I’m in the Ivy League!

When I bought my flat I gained three sets of curtains. Two were horrid synthetic material, which went into the bin, but one pair with a bold ivy pattern were destined to be repurposed.

What I didn’t realise until I started to cut one of the curtains into pattern pieces, was that there was a hitch. The curtains were made out of several pieces of fabric. I wasn’t exactly going to pattern match but there were some addition seams that I hadn’t bargained on.

As it turned out it wasn’t too much of an issue. I reinforced those seams and continued with the pattern (found in a charity shop). The instructions were not as clear as they could be! But I did discover how to sew a collar without a collar stand. So much simpler with front facings helping the look.

The fabric itself is pretty substantial being furnishing cotton not flimsy stuff. But my sewing machine coped, with a good pressing required along the way.

I’ve used larger buttons than with previous shirts and blouses, selecting a green thread to sew them on.

I’m pleased with the results, vintage-looking and upcycling. I have enough fabric to make matching trousers… but that might just be a bit OTT!

Back in time to shop

This week I’ve been looking at some of my miniature projects. This is a favourite that I made many years ago. The twelfth scale model is based on a photograph from the 1920s, of a general store in Portslade Old Village.

The miniature store
The original from a book by Claire Green on Portslade’s history

I loved making all the items to go in the general store. I had to guess at what was inside. For the outside though I stared hard at the photograph, taking in all the items, and tried to replicate them. The real shop no longer exists having been converted into a house a long time ago. This part of Portslade is a conservation area and contains some charming cottages.

My general store was on the front cover of Dolls House World magazine (issue 53), as well as being featured in an article inside. Not long after that I got a job working on that magazine, before being headhunted to a rival publication, The Dolls’ House Magazine. Being the editor of this monthly magazine was great fun. I saw so many amazing dolls’ houses, miniatures, and makers…. and chatting to the readers was always interesting too. Being a hobbyist myself I knew just how their minds worked.

Although I no longer work in publishing, I still love miniatures and dolls’ houses as much as ever, although I don’t think I’d have the patience to make such small items again these days!

Inside the store

Bought to book

Years ago I had an idea to create a miniature scene with a literary theme. This is the result.

The piece is called Writer’s Block. It shows a writer’s study….there’s a desk, bookcase, fireplace with mirror, clock and candlesticks. Every surface is covered with pages from paperback novels – except the writers papers, and the pages of the miniature books, these remain blank.

The miniature study is set inside an old book. The base is made to look like the edges of a book. The worded surfaces have been aged with washes of acrylic paint.

Writer’s Block
The scene is set within an old book
On the desk is a cup of tea, plate of biscuits, letter rack & pot of pens.
Books fly off the bookshelves revealing their empty pages.

I really enjoyed making this piece. For me it is an artwork rather than a miniature. I think it can weave its own stories if you just look at it for long enough.

The digital wardrobe

I’ve made so many clothes over the last few years that I have no space left in my wardrobe.

When I look back over what I’ve made I love it all. But I don’t wear them all. Like everyone else I have my favourites. And equally like many of us I need to take stock. Clearing out the lesser worn (or unworn) to give space to those I do wear is essential.

I’m planning a sale of my unique dresses and tops but first I’m recording my wardrobe in a creative way.

Three of my superhero outfits
Three of my vintage fabric dresses

Thanks to a couple of afternoons with my mannequin I can now digitally represent my wardrobe items. I have a digital dolly and I’ve been having fun with her. In my childhood my mum drew a woman on card and I would draw, colour and cut out clothes for her. This is the adult version!

It’s all been a learning curve as I experiment with new apps. But I’m so enjoying it, and the possibilities presented.

Watch this space – there’s bound to be more!

Posted!

Going through boxes in the attic in an attempt to cull hoardings led to the discovery of a box of postcards.

The postcards were written around 1905-1913. They were the text messages of their day. The images varied from views to comical scenes. But the written words were intriguing. Written to a woman who worked as a nurse, some are addressed to the County Asylum. Sometimes they came from the local police station.

I haven’t decided what to do with them. I know that they will have some value to postcard collectors. Initially I have grouped a few and photographed them. This image I then had printed as a poster, which I’ve just framed. A real glimpse into lives gone by!

A box full of postcards
A selection, photographed, and framed

The Sussex Surrealist

I’ve spent the last eighteen months writing and designing a book on the artwork of B S Huntbach. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and lockdown gave me the opportunity that I need to get started.

