The A 5 Art show

posted in: Inspiration, Photography | 6

I want to share a project I am involved in. Every two years we have a resident art show – including paintings and other art work they have produced. The items are sold and all the proceeds go to support our tenant welfare fund. This allows small grants to be given to individuals and families who need help, or to organise events and outings for groups of tenants in care schemes. The private view is a truly amazing event with tenants, their families and friends celebrating their achievements and the power of art and creative endeavour.

This year the theme was A5 art – the size was restricted; staff were allowed to submit pieces as well as tenants: and professional artists were encouraged to provide a painting or two. Everything is on sale at the same price – £50 – and we are keen to sell as many of the 300 items as possible to allow us to boost our funds for helping residents.

I did a couple of embroideries for the show and one sold on the night. I also bought a small painting by a resident.

With a team of artists, curators and tenants I helped choose the art that would be displayed and sold. We ended up with more than 300 pieces. If you would like to check out the art work, look at our special site.

When I got there the volunteers were putting on their T shirts and getting a team talk.

A5 Art project
Volunteer team

Most of the volunteers are our staff from our housing, finance, and care and support teams. Their job on the day was to help people enjoy the event, buy the art work, meet the artists and to look after the cloakroom.

Once the artists starting arriving I spoke to as many as I could. The artists including tenants who had participated in workshops and staff members who had simply done a painting or art work in their spare time.

Jackie is a very regular contributor to our art shows. She always paints flowers (top left). I think of these as tulips, and find the colour combinations interesting and appropriate.

A5 Art show
Jackie with one of her flower pictures

A longstanding tenant representative is Mary. She was on the Board of Notting HIll when I was appointed and she appointed me, so I have always had a close relationship with her. Since then she has retired, had a number of operations and now uses a crutch to help her walk.

A5 show
Mary with her abstract horse picture

Dwaine was inspired by the world cup and several of his pictures are based on the national flag of nations. This one is of the French flag; he also created a Croatian flag. The picture I bought is the green one in the top of this photograph, but I really liked his French flag (bottom). Dwaine enjoyed having his photograph taken.

A5 Art show
Dwaine with “France”

I met Bridget Metcalfe who lives in our Chelmsford scheme. She is a singer, journalist and radio broadcaster who also enjoys art. She recently had an exhibition based on one of our building sites. 

A5 Art show
Bridget with her painting (top left)

Yvette is a long standing member of staff, supporting our Housing Officers. Her colourful painting of a girl (centre) was influenced by Star Trek.

A 5 Art show
Yvette with one her “science fiction” paintings

Wayne, who doesn’t speak, had contributed his spatter paintings. However he wanted his portrait taken against this colourful selection by other artists.

A5 Art show

At the end Mandy Worster, the organiser, and I, made short speeches to thank the contributors, the artists, the gallery and the volunteers. We both implored people to buy a painting with all the money going to help our tenants in need. What an amazing and uplifting event. I am so proud to work for an inclusive, creative community – Notting Hill Genesis.

A 5 Art show
Speeches and toasts


A5 art show
Kindness is a political act



#TransformTSAL – Fabric Manipulation Techniques

Some time ago my friend and fellow Board member Linde Carr lent me a lovely book by Colette Wolff, The Art of Manipulating Fabric. It’s a comprehensive book, rather scholarly, and presented entirely in black and white with each sample made in plain unbleached cotton. It really is a source book and not something you would want to read  cover to cover. But there are many interesting techniques featured in the book and I will be using it as I create my Transformed T-shirt.

Linde, in William Morris

Let’s have a look at Saillard’s designs. Here we see a deep slash in the front (unfinished I think), with two areas of controlled pleats, sewn to the body at left and right front, so that the hem is brought up. The neckline and sleeves are unaltered.

Saillard T

Below I have more images, and descriptions of how the work is done.

Women’s Wear Daily describes Saillard’s process:

“Sleeves tucked up into graduated architectural caps, a neckline gathered down to reveal the nape of the neck in the manner of a kimono, delicate pin tucks bisecting the front, seams covered in silk piping — the techniques mined the repertoire of couture to cunningly twist the jersey into new shapes.

Stitches holding them in place, and the occasional self-tie allowing subtle adjustments, there wasn’t an adornment in sight, save for whip-stitched crosses marking the front of an item — for reference only as some of them can still be transformed further by being worn back-to-front.”


