The Long Ideas

gradient scarf in biscuity/beer colours, folded messily on a white bed, and with colours flowing from pale to saturated, from left to right

Do you remember when I wrote this post about saving plants from my garden with which to make a basket? Some time back in November I did finally manage to conclude this creative adventure.

slightly wonky, lumpy little ivy frame basket photographed in golden evening light on my stairs

This hairy little basket is made of ivy, nettles and hazel from my own garden and is just the right size for collecting treasures. I made it following the highly recommended Ivy Frame Basket tutorial from Foraged Fibres.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the beginnings of my version of the Parallelogram Scarf by Cecelia Campochiaro.

gradient scarf in biscuity/beer colours, folded messily on a white bed, and with colours flowing from pale to saturated, from left to right

This pattern is designed to show off the beauty of two variegated yarns running in tandem, however I opted instead to use two semi-solid yarns I dyed myself, held double with John Arbon’s KBN mini-skeins in a sequence from dark to light.

gradient scarf rolled into a cylinder with palest shades at the centre, darkest colours outside

My hope was for a long, joyful scarf invoking the gradient on a poured pint of beer or the light centre to the dark crust on a freshly-baked biscuit and I’m really pleased that the end result does indeed have these associations (at least to me).

Close up of the lightest tip of the shawl lying underneath the darkest tip

Because the semi-solid DIY-dyed yarns run all the way through from start to finish, the gradient is subtle, but it’s definitely there and you can see that things run from dark to light when the points of the scarf fall together. It’s really long and I still have yarn left over, so I think the next thing will be the hat from Cecilia’s other MDK booklet: MARLS.

another view of the gradient scarf with a big swathe of dark on the left, and folded over, paler sections on the right

I really want to celebrate this lovely design as an IDEAL project for the festive season and for a long period of time in which I have had no spoons and frequently felt unwell. I picked it up and worked on it whenever there was a spare moment. It’s a simple stitch pattern but the design has so much interest. The way the numbers influence the stitch pattern! The bias-fabric! How these two things influence the appearance of the gradient! So although this was definitely a meditative and relaxing knit, it was also creatively rewarding and just the perfect introduction to the glorious concept of SEQUENCE KNITTING. Thank you, Cecelia!

I love the time-frames for these projects – the time lapsed between gathering ivy in my garden last year, and that ivy becoming a basket; the 10+ years between dyeing my beer and biscuit yarns and finding a project in which to use them.

However, January reminded me of some even longer creative time-frames. Every year for Christmas, I like to assemble meaningful gifts for my niblings. This year I became obsessed with giving them things I remember from my own childhood: stationery, stamps and address books for writing letters, and a stock book in which to collect stamps. In revisiting these creative contexts from my own childhood, I found myself poring over my childhood stamp collection from the 1980s.

old stamp album inner cover, with my scrawly younger-self biro hand unsteadily spelling out Felicity Ford

Baby Felix was deeply enamoured with stamps but also had a somewhat erratic approach to organising and cataloguing them and a pretty poor grasp on geography and geopolitics. It was really moving and thought-provoking to revisit my old stamps, though, and I spent some time in December putting them in the right place in the album; separating stamps by currency (not having d and p UK stamps together, for example); ordering sets by value; and adding in some of the stamps that I’d collected in the interim – such as many beautiful stamps from Ireland, attached to letters from a very dear friend.

a page of lovely EIRE stamps featuring the birds and flowers of Ireland

My old stamp album is filled with nostalgia and memories. Although I was never that excited about the monarchy, I did LOVE the huge number of different colours of the basic values stamps we have here in the UK featuring the head of Queen Elizabeth 2. I recall endlessly organising this mosaic of identical-but-not collection of different, low-value stamps and there is still something pleasing about all these different versions of the same thing seen side by side.

a page of Queen Elizabeth 2 stamps in different colours and values

I also loved seeing different languages – and different alphabet character – on stamps… and how museum pieces, flora and fauna from around the world appeared and were represented on them.

When I started collecting stamps, several territories were represented which no longer exist: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, The DDR – German Democratic Republic… and I seem not to have collected any stamps in the 1980s from Russia, China, or the USA. Poring over the presences and absences represented in my childhood album with older eyes, I’ve been thinking a lot about how at its best, a stamp is a utopian expression of place: a celebration of identity, culture and geography. Yet at its worst, a stamp can also be cold, harsh evidence of imperialism, shifting territories, ideologies, annexations and power. Maybe in one sense the magic thing about stamps is that they connect seismic historic shifts with the lives and communications of ordinary people who need to post letters to friends, loved ones, family.

