As part of the activities developed for the current Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the American Museum in Britain I am giving 2 separate day workshops to make a small panel of hand appliqué flowers. I am supplying the same fabrics used for the large scale appliquéd quilt that I made for Kaffe to celebrate his 80th birthday.
I started the day by taking all the participants to the museum’s Quilt Room to see the original quilt and explained some of the techniques we would cover. I explained my technique of hand stitching over the raw edges of the bonded motifs, which is easier than the original way of turning a small hem and stitching onto the panel. They were asked to design their own version of the appliquéd flower and shell panels – but not the central Kaffe portrait.
I had prepared a whole sheaf of flowered fabric by pressing heat transfer paper onto the backs of them so they were ready to cut out. I also took the remaining motifs I had cut, but not used, from my quilt. Plus a selection of different coloured squares of Shot Cotton for the backgrounds, these I backed with a woven cotton interlining to strengthen them for appliqué to be sewn without a stretcher or hoop.
Everyone had to choose their own back ground fabric first, this makes finding colours for the individual flowers easier; I know how daunting it is to have so much choice. But they soon got going on the cutting and placing….
The first thing I noticed was that most people put far too many flowers onto the fabric squares with odd gaps between. I had to keep reminding them that this was to be a hand- stitched appliqué and to think about the work involved to finish the stitching later at home….. but even so most people favoured lots and lots of flowers, below shows some work in progress.
After the basic shapes were developed extra flowers could be found in the spare fabrics I had brought, and people could bond and press motifs individually to balance or fill up their basic design. Several people worked as I do and changed their designs a great deal during the design process until they were about satisfied.
Other people had very organised workspaces (very unlike me) and I enjoyed seeing their beautifully laid out tables with all necessary equipment to hand. They seemed to progress steadily and surely, with only a small tweak or suggestion of a different fabric from me
eventually all the designs were organised; some really interesting designs were arrived at by chopping and changing until the last minute…
but eventually everyone had to commit to trimming,
then tracing around places with a water soluble pen, before pressing the whole design into position.
and then after a quick demonstration from me – start to stitch it.
They all were very skilled at this very precise stitching, a relief as poor work at this point can ruin all the meticulous care taken after this really intense design stage.
At the end of the afternoon session there was a lovely and varied set of designs and some were already being stitched – with promises from the rest that they would definitely finish them.
And for anyone who is interested in joining the next workshop – it is on Saturday September 21st 2019.
I make no apologies that for this long and detailed post of my most recently published commission, the nature of the commissioning aspect of my work makes for total secrecy until the publishing dates, in this case July 4th 2019. As I am now working on several more commissioned projects of different types of work it is a relief to actually show the work behind ‘Her Work’. I started this particular commission in June 2018, here is the story so far…
A phone call for my brother-in law, Howard Jacobson, in the spring of 2018: Was I interested in stitching an illustration or possibly (who knows) a book cover for his next novel? This sounded an unlikely combination, an embroidered cover for one of his irreverent and caustic novels?
He quickly explained that the book was about a very old woman, Beryl, with a very selective memory, much married, cantankerous and given to expressing herself in expletives; an obsessive stitcher of morbid samplers and scenes from her life. But this story was about her late flowering love affair with a just slightly younger bachelor, Shimi, who forgets nothing; they are both in their 90’s. I was immediately intrigued, not least by the choice of embroideries within the novel, they sounded familiar – I said yes.
I read the novel on my computer and immediately started to research hearts, skulls, playing cards and typefaces for name and title. The lettering used for the author’s name came very quickly, I took the negative/positive block idea straight from a 1960’s American needlepoint alphabet book.
Next Howard and I met with the publishers at Jonathan Cape Vintage, who having accessed images from this blog, were ready to discuss their ideas for a cover. Basically they wanted a traditional sampler with the author’s name at the top of the page, the title beneath and some of my broken & mended heart imagery and the regular sampler border. They gave me the dimensions of the actual book wrapper and a month to come up with samples and ideas.
