The trials and tribulations of
An independent designer based in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
An independent designer based in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
f you’ve ever looked at my Instagram account, it won’t have taken you long to realize that I’ve got a little bit of a grass hopper mind. As well as all my work, hobbies and interests, I’m often developing several things at the same time, and this trait has earned me the nickname of “La La”. However, every now and then, I will go waaay off-piste and end up doing something I hadn’t intended, and these silk flowers are a good example of this.
I’d started by making a single silk rose for a Christmas present. Innocent enough you may think, but in order to do this, I made the huge mistake of opening my trunk of silk scraps, left over from making costume through the years. So dangerous is the opening of this box, that it’s stored way up high up in a cupboard so it’s difficult to get at…but “get at it” I did… and before I knew it, a single rose had turned into several, and several, a bouquet…a necklace, or three, and then finally these heraldic, rose, brooches. And that’s something else it won’t take you long to spot on my Instagram feed, or this blog page come to that… I quite like a bit of heraldry. It’s a theme I return to time and time again and it never takes me long to find an excuse to use it.
I’ve always been especially drawn to these iconic flowers, rambling across medieval, manuscripts, lovingly embroidered on ancient pennants and tunics and carved into our most precious historic buildings and palaces. Over time, these single red and white roses, used so often amongst the emblems of the Plantagenet, have come to symbolise the struggles between this most dysfunctional of families. The elegant white rose in particular made so famous in recent years by the discovery of the remains of King Richard III under a car park in Leicester. And, although the Tudor rose was first created by that master of spin and propaganda, Henry VII, you only have to look at it, to evoke the image of his larger than life son, Henry VIII and his many misfortunate wives.
I say “finally these heraldic rose brooches” … but the box hasn’t gone back yet, and I’m busy working on two more necklaces with anemone and nasturtium. And of course, despite having silk in every colour under the sun, I never do quite have the right shade for the job at hand so end up buying “just a little bit” more. Whenever the time comes to put that box back, it always has slightly more in it than when I took it down. Strange how that happens.!
o, I’ve been thinking about heraldry…as you do.
I’m always drawn to it, it really is the most perfect example of “branding” through iconology that has ever existed.
After finishing my Wars of the Roses scarf. I’d thought that I’d like to create a scarf using the flags and banners from the English Civil War. I had this grand idea that I would use the standards from each army and advance them from either end of the design finally meeting in a swirl of colour and heraldry in the centre. As always, what seemed like a good idea, now requires a great deal of meticulous research.
Wars, of any age, are complex and rarely definitive, so if you wanted to tell a story about the individuals it becomes even more complex because, combatants who start the war on one side, sometimes end up on the other; some hedge their bets until the last moment and fathers may fight for one cause, whilst their son will support another. This was particularly true of the English Civil War, so pinning a particular family name down to one flag is highly problematic, also, when a war lasts for many years, regiments can be amalgamated or disbanded. Add to this the mists of time; differences of historical opinion and the image equivalent of Chinese whispers, and what you have is a minefield of potential misinformation on a subject that many people are absolutely passionate about.
I faced a similar minefield whilst researching the heraldry from the Wars of the Roses, when I’d hit a brick wall and needed some verification on a couple of items. Someone recommended I contact the “College of Arms”, a place I’d hadn’t given much thought to before. I’ve thought about it a lot since because, time moves differently at the College of Arms.
I contacted them from the 21st century, via an on-line form, but they replied from the 1400s with a hand-written letter, delivered, I fancy, attached to an arrow, shot by a knight, seated on top of a horse. The letter said that the answer was, “In the negative” they could not help. In the end however, I wore them down and a short correspondence ensued. In fact, they ended up being of great help. I hadn’t realised at the time, that unlike so many other languages, the language of heraldry is absolute, and infinitely beautiful.
Some weeks later I was privileged to get access to the garter stalls in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and as I clambered around, I realised that the whole narrative of the Wars of the Roses was right in front of me, played out in heraldry. As these ancient arms began to half and quarter, you could see the displays of greedy acquisition from noble families as they devoured others’ arms, lands and titles, either through marriage or conquest. Like most conflicts, in the end it was consume, or be consumed.
It dawned on me then, that even though the college itself was divided by the Civil War, that it is the constant, not the Knights, Aristocracy, or even Kings, whose fortunes ebb and flow. And the Heralds, dressed in their ancient tabards, like playing cards from Alice in wonderland, are there, documenting it all. They, and their predecessors are the spine to which our society’s genealogy is attached. They have, from the very beginning, stood apart, unseen, and without comment, meticulously documenting in imagery, our whole nations genetic family tree. They have, without a single word written the loudest history of our island, for those who would care to see. And there they are still, in our world, but not of it. like heraldic “Doctor who’s”, able to travel back to a fixed point in time with the turn of a parchment page. And I had travelled with them for a short while.
