Author: haftonandkelly

Each Month from my Window: March

This is usually one of my favourite times of year: the days are noticeably longer, the daffs are at their best, the tulips are just starting and everything is showing signs of new growth and promise for the future. Given the current situation the natural world seems to stand in stark contrast to our everyday lives. There is blossom on the trees, birdsong (which I can now hear clearly because there are no aeroplanes and very few cars) and new, pale green growth on all my plants, which are carrying on regardless of what is happening to us. In a way it is rather comforting. In the garden the kerria is still providing a brilliant buttery yellow glow and the pots of daffs and wallflowers are looking lovely. The last few days have encouraged some of the tulips to open too, a rather rash move which I hope they won’t regret when it gets colder again.

I have cleaned the windows so I can now see out properly but new developments mean that this post will also include things that are just inside my window – seed trays of opium poppies. Unfortunately they are living on the table where I mostly work, which is also where the cat’s favourite basket sits (sunny, over a radiator and with a good view of the street), so everything is a little cramped. Particularly as the seeds have to be moved onto the other table as the sun moves round. But full of hope.

The foxgloves, evening primroses, alliums and grasses are all showing promise of great things in the months ahead – although at the moment the blue fescue looks a little like a badly-shorn skinhead.

I have also gained a greenhouse. Well, a small greenhouse-shaped cloche that I rescued from a skip some years ago but never got round to cleaning. I now see why it was thrown away; apart from being slightly broken, it is about a quarter of an inch too small to accommodate a seed tray. After a certain amount of improvisation it now houses seeds of sunflowers and hollyhocks.

As of this morning, the opium poppies have germinated. I now have hundreds of new residents in the house too look after. Tiny delicate little plants who will need exactly the right amounts of sun, warmth and water if they are to transform into tall elegant flowers – it’s a bit daunting but very exciting as I don’t usually grow many seeds, saying my house has neither the space nor light necessary. I hope I can prove myself wrong.


Making March: Patchwork Boats

Given the current situation we are probably all going to spend more time at home – perfect time to sew, paint or create. I have always tended to do things quickly; particularly with patchwork, if there was a short cut I’d find it. Not because I didn’t enjoy the making process but because being faced with at least five hundred, and sometimes nearer a thousand, pieces for a quilt could be daunting. I would break the process down: planning, cutting, tacking, piecing etc. Each part was enjoyable in itself but the sheer repetition involved meant I became more and more efficient without even trying. Now there is no particular merit in doing things quickly. These patchwork boats are time-consuming and, to a greater extent than other patchwork I’ve done, inflexible regarding the process. They need to be made on a relatively flat surface, with an iron handy – so no bunging a few patches into my pocket and tacking or sewing them together wherever I happen to be. That said, these boats have given me more pleasure than most of my other patchworks. I enjoy the slower making process and, perhaps because of that, I have been more pleased with the end results.

These are Boats 70 to 81 of the 100. Depending how they are laid out they are 30×30 inches or 24×40 inches; neither of which are particularly useful sizes. Also the panel with the first boat is slightly smaller than the others. So still a work in progress…..

As a final note, Al Stewart, with all his nautical songs, is a particularly suitable accompaniment to patchwork boats. Sparks of Ancient Light even has a ship on the front cover. 


Each Month From my Window: February

Most of the time when I look out of the window everything seems as it did in January: rain-battered, wind-swept and hunkered down. But there are little changes; the blue and gold irises (Iris reticulata ‘Fabiola’) have flowered, providing tiny pinpoints of colour in the front garden, the little Tete a tete daffs are in full bloom and the larger Trumpet daffs are starting to open. Kerria has taken over from winter jasmine as the yellow against my walls and the witch hazel (‘Rubin’) is now ablaze with flowers. It isn’t particularly scented but that doesn’t matter; it’s role in life is to brighten the view from my kitchen window, which it does to perfection, every spring and autumn. Photographs, at least mine, cannot do the witch hazel justice. I see it every morning from my kitchen and, even on the dullest winter day its deep red flowers shine against the dark green ivy. Photos show the slightly grubby white brick wall below and the houses beyond the back wall but my mind can block these out; all I see is a flame of brilliant colour against mysterious and magical rich green holly leaves. It is a good way to start each day.

Many years ago (well, sixteen) I read this article which argued, very convincingly as far as I was concerned, that 29th February should be regarded as an ‘extra’ day; one on which we could do whatever we liked. I have no idea who wrote it but whoever it was suggested one should ‘cut a caper, paint picture, stare into the distance or sing sea-shanties.’ They even suggested that ‘Politicians could tell the truth; journalists could choose to look on the bright side’. This 29th fell on a Saturday so I spent it working at Hatchards Bookshop; even so, it felt like a slightly special day. In London it started wet and miserable but by the end of the day the sky was clear and blue. It was as if the year knew it should shift towards spring.