Vogue Magazine writes;

“The now-exquisite high-low pieces drape and swathe over the body with a T-shirt’s insouciant elegance, but inside they are finished like haute couture dresses, with three little red thread cross-stitches to remind the wearer which side is the front of the garment; grosgrain inner waistbands to secure them in place (while maintaining the illusion of insouciance); and hand-finished organza panels to stabilize those signature pleats.”

Even more interesting!

I am not particularly advocating copying Saillard’s designs directly, unless you want to. Most of my followers commented that the finished product is too extreme-looking for ordinary women, and that may be true for you. For myself I initially found T-shirts that are closer to my own size, and then pinned them where they seem to need to be taken in. Once I have decided where it would look best for the fullness to be supressed I will do some pleating or pin tucks or smocking to pull them in, in a way that creates a wearable and flattering look.

Mary asked for rules for the #TransformT Sew a long, so I will give some, but feel free to break at least one of them.


  • Use a traditional cotton T-shirt several sizes too big for you.
  • Change the shape using slashes, pleats or other types of shaping such gathering, tucks, darts or smocking
  • You cancombine or layer two T-shirts if you wish
  • Have it done by early January and let me have a photograph for sharing.


  • Start with a cotton T-shirt that is too big for you. Here is a suggestion. My  T-shirts from Primark which cost £2.50.
  • Put on yourself, or your dress stand and play with the look until you find the right place to put the pleating, using pins, safety pins or rubber bands.
  • Decide if you want something very wearable and subtle, or something more experimental and out there. Maybe one of each?
  • Consider how you are going to take up the excess. I have suggested pleats or other types of shaping such gathering, tucks, darts or smocking or pin tucks. If you wish I can run through each technique, but most of you know all this, and for those that don’t Google will provide. Saillard’s seamstresses have mainly used pleats on top of pleats, stacked pleats, to create a more 3D effect. This requires more fabric, and therefore a larger T-shirt.
    From Wolff, The Art of Manipulating Fabric
  • Consider cutting the fabric to release tension and to allow you to do even more with the fabric, eg twisting, or moving it from one side of the garment to the other.
  • Colour is important but this might just be a time to choose a colour you wouldn’t normally wear, just for Christmas, or for fun. You could dye the T-shirt before you start. Alternatively sew your pleats, dye your T and then release them to get a shibori effect.
  • And please share your ideas and learning below so we can all have the benefit of it.

Thank you!

Manipulating fabric – T shirt Transformation Project

I recently read an article about Olivier Saillard’s sensational fashion show, where he took cheap cotton T-shirts and transformed them – with twisting and draping, pleating and stitching – to create a new sensation.

Saillard has only come to designing relatively late in life (he is 51), having worked as a museum director. He is famous for curating the 2011 Madame Gres exhibition, and the following year creating performance art of sorts combining priceless items of dress with runway shows featuring Tilda Swinton in The Impossible Wardrobe.

Vogue explains that he was not only inspired by Madame Gres; he also located one of her old seamstresses to help him learn how to create some of her original techniques.

I felt suddenly very excited.

Madame Gres (in a turban, first picture) created Grecian inspired costumes with lots of draping and pleating. I learnt some of these techniques when I attended a course on bias drape at Morley college, mainly using very light weight fabrics.

Obviously working with silk chiffon, or creating full length evening dresses is an expensive hobby with limited value in today’s society (for most of us). What appealed to me was the idea of taking a very simple, ubiquitous item like a cotton T-shirt and transforming it into a unique and lovely item that could be worn with jeans or slim cut trousers and boots. Or of course wear your T as part of your uniform (I am still head to toe in navy corduroy!)

So here is a possible challenge you might to consider. I am going to find a couple of T-shirts (or acquire from the charity shop or cheap vendor) and see if I can create something similar but also unique.

Pink (with Saillard)

Here are some more inspiration pictures.

Mode Povera Couture Fall 2018
Deep green

The issues I am considering are

  • How to use pleating, tucking, slashing, gathering and possibly other techniques like smocking to transform a T-shirt
  • How the transformation might be temporary and dynamic – possibly using safety pins, elastic bands or zips – for example
  • Whether to use the techniques to flatter the body (a voluminous large T can be unflattering to a woman’s body) or to create additional bulk or structure
  • Creating a shape or style that needs to be worn over something else (the green slashed and orange versions)
  • Putting the embellishment to the side, the back, the sleeve or the neckline will give very different effects.
  • Making your own T-shirt to start with or using a T-shirt with stripes or a pattern, or in a soft, drapey fabric.

