Tagged: National Theatre

Feb 22

Sarah Campbell talk

 

 

Earlier this month I attended an illuminating talk by textile designer Sarah Campbell (half of the celebrated Collier Campbell partnership) at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Sarah has a display there showcasing recent solo work (post-2011) created for WestElm, M&S etc: From Start to Finish is located upstairs, next to the Artist Textiles exhibition.

Sarah Campbell display

From Start to Finish

 

Sarah spoke to an audience of teachers (mostly) on the subject of being commissioned as a textiles designer with insights distilled from her long and fruitful career. She explained, through numerous examples, how the commissioning process can go smoothly and frequently not-so-smoothly, how briefs can be understood or misunderstood, how relationships with clients can be sweet or turn sour based on a variety of factors, how vigilant one must remain on matters of copyright and licensing.

I was particularly interested to hear about Sarah’s tools of the trade. She favours gouaches (any brand will do) and wallpaper lining paper for rough drawings (she describes it as having a “soft, sweet surface”, and it’s cheap, of course, which removes any anxiety over using up precious materials). Her work station is never without a squeezy bottle of water, and a bowl of discarded paint chips/tabs (used for meticulous colour-matching) which Sarah thriftily re-uses to create greetings cards. She keeps copious notebooks, in a variety of sizes, many of which are mounted in the display here.

Sarah Campbell display

From Start to Finish displays

 

And she’s never without an ordinary fountain pen, used both for drawings and notes.

 

Textile design by Sarah Campbell.

‘Mariposa’ bed linen design for M&S, 2013

 

As a stitcher, I enjoyed hearing about Sarah’s happy collaboration with West Elm on a project for “the Holidays” (in the American sense of Christmas etc) where one of her tiny gold and silver designs was interpreted by the company in sequin and thread.

 

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WestElm holiday designs

 

It’s evident that Sarah still relishes the nitty gritty of textile design, such as devising a clever repeat. And she is tremendously hard-working and prolific, as this relatively recent accumulation of work testifies. You can catch a glimpse of her at work, paintbrush in hand, in this short film about The Collier Campbell Archive book, which was published by ILEX press. Sarah also tweets and blogs

 

And this was my blog post about the National Theatre’s 2011 display of gems from the Collier Campbell archive in which I first realised the connection between the names Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell and those iconic Liberty prints.

 

From Start to Finish is on display adjacent to the Artist Textiles exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 17th May 2014.

To find out more about talks, events and workshops etc run by the Fashion and Textile Museum and short courses run in association with Newham College of Further Education, just click on the links provided.

 

 

 

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Oct 11

She stoops to conker

 

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Picking up the gleaming treasure under horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum) is irresistible at this time of year. You’re never too old for your inner child to spring into squirrely action and pocket a few.

 

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Residents of Britain might think of the horse chestnut as a native tree, but it’s really a naturalised immigrant, originating in the Balkans and imported from mainland Europe around 1550-1570. Imagine Shakespeare seeing it as the latest faddy garden ornamental! When we lived in London, my husband and I used to tandem down the Chestnut Avenue in Bushy Park under its broad canopy of horse chestnut trees. In full flower, they are a spectacular sight, and the park has a festival each May to celebrate the showy white candle-like blossoms.

The trees there might not be looking quite so magnificent these days as some have fallen prey to several forms of destructive blight. It’s estimated that 10 per cent of British trees are now affected, those in London suffering more than most. There were no conkers at all at Kew Gardens in 2006. Unthinkable! More about the various pests and pathogens attacking horse chestnuts over here.

 

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If you’re lucky enough to find any conkers, what can you do with them? First, do nothing but admire the shoe-shine perfection of the russety globes, fresh from their acid-green spiked casing. Next, according to Roald Dahl, utter the greeting “Oddly, oddly, my first conker” thereby seeing off any misfortune heading your way in the coming season. It’s worth a try.

 

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Uses

Insect/spider deterrents.  There’s been a lot of talk about this. Giles Deacon, fashion designer and insect enthusiast, reportedly recommends conkers as a natural moth deterrent (Daily Telegraph, 18 April 2012). Their brown skins contain a compound called triterpenoid saponin which wards off these pests. Worth trying.

 

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The idea is to scatter them liberally in corners, and tuck them in with your woollies etc. You could drill holes and hang them on strings or wire if you want a more decorative approach. But I wouldn’t bother. Especially as their plump sheen is so short-lived and the shrivelled version is best kept out of sight. Do they also work as a spider deterrent? I’m not sure, but what’s to be lost by trying?

Horse food?  That old chestnut! No, don’t try this at home. When eaten by horses, horse chestnuts produce tremors and lack of coordination. Though deer, cattle, sheep and squirrels are not affected by the toxins – that saponin again – which would destroy our red blood cells if we consumed them. The nuts are, though, harmless to handle.

Grinding up horse chestnuts and and boiling them in water appears to make them just about edible for horses, but hardly seems worth the effort. The name may originate from the nuts being used to create a medicine for equine respiratory disorders. 

