Saturday, 5 September 2015

No, but cirrously: how I learnt to love cloud fabrics

Fracture: work in progress

There is love at first sight, then there is a passion that grows almost unnoticed over the years until something brings it into the sunlight.

A selection from my cloud fabric collection

Clouds: I've bought sky fabrics for years, first as a means to an end in a series of Greek Shrine quilts inspired by my love of Greece, with its turquoise sea and sky, then for their own sake. Plain blue or grey just don't cut it: I mean fluffy white clouds against shades of blue, or dark storm clouds in indigo and grey with perhaps some lightning flashes.

Greek Shrine 1, 1996, detail

Greek Shrine 2

Greek Shrine 3, detail, 2000

Greek Shrine 4, detail, 2001 - unfinished (permanently?)

My first sky fabric was stunning: a pale blue with sunny clouds shading into intense turquoise that seamlessly became an inky sea. The scraps have been cut smaller and smaller and I hoard them jealously. How I wish I had bought 20 metres when I had the chance.

Storm and rainbow fabrics, from

The sunset prints I've come across are mostly too vulgar to add to my growing collection, but I have recently bought some rainbows that teeter on the edge of twee and will be delightful if used with extreme caution, and also a violent storm scene that growls and flashes across the entire fabric width.

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, c2002

Synapse, 2015, detail

Looking back, I can see for the first time that skies have been a theme running through my work for the past 20 years right up to my most recently completed piece. In my first sketchbook are page after page of sky references and experiments, done so long ago that I had forgotten many of them - but perhaps overdue for resurrection.

The Poisoned Heart 1, 2011, detail

The Poisoned Heart 2, 2011, detail

Indeed, one sky fabric was the unifying factor in the three pieces that made up the installation for my degree show, The Poisoned Heart, although the sky itself was not part of the "concept". (Sorry, I still feel the need to use inverted commas around this word, as with "practice" or "process". Does this mean I'm not a real artist?) I've even painted skies on walls and ceilings in my house.

Sky cot quilt

More recently, I have made a couple of cot quilts out of sky fabrics: how wonderful it must feel to be wrapped up and enclosed in the softest, fluffiest clouds. (Perhaps I should make a big version for my own bed.)

The space under my stairs, with painted sky and artificial flowers

My latest work in process, on the theme of "fracture", is a dark stormy sky - I found a wonderful hand-dyed fabric by Jo Lovelock that was perfect - shattered like glass to reveal sunnier skies beyond. It's far from complete, although I rather like it as it is. See picture, top.

Hmmm. Cumulus and cirrus with a touch of undulatus?   

So what has brought my passion into sudden focus? It was my search for something special, something frivolous and exciting, to mark a significant birthday. Advertised "day adventures" seem to consist of climbing up high places or jumping off high places, or being passively massaged and pampered at ground level. But when I came across a mention of the Cloud Appreciation Society's AGM on that very weekend, September 26, I felt such a frisson of excitement that it confirmed I had found the very thing.

I have since become a member and have been busily learning to distinguish between stratocumulus, cumulonimbus and nimbostratus. Now my only dilemma is whether I should run up a skirt out of my stash of cloud fabrics to wear on the day. It would, of course, be in a spirit of tongue-in-cheek irony. But I don't want to be mistaken for a cloud nerd.

Perhaps it is too late.

Sky fabrics available from

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