Of course, although they followed the main rules of heraldry, the insignia and flags of the civil war were not always "heraldic", so I wonder to myself why I just couldn’t whack a few banners in a row and be done with it? But I can’t… there is a story to be told, and these affiliations still provoke passionate responses, like all flags, they remain powerful and emotive. Remembering always, that under these colourful standards, whipping in the winds of history, lives were lost and families torn apart; respect is due.
I would like to have dedicate this blog to Mr Robert Noel, the Lancaster Herald, but I don’t believe the World Wide Web, reaches past the front door of the College of Arms, so there’d really be no point.
Wars of the Roses scarf
ver the last few days, I’ve posted some images of my Steampunk design, and a few people have asked me what “SteamPunk” is? So here is a brief background, and some further ramblings on the subject.
Born as a direct reaction to “Cyber Punk”, “Steam Punk” gives us a retrospective view of the future. Taking its inspiration from Victorian writers such as Jules Verne this genre projects itself forward into a fantasy future where technology, as we know it, has never existed. Just like H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” we enter a Victorianesque world pre-occupied with time travel and exploration, where everyday objects are driven mechanically, powered by the rhythmic click and whir of brass cogs.
I was brought up watching the Jules Verne films such as “The Time Machine” and “20.000 Leagues under the Sea”, and I’ve always felt there was something seductive about these evocative, Victorian worlds, upholstered in velvet and filled with the endless possibilities of clockwork. So, it seems to me that “Steampunk” is just an extension of these imaginary worlds. But actually, in recent years, for me, these imaginary worlds have become more substantial and tangible and the concepts of wheels within wheels, and the rhythmic movement of time easier to imagine. Because, for the past 16 years, I’ve been keeping honey bees, and there is nothing on the planet that will ground you more, or connects you to the endlessly turning of the seasons, than a bee.
I’m now privileged to be able to mentor new beekeepers and one of the first things I say to them is that, “To become a good beekeeper, you must first become a good bee”as these tiny, industrious, insects, live in complete darkness, communicating by touch, sound and scent. They exist on a microscopic level and are so hard wired to their environment that they are reacting and adapting to it before we’ve even realised the wind has changed, and to truly understand them, you need to first understand the seasons, the atmosphere, weather systems, etc. and then how these all effect the flowers, trees and crops.
After a few seasons of doing this you quickly come to realize that there are far greater natural, forces at work here, far bigger and older than the human race. Relentless forces, marching on in never ending circles, driven by lunar rotations and on into the universe, ever revolving, ever spinning, always ticking. And if the universe where driven by clockwork, then these insects and bees are an integral and essential cog in this greater revolving machine, and it’s humbling then, to finally understand, that the human race… is not.
Of course, time and clocks are human concepts, but these, natural, seasonal cycles are clock like, so it’s not such a leap of faith, for an active imagination, to then picture it all driven by celestial cogs. whirring and turning, and my “Steam punk” design is an imagining of this universe, full of maps, and gears, and scurrying clockwork jewel beetles feeding on brass and amber flowers.
I’m now working on another design which explores these changing seasons, and the cycles of my bees. I thought it would be nice idea, to photograph the plants around my apiary as the seasons moved on, and then to use these in the design, but it’s turned out to be a lengthier and more involved task that I first thought… I’m still working on it. Sometimes I’ve wondered why I’ve given myself such a lengthy project, when all that will happen is someone will roll up the scarf, wrap in around their neck and never know that it pictures a year in the life of my wonderful bees. But then I think…I will know…and now, of course…so do you!.
originally designed this scarf to help raise funds for the restoration work taking place on the St Albans Old Town Hall. This magnificent Regency building, in the centre of St Albans, was undergone a major restoration project to turn it into a world class heritage venue. Over the last two years a team from Willmott Dixon carefully undertook this mammoth task, which included, excavated a basement, by hand, one bucket at a time, and adding galleries and external glass workways and the restoration of the fabulous function rooms.
The finished, gleaming building finally reopened to the public on 8th June, providing galleries, function rooms, a wonderful gift shop and the chance to have coffee in the Victorian Courtroom Cafe. Its new galleries are equipped to be able to receive exhibitions from other national museums.
So, I am absolutely tickled pink to have my original scarf for sale in the new gift shop and to have collaborated with the Museum team and British Museum to create a range of products also based on my design, and hugely proud to see it all on display in the shop.
If you get a chance to visit this amazing new museum, don’t pass it up I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
St Albans Museum Scarf