Thursday, 26 January 2012

Colourful January

January, like life, is what you make of it. Not so very far away from here are two fine gardens that bring January’s dark days alight with explosions of colour, and they’re inspirational to the arty-minded.  First there’s the Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG) - one of my favourite places. Its Winter Garden is nothing short of spectacular at this time of year.  And we’re not talking just tiny snowdrops here! 

For me, it’s the coloured dogwood (Cornus alba) varieties that lift the spirits and give you a very ‘David Hockey experience’, if that eminent artist doesn’t mind the comparison.  From bright orange to pinky-red, dark nutty brown to bright leaf-green, the dogwoods are sensational planted en masse.  They’re also sensational used in basketry, as I’ve found myself over time.  The Cambridge University Botanic Garden runs basketry courses several times a year, under the tutorship of artist-basketmaker Mary Butcher, well known for her own creations and for her tireless promotion and support for the ancient craft of basketry both here and abroad.  On one of her CUBG courses you get to use the coloured materials from the Winter Garden: an experience not to be missed! 

The CUBG Winter Garden’s colours are accompanied by an array of sensuous scents that assault you on your walk.  There’s the winter honeysuckle, Lonicera x fragrantissima,  the intense Daphne bholua  ‘Jacqueline Postill’, and winter-flowering Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ amongst others.  Also in near orbit is Anglesey Abbey, which also surprises with colour contrasts at this time of year, but is more famous for its snowdrop walks, which collectors come from miles around to see. 

For me it’s the intense colour experience that you get from a well-planted winter garden that’s such an inspiration.  There’s no way you can truly match nature’s brilliance of colour, but I try my best!  And I can rest easily in the knowledge that however whacky I get with the colour combos, nature’s probably way ahead of me somewhere in the world.  You only have to look under the sea to understand who’s best at this 'colour thing'. 

The BBC has been running a series of programmes on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and, whilst I’ve seen books and pictures before, there’s nothing like all that amazing colour coming straight at you from your television or computer screen.  I wonder if the fish and sea creatures have a perception of exactly how colourful they are?  Some of course flash their colours to attract partners – and some humans are just the same!  But others just seem to be going about their daily business seemingly unaware that they're clad in the most amazing outfits. 

Whether it’s in the garden or under the sea, if any yarn of piece of weaving I create can get half-way to being that radiant I shall be ecstatic.  Here’s wishing you brilliant colour to brighten your week!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Weddings, weavers, wool and weather

We stepped back a millennium and more just before Christmas, attending a lovely wedding in the Gloucestershire village of Bibury.   I must have some kind  of woolly antennae: it turns out the village was once a wool processing centre.  Its former monastic wool store built in 1380, now known as Arlington Row,  was turned into weavers cottages in the 1600s, and is now one of the most photographed locations in the Cotswolds.  It was  a joyous family wedding with all the right ingredients – love,  happiness and sincerity – but my goodness it was cold.  

The bride did very well considering the freezing temperatures and icy paths on the day, but one thing could have made her a lot warmer: a knitted wedding dress.  Sounds like an old-fashioned idea?  Not when taken up by knitwear designers and sheep flock owners Nicola Sherlock and Beate Kubitz at Makepiece.   Look at their latest knitted wedding dress: isn’t it just glorious?  It’s a culmination of everything natural, just as a bride should feel on her wedding day. 

Makepiece also create avant-garde wedding gauntlets, romantic wraps and scintillating stoles to keep any winter bride warm and confidently beautiful.  They’ve got a new fashion knitwear collection too, coming out in London Fashion Week in February. They’ll be at London Fashion Week’s  exhibition at Somerset House.  What’s more they’re well on the way to being a totally sustainable fashion house, working towards carbon neutrality.  I’m sure the amount of CO2 that’s  stored naturally in every sheep fleece, according to The Campaign for Wool, must be a help in making a significant contribution to reducing climate change.    

With the UN’s Rio+20 conference taking place this summer, it’s forward-thinking companies like Makepiece, along with all us fleece-users (and thus CO2-storers) in the hand-spinning community who are showing the way forward, not just to sustainable clothing but to a more sustainable global environment.  Enjoy your spinning, and remember the good you’re doing for the climate every time you turn your hand-spun into a long-lasting, carbon-storing garment - wedding dress or otherwise! 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Exploring new landscapes

Like YumYum in Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ , the moon and I are “very wide awake” right at this moment.  I get a little late with the blogging some evenings!  I’ve become quite friendly with the moon over the years, from watching her progress across the curtains  instead of  going to sleep when told as a child,  to watching humans walking on her surface for the first time, and to gazing at her detail through a telescope with my sons.

