The Artist’s Life: Sarah Cage on her Bloomsbury heritage and textile art

Sarah Cage was raised in an artistic family, and a well connected one too. Her maternal great grandparents knew the Bloomsbury group, and were involved in Lucien Pissarro’s Eragny Press.

Lucien, son of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, settled in England in 1890 hoping to make a better living than he had done in France as a print-maker and book illustrator. The Eragny Press survived for two decades as a labour of love, and Lucien produced 32 handcrafted volumes with a Pre-Raphaelite influence, reflecting the Arts and Crafts circles in which he mixed.

Sarah’s family owned Stamford Brook House, West London, near the home of Pissarro and many other members of the Bloomsbury group and New English Art Club. Her great-grandfather, Archie Macgregor, painted allegorical oils and was a lithographer, illustrator and sculptor.

Sarah says: ‘There was an active arts scene in West London around the end of the 1890s, of which my family was a part. My great grandparents knew many people from the literary and arts circles of the day.

‘We had copies of most of the Eragny Press books (which were distributed round the family after my grandparents died), and some had dedications in them. There are also references in GK Chesterton’s biographies to a society based around Archie’s house.

‘Archie’s sister was Jessie Macgregor, a Royal Academician who illustrated a book called ‘Gardens of Celebrities’ which featured the gardens of rich and famous London residents.’

As a child, Sarah was encouraged to paint by her mother, a craft potter, and father, a design engineer.

She went on to become a textile artist. Sarah combines dyeing, knitting and lace structures with appliqué and machine embroidery. Her work ‘Night City 4′  (below) is to be featured in the forthcoming Metropolis exhibition at the RBSA.

Sarah dyes many of her fabrics and yarns, and also has a stash of remnants collected over many years.

For exhibition work she focuses on machine embroidery along with tatting, knitting or crochet.

‘My first embroidered picture was done at primary school, and I continued making occasional embroidered pictures as presents.

‘Then in the 70s I discovered machine embroidery and dyeing, first to embellish my everyday clothes, and then for my wedding dress tabard, which I have framed and hung on the stairs at home.

‘I have always knitted. After a talk by the American artist Kaffe Fassett, I produced some Fair Isle waistcoats for relations, but they are very time consuming!’

Sarah worked as a scientific librarian, and gained a City & Guilds in Creative Textiles after having a family.

‘This gave me the confidence to start selling cards and dyed yarns and demonstrating dyeing,’ she adds. ‘My mother had a shop attached to her pottery, and she sold my textile cards and machine-embroidered jewellery.’

Sarah is a big fan of natural dyes: ‘I enjoy the bucket chemistry of natural dyeing, though it’s generally a process I reserve for workshops. Almost anything in the garden will give some sort of yellow-beige-green. The skill is in knowing which will give a brighter or more permanent dye.’

Recently, Sarah has been experimenting with ‘eco printing’: laying the dyeplant direct on the fabric, and then steaming it, with mixed results.

‘I also do a lot of chemical dyeing. Results are more predictable and more permanent, and it’s easier to get multi-coloured yarns and fabrics.’

Current projects

‘I have submitted a dress, jacket, flower crown and bouquet, inspired by my great-grandfather’s sketches and Pre-Raphaelite and Mucha paintings, to the Festival of Quilts.

‘I am also a member of Midlands Textile Forum. We have an exhibition The Lie of the Land at Bishops Castle, until 16 September.’

Sarah has been a Friend of the RBSA since 2002 and speaks warmly of the scheme:

‘It has given me a place to exhibit watercolours and textiles, and has also been a source of encouragement and inspiration.

‘I was lucky enough to get a place on a Professional Development course at the RBSA which gave me useful insight into a range of techniques.

‘I also appreciate that many of my textiles have been selected for Open and Prize exhibitions – I got a Highly Commended for my Night City jacket in 2011, and am delighted it’s been selected for Metropolis.’


My work is mostly representational rather than abstract, and is rarely flat – I often include wire and other unconventional yarns. I am influenced by landscape and architecture, and like the juxtaposition of the old with the new – the legacy of the past combined with our own legacy to the future.

Catch the Metropolis exhibition, sponsored by Maguire Jackson, from this Thursday until 30 September.

The RBSA Gallery is the perfect platform for artists at all stages of their career, and many Friends progress to become Associates and Members, as well as Council Members with a say in the Society’s future.

Could you be a Friend of the RBSA? Benefits include:

  1. Discounts and private views

  2. Special events

  3. Free entry to certain exhibitions

  4. Networking opportunities

  5. Newsletter and email updates

By Louise Palfreyman, WMMD blogger-in-residence

#history #birmingham #textiles #Pissarro #fineart #arts #Bloomsbury #exhibition #RoyalAcademy

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