Monday 2 June 2014

What we made

Does pattern have to be superficial and imitative or can it capture a fleeting moment, the fingerprint of a place or even the spirit of a person?

My final collection is based on five pattern-making experiments that try to answer this question – to find out if pattern can be anything more than skin deep. Together with gardening friends on my local allotments, at Spa Hill in Upper Norwood, I have created five pattern stories that reflect a time, a person and a place.

By collaborating with them, I wanted to create a recipe for pattern-making with soul: a way of using pattern to re-enchant and beguile the eye, encouraging people to look more closely and care more deeply about the world around them.

I found the process of collaborative making intriguing and inspiring. Each person was so very different and each life in its own way was so extraordinary and challenging. As we grew closer and spent more time together - making design decisions about the colour, form and composition of the pattern became clearer and clearer - a bit like a picture coming into focus the longer and more carefully you look at it. Looking back - it seems as if the process of making something together was quite straightforward - but actually at the time it was anything but. The process of practical making definitely helped refine the process.

I learned three (at least) important things about collaborating

1) Be honest and share as much as you can - even if you don't know very much to begin with

2) Build in an element of reciprocity - so that there is equal give and take.

3) Never stop exploring, looking and reflecting together. Share as much time as you can and over as long a period as possible - we were lucky to share spring and summer together which is a really wonderful time on the allotments.

I have became very close to my co-pattern makers and I know they have enjoyed elements of the project just as much as me. The intimacy and momentum we built together has carried us on into new ventures – a garden at the Chelsea Fringe (, making soft furnishings and a community pattern-book project which has been awarded funding by UnLtd.

Now this project is over - I hope to carry on working collaboratively in this way, providing bespoke pattern-making services, working with individual clients to design patterns that respond strongly to their specific vision and needs.

Here are the final pictures of the garments I made with our prints. I will also post up links to the film and book I have made as well as the pictures of the show on my  new blog

Special thanks to the pattern-makers: Stinky aka Sarah Newton and Isabelle, Eileeen Ward, Beverley and Thabo Witter and Tim Gundry-White. Thanks also to Martin Cleave for the beautiful photographs.

Monday 7 April 2014

Beverley's sun hat

I knew Beverly as a mother from school - our sons are in the same class and I knew she had an allotment - but I had never been there.

The first time I visited her we sat in the sun and ate cake and talked. She brought some fabric to show me - a beautiful wax print cloth she had bought in Jamaica, full of turquoise and tangerine. And a piece of open work almost crocheted fabric - also blue which reminded her of her childhood in East Dulwich and her mum who worked in a sewing factory.

She gave me some brocolli to take home and it was delicious - barely steamed and with just a pinch of salt. I found out that Beverley has been both a solicitor and a cake-maker to the stars and could make virtually anything with her hands.

She is clearing her plot - making beds, moving the strawberries, pruning her apple tree - creating new order and space for new life. Her clearing away with the old got me thinking about seeds... on one tidying up day I found some seeds heads that had fallen from her artichoke. As a whole they were heavy and earthbound but individually - light as gossamer and feathery. They had survived the winter and one blue spring day we set them free and watched them fly away.

I started drawing Beverley's seeds with mud but they needed to fly so I began to print wax over the top. 

I decided to design Beverley a print of flying seed heads whirling through the blue sky and I'm trying to make it using the wax print that she likes. We are planning to make a broad brimmed sun hat with a crocheted crown that will protect her when she is working in the heat of the day. I want to dip just the edge of the brim in indigo and let it soak up through the calico and into the wax.

Beverley is very skilled with a crochet hook - she made these samples using paper and spun plastic netting which I found on the allotment and which she painstakingly unpicked.

How to make a hat? We're not sure...but we want to keep the feeling of the flying away seed heads, the bright, baked colours of the sky and the earth and we want to make something as beautiful as Beverley's plot will be.

Monday 24 March 2014

Tim's print

I met Tim before I came to garden at Spa Hill - I attended one of his organic gardening courses. He taught me how to make compost - just like cooking really. Afterwards we ate some of his home-made nettle soup in the allotment hall. It tasted awful to me. Last year he organised a really wonderful apple day where we scrumped loads of apples off the allotments and made community cider.

You can also meet into Tim on the 250 bus, which he sometimes drives - when he's not making cider. Tim loves trees. Half his plot is an orchard really - with quince and hazel and apple trees. Once I bumped into him at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall - he was carrying a tray of blackberry fools which he had brought all the way from Spa Hill. Blackberry - plant of the undergrowth and woods.

When I came to make his print I knew it would involve the delicate tracery of hazel branches, their flying pollen and Tim's unmistakable boiler suit - which he is never without. I imagined Tim's trees growing up within him - like one of those stories from Ovid, growing from winter to spring to summer to autumn. I also want to print with the rich and wondrous soil - which Tim is such an expert.

Tim kindly has loaned me a spare and very well worn suit and I've designed and started sampling his print. I'm going to show him this Wednesday. Fingers crossed.


Sunday 23 March 2014

Meeting Eileen

Over a month has passed since my last post and I have started trying out my recipe with lots of new people - including and especially Eileen.

Eileen and her husband John have been coming past my door for years - her full of sauce and him looking like a prize fighter. Whenever I bump into her on the allotment I always pick her brains for tips on the children - she has brought 5 into the world. Her early life was tough - she was brought up in an orphanage but she became independent very young, cycling everywhere because she had no cash. Her favourite cycle ride is between London and Brighton - and that is where she met John - at the Lido in Brighton. Apart from her 5 children, she worked as a store detective and still has a grip of iron. She is a champion cactus grower and a stalwart of Spa Hill.

I hadn't seen John for a while and knew he wasn't well so when I got together with Eileen, I  knew she had a lot on her mind. As well as making her a print, I thought I could help out a bit on her allotment. The storms had blown a lot of the glass off her green house. Her plot needed tidying up and there was some rhubarb she wanted to shift.

As we worked Eileen's colours, patterns and mood came into focus: I made her a sundial print - the pattern of the sun moving across the broken grass of her greenhouse and dyed her cloth with rhubarb.
I wanted to make her something protective as well as soft to the touch. An ancient rain jacket hung off the door of her greenhouse - inspiring me to make her a silky mac, quilted to keep her warm and cosy