The details in the fabric*

This is a decorated piece of discarded chewing gum on the Millennium Bridge in central London; it's about 2cm by 2cm and most people walking over the bridge would just glimpse something colourful out of the corner of their eye and carry on walking, admiring the stunning views of the Shard, St Paul's and the river. But I was curious enough to squat down, take a photo, and look at it more closely (causing a little bit of a pedestrian traffic jam – sorry, folks).

It turns out that there are hundreds of these tiny works of art on the bridge. Once your eye tunes into them you realise they are all over the walkway. Aren't they lovely?

They are made by Ben Wilson, popularly known as Chewing Gum Man; you can find out more about his tiny works of art here.

I was on my way to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey – a lesser well known gem of a museum, about five minutes' walk from Borough Market, that is well worth a visit if you've not been before. Their current exhibition is Liberty In Fashion, and I was so excited to be going. I have loved Liberty designs since I was a teenager, when I used to buy quarter metres of Ianthe Art Nouveau tana lawn in the red colourway (no longer made it seems), to embellish my denim jackets and jeans. This is still my most favourite Liberty print – in any colour – and I still think it goes beautifully with denim.

The exhibition had dresses, jackets, stoles, scarves, skirts and blouses from the last 140 years – all made from Liberty fabrics, and many of them made by Liberty too. My favourites were the ones from the turn of the 20th Century and the 1930s because the garment construction was as exquisite as the fabrics.

I love the tiny floral prints, and the beautiful smocking, piping and gathering details that make the dresses so glorious.

Tiny things, made with care and attention to detail; I think they're just as enchanting when they're made from old chewing gum as they are when made from silk or lawn.

*I lifted the title of this blog post from the Jason Mraz song of the same name – thank you, Jason Mraz! It's one of my favourite songs – and not just because it has the word 'fabric' in the title.



At the seaside

Whenever she saw one of their boat-shaped collection boxes, my Granny always donated whatever small change she could find in her handbag to the RNLI. When I was little she and my Grandfather lived on the Suffolk coast, so there were RNLI collection boxes in every village shop and street corner. She always impressed on my little brother and me how important an institution the RNLI was, and how courageous the lifeboat men and women were: volunteers going out in the very worst conditions to rescue people at sea.


My Granny was a sailor. She came to this activity late in life via the enthusiasms of my Grandfather, who discovered the joys of sailing when he retired. They sailed across the North Sea when they were in their sixties and seventies many times – and were even in The Netherlands with their boat when I was born. My earliest memories of my Granny are of her in a boat, cleaning a boat, packing for a trip on a boat, or taking me for walks around the harbours of Suffolk to look at the boats. She always liked looking at the boats' quirky names – something I enjoy now – and she would point out her favourites to me as we strolled. My Granny was a very ladylike person, and the only time she wore trousers (which she called slacks) was when she was on a boat. She seemed to greet my Grandfather's desire for nautical adventures with the equanimity that was characteristic of everything she did. She just got on with it, and then found pleasure in it.


I went to the seaside today, on a whim, and the first thing I saw when I arrived at the harbour was the RNLI lifeboat station, with its flag flying smartly in the breeze. I went into their shop to see if I could buy a tea towel (my Granny's charitable nature meant that she acquired what must surely have been one of the largest RNLI tea-towel collections in East Anglia). I think she would have understood my desire for little adventures on my days off – and I know she would have loved to stroll with me around the harbour today, looking at all the boats and eating ice cream.


I thought of her when I put some change into the boat-shaped collection tin, and I could her her voice in my head reminding me once again of why the RNLI is so important and how courageous its crews are.