OPL monogram embroidery and Kaffe Fassett’s influence

OPL monogram for a little girl (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The good weather continues and gives a real umph to everyday activities. Wherever did we get the idea that living in a damp and overcast land gave the British a bit of a push in the get up and go stakes? It’s obvious nonsense. The sun even caused me to put down my sewing needle for long enough to plant an enamel tub with bright pink geraniums and a couple of tall terracotta pots with stately, heaven-pointing blue salvias, so we no longer have to relay upon getting out floral kick from the roses and honeysuckle that bob over the fence from the mature garden next door.

OPL embroidered monogram for a little girl (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

One lovely day last week while we had one of my husband’s granddaughters staying with us, we took the train over to Bath for another sort of floral kick, A Celebration of Flowers by Kaffe Fassett and Candace Bahouth, an exhibition at The Victoria Art Gallery  (on until 2 September). I missed the big Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the V&A of years and years ago and though I know his designs and fabrics well and have his books, I had an itch to have a look a bit more closely at the resulting textiles and wallow in the power of colour.

Kaffe Fassett autobiography , Dreaming in Colour (pub. Stewart, Tabor and Chang, 2012)

Colour did not disappoint. It was a small exhibition with about a dozen quilts, a selection of Kaffe’s needlepoint cushions, many known from Ehrman kits, and a few larger one-off needlepoint panels. It was good to be able to get up close to the quilts to work out which were done by hand over papers and which were sewn on the machine. Most, possibly all quilting was done by machine – probably sent away to a long arm quilting machine. I don’t like the sharp lines of machine quilting, much preferring the softer look of hand quilting and I felt quietly happy that there remains at least one aspect of hand sewing that machines don’t do as well.  I was interested to see that the threads on the large needlepoint hangings didn’t completely cover the canvas and offer no criticism of that when I say that I’m not quite sure I could do the same.  Towards the end of the exhibition was a little panel of various sample textiles for us to touch and turn over. They should have placed it earlier as by that time, many people (possibly including me) had flicked over the corner of the odd loose hanging quilt or two, to have a good look at the wrong side!

p. 188 Kaffe Fassett autobiography , Dreaming in Colour (pub. Stewart, Tabor and Chang, 2012)

In between Kaffe’s textiles hung Candace Bahouth’s extraordinary porcelain mosaic mirrors. Mosaic is not quite the word for constructions in which teapots appear whole while elsewhere complete teacups, bowls and saucers vie for attention among full figure porcelain shepherds and shepherdesses. The mirrors were great fun but probably unliveable withable for most of us. Aside from the problem of dusting, I think I’d quickly tire of their quirkiness and get irritated by not being able to change the arrangement. At £5,500 a mirror, however, I shall never have to grapple with such considerations. Phew. (Candace’s porcelain mosaic shoes did nothing for me – a quirk too far.)  I would have liked to have photographed the mirrors, especially some of the porcelain details but was not brave enough to do what was expressly forbidden…

p.137 Kaffe Fassett autobiography , Dreaming in Colour (pub. Stewart, Tabor and Chang, 2012)
Barbara Streisand had Kaffe reknit this with black instead of blue in the early 1980s.

Back home and the bookshelves called. At the moment, I’m going through a glorious phase of digesting my way through books that have too long sat unopened and unread on the shelves. Perhaps it’s because our two recent moves have jumbled up our books so much that strange juxtapositions of titles makes me see them afresh, especially when you spot a book called Dreaming in Colour  (Kaffe Fassett’s autobiography, looked through but never read). And it’s a terrific read, novel-like about his bohemian Californian childhood and idiosyncratic education, colourful and warm about his talented  family and salivatingly good about his art and craft. On top of that and with serendipity the size of a solar system, almost every sort of interesting person imaginable falls directly in his path and go out of their way to be hugely kind and helpful. As I say, more like a novel than life.

Beautiful Kaffe Fassett knitted design

Snippets of famous lives fascinate. He tells one of the nicest stories ever told about Princess Margaret who, answering her own doorbell to her flat in Kensington Palace, bustles Kaffe and his friend Jeremy Fry over to her newly acquired harmonium where she bashes out Alexander’s Ragtime Band and sings at full throttle.  Antonia Fraser, possessor of a “ravishing complexion” and a splendid antique patchwork quilt is cajoled into lending the latter as a background to Kaffe’s still life painting. Kaffe has creative ideas about everything and many take root, though fruition may be slow. John Schlesinger, on Kaffe’s recommendation tried to read the novel Midnight Cowboy but said he couldn’t get past the second page. Two years later Schlesinger, with filming of the novel under way, sent the then impecunious Kaffe £5,000 finder’s fee (enough later to help towards Kaffe buying a flat). And so on… Underlying all the magnificent serendipity strides Kaffe – decent, generous, modest and forward facing. Incredibly, this year he will be 81. I don’t think I can bear to think of a world without him. Singlehandedly, he rescued millions of British women from producing quilts and cushions symphonic in browns and beige; he made us all a little bolder with colour, even if we may not want to go quite all the way with him. Long live Kaffe.

Detail of name embroidery (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

This little embroidery for the daughter of an American friend is inspired by Kaffe’s designs and uses up all those little bits of bright magpie attracting embroidery threads left over from other things. Funny, embroidery is the one type of stitching I don’t think he’s tried. Never say it’s too late.

Sunday 23 June: I wasn’t happy with the embroidery as it was and when I received the little girl’s initials and date of birth I redid the central panel as a monogram which makes a much more satisfying image. Go to gallery (on the right near the top of this post) if you want to see what it looked like before I altered it.

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Baseball style jacket … with a bit of Fair Isle!

Baseball jacket with Fair Isle (from pattern in Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino bk 4)

I first knitted up this Debbie Bliss pattern a year ago in one of the smaller sizes and mother of the child and nanny liked it so much that I thought I do another. I had thought when I did it again I’d make button holes for the buttons (instead poppers beneath purely decorative buttons) but apparently the poppers are good as they’re not so fiddly to and stay fastened … so poppers it is once more. (This is size 12-24 months; the yarn is Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino.)

Fair Isle bands, including 2 sample knits

Fair Isle cuff on baseball jacket

I couldn’t resist a bit of Fair Isle but limited it to just a band around the bottom of the cuffs (and which I hope distracts attention from the West Ham United football kit colours). It never ceases to surprise me how different any single Fair Isle motif appears when done in different colour combinations. Some you fall in love with from the first row, while others don’t work at all until you hit the right colour combination. A bit like the impulse that powers you to work your way through a book of Sudokus, five at a time,  the patterns in Mary Jane Mugglestone’s book, 200 Fair Isle Designs, are utterly addictive and leave you itching to try another … and another … and another with the knowledge that using different colours means the possibilities are infinite.

Fair Isle pattern (from Mary Jane Mugglestone’s 200 Fair Isle Patterns)

Fair Isle band on baseball jacket cuff

Next week, Kaffe Fassett, after reading his autobiography and visiting an exhibition in the Victoria Gallery, Bath of  both his work and that of Candace Bahouth. Kaffe was such an inspiration when he burst upon the scene (in the 1970s?) and I was glad get a Kaffe refresher and a reminder of how he gave those timid in the use of colour the confidence to be a bit braver and brasher.

Mary Jane Mugglestone’s 200 Fair Isle Designs


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