Later that day Howard and I discussed what he might want me to focus on, death, blood, destruction, worms, spiders, cobwebs, skulls and decay….
I started to experiment with different letter forms; cursive italics for the title set against the simple strong text for the author’s name. I particularly liked an alphabet that used positive and negative forms for the name. The use of different alphabets is a major a feature of traditional samplers. For the “LIVE” I wanted cursive, italics written in capitals, these ideas that were important to me as I saw this forward bold energetic word as a symbol for whole message of the book. Then ‘a little” obviously needed be lower case and static. Finding and fitting the larger letter forms into the small space available was tricky, so I decided to stagger them – I liked the ‘dance’ they made.
My first cover designs below, featured skulls and broken hearts for Beryl. My second used playing cards and suits, for Shimi.
Both designs had to work to scale for my chosen gauge of counted thread linen, and both had to be incorporated into the 2 wrapper design ideas that I eventually sent to the publishers. Regardless of which design the publishers eventually chose, I had fastened on my colour scheme, red and black, stitched on neutral linen. I set to work on the back cover…using the boneless Buddhist hand used in many of my earlier embroidered mending mottoes.
At the publisher’s meeting everyone had liked my idea of the thread wrapping around the entire cover to incorporate the ‘blurb’ on front and back covers. Here with original boneless stitching hand is the ‘skulls’ cover.
and the ‘cards’ cover
Above are the 2 working ideas drawn to scale and up for discussion, that I sent in July to the publishers. I also sent these images to Howard to keep him in the loop, and for his comments…he replied with “Where are all her rings? She wore lots of rings, they were important to her”
Back to the drawing board and if he wanted such characterful detail then I needed to age the hands as well and introduce and ‘old gold’ thread.
Meanwhile the publishing team had their own comments – and while really liking the entire concept, choosing the skulls (yippee) and approving the writing for the author’s name (which meant I could make a start on the actual piece of work) they and the marketing team thought the title was illegible and did not like the title block…not at all.
They countered with their own version of my design…
I really liked the way they had translated the meandering thread around the whole cover but was disheartened and disappointed with their new design of the same blocked alphabet for the title and the ‘dancing skulls’. BUT the stitching goddess was at hand – it just could not be stitched in this technique at this scale.
Counted thread embroidery relies on mathematically calculated 1 square per stitch for any design. Anything at an odd angle is difficult, as are curves on such a small scale. There were only 2 sizes of stitch available on this linen for my design. I sent sample images to illustrate the point.
A long and detailed set of emails, more images of sample stitching and new lettering bounced back and forth for some time….
Above are the last 2 versions of the new one line of LIVE lettering, I was not happy to lose the italic version of leaning forward letters in order to show energy and I particularly mourned the loss of the energetic capital ‘A’ in the final cover, but by now it looked defunct – hey ho – a successful design is almost always a successful compromise
So I completed the embroidery, placed a real needle in the stitched hand leaving the red thread loose for the photographer’s placement, starched and stretched it and sent it off . Several weeks later it came back, they wanted the title stitched on the spine….remember the problem of the size of the linen count? Keep up!
back to the calculations, I had only one option, one stitch per thread…….
I must admit that the people I dealt with at the publishers, Suzanne Dean and Rosie Palmer were really helpful to work with but throwing this at me this was quite a challenge….after much more re-calculation and manoeuvring between Rosie and me, we finally achieved the finished design for the spine .
The finished back of the book cover has an extra border, making it very rich and even more ornate. I really like the effect of the shadows for the loose thread.
And in an early and very favourable review of the book in the Jewish Chronicle, says on the very last line:
“The novel’s brilliant cover tells it all: hearts and skulls, love and death“.
The following post explains why I have been silent for several months since completing the quilt for Kaffe…I have been working on the bedding for Sleep Well (a garden that was designed by Julie Dunn for the RHS summer flower show at Tatton Hall in Cheshire) since early in the year..it was quite a challenge.
