Category: Fashion

Apr 26

The Stitch Society* apron

 

 

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An array of aprons c/o The Stitch Society*

 

I’ve been on a quest for the perfect apron for a while now, and I think I’ve found a compelling solution in The Stitch Society*‘s offerings. It seemed appropriate to share details during Fashion Revolution Week when we push for fairer conditions in the garment trade.

I caught up with The Stitch Society*’s Charlotte Meek at the Selvedge Fair at the Assembly Rooms in Bath last month.

 

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Charlotte Meek of The Stitch Society* at the Selvedge Fair in Bath

 

All her aprons are individually crafted here in the UK, from robust materials and often using remnants for pocket linings, and vintage buttons to secure the straps. They’re soulful labours of love, equally perfect for the artisan maker, or just in the kitchen or craft room at home.

So, I had to come home with one.

 

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Delightful packaging – with matching pouch and ‘Friend of The Stitch Society*’ badge

 

Here’s what I love about it:

  • Robust striped twill
  • Deep, capacious pocket – lined with a remnant of fabric, in this case a vintage piece of Liberty from Charlotte’s own family scrap-bag
  • Made sustainably/fairly here in Yorkshire (‘God’s own county’, they say), UK
  • a 10-year no quibble repair guarantee

Yes, Charlotte (who loves mending) will take your apron back any time to fix it for you.

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Vintage Liberty remnant lining pocket

 

But, if you’d rather make your own apron, you can also buy their pattern here.

When it comes to sustainable, soulful aprons, I think The Stitch Society* has really got it all covered. I’m looking forward to wearing this one out. She’s called ‘Martha’, incidentally, and is dubbed ‘the workshorse of the range’. Perfect. I’ll be proudly wearing her for my next darning workshops (early June and early July) at A Yarn Story.

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Ready for work

 

Check out The Stitch Society site for further apron details.

 

 

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May 20

Undressed: a brief history of underwear

 

 

 

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Undressed: a brief history of underwear exhibition at the V&A

 

Undressed: a brief history of underwear is this year’s big fashion show at the V&A. Curated by Edwina Ehrman and sponsored by luxury lingerie maker Agent Provocateur plus make-up producer Revlon, it explores men and women’s undergarments from around 1750 to the present.

Displayed thematically alongside images from the V&A’s extensive archive, the exhibition charts notions of the intimate and private, the healthy and hygienic, the advance of materials and their mastery, and the curious structural re-shaping of the body that has taken place over the past 250 years or so. That covers quite a range of emphatically gendered female silhouettes, from the stately panniered court dresses of the eighteenth century through the exaggerated hourglass figures of the corseted Victorian and Edwardian eras, the flat-chested androgyny of the 1920s to the conical bosoms of the 1950s. Men’s underwear has changed less dramatically over that time, as (by and large) men’s private layers were designed for comfort, not the radical alteration of physiology.

I spent three hours yesterday poring over the exhibition with as great an attention to detail as I could muster. Photography is strictly not allowed there, which is wonderfully good discipline in that it forces you to really look closely and observe – though it’s undoubtedly frustrating when you have a blog post to illustrate. 

What struck me right away was how the prosaically personal and the fantastically erotic rub shoulders; there is underwear here that is worn quite unselfconsciously, and then there’s ‘private’ wear that is worn to be seen in. In the former category are the simple, functional body-covering shifts or chemises made from linen (and later cotton), the direct descendants of medieval base garments; the shift’s function was to provide a protective, comfortable layer between body and outer, non-washable clothing. And it needed to stand up well to a boil-wash – the presence of embroidered initials remind us that these items would receive the attentions of a professional laundress. Lingerie, as it developed in the twentieth century into flimsy silk and lace concoctions, provides an example of the second type of underwear, worn with display very much in mind.

And the second thing that struck me was the advance of technology through the centuries. Underwear has represented serious engineering kit requiring earnest hardware: hooks, eyelets, buttons, strings, whalebones, busks, pins, horsehair pads, metal hoops, elastic panels and more, to contain, attach, raise, lower, restrain, shape, frame, bulk out and sculpt the body. You wouldn’t want any of this to give out on you at a critical moment – a wardrobe failure representing a kind of social death, if not a literal one; a few very unfortunate women did actually meet their maker wearing unwisely voluminous crinolines, though many more must have accidentally displayed their drawers (and blushes) to the world sitting down a little carelessly. 

 

What I really liked…

My personal highlights included:

Stays  – the forerunner of the corset and such beautiful things. The exhibition includes several examples such as a very ‘real’ rough-and-ready pair worn by of a working woman from Whitby – complete with pin hidden inside one panel (just visible on an accompanying x-ray). And also busks – made of wood or bone – which would have kept the centre front straight and rigid. These were often personalised with carving and would have been given as love tokens – appropriately, lying close (as they did literally) to the wearer’s heart.