I am thinking of having this project finished by Christmas, feeling sure there will be an occasion for a unique T-shirt whatever the weather. In the next two weeks I will give more information on suitable techniques, more inspiration and updates on how I am getting on.

Care to join me for a Sewalong? #TransformTSAL

Landscape photography

posted in: Photography | 16

I have never really understood landscape photography. Although I love the landscape, and there is nothing better than going for a walk in the woods, I have not found it an interesting photography subject. Even when the place is stunning, magnificent and most enjoyable, I haven’t ever been able to capture an image that is anywhere close to the real thing. Nature on this scale is so vast and detailed, and yet most of my efforts at a photograph are just  bland and green.

With this exercise I had to do a landscape photograph for my homework. I worked quite hard with thinking about what would make a nice image. My favourite picture is the first one, below, which I have called Killing Field.

We came to this area in the Lower Woods, Badminton, as we walked alongside a small river.

For an hour or so I had come across several dead trees – fallen across the path, uprooted alongside us – bearing their roots, or invaded by fungi. Some had fallen across the river and become encrusted with moss and lichen. And I felt a sense of sorrow, and contemplated what it means to die, to fall, to rot. Of course nature demands death as often as birth and you cannot have creativity without destruction. But I will still shocked when I came across this man-made area where trees had been cut down. Of course this is not wanton destruction; the English have used the wood here for thousands of years and the wood as a whole is stronger as a result of the husbandry. But at that moment, coming across it, there was something upsetting, menacing even, about this deserted, almost sacred area. It was tidy, but there were a number of elements that disturbed me. The bright orange, almost bloody stumps; the bare, upright, truncated (right foreground) tree; the way the bodies had been laid out; the deep fissure in the old trunk; the barren grass. And the deep green young trees, all so straight, surrounding the field, looking on as if in shock.

I found it profoundly affecting, and this is what I submitted for my homework. The second picture gives another view of the same scene.

The next three pictures come to life for me through the inclusion of Nick. The small, dark figure helps give perspective to the area. The dappled November sunlight in the first shot, the scale and spaciousness of the second two, help us get a sense of how our ancient woodlands feel, when you are in them.

The third set are just trees – nice shapes, textures and wonderful colours. Apparently there are more versions of green available to the human eye than any other colour. I find these a bit magical and mysterious.

The reason why I think these photographs are successful, compared to my usual “green and bland” images is that

  • I went out with an intention
  • I brought my feelings to bear
  • I looked for the right light (it was mainly flat, but there were occasional moments of brightness in the gloom)
  • I underexposed to get more detail
  • I used Photoshop to edit – mainly I increased the saturation to bring out the different shades of green, and increased the clarity of the blacks to emphasise the structure.

Christmas Presents – have you made a list?

I couldn’t find the energy for Secret Santa this year, but I am making Christmas presents!

Mainly socks.

Hand knitted yellow sock (unfinished)
Making socks

It is possible that close family members will all end up with a pair. I am finding that socks take quite a lot of time although they can easily be combined with watching TV or listening to podcasts. At the moment we are watching Bordertown on Netflix. I got two large balls of this bright yellow yarn in the Salvation Army shop for 50p. There is quite a lot of sock yarn (4 ply 75% wool, 25% nylon) out there if you look. I got some grey stuff on eBay too.

What about making a covered book or two? This is a nice way to use up precious fabrics that are too small to use for garments but too nice to throw away. I like using African fabrics or small samples that I have been given. Here are my instructions for  covered books.

Note books covered in Linton tweed
Note books covered in Linton tweed

Also I made some small leather purses with leather samples. I loved using my plastic poppers in bright colours to finish them off. These are useful for all those plastic cards we seem to need to carry these days, or for your ear phones which get tangled and crummy in your rucksack.

Home made Leather purse
Ideal for in-ear headphones – earbuds

Two other nice ideas for making presents which I have never done but meant to are the oven glove or the longer thing for getting stuff out of the oven. 

Again – this is a great way of using up scraps of fabric. You can stitch smaller pieces together to make a patchwork effect. Last year Esme and I used up Christmas fabrics to make stockings for the children. This involved stitching strips to backing fabric, cut into a stocking shape, then joining the two sides together with bias binding. It was quick and fun.

