gardening spirit

As this is the start of National Gardening Week it seems appropriate that I reflect on how important gardening is to me. Growing up in a gardening family, with a self-sufficient attitude to growing vegetables I suppose it was inevitable that one day I’d have a garden of my own to tend. For years I’d visit mum and be walked around the garden having updates on the state of things, nodding but never knowing the names of things, but seeing the pleasure the process of gardening gives to her. Now I understand.

Here in Birmingham we have an allotment to grow the vegetables and fruit in, and we grow flowers in our garden. We have spent over a decade digging and harvesting plot 8; learning to respect weeds for their various ways of making their presence known – I still want to try weaving couch grass. The feeling of success when we pick the first strawberries of the year, or fill the rucksack with runner beans that can be filling the freezer for wintertime is certainly worth the hours of graft. Last weekend I picked over a kilo of purple sprouting, and we commented that the harvest would probably cost well over £10 in the shops, as organic produce – but with no plastic wrapping or air miles included. Of course our food tastes so much better too! Gardening spells out the seasons as we check for frosts, or pick the first fruits, and enjoy the harvest and flowers of each changing month. The beds of wallflowers make me so happy this time each year, signalling the excitement of the growing year getting underway.

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It was at the allotment plot that I first developed my pattern collection ‘Plot to Plate‘, launched in 2012. I had been drawing the allotment beds on the site, as well as National Trust kitchen gardens for a while, and a language of graphic pattern made from lino cuts evolved, firstly as limited edition prints, and secondly as motifs to explore repeat pattern with (for example: Plot to Plate VVV textile design – final image with the Auricula). The title design is slightly different in the fact that it was hand drawn, and is an over-sized dog tooth check featuring tools of growing, cooking and eating, such as garden rakes, spades, whisks, wooden spoons and cutlery as a visual narrative up the tea towel, celebrating the journey from plot to plate – available in Brassica green or Brassica purple. plottoplate_ttowels_katefarley150

This collection has evolved to incorporate more formal pattern compositions such as Parterre (below) and Hanbury, inspired by National Trust’s Hanbury Hall and Gardens in Worcestershire, featured on hand screen printed cushions and wallpaper, where I make links between pattern design for textiles and formal garden design.

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These days my design practice has moved away from the inspiration of the formal gardens but I continue to dig. Our potatoes are in the ground for this year and the greenhouse is working some magic. Gardening provides me with not only creative inspiration but also head-space – a highly valuable asset in today’s world. As a designer and an academic, juggling a young family too, things can be frantic and I’m often running for trains. Faced with two hours of hard clay to dig I’m actually very happy. I can focus on the job in hand while chatting to the friendly robins, making myself physically tired, seeing the result of the work, and at the same time having time to think and mull over some of the other stuff of life. There’s also the sense of community with other allotmenteers; we share the same weather and battles but also share the excess harvests. Every time we get to the point of questioning ourselves about the allotment and if we have time, I remember all that it does for me, how my hard work there actually keeps me well; gives me a sense of well-being I can’t imagine getting from anything else. I shall keep digging, and knowing, for so many reasons, why I do!  Happy National Gardening Week!

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Springtime shopping of Plot to Plate gifts

My ‘Plot to Plate’ collection inspired by gardening is celebrating Springtime with a special offer in my online shop. For orders over £20 placed during March and April there will be free gifts included.

All products are printed and made in England. Tea-towels, bags as well Hanbury and Parterre cushions are screen printed. Greetings cards are printed with British paper.

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an alternative view

I’m not so keen on this time of year. Despite the crocuses being up it doesn’t feel anywhere near summer, and there is still a small chance that snow will fall before anything but parsnips can be harvested on our plot. Having been brought up in the Norfolk countryside I miss what the countryside offers. It is important to me that I notice the seasonal changes that shape our year, despite the suburban home I find myself in, here in Birmingham. I miss the big skies, the open fields, and the greens of each season, still in existence, I just can’t see them from here.