Early April and I had my first glimpse of the bed and canopy so now I had the precise (I thought) measurements, I needed to proceed with sorting out the bedding and the patchworks….
checking the colour with the submitted design
first ideas for quilt fabric rics
square and triangles
Pinning the illustration to the quilt wall I started to make the quilt – it was very big, appox. 2 metres square and all colour co-ordinated to the chosen plants.
by early May and I was getting on well with the quilt, the top was finished, I had designed a large border as a sort of valance to cover the unsightly drop-down bed legs of the day bed. However I realised that this would not now work as the arms of the bed stopped the border being attached to the quilt. I drew some versions of how I could design my way forward and sent the sketches to Julie…
It sounds absolutely mad but Velcro became the solution to this first of my many design dilemmas.
However the next dilemma was although more simply sorted out it was time consuming. Julie could not find a plant that was a major lynch-pin of her planting design, Sanguisora that is a brilliant pinky purple colour …..and we had perfectly matched a fabric in the centre of the quilt to it….so back to the un-picker and sewing machine,
quitl centre removed
new paler fabric inserted
By mid-May the valance/border desperately needed to be designed and made – this took a lot of thought as I was now designing by the seat of my pants, working with Julie as she was getting news of her specially grown plants from the nursery and seeing the reality of how they all looked together. My colours needed to be softened considerably..not easy using when using the Kaffe Fassett Collective ranges!!!
I was still undecided as to what the valance should be applied to, even if it was with Velcro, it was either to the quilt or the fitted sheet and I had to decide now as our dress rehearsal was looming in late June and I still had to organise the mattress covers, the pillows and the canopy – why oh why did I imagine this would just be a simply made and straightforward project ?
I sent these picures to Julie to see which she preferred…I wanted the bright colours of the batik squares from Kaffe’s Artisan range. She preferred the softer geometrics from the Classic ranges.
Came the blistering hot day of the first trial in Julie’s own garden. I traveled almost 200 miles with a van loaded with mattress, sheet, pillows, bolster, the quilt and 2 versions of the curtains…oh and 2 dogs and my husband.
But she was correct, her choice worked best! but not everything fitted – the mattresses were a tad wide after my oh so careful measuring- so we had to cut them down and recover them. Hey ho!
when I got home it was all systems go, 3 weeks to the show and I had lots to do. BUT first the small patchwork cushion that would help pull all the different bedding and quilt fabrics together – and such a pleasure in the face of all the work ahead
and so eventually to the show…Julie had already spent 2 hot and humid weeks with the help of her family planting the garden
the planted garden
we each set about our tasks
weather proofing the quilt
The champagne tent beckoned but sadly we dared not visit it
The judging day arrives
Relief all round, the girls all pile on the bed for photographs and Julie models the perfect dress chosen for the garden!
And the garden looks perfect as well – just like the illustration plus fig trees.
And our award?
not bad for her company Trug’sfirst garden design at any show, let alone the RHS.
This major project started life in 2017 through sheer frustration. For Kaffe Fassett’s 2018 quilt book, based on traditional quilts housed in the American Museum in Britain he had asked that, as a hand embroiderer, I make his revised version of an ‘Broderie Perse’ in their collection. I was delighted.
I immediately started to sample some simple ways to make such a large hand stitched quilt nowadays, plus information notes for others to follow the instructions. However, due to lack of time due to publishing deadlines this quilt was dropped….Rats!
Later in the year I organised with the museum’s curator, Kate Hebert, to visit the archives with the UK making and publishing team. I asked to see ‘the one that got away’ and on hearing the story, Kate said that if I ever re-considered making the quilt she would show it in the quilt gallery alongside the original. Well of course I jumped at the chance to show work at this museum, and I did want to make the quilt.