Finally, an extract from a poem called Winter’s Turning by Amy Lowell:

Let us throw up our hats,
For we are past the age of balls
And have none handy.
Let us take hold of hands,
And race along the sidewalks,
And dodge the traffic in crowded streets.
Let us whir with the golden spoke-wheels
Of the sun.
For to-morrow Winter drops into the waste-basket,
And the calendar calls it March.


Making February: Maps on Sails

I think I have come up with an idea that could revolutionise sailing: maps on sails. No more poring over charts or having to ‘go below’ to check one’s course; my plan would have the map right there on the sail, ready to be consulted at any time. To be honest, I can’t think why it hasn’t been done already (to be fair, I am not a sailor, so there may be practical hitches but, from my desk, I honestly can’t see them).

I have to admit, the idea came about by chance; I’d saved the pictures from last year’s calendar as they seemed too good to throw away and they were lying in a pile near the half-painted sails. These boats complete the bathroom fleet and hide the central light, which I’ve never liked. For those of you who are counting; they are numbers 16-19 of the second fifty.


Tullio Crali at the Estorick

I wrote about the Estorick Collection at the tail end of last year and had firmly intended to attend the opening party for the Tullio Crali show “A Futurist Life” in mid-January. Storm Duncan, however, thwarted this, doing in the trains from our part of the country that evening, but I got there a few days later.  Well worth it and see 

Crali was born in 1910 and died in 2000, after a long, adventurous, difficult and sometimes controversial life. From the age of fifteen he became a convert to Futurism and by the mid 1930’s he was a major player in the movement and had become increasingly close to its leader, Marinetti. He had taught himself to paint, albeit with initially disastrous results; the home mixed oils just slid off the surfaces to which he tried to apply them. Things got better quickly and his output in the fields of fashion, theatre, architecture and graphic design was impressive. However, had he not taken to aeropainting, he would be little more than an interesting footnote in the history of twentieth century art.

Futurism as a movement was obsessed with speed, change and the means (both technological and political) by which this could be felt and experienced.  As early as 1909 Marinetti had written  We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes… is more beautiful that the Victory of Samothrace. In 1930 Crali, who had been experimenting with images of flight for a few years, produced a semi abstract oil painting entitled Le forze della curvaThe Forces of the Bend.  Its subject is a racing car taking a corner on a banked track. Its limited palette, wilful distortions of perspective and the use of striking circular and elliptical forms in its composition all combine to give a huge sense of energy and of change thrusting forwards into the future, albeit against the resistance of the curve. Not only does it admirably convey sensation but also references time, mass and by implication the political manifesto of the Futurists.

The same year came another oil painting, Tramonte di luci a Ostia : Lights of Sunset at Ostia,  a highly personal interpretation  characterised by overlapping arcs of light and shadow produced by the setting sun and a strong sense of a sky that goes on and on almost forever. He has by now gained a masterly control of colour, tone and composition and this is one of the paintings I would really like to take home. No such possibility, since they have all been kindly lent from a private collection.

Only two years later in 1932,  came Ali tricolori – Tricolour Wings, another oil showing an aeroplane of the Italian national aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolori, the then equivalent of our Red Arrows, performing a stunt so that successive painted superimpositions of the plane suggest its spiralling motion, against an almost lyrical, but greatly simplified background of land and sky. Crali loved to fly and had close links to the pilots of the Italian Air Force, feeling and expressing great affinity and admiration for them.

He also seems, although apolitical and cynical about politics in person, to have been curiously naive in his support for Futurism, whose political components and some of whose membership, came dangerously close to Fascism and all its consequences before and during the Second World War. This got him into big trouble. He was locked up by the Nazis for promoting avant-garde events in Gorizia, nearly deported to Germany to a fate best imagined and then again imprisoned by Tito’s partisans, before the Americans liberated him.

After the war ended he became disillusioned with his fellow Futurists, although he preserved total loyalty to the movement to which he was designated heir by Marinetti. He took teaching jobs in art schools in Paris and in Cairo and continued to paint and to be fascinated by technology. His experimentations are interesting, depicting subjects ranging from the port structures of Nantes, to cosmic images with a strong metaphysical content and creating Sassisenti, assembled collections of stones and marine fragments found on the Brittany coastline. He also continued to fly and work with Italian Air Force pilots and produced a number of very satisfying post war aeropaintings.

While this later output adds to the exhibition, it lacks the intimate engagement with the Zeitgeist of inter-war Italy and the emergence of radical technologies that made his work so special. Like de Chirico, he peaked relatively early and while remaining totally competent and a very good painter, never again quite produced stuff to match that remarkable ascent.

The exhibition continues until 11th April. See it if you can.



Making January: The Beginnings of a New Fleet

I’ve made fifteen more boats. I’m using Ann Wood’s pattern, which I first tried out last November. She said the boats were best made in batches and this works for me too. I do them in batches of three or four so I can get on with something while I’m waiting for the paint/glue to dry.

