US fabric retailer, Why can't boys go to sleep snuggled up in a bed of flowers, untroubled by the screech of heavy machinery?

In my degree project "Men and Flowers", leading to "Men in Suits" (the module coincided with a particularly unhappy time in my office career in a testosterone-fuelled City environment) I realised that although male fashion does not prohibit flowers, they have to know their place: on ties, in buttonholes and sometimes on shirts. A floral fly button or embroidered suit collar (as in my samples above) would be unthinkable - although lots of fun.

Then I realised that one flower associated with men, on Hawaiian shirts and swimming trunks, is the hibiscus. I wonder why.

I gave my favourite sample, above right - made of suiting, shirt material and pages from The Financial Times - the title The Ups and Downs of the FTSE 100.

Anger is a powerful colour to have in one's artistic palette.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Dialogue of Dreams: textile artist Lauren Shanley

Applique cushion and shirt by Lauren Shanley

Occasionally, with a sudden jolt of pure pleasure, I am reminded of why, and how much, I love textile art. Such a moment occurred this week when I spotted a remarkable applique cushion at a friend's house and discovered it was by one of my fabric heroines, Lauren Shanley By happenstance, I was wearing a summer overshirt made by Lauren in a similar style and so, of course, I asked to be photographed with it. (My argument that the fact they went so well together meant I was morally entitled to take ownership of the cushion did not cut much ice.)

The cushion and shirt are made in a glorious mash-up of 1920s and 30s fabrics and cut-up tray cloths, napkins and tablecloths embroidered by hand over transfer patterns. The cushion features a sweet crinoline lady with french knots and hollyhocks. It is a style I have learnt to love - below are some examples that I've collected - reflecting the optimism and joy of the new garden suburbs that allowed pre-war homemakers to escape, on the newly constructed Underground lines, the city grime and restrictions of  living with the in-laws and to move to little houses with a stained-glass rising sun above the front door and roses round the porch. It may sound, and look, a little twee, but it is still a powerful dream. A dream that Kath Kidston and Farrow & Ball among many others continue to tap into.

Lauren  is a truly gifted artist and designer-maker of clothes, wall art, bags and cushions whose work has inspired me for many years, my interest in the fabrics, colours and icons of India and South America trailing in her wake. Her studio/workshop in the Oxo Tower on the South Bank is an exotic visual feast, as is her home, where the walls are eye-popping fuchsia, orange and turquoise - all in the same room - the small conservatory is covered in broken china and mirror mosaic and the loo is a shell grotto. Having many years ago stumbled across her shop, I bought my first Lauren Shanley jacket (I still wear it) the day before an important first date. Reader, I married him, and I commissioned Lauren to make my wedding coat.

My wedding coat by Lauren Shanley

Lauren is very generous with her expertise and will be giving a talk, Dialogue of Dreams, on October 28, and a full-day practical workshop, Subversive Stitch, on October 29 in York alongside the Quilt Museum and Gallery exhibition It's all in the Making: patchwork and quilting unpicked, which will include two of her works. Both the exhibition (I've had a sneak preview of the catalogue) and Lauren's events promise to be memorable. Do go along.

Booking for talk:
Booking for workshop:
Or email


Friday, 16 August 2013

It's Scilly I know, but I love it...

You know how it is. You're on holiday, the sky is blue, the sun is glinting off the waves and you're enjoying an excellent coffee at a beachside cafe. A local resident stops to remark on the beautiful weather considering it's October and before you know it you're discussing your mutual love of textiles and have made a lasting friend. Textiles, like other niche passions, are a wonderful way to break through the usual reserves that divide us. And when that happens it's thrilling.

So when I received a letter from my artist friend on St Mary's, the largest of the Isles of Scilly off the western tip of Cornwall, I instantly wanted to be back there. Thank goodness I'm already booked for my annual fortnight in six weeks' time. I have a theory: if you go back to a place you like twice, you're disappointingly bored. Go back three, four, eight, ten times and it's like an exciting love affair with someone who will never let you down despite their off days and occasional grumpiness.

These are the islands that are the inspiration for my Island collection of quilts,, given that name because it was while I was there last year that I started designing contemporary quilts for plain fabrics. But since then I have become aware of how the colours and patterns of the Scillies - each of the islands has a different personality - have insinuated themselves into the designs.

So it was that when I was recently choosing half-metre lengths of plain fabrics laid out temptingly in a box of assorted gorgeous colours like a Woolworth's pick-and-mix for grown-ups, I found myself collecting pale shades of grey, beige and stone plus mauve and purple. It was only when I had them in my hand that I realised they evoked the white beaches of St Martin's fringed by the agapanthus that run wild throughout the islands and which are celebrated in abundance by local artists to the extent that they have become the isles' unofficial symbol. (The picture at the top is by a friend from schooldays who like me, but quite separately, has also become a quiltmaker and Scilly aficionado. We used to bond over King Lear and L'Etranger, now it's fabric shops and the cocktail menu at the above-mentioned beachside cafe. Thanks Sue.)