I decided that I would make it as a present for Kaffe, it was his 80th birthday in December and I had enjoyed the last 3 years working with him on his books and my contract was at an end. I reasoned I would soon have plenty of time on my hands to complete the project in time for his birthday.
As I now had ‘carte blanche’ to interpret the design as I liked I decided to make his portrait as one of the panels. Using a recent photograph from his last visit to the studios I set about drawing and scaling the head.
I made carefully measured sketches, and then 2 masks – one to the size of the hexagonal block and the other of the head. My initial idea was to garland the head with flowers – well why not?
This looked miserable, and the garland didn’t fit into the hexagon very well – and then I would have to embroider the features; I remembered my ‘Flora’ embroideries influenced by Archimboldo – the artist who made faces from flowers. I tried various flowery fabrics from the Kaffe Fassett Collective.
This selection took several days and I was still not convinced I could make it work well enough, then into my studio stepped an old university colleague from my teaching and researching days, Dr Dawn Mason, with the perfect bunch of flowers to match the work – I believe that chance happenings are not always random
serendipitous flowers – I am on the right track
I persevered. Eventually I chose the fabric placement, cut it out with a tiny seam allowance and hand slip stitched it to a spotty fabric, adjusting the chin to become a tad larger proved successful. Very carefully I placed a blue bud for the eye. Suddenly Kaffe appeared in front to me.
chosen fabric on drawing
perfecting the chin
Now for the hair: I found the white petals of Japanese Chrysanthemum by Phillip Jacobs perfect for my purpose, and so it appears does everyone else; the hair is the thing that gets the attention. In fact most of the fabrics that I used Summer Bouquet and Shell Bouquet and Tulip Extravaganza are designed Phillip Jacobs, his fabrics are so elegantly drawn and painted and the perfect replacement of the original chintzes.
The next stage was to decide the rest of the portrait. For the shirt I had a smidgeon of an old version of Kaffe’s Roman Glass in blue, I had bought years ago – and after many trials chose the fresh Spot fabric in the colour ‘Pond’ for the background.
Now for the rest of the patchwork, So far this has taken me about 3 weeks of drawing and stitching – but it is still only June.
I dug out the abandoned samples I had made for the book – I needed to make more other panels to add to the portrait.
To make the bouquets, the fabric has to be backed with a bonding paper, carefully cut out, placed into position by re-arranging the various elements to fit harmoniously, pressed, then hand stitched around each raw edge, the stitching is quicker than the arranging and my idea of blissful work.
The quilt slowly started to grow; but trying to control the overall colour was the most difficult thing – colours that work on their own or in a sketch suddenly look drab or take on another shade when placed next to one another – obviously. But the colours of the flowers changed the balance every time I added a new panel. It was my major ongoing and fascinating struggle to get these balances to work.
By September I had eventually made my fabric decisions, I had to make multiple versions of some of the panels – all in different colour-ways, but this gave cohesion to the busy design. I also added 4 shell corners, this was possibly the easiest panel to apply as the size was perfect and the shape fitted – just a few additions to balance colour.
Below shows development of the Brassica panels, they needed to be made larger by adding extra rows of leaves before hand sewing them onto the grounds.
making larger Brassica panels
hand stitching around each raw edge
The next stage was to add the diamond shaped patches at the intersections of the squares.
And this is when the panic started – suddenly this massive work, that had grown over months took off in another direction, these diamonds dominated the entire design – already busy, this was manic
The only thing was to keep going – too late to stop now – the samples below looked fine
sample of pinned Phased Stripe by Renaissance Ribbons
I started to applique the tiny cut squares from Kaffe’s fabrics, Sunburst onto Shot Cotton dozens of them, all hand stitched in 2 colours and I slowly added them to the quilt on the wall ….and the result below doesn’t have all the dividing ribbon strips yet!
This was beginning to look overloaded, so I called in my 2 trusted quilt makers, Julie Harvey and Ilaria Padovani – they have very sound taste in all things quilt, and I knew they would tell me the truth. They just laughed and said “well it is for Kaffe and ‘more is more’ with him – why are you worried’?
