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.)

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