The other knitting project that is quicker than socks is vintage slippers.

Vintage slipper
Brown and orange slippers


Special Christmas Offer on Making Life More Beautiful

Finally you could send your friends or family a copy of my book, Making Life more Beautiful. I know lots of you have enjoyed it and I so grateful for the positive reviews that you have written. Here is what Aggie MacKenzie said:

“This book sings with vibrancy, richness and excitement. It’s jam packed full of brilliant ideas, practical advice and gorgeous colour. An inspiration and friend to every woman interested in clothes, whether you are a maker or not”

Aggie MacKenzie
Aggie MacKenzie


The book includes the pattern for the vintage slippers, details on how to make trousers, skirts, jumpers and a hat. It also has lots of advice and ideas on colour, style and life.

I don’t have many left but I do have a special Christmas offer! I will

  • wrap the book in hand printed paper with a gift tag OR
  • include a piece of fabric, a pattern or haberdashery (lucky dip) OR
  • add a free note book, worth £3.50

I am also still offering free postage and packaging in the UK, and reduced postage for the rest of the world. Please indicate if you want gift wrap, lucky dip or note book on the “order notes” (comes up before you pay), and state if you would like a dedication or something written on the gift tag. I will dispatch the next day.  My last posting date are 8th December for South America, 10th December for Australia and New Zealand, 14th December for the USA and 18th December for the UK.

Thank you for your support – I really appreciate it, and it makes all the work I put into the blog and the book worthwhile.

Order Now!

Uniform dressing update

I was going to wait until the end of November to update you on the Uniform project. The thing is I started early (I couldn’t wait!!) and I have some results ready to share with you.

Did I enjoy it? Was it liberating or boring? How did the navy corduroy suit fare?

First things first. The navy corduroy suit was a RTW item, bought on-line without trying on. It arrived a day or two after I ordered it, and I put it on immediately and wore it all day long.

The next day I made a few alterations

  • 5cms removed at CB waist, and tapered through to the hip line
  • added an extra belt carrier as just three is not the right number
  • reattached the buttons on the button fly (why?) as they were not sewn on effectively
  • moved the buttons on the cuffs to get a closer fit around the wrists
  • I considered changing the buttons on the front of the jacket and trousers, but they were quite nice IRL. If I get bored with the suit I may change the buttons.

I wore the suit everyday. Trousers and jacket. And of course I took the jacket off sometimes as it was pretty warm – either outside or in a heated office. So mainly it just looked like dark trousers. I do know lots of women who wear black trousers nearly every day, so this was not that unusual. And of course many men have a navy suit and maybe a grey suit and they get away with wearing just a few items day in, day out. So what I did was not that different from how many people dress.

I enjoyed it very much indeed. I especially liked putting the suit over a chair at night and putting it on again the next morning. This was the best bit, in many ways. It felt completely stress free. I knew the outfit would work whatever I was doing. It is like a Babygro – complete, in and of itself. Of course it needed a top, and shoes etc. But it solved the what to wear problem completely and effectively. I am not sure anyone noticed I was wearing the same thing. If they did, they didn’t comment. Well one colleague did – he said “Why are you dressing like an architect?”. I think it was a complement in that he noticed the graphic, structural, pared down look of my outfit. But when I started to explain the Uniform Project he glazed over straight away. “Too much information?” I asked and he burst out laughing. The net effect of the uniform project for me was that it, sort of, took clothes out of the equation. Of course positives and negatives, but overall i liked the reduction in noise, variety, change, thought. The Obama quote is appropriate:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

I don’t want to compare myself to a President, but I think I devised this project to help me deal with work overload. I am carrying a great deal of stress at the moment and this has impacted on my productivity outside work. Many evenings I am reading a book, watching Netflix or listening to a podcast – usually but not always with a knitting project. There are times when you want to lower the pressure on yourself, and if you find yourself in this position adopting uniform dressing may be a good plan. Given the level of my job I couldn’t just adopt “weekend dressing” ie jeans, T, jumper. But this outfit allowed me the comfort and ease of weekend dressing while still appearing relatively sharp.

Lots of followers and IG friends have asked for a day-to-day account of how I styled the suit. I have a few photos below to show the sort of things I did. These were taken at the weekend with some of the tops I wear for work. These pictures to some extent expressed by intention to boost the suit for a stylish outcome. And I did wear versions of these looks for work.

