During lockdown our church in Steyning was closed for the first time in 1,000 years – Covid had succeeded where the plague and world wars had failed. Sometimes, I would imagine being inside this very special place which I love very much and I would think about the beautiful medieval carvings of fruits, leaves, animals, birds – there is even one hunting scene.
One of my favourite capitals is a circle of carved oak leaves – I just love how the stone masons brought nature in from the outside and made the stone come alive.
John Ruskin was a big fan of their bringing the outside in approach in such a free and effortless way. I learned all about his love of medieval sculpture when I visited and researched the amazing Tyntesfield House near Bristol
This is the feeling I wanted to create when I designed my Sussex Oak design – partly inspired by the carvings but also influenced by local patternmaker Peggy Angus who lived not far away. Do visit her archives at The Keep near Brighton if you can. Many of her wonderful prints are boxed up as she left them – she worked with such energy. Partly because she had to (she was a single parent) but also just because she was just that kind of person. She had quite particular views about history and as a teacher designed a wonderful scheme of how each age developed it’s own patterns. She got the students at North London Collegiate School for Girls to paint this as a mural around their art class. She was interested in the meaning behind patterns and this is one of the reasons why she inspires me so much.
My Oak Leaf pattern has been in my mind for over 20 years since I made a little oak leaf print many years ago – sometimes I work very slowly and I just needed the extra time offered by lockdown and my connection to the beautiful church carvings to finally finish the design.
When it came to cut the block I worked in my usual way, cutting and printing and recutting and reprinting until the design had that sense of movement and balance that I seek to create in all my designs.
I printed it onto fabric and paper and because we were in lock down and I had more time, I started to paper our hallway – the colours made me very happy. I’ve also been printing it onto fabric that I mordant with oak galls that I forage for in the fields around me here in Steyning.
I’m pleased other people like this design – I feel it connects me to the past and also offers some ideas about how we might go forward in the future – making beautiful textiles that are kind to the environment.