Pile cure. The mind boggles, but apparently horse chestnuts have astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. They contain a glycoside – esculoside – which has been shown to shrink distended veins. It need to be pulverised and processed into some kind of cream first,  and then applied topically. Commercial forms of this cream are available.

Fabric soap/bleach/whitener. The saponin in horse chestnuts also performs as a whitener, traditionally used to bleach flax, hemp, silk and wool in places such as France and Switzerland. Scientifically speaking, it’s the aesculin or esculinic acid – a glucoside – in the inner bark of the horse chestnut which has ultra violet fluorescence, acting as an optical whitener. More about that over here. If you want to try this at home, you need approximately 20 horse chestnuts per 6 litres of soft water. The method sounds a little complicated. And before you rush off to discover it, the brightening qualities of horse chestnut extract may wash out and are sensitive to light, so proceed with caution.

Conkers. If the tree isn’t native to Britain, the game played with the fruiting body certainly appears to be. It was first recorded on the Isle of Wight in 1848, but was described by the poet Robert Southey in the 1820s as played with other types of nut. The World Conker Championships were established near Oundle, Northants in 1965 and take place on the 2nd Sunday of each October. I could add a lot more but the game boils down pretty well to: a) drill hole in conker; b) thread onto string and knot well; c) find opponent with same; and d) get walloping.

Doll furniture. This idea of making little tables and chairs from conkers appeared in the 1965 (obviously a good year for conkers!) Puffin book Something to Do. All you need is a few pins to make legs plus back and arm supports, and some scraps of wool. Think The Borrowers meets Mid-century styling. I’ve had this book since childhood and remember having a go at these, probably over a long, wet weekend. As far as I can recall, the furniture had all shrivelled and the pins rusted by the end of Sunday. A little disappointing, but fun while it lasted.

 

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Finally, a couple of noteworthy horse chestnut trees for you. Here is officially Britain’s biggest horse chestnut tree, down in Hampshire; we’re talking girth, not height, with this giant measuring in at a over 7 metres around its bole. And Anne Frank described her inspirational view of a horse chestnut tree in her diary entry for 23rd February 1944 (see below). The beleaguered tree sadly blew down in August 2010, but 11 offspring saplings survived it. They are all destined for meaningful sites of remembrance: one is destined to be planted at the site of 9/11

 

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I will think of Anne Frank the next time I pick up a conker, and feel profoundly fortunate.

 

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PS  The title of this post alludes to She Stoops to Conquer, a play by Oliver Goldsmith. First performed in 1773, it’s a prototypical RomCom. Here’s a little film about Mark Thompson’s 18th century costumes for Jamie Lloyd’s 2012 National Theatre production. If you like corsets, not to mention pleated ribbon embellishments, you’ll be very happy. Enjoy your weekend, and remember that love conkers all… 

 

 

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Aug 04

In Elysian fields

Elysian pattern, Liberty

Elysian pattern display board, NT Collier Campbell exhibition

This is a little story about serendipity. Just before nipping home after the Vintage Festival on Saturday, a friend suggested I go see a free Collier Campbell exhibition currently on display at the NT. Timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of two sisters’ design partnership (established in 1961 with commissions from Liberty of London), the exhibition contained beautiful pieces of original gouache artwork from the archives, plus examples of the final fabrics. What bliss!

I can’t go further without first confessing my ignorance. I’d heard of Collier Campbell, but didn’t realise the name referred to a pair of designing sisters, Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell. I knew that the name was behind one of my favourite Liberty patterns (log-cabin-ish Kasak, which used to grace the cafe tables at Liberty’s London store, and with which I  bonkersly covered the seats of my 2CV to celebrate passing my driving test). But I was truly delighted to discover at this expo that the pair were behind Elysian, one of my all-time favourite Tana Lawn designs.

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Elysian in some juicy colourways

Now, Elysian is the queen of florals, if you ask me, managing to be delicate but in yer face at the same time. But now I’m confused, because a quick google of ‘Elysian’ ‘Liberty’ and ‘Collier Campbell’ didn’t dredge up anything meaningful. And Liberty’s own site claims that Elysian was designed in the ’20s. Elsewhere it’s described as ‘at least 100 years old’. Did the sisters design it from scratch or maybe rework it? If anyone happens to know more, please leave a comment or get in touch because I’m burning with curiosity.

The exhibition made it clear that the sisters have prided themselves on being jobbing designers, anonymously bending their talents to the needs of of the customer, whoever that might be (they’ve worked variously for Liberty, Yves Saint Laurent, Cacherel, Jaeger, Habitat, M&S, House of Fraser). Their delicious sense of colour and exuberance of line has taken much inspiration from folk art. Sadly, Susan Collier died in May, after the exhibition was instigated but before it opened. But Sarah continues the pair’s work, and you can buy Collier Campbell branded products over here and currently at House of Fraser and M&S.

The exhibition was scheduled to end on 10th July so I’m not sure why it was still up last week. If you’re hoping to see it, it might be best to call the National Theatre first to check if it’s still there. I’m beginning to wonder if it was just a figment of my imagination: a Southbank mirage on a hot July day.

2011 Aug Minolta 006

As beautiful as it is mysterious

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