Red and white T shirt


Here is another group

I hope these images show the kind of versatility of a plain, neutral trouser suit.

However I despite the notion that maybe I would have some fun with the suit, subverting it by “pimping up” the outfit, I actually had little inclination to depart from the obvious. What I thought most days was “can I wear yesterday’s jumper again?” And most days I wore plain navy socks and shoes as well.

The first few days I wore colourful belts. Then I cracked it. Fascinated by uniforms as such, I reached for an ancient Girl Guide belt in traditional brown leather, and an interesting clasp. I tried this on with my trousers, the hooks hanging down over the pockets, begging to carry something for me. Originally I think I had a pencil, whistle, compass and literally a thing for getting stones out of horses hooves. I have just left them empty at the moment but they could carry my headphones, my house keys or even a small camera. My husband says I have become an eccentric. I am beginning to think he’s right. Maybe I have always been one. But I am a happy eccentric.

Girl Guide belt
Girl Guide belt


Still life photography

posted in: Colour Analysis, Photography | 8

Still life experiments

When I made my book I wanted lots of photographs of people, to illustrate its central message of dressing for your colouring. That meant I had to learn the basics of portrait photography and I was pleased with some of the images I managed to produce. As I discussed before I found getting a good background was helpful and around Kings Cross we have some bill boards in strong colours – just perfect to ask someone to stand in front of. With the background resolved I could work on getting my models to relax and be themselves.

To date I have found taking interesting action pictures of moving objects or people (the dancers of Stroud) pretty much impossible and to be honest arranging objects prettily (“styling”) and in such a way that I could reveal all the elements at once proved a lot harder than it looks. So given the chance to learn from Irving Penn I went to Waitrose and bought some interesting fruit and vegetables.


One of the things I love about fruit and vegetables is of course their colour. Nature has such an amazing array of shades and all of the colours below make me feel happy – those purples are gorgeous and the bluish pinks and reds of the mango just thrill me to bits. I love the unusual yellow carrots, the green chilli and basil, the lemon with a green “blemish” and the bulbous orange pumpkin. And together, on a black background I just loved the simple “flat lay” composition.

Still life with colourful vegetables
Still life with colourful vegetables


My next photograph focused on shape. Using a piece of turquoise children’s drawing pad I lined up ovoid shapes from a tiny quail egg to the large mango. They kept rolling together and I found it hard to keep them in the right place in this somewhat regimented arrangement. You can see the shadows creating a wave movement from left to right.

Still life photography: Ovid shapes, small to large
Ovid shapes, small to large


For Vogue Penn combined some photographs of food with jewellery. So I tried that with some textured vegetables – gorgeous cavolo nero (eaten with linguine slightly later), a nobly lemon, the pumpkin and some ornamental gourds with my best ring.

Still life photography
Gourds (with ring)

I also bought some colourful carrots (which were later turned into light pickles), using dark blue sugar paper to contrast nicely with the orange.

Still life photography: Colourful English carrots
Colourful English carrots

Finally I made the photograph that I could submit for my project. I took many versions of this picture, using black backgrounds at first for more drama. It took a few days so the loaves changed. This still life food photography can get in the way of eating, but it also provides recipes, inspiration and needs consuming!

First Irving Penn’s photograph. Then mine. I had the advantage of a prettier loaf, and of course my salt is in a pot, but I think I got the essence of the photograph.

And I thought you might like to see an out take while we tested the light, the settings etc! (you know what happened next, don’t you?)

Egg catching
Egg catching

Uniform dressing – November challenge

posted in: Inspiration, Organisation | 79

There has been an ongoing discussion in magazines and the press about the idea of “uniform dressing”, especially for women. After all men have a uniform, especially for work. That would be the navy or grey suit, worn with a white or blue shirt, black or brown shoes, a belt and sometimes a tie. While women, traditionally in the west, have been the ones allowed far greater latitude in style and colour.

I have written about school uniform before, and I do find the idea of limitation, uniformity and formula very interesting. In this blog and in my book I have discussed the idea of the capsule wardrobe – a limited number of clothes that all get worn because they are interchangeable and work for all occasions. I am not very keen on “occasion(al) clothes” which fill the racks in our large stores because I think they can be uncomfortable and lack authenticity. If you are lucky enough to go to a wedding or the races or an important event I always think it is better to make or buy something that reflects your core look, rather than something that conforms to an expectation.