It was the addition of the ribbons, kindly donated to me by both Edith Minne, owner of Renaissance Ribbons and Brandon Mably (who was in on the secret) that tipped the balance of the work and I suddenly understood that the work had ceased to be mine – it was now Kaffe’s. This happens when you are commissioned to design and make stuff for people – you need to work with their ideas/tastes/preferences – otherwise they don’t pay you! But this wasn’t a commission this was a present, and it was all my own work – I realised now just how much I have been influenced by working alongside him.
So I machined in place all the ribbons – a mammoth task for a hand embroider! they were very tricky to manipulate especially as I had to split many yards of a wider ribbon to get the correct proportion, both Edith and Brandon were out of stock of the narrow version. Hey ho! Thankfully Julie machine stitched it all into position first and then I started to hand quilt all around my stitched applique – another mammoth task, but so rewarding, the quilt looks suitable wonky – in a good way – it looks very hand made.
It was completed in March 2018 but I had not time to deliver it; then Kaffe was awarded an MBE and I know I have to include this – so back again to the finished quilt
I made a sample first and then the real thing and appliqued it to the ‘finished’ portrait
In Bath, where Kaffe and Candace Behouth, have an exhibition together based on Flowers , I delivered another set of 5 quilts for the next book and my “surprise”
And Kaffe’s reaction when he was shown it?
Worth every moment.. I made the sample into a badge for Brandon – this says it all!
The night before the private view I had a dream that a giant version of the work featured on the poster ( see above) was writhing around the gallery walls and flashing strobe lights, while all the other pieces of work in the exhibition were equally massive and glowing while moving to – for want of a better word – ‘disco’ music: I thought – oh no! my poor flat patchwork!
The featured work by Lynne Machlachan was on display with her other wonderful constructions in blends of strong colours they undulated around the walls and in the air. A panel of photographs showed them being worn, I hesitate to call them jewelry…
On reflection I feel that this work set an atmosphere for the exhibition; clear, strong, flat colour, immaculate attention to surface detail, and a definite sense of playfulness were qualities I enjoyed throughout the rooms. The only strobe effects were caused by overlapping patterns on a smaller scale in many exhibits.
Whether by intention of the makers or sympathetic lighting on the part of the curators, the play of light and shadow were fascinating. I constantly returned to view the works of 2 makers who collaborated to show small woven metal constructions, Jonathan Cleaver and David Poston,
Even when I viewed larger scale works that had became almost installations in the way they were exhibited, the same themes of flat brilliant colour and clean elegant construction were apparent – and the use of this singing yellow and metal together.
colour and pattern throughout the exhibition links very disparate materials and ideas
The machine embroideries of Jacky Puzey echo both colour and form when seen against the metal sculptures. Her large dramatic panel of birds is a real master class in placing together disparate materials and media so that they flow easily one into the another.
The degree of skill on view within the exhibition is made apparent in different ways, certainly to change or add new materials to your original practice makes you concentrate on the “joins” and here nearly every piece of work combined either 2 or more materials or the makers had transferred the techniques of one discipline to another…or they made juxtapositions of natural with man made found objects – never easy.
Ancient bronze thimbles carry coral and sea urchin spines, like tiny offerings to the goddess of stitch! And there were boxes made from a metal shield mount, still with tracings of old patterning mounted with diamonds.
One of the major themes of the exhibition is the transformation of one material to describe another and there were many examples including my own.
One of the advantages of Private Views is to meet up with other exhibitors, I often find that talking to people work who work totally differently to me are always stimulating. I was introduced to Valeria Nascimento and we spent some time together discussing our very different work. as we walked we both stopped and gazed at the work of Anna LorenzIt is intriguing; you just can’t guess the material ( well I am a maker and stimulated by materials) It looks like unglazed porcelain or paper porcelain, or unfired porcelain, or paper or felt or…. or….but it is news print; and it is perforated, but how? Valeria and I were looking behind it, inside its layers and I took this image of the gradated shadow it threw – so much a part of its complete and compelling mystery.
