This is one of Neil Stevens’ amazing shipping forecast prints and I love it so much I just had to show you. If you are unaware of it, the UK shipping forecast is broadcast twice daily on BBC radio. Its detailed meteorological information acts as a lifeline to vessels planning their routes around these shores, but also provides (to anyone who is awake to hear it) an incredibly evocative litany of Britain’s liminal spaces. “This set of prints,” says Neil, “has been inspired by those midnight broadcasts with their unique language, unusual regional names and phrases.” Two beautifully produced Fair Isle and Hebrides prints have just turned up here today and I am very much looking forward to hanging them on my wall. See the rest of the series here.
These designs were inspired by Shetland’s iconic lighthouses . . .
. . . such as the Bressay light, which provides the dramatic backdrop to these photographs.
Seven of Shetland’s lighthouses, including the one at Bressay, were designed and constructed by a pioneering family of engineers — the Stevensons (about whom you can read more in the book).
The golden paintwork that distinguishes a Stevenson lighthouse, together with classic matelot stripes, inspired this pair of quintessentially nautical designs.
With simple shaping, and a single round of colourwork per repeat, these are incredibly easy patterns to knit.
The gauntlets will keep your hands and wrists cosy in chill sea breezes . . .
. . .and the sweater is just the ticket for a windy cliffside walk.
Because I know you like to see my styling assistant — here he is, supervising the progress of the shoot.
And having a nice sit down while I gamely attempt to hug a lighthouse . . .(can you spot the Bonxie / Arctic Skua in this shot?)
And I just have to let you know that the books have now left the printers and are actually on their way to me. Nic, my amazing art and production editor, has just shown me a copy of the book on Skype, and, though I do say so myself, it really does look bloody amazing. I’m sure you are getting a sense now of the aesthetic structure of the book — that is — how each of my ‘colour stories’ has its own distinctive palette and theme. In the book, these individual palettes distinguish each section, through the patterns, charts, essays and photography right down to the level of fonts and layout. It looks like it is the truly lovely object I always wanted it to be!! I foresee a very busy weekend signing books (each copy purchased from my online shop will be signed) and then we will be ready to put them on sale on Monday.
Book deliveries permitting, I’ll be back tomorrow to show you the book’s final pair of colourful designs. . . .
Until then . . .
When I was back in Lancashire, I did some screen printing with my sister and Mr Steve — the brain and hands behind a number of great community arts projects in Rochdale. Neither Helen or I had tried screen printing techniques before, and the usual insane excitement that accompanies any craft activity we undertake was rather tempered by the feeling of being total novices. But no-one is allowed to feel inept in Mr Steve’s workshop, and, encouraged by him, we kept things simple, and tried out a couple of ideas.
One of Helen’s friends is about to get married in Liverpool, where they were both at University. Her idea was to translate the Liverpool city skyline, (as draughted by her architect friend Alistair) into screen-printed bags to accompany the hen night celebrations. In the photo at the top of this post, you can see Helen tracing her design onto acetate. The images below illustrate the printing fun that then unfolded. After exposing the screen, she tested out the design on paper, before picking out several iconic buildings in blocks of hand-mixed colour, which were then transferred to fabric. In the third picture you can see a hint of blue Mersey, and the red sandstone of the Anglican cathedral. And that’s Mr Steve there in the last pic.
Helen also transferred her design on to some cotton we cut out to shape, clothkits stylee, to make into skirts for each of us. These will be amazing . . . when we get round to sewing them up! (I will do so soon and where’s yours, Hels?!)
It was fascinating seeing the skyline come to life as each colour was successively printed. In comparison to Helen’s cityscape, my monotone design was rather plain and straightforward. I found an image of a bee, picked out some lines from a seventeenth-century book of emblems, scaled them up and traced them onto acetate in black ink. Mr Steve suggested we gave the screen a shorter exposure to allow for the fine lines of the bees wings and, um, leg hair. Then I took some calico bags and got to work with the ink and squeegees. Look! I made bees!
Having only printed with blocks before, I was amazed at how precisely this process transfers fine lines first to screen and then to finished fabric. Here is my final design. I love it!
I enjoyed the whole process, and particularly the actual printing. Heady with ink fumes and the thrill of making a thing, I whooshed my squeegee about, shouting some nonsense about Franklin, Blake and the printing press above the noise of the vacuum table. I got carried away, made quite a few bags, and thus have one to give away here. Would you like a me-designed, hand-printed bee-bag into which I shall place some other bee-themed goodies? If so, just leave a comment on this post before the end of the month (June 30th). I shall then select the winner at random, and post this worker bee off to its new home.