Conventional “going to the races” outfits

The appeal of uniform

  • A “signature style” that people associate with you
  • An opportunity to downsize your wardrobe
  • Ease of putting a look together
  • greater opportunity to wear your accessories
  • Finding an outfit that really works for your lifestyle
  • Knowing you will be comfortable in it every day, what ever happens
  • Lower bills on clothes and laundry

I have been thinking about this for a long time, especially since I discovered this, the story of a woman who wore one dress for a year.  She was trying to make a point about sustainable fashion and I was very interested in the concept.

Uniform dressing appeals to me partly because I am getting a bit tired of thinking about clothes.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? I find fashion fascinating as a phenomenon. I love looking at styles, and fabrics, textiles and catwalk collections. I have always had a love of clothes and making them. I still do to some extent, but as I noted previously I have this “peak stuff” feeling now. I live in the West, I have a well paid job and a comfortable existence and I have enough of everything I need. I feel I dress well, always appropriately, often with verve and style, authentically and comfortably. I just look at what I have and feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the space it takes up and the weight I feel I am carrying. The Kondo approach spoke to me and while I am not Gandhi or a Buddhist monk with very few possessions I would like to go in that direction.

Gandhi in London in his hand woven uniform

Right now I am just tired of the constant need to change and spend.

I am not especially green or virtuous, but I am sickened by consumerism. I don’t want people ramming things down my throat – new must have “to die for” items. I don’t want to “invest” in clothes (which implies spending lots of money). I just want to be happy in my skin and my second skin (outfit) and move in society in a way that pleases me and others but doesn’t have to showy or ostentatious or new, new, new.

So I am going to give uniform dressing a go. Uniform dressing is close to the capsule wardrobe idea, but avant guardedly minimalist. I am going to buy something as the mainstay as it is not a titilating make. My basic item will be a trouser suit in navy corduroy. I know I could easily make this outfit. The trousers are very similar to my basic trouser block (Winifred Aldrich), and the jacket is really an adapted shirt. It is made from soft cotton corduroy (in Bulgaria), lined with cotton/viscose lining, has slightly interesting buttons, lots of pockets a simple collar and cuffs. It has relaxed, boxy style that is classic but relatively up to date. It comes from Finery, which has a 40% sale on at the moment.

I plan to wear this trouser suit for a month (week days only; at weekends I will wear jeans and hand knitted sweaters as per usual).

I guess the main downside of uniform dressing is that it is boring. If that is how it is for me I may wear one of the two items and bring in a fresh skirt or jacket, but at the moment I will try to stick to the one outfit for the whole of November.

Most of my tops will go with this trouser suit as navy is one of my favourite neutrals. I can wear navy trainers, but also any of my other shoes if I want to jazz it up. I expect the November weather to be cool and maybe wet but it is unlikely to be too warm to wear this.

I will report back when I have done my challenge.

Does uniform dressing appeal to you? Or do you think it is pointless and boring?


Irving Penn – fashion photographer

This week, in Photography 2, we are required to learn about a famous photographer. I chose Irving Penn (1917-2009), one of the world’s best fashion photographers. The image below is of Lisa Fonssagrives, a  super model of her day. Born in Sweden and trained as a dancer, she had a real understanding of how to pose to show off her costumes and form. Penn liked taking her picture so much he married her, in London, in 1950.

It’s an interesting picture. Penn pioneered taking pictures of models where the main thing was the garment, not the background or props, as was the norm at the time. By showing the backdrop he is also taking away the artifice and giving us a little jolt. The model is not going out to a dance, she is standing on mottled paper, in a studio in Paris, barely lit (if at all) with flash or lights. “We don’t call them shoots here,” Penn told journalist Jay Fielden in 2009. “We don’t shoot people. It’s really a love affair.”

Lisa Fonssagrives in Rochas mermaid dress
Lisa Fonssagrives in Rocha’s mermaid dress, 1950, Metropolitan Museum, NY, Conde Nast

I chose to research Irving Penn, known most famously, as the supplier of covers for Vogue. He did 165 covers, more than any other photographer, over 66 years! An incredible achievement. 