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Looking though photographs from last summer I found this shot. I took it from the car as we sat aboard the Windermere ferry, crossing back towards the motorway, heading south to the Midlands from our final holiday of the season. It really was a grasped shot of the closing summer, peering through the window, breathing in the view. A last look across to the beautiful hills of the Lake District, unaware of what sort of wet winter was in store for so many in the region. In getting the link to the ferry for this post I’ve just discovered there’s a ferry-cam. I’ll check back to it in daylight, and dream of the summer holiday.

Today it was sunny in Birmingham. I had a short run around the park nearby and pretended it was the countryside, imagining I really could feel the heat of the sun through my hat, gloves and coat. I think we have a while to wait. The ground underfoot reminded me all to well of school cross-country in winter!

I think I’m in need of another holiday to the country!

 

 

miles on wheels

I was brought up in a very keen cycling family, as a useful form of transport from a-b as well as for touring holidays and adventures. Growing up in Norfolk meant ignorant bliss when it came to real hills, and yet we did know that it can feel as if you have a headwind on four sides of a flat field!

With the Design Museum’s bicycle focused ‘Cycle Revolution‘ exhibition now on, the theme of their Twitter #FontSunday recently was bicycle brands. This got me thinking. I own many bikes, and each one for different reasons and I have many happy memories of times on two wheels. I took a few photos and started to remember…

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My early school photos show evidence of me learning to ride. Scars, bumps and bruises across my face, the result of falling in to the ditch of the edge of the disused airbase runway in rural Norfolk. I’ve fallen off with full panniers on, in fords deep enough with water to soften the landing, and I’ve broken my elbow as a result of hitting a pothole that was so small it could hardly be photographed for evidence! I’ve cycled Boxing day charity CTC runs, made others fall in love with touring on wheels, and ran round the park being brave enough to let my own children pedal away from me.

I inherited the silver ‘Falcon’ after my dad died, and once I’d grown old enough to fit an adult frame. With huge sentimental value, I love the bike I’ve covered miles and miles on. Youth hosteling with friends in Norfolk, and further afield: Scotland, Wales, France and Denmark. Loaded high and wide, on the open road, enjoying the same freedoms my father had experienced on the same steel frame.

My ‘Rudge Whitworth’, a heavy gent’s black butchers bike with rod brakes and wicker basket was purchased for a tenner from a fellow student at the art school in Great Yarmouth. I loved riding along, with my art box in the basket, seated so high up that I could peer over fences and be nosy. It takes hard work to pick up real speed, and yet once going, it’s impressive. The stopping is more interesting / less easy!

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My life changed colour with the purchase of my ‘Turkish Green’ Brompton, from BikeFix in London. I ordered it before I’d seen the true colour but as the staff pointed at many products in the shop, saying, nearly this, bluer that that, brighter than those, I chose my new bike. On the day it arrived I excitedly arrived at the shop to discover the true colour, and to receive ‘training’ of how to fold and unfold the bike before I was allowed out on the streets. When I lived in London I headed off with the bike, all over the place, leading bookbinding workshops, before packing it all up, and heading off to the train home again, some miles cycled, others on tracks. Now this bike is my regular commuter bike to the train and I’ve covered so many miles in over ten years. I transport my children on it when they are too tired to walk, I load up the rack with runner beans in trays ready for the allotment, and I carry the harvest back from the plot, strapped up in front and behind. I fold it without a second thought now.

There are other bikes too. The borrowed, hand-built racing bike I cycled Lands End to John O’Groats on back in 1994, all 1144 miles of it. Then the Dawes Galaxy with ‘modern’ gears, that made me embrace cleats on the pedals instead of the rat traps. The red Falcon that I had before I was tall enough for my Dad’s old bike, I still have that one too.

Each bike I own was made with a different rationale to the next one, in different times, in different workshops and factories, with different ambitions. Each one I own has been part of a different story too.

 

 

summer to autumn colours

We’ve been treated to some clear blue sky days over the last few weeks and this makes the transition from summer to autumn a bit more tolerable. I always hate having to acknowledge that the summer warmth has gone for another year, and that the plot has given us most of the harvest for the year. We will wait for the frosts before we dig the parsnips, but I’ve gathered the squash and picked the final runner beans we will eat. The last of the sweet peas still offer their scent, but their strength of colour has passed. It’s a constructive time at the plot as we take down the netting, pull up the spent corns and clear ground for new anticipation.

