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 http://www.laurenshanley.co.uk/index.htm. 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 http://www.laurenshanley.co.uk/shop.html, 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: http://bqsg.quiltersguild.org.uk/events/view/bqsg-talk-dialog-of-dreams
Booking for workshop: http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/events/adult-community-learners/01409.html
Or email maxinemarch@waitrose.com

Exhibition: http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/forthcoming/its-all-in-the-making-patchwork-and-quilting-unpicked-by-british-quilt-study-group.html

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 http://www.simplyscilly.co.uk/, 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, http://www.valeriehugginsquilts.co.uk/island/, 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 http://www.oakshottfabrics.com/, 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.)