Irving Penn Vogue
Vogue cover by Irving Penn

He took pictures of models, fashion, flowers, famous people’s portraits, studies of working men, shots of Mexicans, travel photographs, advertisements (Clinique and Issey Miayke); and he was also an artist and painter.

Have a look at his portraits. He apparently spent several hours with each person, until they stopped posing and became themselves again.

“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world. Very often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe” (1975).

For my project I decided to focus on his still life – an area that I struggled with when I took pictures for my own book. He said that “photographing a cake can be art”. He produced a book of his still life photographs but it is rather expensive. Instead I created a Pinterest page. Many of his images are funny – they make you think. The glorious photographs of food – abundance stacked on a table, or the ingredients of a dish such as mozzarella and tomato salad, or salad dressing – recall 17th century art. By taking the components of traditional still life paintings – such as skulls, fish, jugs and bountiful fare – he also subverts them and makes us do a double take. As he says:

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is one word, effective”.

He turns cigarette butts into art so that we notice their frail paper wrappings, their subtle brands, the impact of lipstick and spittle, the grinding down of the burnt tobacco – we look in a new way at something that was previously categorised as rubbish. His photograph Aphrodisiacs features an oyster (naturally rich in Zinc), an erectile dysfunction drug capsule, a Spanish fly and of course money. It’s funny, tells a story and is of course perfectly composed and shot.

Irving Penn Aphrodisiacs

As an artist he also had a great interest in print making, investigating 19th century methods to provide greater control and using platinum and palladium metals rather than the cheaper silver as a key ingredient to get the most luminescent images. He spent hours creating hand-sensitised artist’s paper (stuck to aluminium sheets so it could withstand several coats and prints), and in the dark room perfecting his technique rather than seeking the limelight himself.

He preferred to take photographs in the studio where we could control the environment, and reduce the background noise. His composition, somewhat novel at the time, focused in on the object, stripped of its context. When working on the couture collections for Vogue, he used a daylight studio with an old theatre curtain as a backdrop.  On his many trips abroad for Vogue he focused on making portraits of the people he encountered in natural light. He would use contained spaces like garages or barns to create a makeshift studio, a neutral space, so that the subject would come to the fore. This is how he worked to overcome the cultural barriers between – for example Mexican farm workers or Japanese Samurai.

1948, Mexico, The Irving Penn Foundation

Penn died in New York, in 2009, at the age of 92. In his later years he tidied up his collection, saving the very best prints which he made into books. He also set up The Irving Penn Foundation to preserve the photographs and his legacy.

Next week I will show you the still life photographs that I submitted for my homework.

How to make the Skirt of Joy

As summer ended I wanted a bright little skirt to bring joy to me, the wearer, and the viewer.

Back in Spring 2014 Chanel had included a beautiful fabric, based on colour charts from 1900.

One of my favourite bloggers Karen from Fifty Dresses found a textile that is very similar to this, and made a stunning dress.

So these ideas were in my mind as I looked a small piece of white denim I had been given by a vendor who was unable to fulfil my order. So this skirt was virtually free!

I used a very basic A line skirt pattern. It is McCalls 7938, a 1960s Courreges pattern. I made up the coat from this pattern as part of SWAP but I didn’t like it. Sarah has written a wonderful post about his designs.

McCalls 7938

I cut out a size 10, used a washable felt tip to draw in the four darts and set the two pieces next to each other so I could more or less get the design to match up. I could have taken a little more time and drawn some horizontal lines across the skirt to ensure it lined up. No matter – it was a quick project. You can see the centre front in turquoise felt tip. And my bare legs…

Hand painted denim skirt
Close up of fabric

I started at the bottom with the greens, gradually adding white or blue to change it subtly. Then I did the pinks and reds, and so on. I chose colours I like to wear – the cool bright shades. Most colours look good on white or black. I included some neutrals too – greys, taupe and blue grey. As a result this skirt will go with all my tops. Then I put in a zip and that was it. The facing, hem and seam allowance are all left white so there is never a show through problem.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

For those that want more information the paints I use are Permaset. They are water soluble, and then are fast when fixed with a hot iron. The colours mix well. On a hot day I wore the skirt with one of my table cloth huipils.

Lace blouse and hand painted skirt
Summer dressing

Now it is colder I have worn it with a jumper – my Autumn League pullover. 

Autumn League pullover and skirt of joy
Autumn uniform

And with a Uniqlo down jacket.

Fabrickated hand made skirt
At work