A giggle of pattern makers

Salty-chalky Steyning mud from the banks of the tidal river Adur, an incongruous contender for voguish sludge; slither away Glasto-cool-ooziness and clay face-packs. Sarah Burns showed us beautiful designs created with mud resist and indigo dye, syncopations of blue and off-white, like diving into an Aegean sea. A natural rhythm to the process; cut stencils, paint mud-resist, air dry, and then dip-dye with several immersions because it’s indigo.

Flo and I, day-trippers from London, played with plant colours and new ways of working. Block-printing, with Sarah’s lino-cuts to make swathes of movement with jazzy edges, and geometric designs using Flo’s modern laser wood-cuts. Admiring huge outside vats of Golden rod and St John’s wort, so organic that little creatures were happily swimming in it. Our Brixton studio has big windows, letting in the light and long views across London, but no large garden to slip-slop with dyes.

We chatted, obsessed with processes, and about how ingenuity and frugality are part of the slow pattern of this craft. There is similarity in our ways of working; revisiting, and being re-inspired by ideas generated years earlier. A deliberate measured pace of design, looping the learning from our techniques back into our making. We discussed our motivations for this way of producing in harmony with seasons and land, and how these qualities are a part of the emergent blossoming of the circular design industry. Talking about creating and marketing natural dye products for the modern textile industry, where colour is dictated by pantone reference, rather than plant, time, and place. Sarah is an avid supporter of small heritage companies, tiny and vital in the supply chain, a cog in a connection of ancient endangered crafts.

A foragers delight of a track leads from Sarah’s house, edging past ghost-quarry reminders of Steyning’s industrial legacy, and up to the South downs. Steeply. We saw walnut trees (black), and elderflower (dark blue), goose grass (pale pink), sloe bushes (nicest of silver grey), and so many potential yellows. Half-way to the top we looked back and downwards, to an Eric Ravillious assemblage of hills, villages, and fields. 

We returned to London with a strong sense of Sarah’s vision of colour, pattern and location, and a clutch of fabrics. Air curing burnt-orange cutch block prints on soda-ash mordanted fabric, acorn-black, and blue-grey iron prints on an alder dipped base. Adur mud, clinging onto calico, ready to immerse in our indigo bath. Imprints of Sussex traditions and craftspeople, passing knowledge, collaborating, and learning. 

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