Arriving at Valeria’s work I realised that I had photographed it as soon as I walked into the gallery, drawn to the far wall of what looked like bleached shells and sea creatures.
Her table of porcelain jewelry in stark blacks and whites really intrigued me, the fluffy neck pendants and the massive rings and brooches are not to my personal taste but their presence and implication of natural forms through simple and sympathetic use of her media, just made me want to hold them – and that’s why we go to exhibitions isn’t it – to extend our imaginations and ideas.
Sea creatures emerged as inspiration in the beaded work of Wanshu Li, translucent and iridescent tentacles of colour made up large rings and bracelets.
and accompanying her work were high contrast photographs underlining the quality of deep sea beings… looking at this work made me see a fish in an adjacent vitrine.
Every once in a while you see work that just makes you jealous and wishing that you could have made it – the work of Zoe Hillyard really stopped me in my tracks. First it was beautifully thought-through and formed, second it reminded of work that I had made previously, and third – I wished that I could have used it for an exhibition I co-curated some years ago – Mending at the Museum.
I had actually tried a similar exercise when I was working on ‘mending’ ceramics – but it did not look like this; here are elegant breaks, refined textiles wrapped and stitched to perfection and the soft colouring entirely at one with the materials – it is patch-worked!
I really appreciated this work, especially her dense stitching on the inside of the pieces, used to draw the fabric tight against the curves, she managed to make this as decorative as it was functional. Just so desirable and a perfect transference of materials and ideas – and she made the jars then smashed them herself!!
I cold go on and on about the ideas, images, thoughts and provocations elicited by this exhibition – but now show that finally, after months of work, the Patchwork Enamel was successfully transported and hung and here it is complete with shadows…
My latest commission is to design and make a patchwork quilt to be placed on a bed in a show garden for this year’s RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. This is the idea of plants-woman and garden designer, Julie Dunn, And I think that her design is really intriguing – to make a garden for recuperation and healing, full of scented plants and herbs that aid relaxation plus a double bed in which to rest.
When Julie first contacted me, I responded by asking for her ideas for the atmosphere of the garden, particularly her chosen plants, so that I could give her some fabrics to consider.
She had very definite ideas of the actual fabrics that she wanted – they were by Kaffe Fassett and they featured flowering plants, most notably Brassica – the classic fabric featuring flowers that looks like roses but are in fact cabbages.
I pulled together several colour “stories” to choose from. although they are similar they give very different overall tones – I wanted the quilt to reflect and augment the garden, not overwhelm it
The sheer scale and incongruity of the bed in the small ‘Back to Back” gardens in the show, means that it will dominate if we are not careful with the pattern and the colours
The large enveloping quilt needs to give a feeling of comfort and protection as well as being light-weight and warm whilst the sleeper is wrapped up in it. I already knew what the backing fabric would be – Dream, one of my favourite Kaffe Fassett fabrics.
Julie and I spent a day in my studio, and with her visuals pinned to the quilt wall, we started to develop a design together. I wanted a very simple quilt design with large scale patches, as although a decent hand-stitcher I am not a happy machine stitcher, particularly with the precision needed for patchwork.
Working with the first of the colour-way choices shown above, I cut simple large scale heads from several shades of the Brassica fabric and simply made a chequer-board formation with them. This first attempt look too strongly coloured, but the simple square format was good as it showed the full ‘flower’ heads of the cabbages. But the simple deep pink strips looked too solid and they would dominate the entire quilt, we needed a more subtle variation. Cut into triangular sections, the square becomes a diamond
Julie was happier with this softer set of fabrics; strangely adding more patterns and colours often makes a design more subtle, the secret is to work within a tonal range – these red triangles dominate here – they may have to go eventually!