I’ve really enjoyed the design process. I had to work with a number of original photographs from the 1970s and 1980s (variable quality as might be imagined), as well as digital images. Where I could I re-photographed existing artwork. I had a certain amount of paper ephemera too. I’m very much a self-taught designer, although my 16 years in the publishing industry gave me a great introduction to image and text layout. But I’ve been learning very much on the hoof! I’ve certainly got better at image manipulation as a result of compiling this book.

B S Huntbach was my father (1935- 2006), and he would have been totally amazed at seeing his work published. He was a humble man who was not good at self-promotion (so much easier today with the internet, social media, blogs, twitter and all of that). He lived all but his very early months in the town of Portslade on the East Sussex coast. He worked at ordinary manual jobs throughout his working life. He raised a family.

My father never held a passport, never learnt to drive, and wasn’t particularly confident using trains – or using technology. His childhood was fraught with illness and accident – he lost the sight in his left eye aged 10, so his education was patchy. You’ll see from the examples of his written words, included in the book, he had a very particular writing style. He probably had dyslexia and some of his words are phonetically spelt. But his thought process is revealed through his words – the doubts and joys of being an artist, whether what he produced was of any merit, and just how much he cherished the bonds of friendship.

While he may never have written a novel but he did paint, draw and sculpt. The world inside his head was huge and he never exhausted its contents. He exhibited – mostly in East Sussex with the Society of Catholic Artists. He has two large murals in Portslade – one in the Town Hall, and one at the Emmaus community the Old Village, Portslade. He undertook some private commissions. But mostly painted and drew for his own pleasure – “drawing is my life” he said – and this book reveals his lifetime achievement.

blurb.co.uk/b/11093838-the-sussex-surrealist

Been here done this

Three week’s holiday. I’ve never had a three week holiday before. All in this country thanks to lockdown. But it was a whirlwind of museums, gardens, landscapes, beaches, tea and cake, industrial heritage and architectural gems.

Working in the museum sector it isn’t surprising that this became a busman’s (bus-persons?) holiday. But I’ve loved visiting museums and stately home since I was a child. I enjoy seeing how other museums run their show – how are the artefacts displayed? Are the staff engaging with visitors? What uniforms do their staff have to wear? Do they have audio guides or visuals? Would I like to work there? This holiday gave me plenty of answers – especially as we covered about 29 dedicated museums/tourist sites alongside just taking in the general atmospheres of the towns, cites and countryside.

The holiday was broken into a couple of sections. The first week taken in Cornwall, before a day back at home to re-charge and re-pack before heading up country to Liverpool – a city I’d never been to. But to save on long distance driving, that journey was broken into segments on the way up and on the way back. Going up we took a few days in the Ironbridge Gorge, and coming back it was a few days in Shrewsbury, then a couple in Bath.

Cornwall was chosen because we wanted to see the Eden Project – and we weren’t disappointed. There is a lot to see here (and we didn’t see it all), but the biomes really are the stars. I’d read Tim Smitt’s book about how the project was created – an incredible feat of engineering – so seeing it in the real was just fantastic. I’d been to the Lost Gardens of Heligan about 26 years ago, and this time round I thought that they were showing their age in terms of visitor hub presentation. But the jungle area was by far the best part of the gardens (and I even walked across the wobbly rope bridge!).

Fowey was a beautiful village to stay in though it must be unbelievably busy in the height of tourist season. I wish we’d been able to take the ferry to Heligan but sadly sailing was weather-postponed. Falmouth – so changed since my last visit and there wasn’t enough time to fully explore. The Maritime Museum fantastic – great views across the harbour too. The Barbara Hepworth gardens and studio – tranquil, and thoroughly recommended.

It was great to re-discover Ironbridge – although we arrived on a Tuesday at the start of the Autumn season to discover that no museums were open until the following day (didn’t think to check the opening dates note to self about future planning). But the resulting walk from our suitably themed industrial Pumping Station AirBnB to the iconic iron bridge gave us a good chance to explore what was on offer. Ultimately Blist’s Hill was a blast! The tile museum the best of the lot and so well presented, and we just didn’t get around to seeing the Enguinuity museum, despite booking ourselves in. Sometimes you just can’t do it all.

And so on to Liverpool via the Anthony Gormley statues at Crosby Beach. They really are spectacular and my photographs don’t do them justice. I wonder how they were put in place? Luckily the tide was out so we could reach a few of the figures on foot, but others were already part submerged by the water. Fantastic artwork for all.