Since I made these butterfly thingies a while ago, I have become interested in the whole process of printing, and creating block designs for printing. I treated myself to a couple of nice practical books on the subject: Lena Corwin’s Printing by Hand and Lotta Jandsotter’s Lotta Prints. I really enjoyed both: Corwin and Jandsotter have quite different design aesthetics, but both these books are real treats for the eyes. I would say, though, that Corwin’s book probably had the edge for me, in terms of straightforward, in-depth instructions; a super range of projects; and the real care that has clearly gone into putting her book together. Whereas Lotta Prints tends, at some points, to edge toward being just a visual celebration of the author’s style, theres much more substance to Corwin’s writing — and a real generosity of approach as well. It is very clear, very practical, and veryuseable book: ideal for a beginner like me. Produced under Melanie Falick’s imprint, it of course looks very nice too. I found myself foolishly drawn to this jolly chest of drawers.
Lena Corwin, “Dressed up Dresser,” Printing by Hand (2008).
I’ve since had a bit of a go at designing and cutting a lino block, and I don’t mind admitting that my first attempts have been bloody awful. I definitely need practice. But in the meantime, I’ve really been enjoying printing with blocks that other people have designed. . .
. . . these being my current favourites. Everything about these stamps is satisfying: I love the shapes of the blocks in their hand-finished box; I love the pared-down feel of the designs. I find there is a very evocative pleasure in just getting the blocks out of the box, looking at them, rearranging them, and closing the lid again. It is a childlike pleasure, and one can feel the same sort of thing messing around in one’s button box, but here you get to make marks with these things too! Fun! Anyway, I’ve recently been using the Yellow Owl blocks, together with a block of some cranes I got here to stamp up some seasonal cards.
Yes, I know the shot is a bit blurry, and the festive lights in the background are cheesy, but I care not — I rather enjoy getting in a seasonal sort of mood. I’ve been sitting by the newly-decorated tree and stamping away at my cards, in between shovelling in several mince pies and some festive booze. Fill up that glass, Tom! Keep that stamping hand steady! Ho ho ho!
It feels as if things are returning to ‘normal’. The physios are very pleased with Tom’s progress. He must now punish the healed-up hand with constant exercise to regain maximum mobility, and is also allowed to do everyday things again. Today we both went for a run in the hills. Time to fire up my trusty walshes and throw myself off a summit into a howling gale — hurrah! I have also (happily) been relieved from cooking duty. This means I now have the pleasure of devouring things like this again:
Tom’s pear and ginger cake. Insanely good and one of my favourite things to eat ever. This version had the added bonus of fresh eggs from Sarah’s hens (thanks, Sarah). Recipe from Jane Grigson’s fruit book.
Now the usual household division of labour is reinstated, theres also a bit more time for completing old projects. . .
. . .and exploring the potential of some new ones:
Mostly, though, I’m just so thankful that Tom is able to use his hand again — with not much mobility and still less feeling, but he can use it. The transformation from bloodied stump-thing to working appendage has really been remarkable and has filled me with a stupid sense of wonder at what the human body (and some very good surgeons) can do. I did sort of want to show you before and after shots, but was told that this was far too gruesome. Anyway, thanks once again for all your good wishes and encouraging words. Those of you who emailed us with positive things to say about healed injuries and physiotherapy were (of course) absolutely right. Thanks! x
Thanks very much, everyone, for all your printing tips and suggestions! I’ve ordered the books Kirsty recommended, as a sort of modern supplement to my Dryad Handicrafts Leaflets, which I immersed myself in again last night. Any of you who have encountered the Dryad leaflets will know that there is a particular joy in reading them, which comes from the way their authors combine a seriousness of approach with a genuine pleasure in their craft. The prose is also just wonderful. Last night I particularly enjoyed the account of potato printing in leaflet no. 57 which begins: “Select a crisp and closely grained potato . . .” and concludes: “the slight irregularities which come from the softer nature of the potato are by no means unpleasant.” But my favourite read was leaflet no.146, “Wood Engraving,” written by the aptly-named Douglas P Bliss. Here is a man who quite simply adores wood engraving, and wants the beginner-engraver to adore it too. He waxes lyrical about the history and practice of engraving, and the “quite remarkable pleasure of working with well-ground tools and a fine box-wood block.” He is also keen to assure the reader of his craft’s ease and portability: “You can put all your tackle into a small box, clear off to the country, if you so desire, and get on with your engraving snugly there. This writer has engraved blocks in the public room of a hotel in the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.” How can you argue with a man who takes his craft down the pub? Seriously, I HEART Douglas P. Bliss.
Another great thing about the Dryad leaflets, as Jeanette pointed out yesterday, is their suggestions for simple pattern repeats for the novice block cutter and printer. Their designs are all bold lines and primary colours and are very pleasing indeed. Heres another one
and . . .
oops, how did that ram get in there?
more printing experiments next weekend, I hope.