Poppies, marigolds and nasturtiums still bloom such strong summer colours, daring the frost not to strike for a few more nights… I have my fingers crossed too…

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A change of background colour

It’s the holiday season and we’ve been taking part. A camping trip to the Lake District offered a dramatic difference to the usual scenery we live within here in the Midlands, and it was refreshing change for being so. Everywhere seemed so green, really really green, not just the local park green but intense, vivid greens that lush meadows could offer. Naturally with that comes rain, but even then the colours were vibrant. Lichen was glowing, moss saturated, even the sheep were blue! Some colours took me back to studio projects, Pantone references, British Standard colours and colour choices, others offered a welcome diversion.The strange thing is, that when I compiled the image to include with this post the images looked really grey, but it really wasn’t like that through my eyes!

This change of scene is just what the mind needed after an intense workload juggling several design projects and at the end of a hectic academic year. I like what the seasons do to us, make us adapt and notice the time passing. This time of year feels like a celebration, as harvests ripen in the sun (ummm..) and we prepare for a new season of productive design work, education and research.

I shall remember the vivid greens, the birds circling overhead in the sky of blue; the vast views that some people get to enjoy day in day out. I shall remember the feeling of change, and rest, and stopping just for a short while, as a warm memory in the depths of winter when working in the studio. I am bound by the academic year, as well as the seasons on the allotment, the trade show calendar, and birthdays, as so many people are. It’s good to recognise the rhythms and differences brought on by change. Hooray for holidays!

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Plot to Plate printed pattern at Pulse 2015

It always takes far longer to prepare for a trade show than it does to be there but I thought I’d show a bit of the journey of my show. Rather substantial worries kicked in the night before when we feared the contents of my stand were not able to be carried by two human beings, and more worryingly, not allowed on the train to London. Somehow we managed what felt like a physical endurance test, in fact it was… and began to make it my home for the next few days. Olympia is a stunning building to spend time in and we got the show up in a few hours, ready for the off… and there was still time to admire the London Underground graphics at Earls Court.

The Plot to Plate collection has grown substantially since its first trip to Olympia when I was showing in the Spotted section, at Top Drawer back in 2012. I am delighted that the new Hanbury and Parterre cushions have been well received by visitors to the show. These are hand screen printed and then sewn in Birmingham by social enterprise Textiles by St. Annes. The patterns are inspired by National Trust’s Hanbury Hall and Gardens, near Bromsgrove. The Hanbury wallpaper was also popular with interior designers visiting the show and Plot to Plate VVV was the most admired of my fabrics. My ‘parterre’ show dress was also much commented upon, with orders keen to be placed!

I was pleased to be an ‘expert pick’ by David Nicholls of House and Garden in the Pulse Preview and also chosen by Trend Bible in the trend section of the show catalogue.

It was also a pleasure to meet ex students of mine, graduating from the Textile Design degree at Birmingham City University, as visitors to the show in their industry roles, and I could still remember their names! How nice of them to say hello and make time to find out what I was up to.

The new friends made of the exhibitors beside me was really special. Such a supportive group of people, helping out, freely sharing trade insights, generally lovely people really helping the show be a great experience. The end of the show, although a welcome relief to the hours of standing (I really couldn’t carry a chair on the train!) was almost a sad time, as we stripped the walls bare, packed up our belongings, said our farewells and left, with the most ridiculous load I ever plan to carry. Maybe I’ll start making paper thimbles!

Thanks to all who visited and thanks to all who helped along the way! Here are the images which represent in some small way the few days at Kensington Olympia, May 2015.

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floral inspiration for textile patterns

One of the reasons I love to teach students drawing for textile design is the journey of enlightenment when introducing someone to the world of not only looking, but also of seeing. There are many ways to see when drawing and I’m really interested in the journey from reality to abstraction, whether its a state of mind, a way of transforming or whether it’s a methodical process applied to something in order to arrive at a motif for pattern.