I don’t think I had such ideas in the early 1980s – I was way more excited about the pictures and colours than what they meant – but in the course of revisiting my old album I remembered an old sketch-pad from 2001/2002 when I was at art school and working on a site-specific undergraduate project that I decided to base on a bookshop café (now sadly gone: The Winding Stair, in Dublin… does anyone remember it?).

2001/2 sketchpad closeup featuring pencil drawing of a mug (along with the annotation, not shown, that I in fact stole this mug after drawing it)

I seem to have spent ages in said café smoking cigarettes, drinking coffees and feverishly writing in my notepad about the origins of these material substances in the global south; unfair labour practices; the massive inequalities between developed and developing nations; and the connections between these complicated narratives and the tools of writing: letters, postcards and stamps. I made many collages, rants and drawings in my notebook. I concluded my project by producing home-made postcards with images of stamps on them related to the production of coffee, tobacco, sugar and tea, which I then hid all over the café for people to find and write and send, should they so wish.

collage of stamps from Brazil, India, Zimbabwe and Cuba showing, respectively, cultivation of coffee, cotton, tobacco and coffee... these are stuck on top of magazine pages, unreadable writing, watercolours and the carefully stuck-on contents of a dismantled rollie

This doesn’t strike me as a particularly successful or clever project and I’m sure anyone who found my postcards was bemused by them and unlikely to join the dots across my rather complicated ideas. However, it was interesting to remember this chapter in the context of my lifelong interest in stamps and my thoughts about them now.

a twenty year old buttery serviette stuck into my sketchpad

In the same old sketchpad as the stamp collages and rants, something lovely: a buttery serviette, carefully stuck in and dated to January 2002. Nearby, a sort of manifesto for art- another long idea, or set of ideas – that I seem to carry with me, still;

THE PROJECT IS TOO BIG. WHAT DO I NEED TO KEEP?
The Magic Inherent in everyday things.
1. TAKE SOMETHING SEEIMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT
2. DRAW ATTENTION TO IT BY USING CREATIVE MEANS
3. HOW?
4. WHY?

Perhaps this is the best “long idea” of them all – certainly it is the one that is never finished, and the one that guides me still.
I hope that whatever 2022 has brought for you so far, you are finding joy and creativity in the gloom.

Yours in baskets, biscuits, bricks, stamps and buttery old serviettes – but most of all yours in searching for ways to celebrate the magic in everyday things.

Until soon –
Fx

11 thoughts on “The Long Ideas

  1. Thank you for the enchanting foraged fiber link, the acquaintance of Suzie Grieves, and another wonderfully generous and thoughtful post. I’ve been enjoying them for more than 10 years now, nearer 15.
    I always love your art school stories, and still remember your all night walk through the countryside as one of the top 5 blog posts ever.
    Spoons, I had to look up in British slang internets. Hoping they come soon.

  2. Oh Felix, I cannot express how much joy you and your art/work/thought processes bring me! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they make me smile and think every time I read them.

    1. Hi Nina and how lovely to hear from you! Thanks for finding my blog and taking time to comment – and I’m so happy if you enjoyed reading this post. Happy New Year!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful essay. I loved that you collected stamps as a kid, I did too! Thank you for going slowly and seeing the magic in everything. It is there for us all to see, but only if we take the time to look. Thank you for bringing joy into my world.

    1. Hi Martha – hurrah for childhood stamp-collecting, for creative joy, and yes – for slowing down long enough to see the magic.

  4. What a joy to read this essay. I keep meaning to start a Cecilia Campochiaro project. Maybe this is spur I need – and I love the sunlight through a beer glass colour scheme. You’ve made me think, I don’t spend enough time looking back on old projects and reflecting on the joy they’ve brought and what the work means to me today.

    1. Hi Pamela, I cannot recommend Cecelia Campochiaro’s patterns highly enough – I love her systemic approach and how her designs frame knitwear as a canvas for exploring joyful creative ideas! As well as Cecelia’s patterns I highly recommend taking time to look back on old projects – what I’ve found is that creative ideas don’t really finish… after the deadline, at least for me, they continue to live, ferment, and exercise their influence on what we’re doing now.

  5. I haven’t been in to the city centre in a while, but the Winding Stair still exists, though much changed.
    And thank you for your post. I remember all those floral Irish stamps, and the art-college days of needing to scribble in a notebook at every opportunity (though mine was mostly on the Heuston – Kildare train route!).

    1. I’m so happy it’s still there! I love the beautiful Irish floral stamps – and the 1c magpie stamp – isn’t it funny how evocative stamps can be of a certain time and era? Hurrah for art school days of endless notebook scribblings – let’s bring them back!!!

  6. Lovely essay, Felix, lovely photos, lovely crafts projects, I’ve enjoyed this very much. You’re like a peaceful oasis in the middle of a sandstorm, though you feel the storm too.

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