For years I have saved snippets from newspapers and the collection increased rapidly when I started making papier mâché as I now save any interesting words, phrases or pictures I come across while tearing the strips. Again, following Ann Wood’s inspiration, I planned to use the words on boats. They didn’t fit on the little bunting boats but they are perfect for these larger paper ones. Each sail is painted on the front and has a word or phrase on the back – not exactly a name but something that suits the boat.

I’m not sure where the eventual fleet will hang, possibly from the kitchen ceiling. At the moment they are moored to my bookshelves. I like to think that at night, after I have turned out the lights and gone to bed, they slip their moorings under the books and sail away on adventures. Wherever they go, they are always back in their literary harbour by morning.


Each Month From my Window: January

Last month I bemoaned the fact that the best photographs of gardens in winter were usually photos of beautiful or evocative weather conditions. Of course it helps to have a good basic structure but I’m sure this is often easier on a larger scale. Monty Don’s front garden consists of 26 yews cut into cones of differing sizes and, while I don’t know the exact dimensions of this part of his garden, I suspect it is probably eight or even ten times the size of my entire plot. They achieve a beauty throughout the winter that my half-empty pots are never going to match. The following extract comes from Gardening at Longmeadow and describes looking out onto the garden at 2.30 on a February morning in 2002:

‘A breeze rippled the dark like a river and the silvery monochrome stripped away everything but shape from the yews. Twenty-six cones, each different but for that moment each perfect and each with its shadow like an echo……. It felt like a door had opened and shown me a parallel garden in another dimension.’

Much as I love the grasses in my front window boxes, they have some way to go before they will conjure up this level of magic.

But my bulbs are starting to appear and, with a judicious rearrangement of pots, I can see them as I write. The winter jasmine is still flowering merrily and, this morning, I spotted the first witch hazel flowers from the kitchen window.

Most of the photos are, I have to admit, a bit of a cheat. I see the plants from my window but I can blot out the parked cars, neighbouring houses and less-than-spectacular surrounding plants, which a photograph can’t. So, to misquote Eric Morecambe’s famous statement to the unfortunate Andrew Preview, ‘These are all the right plants, just not necessarily viewed from the right angle’.   


Making Week 25: Cushions and Not-New-Year’s Resolutions

Patchwork has got me through the last few weeks of ‘making’ and resulted in a couple of robust cushions that will make the uncomfortable garden bench positively cosy.

I have never been good at keeping New Year’s resolutions so, when I started the weekly making project back in July I deliberately decided on 25 weeks as I knew it would get me safely past the crucial time of making unsuccessful resolutions.

In fact I made a series of ‘resolutions’ on 22nd December and fine-tuned them on Twelfth Night. As far as I am concerned, once the winter solstice is passed it is a gentle slope all the way to summer: bright sunny mornings, long twilight evenings and meals in the garden.

Having roughly got the hang of papier mâché and put my patchwork fabrics into some sort of order my plan is to complete things this year. First the remaining fifty boats. Then the partly-made castle, the planned patchworks and a host of other things that are at the ‘to be started/finished very soon’ stages. I am planning to set aside one day each week for making, and ideally finishing, things. I’ll post them once a month to balance the garden posts, which I’m going to alter slightly this year.  

Roy Lancaster has started a new series in The Garden, the Royal Horticultural Society’s monthly magazine, called Through my Window. I spend a considerable time looking out of the window, both intentionally and when I am meant to be working. Unlike his, my garden is tiny and, also probably unlike him, I do very little actual gardening between October and March. The lack of space means I can’t rely on trees to provide year-round interest and the same lack means I can’t afford much space for ‘winter-interest’ plants. Summer is when I spend most time in the garden (gardening and sitting) so it is then that most of my plants need to look their best. But I look out of my windows all year and I’m convinced that I always have something, however small, to look at. The following posts will see if this is true. For the moment here are some wafty grasses, winter jasmine flowers and someone who knows she is not meant to trample through the window boxes.


Childish in Chalks?

Occasionally one produces something that bears no relation to one’s intentions. A few weeks ago I decided to use chalks on blue paper for two poses of our faithful model, Kathryn. What I’d hoped to do  was obtain a few delicate flesh tones. What actually happened was the brightly coloured chalks produced an effect like a small boy’s vision of a naked lady before the age of the internet. It was strangely successful, without having any pretensions to art, although I have a curious feeling that Prince Andrew might refer to it as “a harmless bit of fun”. 


Making Week 24: Waylaid by the Garden

I had planned to spend today making boats but it was so beautiful I went into the garden to do some ‘quick tidying’ and stopped four hours later. This is the thing I probably love most about my little garden; the fact that it accommodates my wishes regarding when I want to garden. I tidied the ivy, tied up the climbers, cleared the dead leaves and had a delightful and productive time. But none of the things I did were urgent, they could happily have waited a few weeks or even months. When I was a child there always seemed to be an urgency about the garden. To be fair, it was large but my memories are of things that had to be done, rather than done because it was a beautiful day and one wanted to be outside.  

I was not expecting flowers so the roses and snapdragons were a bonus. Equally heartening but less surprising was the winter jasmine.