My drawing process has evolved over years of practice but the way that I see is not so different to two decades ago. I remember reading the book ‘Drawing with the Right Side of your Brain’ by Betty Edwards and realising that I already did that and it all made sense. I enjoy playing with perspective, elevation, mapping of whatever it is I’m drawing, whether it’s a landscape or twig. Turning the three-dimensional thing in front of my eyes in to a two-dimensional drawing is always exciting, and challenging, but that’s half the fun. I think the process of printmaking that I further translate my drawings to really suit the clarity of motif dissection, separating colours or specific details on separate blocks or screens for printing for either a limited edition print or commercial textile design.

Each year the pear blossom at the allotment arrives and each year I’m reminded of how perfect they are in all ways. The beautiful petals and the bits I don’t know the names of, all there, waiting to be celebrated in drawing. No doubt Charles Rennie Mackintosh would have made an exquisite watercolour and graphite study. The flowers also remind me of drawings and prints I have made in the past, and not only of blossom, but of flowers that I make diagrammatic in a way to understand and explain the ingredients of the flower. When I discovered the work of Gwen White, and particularly the book ‘A World of Pattern’ I was excited to see someone else communicating what I see and how I translate form to pattern. This method doesn’t suite everybody and it would be a dull world if we all made drawings that looked the same, but every now and then it’s nice to know that my creative brain works like someone else’s brain and that my eyes see what others have seen before me.

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Pear blossom, photograph, Kate Farley

‘Hanbury’ wallpaper, Kate Farley

Passiflora, lino print, Kate Farley

illustrations from Gwen White’s ‘A World of Pattern’ (RH column)

 

Plot to Plate archaeology

When I was a small child there was a time when I wanted to be an archaeologist. Having been lucky enough to have visited several Greek archaeological sites and been inspired by the possible finds underground I was convinced I had the patience and where-with-all to try. That particular career plan didn’t last long but something of the magic of unearthing lost treasures, and working through the soil of past generations has most certainly been re-awakened through my adult years of gardening – and beach-combing come to think of it!

Over the last few years I’ve represented this process of working with the soil and bearing witness to nature’s materials in many drawings and prints, working to represent layers of gardening, as if strata of dinner preparations. I like the continuum of being a gardener, as the current occupier and protector of a long line of gardeners, each winning and losing the battles of nature and harvests for generations.

As I have dug the plot for nearly a decade I’ve discovered many broken bits of pottery, and some I’ve kept and others I’ve turned back to the earth to be found again at a different time. With no rationale to what I have kept but having created little gatherings; pieces turned out from my gardening trouser pockets, I have realised I’ve started another collection. (check out www.obsessionistas.co.uk for two more of my collections)

I like to see the different surfaces, the whites, the blues, and the hints of familiar patterns. Why do people plant their broken plates? It’s certainly a different narrative to my Plot to Plate collection…

KFarleyplotPotsdrawing100ahttp://www.katefarley.co.uk

 

Plot to Plate prints and patterns at Tent London

What a week! Several trips to London, lots of bubble-wrap, the wearing of a particular dress and stamina, all in the name of Tent London as part of London Design Festival 2014.

The preparation has taken months, alongside the development of patterns and printing I have worked on marketing & promotion, stand design, costings and sales. I’m delighted that my first commercially available wallpaper called ‘Hanbury’ (see previous blog post) has been really well received by interior designers, the public and the press and I look forward to working with really great people who have shown support.

The fabrics have been fairly consistently described as ‘restful’ and ‘calming’ with the muted colour palette being appreciated and described as ‘mid-century’ and ‘modernist’. Its difficult to know sometimes how much people want to know about the generation of pattern designs, but when I described the inspiration and showed the drawings and limited editions of prints of allotments that helped to generate the motifs there was a sense of pleasure and understanding, especially amongst the gardeners! The linens have been popular, especially the Plot to Plate VVV stripe design. I look forward to seeing these fabrics on chairs and hung as curtains in due course.

After months working away in the studio it’s been a great opportunity to have conversations and feedback, meeting like minded people and making the first steps to some fabulous opportunities and working relationships. Thanks to all who came by to meet me, I really value the feedback and support!

A huge thanks go to all of my sisters who played their significant part in keeping me upright, getting me and my work to where we needed to be, and keeping the children going. Thanks to Gavin, as well as Helen for living in the right place, and huge thanks to Stuart for being a great ‘intern’ – above and beyond!

If you didn’t get a chance to visit my stand here’s what it looked like…

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