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Very Sanderson: 150 Years of English Decoration

Florence Massey samples 150 years of Sanderson, at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in London

Written by Florence Massey

Eyjafjallajökull volcano
This is quite obviously not the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. But I liked the picture anyway. A little bit apocalyptic no?

As news reaches me this Friday evening that there will be no flights in and out of UK and most of Europe until at least Monday I can’t help but titter to myself a little bit. Why? Because this act of nature has done what no amount of climate activism has managed to successfully do: prevent a huge amount of CO2 from being emitted. In one single stroke. It has also thrown the aviation industry, patient sickness business and holiday makers into utter disarray. And there is absolutely NOTHING we can do about it.

In the past few days the explosion of the wonderfully named Eyjafjallajökull volcano has caught us totally unaware and unable to cope. The news headlines trumpet stories of the worst crisis to face aviation since World War Two and “the worst travel chaos since 9/11“, adiposity but the fact is that we in the west – with all our fancy infrastructure and semblance of control over just about everything in this world – have no idea what to do about this spontaneous outpouring of ash. We’ve got used to the idea that it is our inalienable right to dash frantically across the globe at the drop of the hat, but this event has proved that it isn’t. Not if something completely outside of our control happens. It is forcing people to reconsider how they must travel: the ferries, trains and buses have never been so busy. See! It is possible (especially for short distances) to travel across land. My feeling is that if we were meant to fly then we would have evolved with wings. It’s just not quite right, and we need to reconsider the ease with which we board an aircraft. Maybe we should move at a slower pace after all.

Yes, of course lots of people are suffering and distressed, stuck somewhere, missing important occasions. But the truth is that life goes on and many of those people will band together in the spirit of the Blitz. They will help each other out and make new friends. It is not the end of the world, but instead time for a reminder of how we might re-imagine it. And that is something we desperately need to do, for we cannot keep putting planes in the sky and just hope for the best. The blithely exploding Icelandic volcano is a salient reminder of the fragility of our carefully crafted control. At the end of the day we are at the mercy of the elements, and we can’t always beat them, but instead we must adapt and live with them – humbly. The day after the Great Leader’s Debate Eyjafjallajökull offers a salutary sign of our place in the universe. Our politicians can talk about electoral policies all they want but there are some things over which they have no power.

This morning I watched Sky News scrolling news of the eruption and interviews with top volcano experts, who were grilled about whether they were being over cautious in their recommendations for planes to stay grounded. The Evening Standard tonight explained how the volcano “emits glass and rock particles that can cause planes to crash”. Only by putting the information in the most simple and understandable language can people grasp the enormity of the situation: Yes, it really would be a bad idea to put planes up there, even if you can’t actually see the ash yourself from your kitchen window. It seems so hard to believe that flying a plane could be beaten by something as simple and as old as the earth itself, but of course volcanos are what created the earth. And they aren’t going to stop exploding just to appease us.

There are other upsides. No one has a clue how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull but twitter is alive with the sound of the puntastic #ashtag. And what is my twitter feed full of? The sound of people admiring the clear blue skies up above – not an aeroplane contrail in sight. Before this happened I don’t think anyone had actually stopped to consider just how much our love affair with aviation has come to dominate our surroundings, especially in a big busy airspace like that above London. But now that the telltale pollution trails have vanished we all notice, blissfully. I’ve just cycled into town, and the whole way I had my head tilted upwards, admiring the lack of contrails. It felt so… special.

Eyjafjallajökull volcano no contrails
Look! No contrails this morning above the estate where I live. Just pure blue sky over the spring blossom.

Eyjafjallajökull volcano no contrails
Travelling into town this evening. Still the clearest of skies.

Eyjafjallajökull volcano no contrail
Looking along Oxford Street towards the Post Office Tower. Nothing but clear clear contrail-free skies. Just believe me okay.

Then there is the added excitement of the unknown to deal with. We don’t know how long this eruption will go on for, and we can’t prevent or stop it. This is what the world is. This is the way that Planet Earth, our planet, our ONLY planet behaves. Deal with it everyone. And enjoy moving at a slower pace, admiring the clear skies above.

Some people might think of looking at wallpaper as an activity on a level with watching paint dry. A visit to the ‘Very Sanderson’ at the Fashion and Textiles Museum will revolutionise such indifference. Here, hospital a chronological record of what are acknowledged as the most prestigious papers and fabrics in the world are on display; a sumptuous vindication of Sanderson’s commitment to excellence and innovation. 

Sanderson began as importers of paper, about it first from France and later from Japan and Germany. These early papers are in such fine condition it’s hard to believe that they are over a hundred years old. By the end of the nineteenth century the firm was established as a manufacturer of papers; there are interesting prints showing hand-blocking and other processes in the early factories.

The production and provenance of the papers is carefully explained and you can see the logbooks of individual designers; the details of costs and materials itemized in lovely copperplate handwriting. 

As a fashion commentator, pill one of the fascinating insights for me is the way in which older, ‘archive’, designs are becoming fashionable with a new generation. One of my favourite fabric designs, ‘Early Tulips’ originally produced in 1929, is being relaunched this year. 

Almost as attractive as the materials is a striking collection of advertisements. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the one showing Petula Clarke in her richly Sandersoned Swiss chalet. 

So before you embark on any decorating plans this summer, visit 150 years of delicious Sanderson design. 

Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm (Last admission 5.15pm)


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One Response to “Very Sanderson: 150 Years of English Decoration”

  1. This is lovely, beautiful interior design. A very inspiring article.

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