Men’s shirts – these were considered ‘underwear’ in the eighteenth century because worn next to the skin. Indeed, it would have been considered indecent to show one’s shirt sleeves in public. And that fact alone provides the perfect excuse to view this scene again with a renewed sense of its Regency shock-value (though Darcy’s lake swim was a BBC elaboration and not included in Jane Austen’s original book).

Maternity gear – there were some great examples of how women managed pregnancy and breastfeeding while retaining the various fashionable lines of the nineteenth century. For example, there’s an 1820s empire line day dress with slits in the bodice to allow breastfeeding, plus a 1900 maternity corset with side-lacing to accommodate a growing belly, and poppered openings to enable infant feeding.

Rear view – several items illustrated that exaggeration of the bottom in the form of the bustle, back when a woman would presumably have asked her friend: ‘Does my bum look big enough in this?’. If not, the answer might well have been the lightweight and collapsible Keelapso bustle, which is illustrated in the exhibition by a delightful contemporary advert, or a striking black-and-white striped cotton crinolette with a scalloped black braid edge – quite beautiful enough to wear as an outer garment today by someone bold enough. You’ll find it, featured in detail in Eleri Lynn’s Fashion in Detail (see below).

Rational dress – women’s growing activity in the later nineteenth century led to the advent of various items of ‘sportswear’, including specialist corsets for riding, cycling and golf (which were sometimes a little shorter and made of more robust materials) as well as the rise of the bloomer. 

Jaeger – founded in 1884,  Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co Ltd ushered in a craze for wearing wool next to the skin, on the grounds that animal fibre was superior to plant matter, cotton being the default textile for underwear at this time. Wool underwear was favoured by many explorers, including Ernest Shackleton. George Bernard Shaw (GBS) was a big fan too; his Jaeger wool undershirt is included in the exhibition, alongside a picture of him in his Jaeger combinations.

Corsets – often with impossibly tiny waists, and in sumptuous colours and fabrics. I really appreciated the hand-stitched corded quilting on an an early (1825) version. The fuchsia corset on the front of the exhibition catalogue (below) illustrates the two-part front-fastening busk, first introduced in the 1820s, an advance that allowed women to dress unaided for the first time – before that, you needed someone else to lace you up. Curious to think that putting on your clothing before that (at least, for women) had to be a collaborative act. 

 

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Undressed – image from the exhibition poster and catalogue

 

The advance of materials – periodically, new materials have revolutionised how underwear works. Nylon, for instance, made it easy to wash and quick to  dry – and did not require any ironing. And the advent of Lycra in the 1950s made a huge difference to what structural garments could achieve. Hello girdle!

If I had any quibble with this show, it was that I found some of the contemporary inclusions alongside the historical garments slightly arbitrary. I would, for example, rather have seen display space in the early cabinets devoted to more of the deep historical stuff (more shifts, more stays, more busks and some jumps, maybe) than a selection of contemporary bamboo knickers featuring days of the week; these might instead have been grouped into a section illustrating the growth of ethically produced, sustainable underwear in the modern era.

I really like to view things in the order that the curator/s intended, so found the large print accompanying spiral-bound guide (free to use within the exhibition) very helpful and would recommend that any visitor takes that round with them.

 

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Victorian advert for a collapsing bustle

 

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon runs at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London until 12th March 2017. Entry standard price: £12. Accompanying catalogue: £10. 

Underwear: Fashion in Detail by Eleri Lynn (first published 2010),  a wonderful book featuring 120 objects from the V&A’s collection, is available at a special exhibition discount (£20, down from the usual £25). 

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Apr 26

The big mend’s 4th birthday

 

 

 the big mend[2] copy

 

 

It’s hard to believe that the monthly mending sewcials I kicked off in Bath four years ago are still going strong. We’ll be celebrating, true to form, with a spot of mending on Wednesday 27th April 2016 from 7-9pm.

Thanks to all the people who’ve come along to the Big Mend sessions over the years, especially those who have picked up the pieces and kept it going when I couldn’t (notably Alison, Annie, Su, Lizzie, Divya, Kathy and Hannah) and to the Museum of Bath at Work for generously allowing us use of their wonderful space every month without fail.

We must have repaired approximately 500-1000 garments and household textile items over the years, but have nurtured skills that must have saved many more textiles from the waste stream as the repair know-how has spidered out into local hands and households.