I tried to balance the deep colour with a strong striped border but the dark blue stripes make the centre even more dominant. Julie wants the magenta red to stay as it is exactly the colour of a chosen Sanguisorba – I take her word for it.
working on through the afternoon we slowly we start to feel that the colours, although strong, are softened over all and now enough of the quilt is decided for me to carry on developing the design from here.
The actual quilt needs to very large, Julie’s vision of it is to cover the bed almost to the floor, this useful as I see the bed to be a type of extending couch- a day bed. Julie sees a four poster!
We turn our minds to the application forms and read them extensively and decide that I will illustrate the envisaged quilt on the envisaged bed in the envisaged garden…this I can do more easily than make the quilt, having illustrated all sorts of ‘envisaged’ designs for gardens, plants, embroideries, fabrics, enamels, clothes…..so I offered to illustrate the whole of the garden application.
We discuss the problem of the English weather, even in July, we will need a canopy. I imagine that you would not use the bed when it was raining, but at a pinch could hide under a canopy at the head of it – if we use a day bed. But the vision of a real romantic bed with curtains is still the main aim. This is when as a designer, you have to really listen carefully to the client – and try to find a compromise; a drawing, even a scrappy one often makes your point, the metal sub-structure of the canopy will dominate the small garden.
Of course the one thing I felt I must do was to inform Kaffe Fassett of our plans. So at our next quilt design meeting I showed him the scribbled design drawing and the other garden plans and asked for his “blessing” for the project and could he sponsor it with his fabrics? His immediate reaction was to offer more suggestions about the design using lots of other fabrics I could use.
I am leaving the next stage of illustrating the garden for the application for another post – watch this space.
My recent meeting with Lillian Delavoryas is, in her words “serendipitous” and in mine “bizarre”. During October 2017 I was visiting various friends who were taking part in the annual West Bristol Arts Trail . The artist, Anna Christy, recommended that I visit the studio of another friend of hers who, “used to design textiles”; she was sure that we had a lot in common. I recognised the name immediately, but it was late in the day and the studios were all closing, so with 10 minutes to spare I rushed into the signed doorway, and felt that my working life had come full circle.
I walked into a sitting room full of people and hung with small jewel-like paintings of people, landscapes and flowers. lovely work but this wasn’t what I was expecting!
but in an adjoining room I saw a large blue and mauve flowered embroidery, this looked more familiar. then delving further into the exhibition I found a piece of work I recognised, Nicotianas.
I had just a little time before she closed, and although I had never met her, I realised who she was, sitting on a settee amidst cushions that I also knew were her designs. Thanking her for the opportunity of seeing the exhibition, I introduced myself and explained that I often worked with Kaffe Fassett, organising the production of his patchwork quilts for publication and exhibition. Also that I had worked on the original “Good Housekeeping Encyclopaedia of Needlecraft, first published in 1979 by Ebury Press and was now delighted to see some of her original work.
2 days later, she emailed me asking that I visit her with the idea of helping to find a home for her collection of textile based books and various pieces of her old work , some half-finished canvases, needle work samples and painted design drawings. She thought it could all go to a school as an aid to design education!
Lillian Delavoryas and Kaffe Fassett and were leading textile designers in the late 1970’s, when I first left college and became a freelance designer and illustrator in the Fashion industry. Influenced, no doubt, by their work I taught myself to hand embroider onto canvas as a way of the easing the frustration of my hectic working life. But my early works were tiny, so when I saw the scale of these pieces I was deeply impressed. Kaffe and Lillian knew one another when they both lived in America and he is responsible for bringing her to the UK, in order for her work to be recognised here.
For the past 3 years I have been working directly with Kaffe Fassett, organising the making of his patchwork quilt designs as well as other stitching projects. I was recommended to him by Susan Berry, the publishing consultant of his major series of patchwork books. Susan was the first person to commission me in publishing, and I have worked with her on many projects over the intervening years. So now you see the complete circle!