The dockside area at Liverpool took my breath away – so big, the variety of buildings from elegant Georgian to Victorian civic pride and modern megaliths – I’ve never seen anything like it. The museums we visited were enjoyable, and seeing the Walter Sickert exhibition on opening day was great – plenty to discover about him in a multi-roomed display. I loved re-capturing my Uni-days with a blast of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and ‘Relax’ at the British Music Experience (why was no one dancing?). I’m afraid that the city itself ultimately didn’t appeal to me – too big, too noisy – and a good night’s sleep in our hotel seemed impossible. I must be too old to appreciate the nightlife witnessed (the spray tans and short lycra skirts, the hen-parties, the club queues, the blokes with their beers) as we walked to a rather fabulous little restaurant (thank you Wreckfish for the food and friendly service). The Beatles – no time this time to check out…but I’m not broken-hearted about that.

Relieved to leave the big city we headed south to Shrewsbury stopping off at more National Trust places on the way (we took out membership last year – about two weeks before everything closed down with that first unforeseen Covid Lockdown). I’ve been interested in architecture for years, and it was great to see Little Morton Hall for real. It is a striking building to look at with barely any level walls or floors. Walking in the attic Long Gallery was quite un-nerving – it is like being a sea and plays with your sense of balance. Not for the feint-hearted!

Shrewsbury was delightful. An interesting mix of period buildings (the prices of property compared to Brighton are astonishingly low), lovely municipal planting in the leafy park, ornate churches, a castle and a prison – and I’ve never been in one of those before. We really enjoyed our few days here and would happily visit again. Luckily the independent cinema in the Old Market Hall was showing a film that we were happy to see. It was one-screen and one chance for us.

With the tail end of the holiday in sight we had just a couple of days in Bath – via more National Trust places before settling into a beautifully styled townhouse flat, a stone’s throw from the elegant Royal Crescent. Being a fan of fashion I was thrilled to see the Mantua dress at Berrington Hall. It had been painstakingly put back together using the original pieces. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to wear such a wide dress! Talking of fashion, the Bath Fashion Museum was a must-see although it proved to be ultimately disappointing. The shoe exhibition poster promised so much, but I’m afraid was actually soul-less (pun intended). The shoes would have benefitted from not being on the floor, making it easy to view them – and the accompanying text likewise. It could have been so much more vibrant (and no doubt with a bigger budget, could have been).

As for the Jane Austen Centre – avoid! The costumed door staff did their job in whisking us in, and the tearoom was everything we wanted for a typical cream tea, but the exhibition displays are underwhelming. There is obviously a tightly and swiftly followed script, but there’s a lot of puff and nonsense. But the use of costumed actors was interesting and had appeal in engaging with its audience. For the real Georgian deal – you want the Royal Crescent townhouse. If we’d visited this place first, the JA Centre wouldn’t have got a look in! The audio visuals were fantastic and the period rooms delightful. Rossetti’s artwork always lovely – so seeing his portraits at the Holburne was great (even if the road closures and diversions to get there were not).

Avebury was the final stop on the trip home. On our last visit here the weather was terrible, this time, a delight. The stones are magnificent, and I think they are more impressive than Stonehenge. At 6000 years old, they were the oldest historic site that we viewed.

Time travel to the shops

When I found this Doctor Who curtain in a charity shop I was delighted. I love the colours and the design. It wasn’t long before I ran up a dress using one of the curtains.

The second curtain has just been used to transform a small shopping trolley, picked up for a couple of quid in another charity outlet.

This is the second time I’ve made a trolley bag. It’s easy to do using the original bag as a template. Simply take it apart and use the pieces as your pattern. I’ve adapted this bag by adding a small interior pocket, complete with key loop, as well as a larger external one to the back.

The original bag, dissected!

The important thing is to work through the order of construction before you put needle to fabric. Know when it’s best to add Velcro fastenings, for example. I also lined my bag with a stronger fabric which made for some chunky seams (my poor machine….it groaned rather at times).

But the job is done, and I have a stylish trolley for those shorter shopping trips…through space, or just down to the high street!

Doctor Who is ready to shop!
The back has a simple slot pocket added.

I’ve got a little list

When I think about my years of backstage work at the theatre it always gives me a thrill. I have a lot of good memories from a plethora of well-known (and a few more obscure…Dragon of Wantley anyone?) works. So when I’ve was asked to write a feature about my job as a Props Mistress for the Word Matters journal I was delighted.