 

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One of our repair sewcials in progress at the Museum of Bath at Work

 

Why has it kept going? I can’t exactly say, but people seem to want it and to value its esprit de corps. The sessions, I’ve noticed, provide a contained space where the cultural norms of consumption, ‘fast fashion’ etc don’t apply. In contemplative, collaborative, purposeful activity, we sit and repair, share skills and news and put the world to rights. It feels like a very old activity – and it must be. I’ve just written a piece for Selvedge magazine (issue 70, May/June 2016, the Delicate issue) exploring some of the history of mending. For that, I included evidence of mending from antiquity, and even pre-history. And it makes sense that the act of repair must be about as old as the hills and as ancient as sewing itself. Because making and mending are like chicken and egg; when early man/woman first stitched a pelt together with sinew and thorn needle to make it stay on that little bit better (creating a ‘garment’ rather than just a piece of animal skin), was that not technically a repair? Or an upcycle, at least. Discuss.

 

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Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

What have we achieved? At the Big Mend, we’ve contemplated our place in the world and how we’re connected by a long thread to all the people who make our clothes. We’ve considered what repair means to us – how it preserves objects that make us feel good, how it prolongs the wearable life of our clothing and demonstrates our resourcefulness and resilience. We’ve discussed whether we want our repairs to be visible – conspicuous even – or not and what wearing something with an evident repair says to others. We’ve made a stand against the brutality of ‘fast fashion’ – well, we’ve wandered around the city with our clothes inside out for Fashion Revolution Day, held ‘flash mend’ events and spoken to local people and retailers about inhuman factory conditions. Some of us have given up most of our clothing for a while to raise money for garment workers. We’ve planned a project to work with the city’s students on textile waste reduction (which, sadly, didn’t win funding) and taken part in numerous local open days and public-facing events. Now we tend to stick to the monthly meetings only, because we aren’t funded in any way, so the entire venture is one of generosity and open-handedness and has to be dovetailed in with our own demanding lives. I would do more, if I could afford to, but I can’t. However, the monthly session on the final Wednesday of the month is treated as sacred – not to be messed with unless medical emergency or a clash with Christmas absolutely prohibits it.

So, on we trundle. A fourth birthday sounds like a good opportunity for a game of Pass the Darning Mushroom or Musical Mannikins, but instead I’ve arranged for a visit from local tailor, Ben of City Tailors. He will be spilling the beans on some of his professional repair secrets. I’m looking forward to seeing some hard-won artisanal textile skills in practice – probably rather more deft and invisible than most of ours. Join us, if you can. Everyone is, as ever, very welcome to attend. All we ask is a small donation to help towards museum costs. So, please grab a tired textile to bring along and we’ll do our best to help you revive it.

 

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Apr 14

How I gave up clothing

 

 

Six Items Challenge

My Six Items Challenge

 

A really big thank-you to all who sponsored me to give up most of my wardrobe for the Six Items Challenge, a ‘fashion fast’ for Lent. You raised a rather wonderful £114.31 for Labour Behind the Label, an organisation working hard to highlight the perils of fast fashion. So thank you. Over on my Instagram feed I’ve posted a few rather monotonous pictures charting what I wore: @Scrapianagram. If you thought about sponsoring me but didn’t get around to it, there’s still time.  And it’s for a tremendous cause. Here’s the link.

 

What is fast fashion?

The Six Items Challenge is an annual event organised by Labour Behind the Label to highlight the problem of ‘fast fashion‘. And what a problem it is. Our increasing reliance on cheap clothing makes it almost a disposable commodity – we can afford to wear this stuff once and pitch it, not even bothering to to give it a wash. One of the hidden impacts of such cheap clothing is the meagre earnings of many garment workers worldwide, living on so little (£1.50 a day isn’t unusual) that they don’t have sufficient money even to eat properly, let alone clothe themselves – oh, the irony. Organisations such as Labour Behind the Label help garment workers worldwide gain fair conditions and a living wage.

 

Why did I take on this fashion fast?

Well, it was the least I could do, really. Coping with a pared-down wardrobe from Ash Wednesday till Easter isn’t a major deprivation. It wasn’t as if I was committing to working a 100-hour week. Or earning £1.50 a day. Or starving. I hoped to challenge myself, and to help raise a little awareness, maybe.

 

How did I feel about this before I began?

Honestly? As a relatively pampered Westerner, I was quite daunted by the prospect of limiting my wardrobe to just six essential pieces, excluding underwear, accessories, sleepwear, performance sportswear etc. It seemed so restrictive. I anticipated feeling hemmed in. I expected to find it difficult, to fantasise about what else I might be wearing. I thought I’d miss my jeans. I imagined I’d run into personal hygiene problems. Yes, the prospect didn’t exactly fill me with joyful anticipation. Who on earth enjoys giving anything up anyway? We all want more, right? Why am I even doing this with problems of my own? Charity begins at home and all that. That’s pretty much how I felt.

