Jeremy Irons earwormed his way into my brain as soon as I walked into the extraordinary Borgia apartments in The Vatican.
Was I still in Italy? Or had I been transported to Spain? With frescoes of the Borgia bull, these apartments show the Spanish roots of the new Pope at that time, Rodrigo de Borgia, who became Pope Alexander in 1492.
Apparently, the entire space was created to reflect the pride he felt in his family name, his Spanish origins and the huge ambition that he had for himself and his family, as portrayed by Irons with his inimitable ruthless charm in the brilliant bingeworthy series, The Borgias.
On this tour, everyone else was looking around at the walls and the ornate gilded stucco frames and frescos, but I was drawn to the floor tiles (imported from Spain), that gave the rooms a completely Spanish look.
One set of tiles stood out to me - this wonderful diamond repeat that had an incredible pattern and texture.
While the Borgias were said to be of dubious character and accused of a roll call of crimes during the reign of Pope Alexander - lasciviousness! nepotism! adultery! simony! murder! - least they had good taste in decorating!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. One of my favourite movies come to life right in front of me!
Before she shone as MI5 officer in the excellent Killing Eve (if you haven’t seen it, run don’t walk, it’s amazing), Sandra Oh was helping Diane Lane live the dream in Under The Tuscan Sun, and here, on the steps of the Duomo di Siena, I was doing the same.
Hundreds of young men, dressed in colourful pantaloons and peaked caps, were performing a spectacular flag-throwing ceremony to the beat of a marching band.
Wandering the streets of this gloriously preserved Medieval city was a highlight of this trip to Italy, history seemed visceral, vibrant and very much alive.
For flag-throwing is serious business in Siena and heralds the running of Il Palio, a horserace that’s been held for hundreds of years around the city’s central square. Dressed in the colours of their contrade - or city ward - 10 jockeys ride bareback at astonishing speeds around the square cheered on by the entire population.
Today the flag-throwing preceded not the race, but the drawing of the city wards that would be in the race - an event that also brought out thousands of Sienese to witness and celebrate if their flag was drawn.
Celebrate in such a joyously uninhibited and exuberant way that it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement.
It was while watching the flags flying through the air that I turned my gaze to the heavens - well, the earthly incarnation of heaven - and saw the magnificent details of the cathedral’s columns that were supporting the equally beautiful archways shining in pink and gleaming white. The craftsmanship, the detail, the texture are simply breathtaking and have been captured in this design.
I still dream of doing a Diane Lane and moving to the Tuscan countryside, but for now, this cushion is a little slice of Siena that sends me there from here.
The delights of Osteria Francescana & the famous lemon tart.
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Meditative sketching of a floor tile while the city slumbers.
The colours of Modena
The design process: sampling, experimenting with colour-ways & refining
It was a warm spring day in the Tuscan town of Panzano. We had just driven from Pisa that morning and we survived - well, apart from a little incident with a concrete bollard and our bumper bar but that’s another story. I was thoroughly enjoying the holiday, and 10 days in was finally able to relax from the corporate treadmill.
But, I was at a crossroads in my life, an important large birthday looming, unhappy in my day job and wracked with anxiety because of it.
I felt lost, even though I was on my dream trip, surrounded by all this incredible history and astonishing beauty.
After we settled into our Airbnb villa, we sat down for a long lunch overlooking the countryside and soaked up the Tuscan sun, while grazing on salumi and pecorino and crostini smothered with pate while guzzling a couple of carafes of Chianti.As the day drifted into the late afternoon and we made our way back to our villa, the sun was shining in a warm golden glow, a soft spring breeze in the air carrying the church bells across the valley.It was perfect.
When we arrived back to our villa, I saw a wise lady painting next door and we started chatting. Her name was Evie and she invited me into her beautiful house overlooking the Tuscan countryside. She was a very talented artist and she was showing me her magnificent paintings of large urns and portraits. She told me a story of her neighbour who suddenly passed away, and when he dida portrait she painted of him fell off the wall. All the sudden she grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes. “I can feel the creativity in you.” She paused for a moment. “Fabric!” she exclaimed.
This was really spooky and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I hadn’t told her that I studied textile design at university and that I was also a painter (well one with minor success).
She then said “You must promise me! You must promise me to follow your dream and give the world your creativity. You have to do this, you need to do this, you have to promise me.”
Still reeling from how she knew these things about me that I hadn't told her, she looked into my eyes with a knowing gaze and clutched my hand tighter. I said “OK” and made my promise to Evie.
When I got back to our villa, I told my husband what had occurred. We both agreed this was a sign. Fate. So I put my thinking cap on. What I could do? Then the ideas started flowing ... travel, experiences, something meaningful, something with a story, something people could touch and hold and that was tactile, comforting. It came in a burst. Cushions!
But not just cushions, cushion covers to reduce clutter. They’d be unique, with low run designs and if I could, they’d be Fair Trade. Something individual, not mass produced. Things people could value. They’d be like fabric art pieces.
Luckily I had my notebook and started writing down these ideas. I began drawing and working through photos that very evening, and for the rest of the trip during moments of reflection (often with a glass of vermentino or pinto grigio to hand!).It was like something came alive in me again. That burning fire in my belly had reignited and that sense of doom I felt about where I was in life started to subside.
When I got back to Melbourne, I started refining these ideas. I started drawing more, started designing, then moved out of the city and to the country for more space (and to mitigate the corporate stress), and started painting large-scale works again.
From a dear friend, I managed to source asmall Fair Trade supplier in India, who could undertake low-run manufacturing and I developed and stress-tested the product with our fur children over many months.
And finally, after months of trial and error and refinement, I placed my first order.Eeeek!This was actually happening. Then one day, while planning for my business launch and checking on the progress of my stock, another twist of fate. I was made redundant.
What a sliding door moment!
I was filled with shock, relief, hope and, excitement. With the imminent arrival of my stock, I could dedicate time to what I really love and am passionate about and really give it a good go.
As for this first collection of covers, the majority is based on Italy and the life-changing experience of that trip. Each has a story and I will be blogging about each in the future. I also introduced Hobart cover, another experience and another story.
Over the next year, I am aiming to add a few more, Vietnam? Peru? Spain? Darwin? Only time will tell.