Word Matters is the journal of the Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama. I know their researcher, Thérèse Williams, having met her when she did the makeup for Heber Opera.

It was no problem to come up with my experiences backstage working with amateur dramatic societies, both adult and youth groups. I hope it gives a humorous insight into what it’s like being responsible for all the miscellaneous items that help a production tell its story, the triumphs and tragedies of my experience. Luckily I had a number of photographs too to illustrate.

My favourite photo was used for the journal’s front cover. I love this shot of the gold masks that I painted for Heber Opera’s production of Nabucco. It was a powerful updated version of Verdi’s opera.

Nostalgia, it’s a wonderful thing!

The artist you can’t meet, whose art you should see

Over lockdown I’ve been taking a closer look at my father’s artwork, both his paintings and his pen and ink drawings. It’s long been in my head to write his biography and showcase some of his incredible talent, and at last I’ve made a start in that. The book is underway.

My father, Barrie Sydney Huntbach died in 2006, aged 71. He spent a lifetime drawing and painting, but it was always a hobby. Every spare moment was devoted to capturing the myriad of ideas from his head into thousands of works of art. He has two murals in Portslade, (a town to the west of Brighton, East Sussex). One in the town hall, and the other at the Brighton & Hove branch of Emmaus. Maybe you’ve seen these? He exhibited locally, particularly with his friends in The Society of Catholic Artists, and once in London. My father was fascinated by the subject of religion and it crops up in a lot of his work, though often juxtaposed to the pagan. Paintings can be deeply irreverent, whimsical, and disturbing in equal measures.

His work has been likened to that of Stanley Spencer, Marc Chagall, Beardlsey and Bosch. I think that the drawings have elements that Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame would appreciate. Some of them have Surrealist tendencies, others are pure Steampunk – before the term was ever coined!

My father working on one of his pen and ink drawings, 1990

It wasn’t the easiest of starts for my father. He was born prematurely and not expected to live. His parents were ordinary working-class folk living in Nottingham. They had no particular interest in the arts. His childhood was blighted by illness, and he suffered the loss of sight in one eye when a childhood game went wrong. But despite the halts to his education during various convalescent periods, his imagination ran wild. It continued to do so for the rest of his life.

His own working life was spent in a series of mundane, manual jobs. But every evening, and at weekends his fingers worked with acrylic, then oil paints to capture the moving images in his head, pinning them to board, canvas and paper. I’ve started an Instagram page to showcase some of his work, @thesussexsurrealist, please take a look and follow. My paternal grandparents moved to Portslade when my father was just a baby. My father lived in the town for the rest of his life. He wasn’t interested in travel, or material possessions. He was a kind and generous man, and my three siblings and I had a childhood filled with love.

I’ve particularly enjoyed looking at my father’s pen and ink drawings. These are amazingly detailed pieces of work. The drawings were done with no preparatory line work, the images simply flowed from his nib. One the last few weeks I’ve been isolating various elements from the larger drawings, and showcasing them on their own. My father would have been amazed by the technology that enable me to do this. And, I think he’d be fascinated how I can take elements from different drawings, and combine them into new artworks.

One of the challenges that I face is how to deal with the four long drawings – of which the largest is around 60 feet (by around 4ft wide)! It is filled with numerous characters. The more you look, the more you see. I think I’ll have to call in the services of a professional to capture it all properly. One of them has some delicate shading in coloured pencils, so beautifully executed.

The paintings are a riot of colour, but feature as quirky a cast of characters as the drawings. Saints and sinners, stylish women, knights, acrobats and clowns, with devils and gargoyles thrown into the mix. Here are just three. The use of symbols, patterned fabrics, candles, fruit, fish and collecting boxes are typical.

Detail from a larger painting.
One of my favourite paintings.

When the book is finished I’ll blog about it, and in it you’ll discover the genius that my father is. He never sought fame, he wanted to exhibit his work but he wasn’t pushy, but he was a humble man.

“Drawing is my life” he said. It was.

You can also visit http://huntbach.squarespace.com

If it wasn’t for those meddling kids!

If you recognise this phrase you’ll know of the the animated kids tv programme, Scooby-Doo. It formed part of my 1970s childhood TV viewing. When I came across a brightly coloured single duvet in a charity shop featuring the characters; Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, Velma – and of course Scooby himself, I had to buy it.