The image of the earth from space has become pretty common for today’s children. Seeing deep space pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope has almost become ‘the norm’ in the news media.  Personally, fascinated as I am by Hubble’s output, it’s the pictures looking back at our planet for the first time from space which define our generation.  They have stuck with me so much that I created one of my mega-yarns to express my appreciation of nature’s artistry.  In no way can I way mirror her creativity, but I’ve paid due homage with textured Shetland clouds, Corriedale deserts, Merino and silk waters and many other textures and colours that fill the spaces between.   

NASA is already working towards going back to the moon - they say by 2020 -  this time to create a more permanent presence to help mankind eventually move on out into the universe.   In the meantime,  NASA’s rovers on Mars are still working quietly away on the surface, despite energy difficulties, continuing to investigate their new landscapes.  There’s a lot to be said for quietly getting on with a job as well as you can – be that spinning or Mars exploration.  Both benefit from less ‘Yahoo!’ and more focus, especially when resources, like sufficient energy to function, are limited. 

Exploring old landscapes with a new eye came into my orbit last weekend when the Countryfile programme on BBC1 interviewed artist David Hockney about his forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.  It’ll be focussed on the changing seasons here on earth, in his corner of the Yorkshire countryside.  It’s fascinating to watch if you get the chance on the BBC’s I-Player.  Hockney, with his signature boldness, breathes life into countryside art both in paint and on film, using a multi-screen visual to fast-track you through the timeless rotation of the northern hemisphere’s seasons.  The way Hockney brings out the raw base of colour incumbent in every aspect of the country lanes and surroundings will make the exhibition well worth a visit. 

The creators of the star-shaped ceilings at the Alhambra palace in Spain didn’t have our ability to see distant galaxies and colourful gas clouds.  Like David Hockney they took their inspiration from nature near at hand and from the stars visible above. Wherever you are tonight here’s hoping you can find inspiration in the landscape around you, seeing it with new eyes.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ring out the old, Ring in the new

Happy New Year to you! To take a line from Tennyson’s ‘Ring Out Wild Bells’, it’s time to ‘Ring out the old, ring in the new’.  And there’s certainly a lot of ‘new’ to look forward to.  Over Christmas there was the I-D Online new take on an old favourite – the Christmas jumper.  I love Leutton Postle’s patchwork of colour, texture and shape.  True innovation, such as Postle’s and indeed designers Sibling is rare enough in knitwear and should be regarded as art, and supported and encouraged. 

Sister at Sibling is previewing her Autumn/Winter 2012 collection at London Fashion Week in February: something else to look forward to!  I must admit I didn’t know about the additional Vauxhall Fashion Scout sessions  during London Fashion Week: a great initiative to support new designers getting into the market. 

I’m wishing on a star myself that some innovative, creative person will come along in 2012 and see potential in my mega-sized, raucously fluffy and somewhat outrageous textured yarns.  But then I’ve not really gone out yet to promote myself, so few people know I’m there.  It’s probably because I’m a promotions person in the day job!  I was reminded in doing my public relations CPD the other day of the old phrase “the cobbler’s children are always the worst shod”. Hmm:  maybe I need to devote a little PR focus to myself for a change…or perhaps I’m a bit too shy!   

I’m much looking forward to another up-coming textile event, and that’s February’s Textiles in Focus exhibition at Cottenham in Cambridge.  It brings together materials, workshops, displays and demonstrations for fibre and fabric embellishment fiends.  Over three days, a few thousand outwardly creative ladies – and the occasional gentleman! – pass through the dazzling halls, searching for inspiration and finding it, by the looks of their shopping bags last year.  I shall certainly be amongst them next month!  You’ve only got to look at the work of organiser Pauline Verrinder to see that it’s truly a show worth visiting. 

Wherever you are as the new year starts, here’s hoping there’s lots to look forward to for you and yours too, and may all your new year woolly wishes come true.