By the time of my annual autumn visits there are only a few scattered flowers left, but last year, when the weather was unusually inclement, I photographed this one glimmering with raindrops.

The fabrics, by Oakshott, have an intrinsic beauty too. The cotton, hand-woven along the Malabar coast of South-West India, are soft to the touch and alive with colour. To call them "plain" does them a disservice, for the shot weave gives them a complexity of hue that makes other truly plain fabrics seem flat and dull in comparison. Looking at the raw edges, I am intrigued at the strong purple, red and yellow used to create such subtle effects.  I try to use Oakshott fabrics in all my Island quilts - with perhaps a smidgen of  "Longshott" self stripes for extra interest - because once I'd tried them I couldn't go back. (Sorry, Kaffe Fassett, I just don't rate your shot cottons as highly. Let's just stick to the florals.)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Zandra Rhodes: Unseen

Mirror mosaic by Andrew Logan
I am drawn again to the Fashion and Textile Museum in the long shadow of The Shard to see the exhibition celebrating its founder, Zandra Rhodes: Unseen.

It is, I am amazed to find out, this museum's tenth anniversary. Amazing not only for the usual "Can it really be that long - where has all the time gone?" reason, but because it took me years and years to visit it and now I can't keep away.

Yes, I do visit other galleries, but the past two exhibitions have pandered to my passions for bright colour and exuberant decoration. (See my earlier blogs on Kaffe Fassett, and
 As one of the labels says of Rhodes: "Print and pattern are within the DNA of the designer."

As so often, it is the unexpected that catches the eye. I was drawn to a much-larger-than-life mirror mosaic (I love mosaic, especially of the broken-china type, being a close relative of patchwork in mixing "found" patterns) by Rhodes's friend Andrew Logan, founder of the Alternative Miss World in the 1970s  and a  mixed media artist who proclaims himself to belong "to a unique school of English eccentrics"  By happy accident, a pedestrian diversion on the way to the gallery from London Bridge takes you past his own "Surreal emporium for all". Although I take issue with the last two words, having seen the prices of his jewellery in the Fashion and Textile Museum shop that would seem to exclude the financially embarrassed. And so I did not enter. "I love it," I said to my friend as we peered through the window. "It's so tacky and kitsch. But all in the best possible taste."

Design from Zandra's sketchbook
Another highlight was Rhodes's sketchbooks - she sketches every day, apparently - and the use of some of the landscape pages, going back to the 1980s, recently printed on to plain mini-dresses.

And, just because I'm in the mood for mauves and pinks with a splash of yellow, here's another of my quilts in progress. Nowhere near the magic of Rhodes and Logan, but it keeps me happy.

Visit my website at
Handmade textiles for stylish interiors, off the shelf or to commission

email:; 020 7515 0701; 07518 885960

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Dotty over spots, plus the hard sell

Quilt in progress

I like to think that my love of spots predates Damien Hirst's. I still have a newspaper cutting in my "inspiration" files dating from the late 1980s that shows him in front of one of his now ubiquitous spot paintings - the first time I had come across him or his work - and I thought I recognised a kindred spirit.
So, like the avant-garde composer Erik Satie in the Radio 4 play this week, I claim that it was in fact me who started the trend and, like Debussy, Hirst simply followed in my wake. He probably owes me some money.
My kitchen shelves

Since then I've seen spots appear on everything from coffee mugs to Thames river boats and a spacecraft to Mars and I've amassed a collection of spotty china and, of course, spotty fabrics. A quilt is not a quilt without spots on it. I haven't checked, but I'm willing to bet that all the patterned quilts on my website, apart from those in the Island Collection (into which I've smuggled a few subtle stripes instead), contain spotted - and indeed dotted - fabrics. There is a difference, apparently, spots being irregularly shaped and placed and polka dots regular in both, but let's not quibble here.  And two quilts that I'm currently working on have, among all the florals and squiggles, a few discreet spots and dots.

Quilt in progress

Incidentally - or rather not incidentally but vitally - I have recently realised that my blog was set up to help SELL MY WORK. And I have not tried very hard to do that. So here's the hard sell: if you love spots like me, why not buy one of my throws or bedquilts? Or commission one with as many spots as you can take? And if you don't like spots, well I do plain ones too. Prices start at £345. Visit my website,, contact me by phone (020 7515 0701; 07518 885960) or email (, or you can visit me at the Country Living Christmas Fair And tell all your friends.
... A few minutes' pause while I indulge in a trawl through work done for my textile degree in which I explored my obsession - and looking back after several years I can acknowledge that it was an obsession - including a photograph of my husband's bare torso covered in Smarties. And no, I didn't eat them; they melted and he had to take a shower. However, that was more successful than when I covered my black cat in fluorescent stick-on spots: she fled through the cat flap into the house next door before I could take her photo. I may well post some other spot-related pictures at a later date. In the meantime, here's a photo from St Martin's, Isles of Scilly.

Visit my website at
Handmade textiles for stylish interiors, off the shelf or to commission

email:; 020 7515 0701 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 020 7515 0701 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting; 07518 885960