It’s been a while since I made any clothes out of duvets. But it wasn’t straightforward due to the positioning of the design on the main side (top left image). The best way to get a piece of all of the characters was to make the slimline dress, rather than the 1950s style with the flared skirt. You can see both of these styles in previous blog posts of mine. I just had to decide who to feature where. I chose the girls, Daphne and Velma for the front, Fred is round to the side, with Shaggy and Scooby on the back.

Unlike with previous versions of this dress I wanted to include hidden pockets, rather than adding them to the front side panels. There are two, one one each side that are accessed from the side seam. Luckily I had lining fabric and a long zip to complete the dress.

The reverse of the duvet had smaller motifs spread across the fabric (top middle image, shown with pillowcase). This will make for easier placement of pattern pieces when I come to use it, most likely for a shirt at later date. I knew from the off that the accompanying pillowcase would make cloth bags so I ran up a couple for my next shopping trip…will I find more nostalgic duvets? Who knows!

Totally abstracted from reality

It’s unsurprising that many of our homes are getting a fresh coat of paint during the Covid epidemic. Many of us have been staring at the walls for so long that even watching paint dry has given us ‘something to do’. I am no exception.

While every wall in the house had been given a new identity prior to lockdown, the hallway hasn’t been so fortunate. It has always been a place to pass through on the way to somewhere more exciting. I did create a book door to give it a little kick, but it was time for a bigger gesture.

The triangular side of the staircase seemed to me to offer potential for something. I needed something to do with my furlough time. And I needed something creative. This wall was my target. And I knew what to do – well, I had an idea of something that I wanted to try.

Be bold!

I recalled seeing in a home style magazine a study wall that the home owner had transformed using tester pots of pastel paints and masking tape in a neat section above a desk. I admired it at the time and thought that this was something to try on my staircase wall. But I wanted a much bolder colour palette. I had in my head an earthy orange/red, black and ochre yellow. 

Despite what the DIY paint-matching service would suggest – finding that perfect shade of earthy orange/red didn’t quite match up. And I’d got it wrong with oranges before. So I ended up choosing an off-the-peg deep red shade (not too red, not too purple) – and the same again with the yellow. I reasoned that if my project didn’t work out I could always return the wall to its original white. After all in the house makeover budget paint is cheap.

Tape it up

I began my using masking tape to divide the wall into sections. Beginning with triangles, but creating tram-lines and short-stops too. I made some larger circles from masking tape (thanks You Tube) to mask off other areas. Then I set too with the paint. I used a small roller for the larger area, and kitchen sponges for the smaller areas. I wanted the red colour to major in my design, so I started with blocking in some of the smaller areas with the yellow, and then the black. I didn’t have any real plan beyond the ‘stand back every now and then and take a look, and a think’. And a cup of tea. Then it came to applying the red to all the areas that remained.

Of course, as with any paint job, one coat is never enough. I did one coat – it looked patchy and I looked worried. I told myself it would be OK once more coats were applied. And I was right. It’s only once the masking tape is removed that the design really becomes apparent. It was certainly bold and made quite a statement. And I could have left it there. I nearly did. I took a photograph of myself in a vintage fabric dress with a similar nod to the lines and spaces pattern as the new wall. Posted it on Facebook and received admiring comments for wall (and dress). But I was going further!

My partner and I had previously debated the ‘long wall’ in the stairwell and painting it a dark grey. Or covering it with paintings – we have lots – though it’s a difficult wall to get to the top of. I didn’t fancy hanging off a precariously placed ladder. I needed more walls to watch and more drying paint.

The only way is up!

The abstract design was continued up a ‘reachable’ section of the stairwell wall. And the painting process began again. More masking tape, more masking circles, more uncertainty, but also more ‘what the hell I’m doing it anyway’. I faced again all the ‘what am I doing’ doubt when painting the first wall but knew to have faith in the end result. I’ve just peeled off the masking tape for my ‘ta-dah’ moment.

I may call in the professionals to paint the top of the staircase wall above the abstract design up to the ceiling – in black – to create the full dramatic feature that this wall has become. And I may use black elsewhere in the hallway too. But for now I’m delighted.

Surprisingly easy to accomplish. You don’t need to be an artist. It is only paint!

And I know what you’re thinking – what if you want to sell the house in the future? Isn’t this just the sort of off-putting feature wall that you faced when you moved in (did I tell you about the flamingo suite?) It’s only paint. It’ll be easy enough to roller over in white. If needs be.

Update 31.3.21: the wall above the patterned section has been painted black, and taken around a short return. Very punchy!