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Inspired.....a very special opportunity!

At the end of 2022 I found myself in a bit of a creative rut, I had been doing the same fairs and Open Studios for a few years and felt the need to spread my wings a bit.

As part of Northampton Open Studio's (NOS) there was an opportunity to put artwork in 78 Derngate, the town house near the centre of Northampton that Charles Rennie Mackintosh had redesigned for it's owner WJ. Bassett-Lowke in the early 1900's. It's the only house CRM created outside Scotland and although none of the rooms are original (over time with various owners everything had been ripped out sadly) from drawings and photographs the rooms have been restored to a very high standard with beautiful detail......only fitting for a Rennie Mackintosh house!

The 'small print' of this opportunity was that the space for an artist was in the garden, not in the gallery space, another box I wanted to tick - creating an outside experience that would be seen as a sculpture perhaps?

I ran my idea past Katie of NOS, she enthusiastically approved and I committed to the idea!

Back in May, September was a long way away so I had time to play and make a proper plan for this work. Rather than a typical tribute to CRM I wanted to celebrate the fabric designs he had created with his wife Margaret.

I happened to have a book given to me by Deborah and Lara, who had inspired the previous project, Kathy Keay must have been a Mackintosh fan! So before I set to work I had to find an image for the NOS website and the book with some threads and eco printing was that image.

At this point I had no idea what I was going to do.

I soon found time to start to play around with batik drawings inspired by the CRM book, working on eco printed fabrics I had already. I liked the idea of the contrast between the dark natural quality of the eco printing and the bold colourful batik. I also played around with a patchwork idea of different techniques together and auditioned them on the washing line. I loved the glow of these first fabrics and the shadows from the trees.

After a break working on a project for the MK:if I started on the 78 Derngate work again in July. Now the reality hit that I hadn't got any money to spend on this project, it was not a commission it was an unpaid opportunity, so I had to be resourceful. Although linen and silk would have been lovey for the 'glowing feature' and the movement I didn't have enough of it in the studio and I realised I was probably going to have to make at least 20 of these banners to make any kind of impact in the garden. Another question was 'how was I going to display this work' I had wild thoughts of flag poles, until I saw the potential cost. The obvious answer was a simple washing line, with pegs to secure the banners, as as this was once a garden in a domestic setting it seemed apt that my work would reflect the woman who lived in the house Mrs Jane Bassett-Lowke and Margaret MacDonald herself. This was going to be a jolly, creative washing line.

I spent quite a lot of time over the making weeks trying to find quotes from Margaret, but to no avail. CRM himself was not particularly quotable, but he did credit Margaret as the genius in their design paring, so that was an important reflection on their partnership.

The fabric I settled on was a strange fabric I had acquired from the local scrap store. Nothing glamorous at all, it feels quite man-made until it's washed, but it has a beautiful drape. Oh and it eco prints (!) which means it must be some sort of viscose (made from tree pulp rather than acrylic fibres) ....I had lots of it so that decision was a no brainer. I was creating around one large batik a day, waxing out the designs quite spontaneously and then adding colour with dye-na-flow ready made fabric dyes. I kept them quite loose, creating designs from elements of the book and treating them like unfinished sketches, just like the book.

I then realised I needed to work a bit quicker, CRM had been inspired by Japanese art and textiles so an obvious technique to add was indigo dyeing. I waxed up some large panels with more quotes and clamped some designs as well. Prepped my indigo bucket and dipped for a day, all good.

So far the references had little to do with 78 Derngate itself, so I chose the iconic black and yellow triangle design from the entrance hallway of 78 to represent in block printing. I used a photograph of Mr and Mrs Bassett-Lowke in their doorway digitally printed onto some gauze and then block printed around to create a border.

I was really concentrating on the garden at this point, but talking to the other artists in the house I did offer some work inside if there was space and they needed a wall filled - textiles can be quite quick to produce - it can sometimes if you have a plan, honestly! I also had a couple of chat's with Liz, the house manager who said I could put work on the balcony in their new gallery space, with would link the inside with the outside, so my making list was getting longer.

So these banners are seen from the inside and the out, to be honest I didn't really make a plan, but I think they work ok.

One last task, this work had taken me at least 6 weeks to make, with no income, which is a little indulgent I know (sorry, not good for my accounts at all, but I didn't turn anything down) The group inside the house were ok with me making work for a wall with the potential to make work to sell. Literally, the the last week of August before I was due to hang on the 27th of August I ordered 12 silk scarves and make a plan to indigo dye them.

So this is where I have been for the last month. Just loved making the work and installing it in the garden and gallery space. It's ticked a big box from my list at the end of 2022 and I hope it will lead to other larger opportunities - but I do hope the next one will be paid!

Oh hang on, I should mention the weather! I didn't really know how these textiles outside would last so none of them were for sale.....I did swap some of the indigo over after the first two weeks of intense heat and torrential downpours, but the batik's have lasted surprisingly well.


For reference: 78 Derngate house is the cream house on the left of this image, the brick house is the museum and access house, the glass building behind the tree is the shop and gallery space and the white building at the end is more gallery space and the very lovely tea-room.

What a brilliant few months I have had, thank you to Katie at NOS for letting me put work in the garden and Liz at 78 for letting me play!

I shall miss this setting, it comes down on Thursday the 5th of October :(

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