When I visited, Lillian had organised a whole lot of different books, copies of articles featuring her past textiles and the promised samples.
Also, and this I did not expect, samples and books of fabric and wall paper designs from Designers Guild circa 1980’s , all looking very familiar to me. Lillian assured me that she had ceramics to match somewhere in her flat, and a lot more besides – if I was interested….
Assessing what I was looking at – a part-archive of an innovative and influential designer of 20th century textiles, I suggested that she collect as much of her work as she could locate and that we try to tell her textile design ‘story’. I thought that it would eventually become of interest either for a museum to keep as an archive and a work-in-progress exhibit, or to students undertaking higher degrees, to research and catalogue it all, enabling her to be set within the context of 20th century design.
This is an ongoing story. My next contact was Hugh Ehrman of “Ehrman Tapestry” for whom Lillian, Kaffe and I have worked. Explaining to him of my serendipitous meeting he at once visited me, bringing a folder of painted paper designs that his company had held on her behalf…but that will be covered in the next post on this saga.
I have been invited to deliver 3 day drawing classes at the Bristol Drawing School based at the Royal West of England Academy. I was asked to work with my collections of vintage embroidered textiles which include Chinese embroidered robes, Japanese kimono and Indian/Pakistani children’s clothing and tent hangings.. first I brought in the Chinese robes…
the old tattered, ripped and worn fabrics never fail to inspire students; each class is different – although my teaching methods remain basically the same: – take care to tell the truth about what you are seeing, pay close attention to the making processes and most of all the colour.
As we start to draw using only dry media – pastels, crayon and pencils – getting the colour correct is always tricky, but I try to get students to develop a colour quality rather than to try to copy the real colours…this teaches awareness of atmospheric colour.
I gave these students an hour to develop their first studies… they seemed to be engaged immediately – always surprising who picks what to draw. Unfortunately I have a very bad grasp of names – I could describe each student’s appearance perfectly by looking at their individual drawings but names evade me for this first week – my apologies to all.
The silk theatrical costume of a dragon is really in a sorry state now but the colours are subtle, faded and very beautiful. The wild cardboard eyes of the dragon still command attention and trying to capture the quality of the threadbare silk really tests the students. For a totally opposite colour experience, the choice for those who like bold colour is the red and blue silk court skirt…
working from more decorative sections of the skirt still produces a strong response.
using the coloured paper grounds with the pastels makes it possible to give an impression of the nuanced colours of the faded and friable silks – blending the colors to achieve the exact shade is difficult but rewarding – and you learn a lot about colour mixing and trying to keep everything clean…
The soft grey-blue padded jacket, embroidered with wisteria blossoms, brought out everyone best attention to stitch…and although the colour proved illusive, many lovely studies were made from it.
We ended the morning with a short critical discussion about the work achieved in the first hours of the morning. In the afternoon session everyone chose different pieces to work with. I had more or less dictated the scope of first drawings (detail, detail, detail) now the students could choose how they wished to interpret the fabrics. The grey silk jacket still held its appeal.
it is always interesting to see different interpretations of the same subject…the drawings below probably say more about the artists than the robe.
My own black modern Chinese embroidered jacket has resulted in these 2 different interpretations…however in the drawing below, the student told us that she had not drawn anything for more than 20 years – so as far as I am concerned this study is a major achievement – for bravery – but had it been on black it would have been even more striking…
when studying textiles it is often difficult not to get engrossed by the garment they constitute – here are 2 images of drawing the same skirt – the first is about the skirt, the second about the textile and the fabric manipulation.
the following drawing is totally different in its approach – the whole folded cloth has become a world of its own..
who would have guessed it is a study from a wrapped and folded silk skirt…but oh the colours!
and last of all this simple line drawing of a white hand embroidered black jacket – each line describing the direction of the stitch. How wonderful it would be to see this extended for a whole wall full!