“When I consider life, ‘t is all a cheat.
Yet fool’d with hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay.
To-morrow ‘s falser than the former day;
Lies worse, and while it says we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange cozenage! none would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;
And from the dregs of life think to receive
What the first sprightly running could not give.”John Dryden, 1631-1700
I memorised the first four lines of this quote in my teens when I spotted it in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations at a friend’s house. Although I don’t necessarily understand it, it has stuck with me! Our English teacher, who was a countess because she had been married to a Russian Count, taught us to memorise whole passages of Shakespeare as well as an incredible amount of practising with English vocabulary, for which I am eternally grateful.
When I started The Linen Shop in 1999, I was very green and had no idea about selling my industrially woven linen fabrics, where to find customers etc. I went on a very steep learning curve and was dismayed that, to sell to the ‘trade’, I had to ‘jump through lots of hoops’ such as wash test for shrinkage, have all the fabrics ‘rub-tested’ for possible upholstery use, light fastness tests… and fabric to be used in hotels also had to be coated with Fire Retardant. I was recommended to an English interior designer based in Paris. Before we met, I had already sold yards and yards of cloth to her – but she took an instant dislike to my linens. She saw I was upset by this and told me that just because she didn’t like it didn’t mean no one else would.
A life lesson 1
Eventually, I realised that I could confidently admit my stock was perfect for curtaining and clothing, and most of it would be perfectly suited for upholstering a bedroom chair but possibly no good for a much-used living-room one. If you love it use it but be aware of its limitations.
I was reminded recently of these experiences when talking to a fellow artist about her sculptures. She was concerned about how safe they were when being used in a garden setting i.e., that they wouldn’t fall over and kill someone! Once again if someone loves it, they’ll buy it. It is up to them to ensure it is placed appropriately dependent on their needs and requirements.
A life lesson 2
Shortly after leaving College, I went to a huge textile Trade Fair in Manchester. I had handwoven some samples for a competition being held there and I was disappointed not to have my samples selected. While we were there my friend and I persuaded ourselves that what I really needed was a bespoke cutting and rolling machine. This industrial beast arrived that summer and was hand built in our house in what is now my present studio. It was a mad moment of self-indulgence that I lived to regret for years. Clearly, the machine didn’t like the different thicknesses of my linens and consequently never measured the correct yardage. We simply use the machine to re-roll the huge bolts of linen delivered from the Mills onto smaller cardboard tubes. We hand cut our orders, sometimes up to 50 metres, on a wooden table specifically designed for this by my husband Angus. Eventually, the machine was dismantled and rebuilt in the Barn from where we sold it for a song to someone in the rag trade based in Birmingham.
A life lesson 3
In the mid-1990s I recall joining a philosophy group. We met weekly to read and discuss philosophical material. During the tea break, there were many books for sale. Previously I would have bought the lot, but I realised there was no hurry or need to do this.
The realisation of a life lesson
I’ve always been drawn to the idea of allotments, not necessarily tending one myself but the romance of growing your own veg, space to contemplate in or by your own garden shed. Curiously we now have the Nuthurst Community Allotment, which we started in lockdown, at the bottom of our drive, based in the former propagation area designed by my husband for his nursery – Architectural Plants.
In 2014 he relocated his business to a purpose-built site near Pulborough. Over 34 years I have watched the field alongside our drive develop into a full-blown nursery. It started with one greenhouse which was, over time, enlarged, and also a small propagation tunnel with state-of-the-art fogging, this too moved into the large greenhouse which is now the Fruitery of the allotment.
Change is the only certainty
In a similar manner, I remember moving to our family home in the mid-1950s which my father inherited after my grandfather died. To help maintain the very large walled gardens my parents grassed over a lot of the flower beds. About 20 years later my father and stepmother opened the Kilverstone Wildlife Park, specialising in South American animals. In this same area and beyond – a lot of the animal cages were built by my father, they butted up against the walls. The Park closed in the mid-1990s. My brother and his wife have now changed everything back to a formal garden.
The cycle of life is a continuum
These lessons have taught me many things that I now bring to my life and my art, including:
• It is ok to play – there is no right or wrong.
• Be true to yourself.
• To quote the final line in a helpful poem I was given a long time ago – “So live to learn and know yourself, in doing so you will learn to live” (see the whole poem below).
• There is so much more freedom in making art, than running The Linen Shop, especially if you’re not desperately trying to sell it!
• I tend to try and find meaning in everything, and/or there is always a silver lining – a positive approach one can choose to take.
After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean security
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises –
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
And with the grace of an adult, not the
Grief of a child
And you learn to build all your roads on TODAY
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain
For your plans,
After a while you learn that even sunshine
Burns if you get too much
So plant your own garden and decorate
Your own soul – instead of waiting for
Someone to bring you flowers.
And you will learn that you really can endure,
That you really are special
And that you really do have worth.
So live to learn and know yourself, in doing so you will learn to live.
Follow @franwhiteartist on Instagram.