 

So, what was it actually like?

Well, the 6 weeks were full of surprises.

( Read more )

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Feb 18

Giving things up

 

 

 

Today is Ash Wednesday and I’m fully embracing the give-something-up for Lent concept this year. As a slightly rusty Anglican, I really appreciate this opportunity afforded by the Church calendar for a period of quiet reflection. So, to cut to the chase, I’ve decided to give up two things: most of my wardrobe, and social media for the next 40-odd days.

Six Items Challenge

From today, I’ll be on Labour Behind the Label‘s Six Items Challenge for the next six weeks. This is a ‘fashion fast’ to draw attention to the perils of fast fashion. I certainly have plenty of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t wear. How much clothing do we all really need anyway? What does ‘fashion’ mean to me? Is the 4-6 week fashion cycle one that I care about or have any relationship at all with? Do I like or care for what’s ‘bang on trend’? Do I want people to live and work in terrible conditions to supply me with cheap, disposable clothing that’s ‘bang on trend’? All these questions are ones that I’ll be thinking about over the next few weeks while on the Six Items Challenge.

Taking part means that I’ll have to stick to a basic wardrobe of just six garments, not including underwear, accessories, or high-performance sportswear. I’ve found simply preparing for the challenge challenging enough; picking out my essential wardrobe has been tricky. I somehow resisted the sartorial advice of my 15-year-old son to purchase myself six onesies and have instead selected:-

  • 3 cashmere tops, one grey, one black, one red (all bought secondhand a while back)
  • 2 wool pinafore-type tunic over-dresses, both black (both sourced secondhand a while back, again), and
  • a wool cardigan (bought new several years ago), grey with giant comedy buttons
My only six garments for the next six weeks

Only six garments for the next six weeks

 

I’ll be going without, but all that cashmere is hardly hair-shirt. It should feel soft and non-irritating against my skin and hopefully keep me warm enough (I was warned by a previous year’s challengee that things can get chilly). The pinafore-type dresses mean that I can layer up, and wear a variety of tights underneath, hopefully allowing me to dress up or down to suit the occasion. I can ring the changes and jazz up a rather neutral palette with various accessories too. And the cardigan will hopefully keep making me smile – those buttons are enormous and very silly. The laundry element of the challenge scares me more than slightly; if you happen to see me IRL over the next few weeks, please approach with caution, and possibly with a fragrant nosegay to hand. I can well imagine quite rapidly resorting to this kind of thing. But let’s hope not.

If you’re intrigued, would like to know more, and possibly join me (which would be wonderful), here’s the link to challenge page. You don’t have to do it for the entire six weeks. Adjust to fit.

If you’re feeling flush, then it would be great if you’d sponsor me. I didn’t realise until I’d already signed up that there’s a sponsorship element to the challenge. I don’t anticipate getting anywhere near my £500 target, but it would be really good to be able to help Labour Behind the Label with their sterling work empowering garment workers around the globe – standing up for the victims of not just Rana Plaza but so many other appallingly exploitative situations. I’m hugely grateful to those who have already stepped up to the mark and helped me to help them. Thank you so much.

I must flag up online friends taking part, particularly Catherine Hopkins who’ll be reporting on her progress throughout.  You can keep tabs on the challenge on social media by looking out for the hashtags #sixitemschallenge and #labourbehindthelabel. You’ll also find things posted on the Six Items Challenge Facebook page.

And Labour Behind the Label’s Fundraising Director, Rebecca Cork, will be joining us at the next meet-up of the Big Mend at the Museum of Bath at Work next week, Wednesday 25th February from 7pm. So if you’re in Bath, please come along to hear a little about what Labour Behind the Label does. Then we’ll be mending, as usual. No need to book and no charge, though a small donation to help towards museum costs is welcomed.

Sponsorship page

My sponsorship page

 

 

Farewell, Social Media

After a discussion with some Christian friends the other night about what we’d all be giving up (or possibly taking up, or doing differently) for Lent, it occurred to me that the thing that would really give me withdrawal symptoms was probably not abstinence from tea, coffee, alcohol or chocolate but social media. And so, with not a little irony (as we are just entering the Chinese Year of the Sheep), I’ve decided that from today I will cease from public bleating. I will not be blogging, micro-blogging, posting, reposting, tweeting, retweeting, sharing, over-sharing, tagging, hashtagging, rehashtagging, artfully filtering photos, liking, linking, commenting, hearting, poking, pinning or replying for the next six weeks. Instead, I’ll be doing everything IRL and one-to-one, mostly in the flesh: meeting up with friends and family in person, catching up on the phone (remember that?), having proper conversations, reading books, doing any necessary shopping in bricks-and-mortar shops, watching movies, attending services, mending (including at the Museum of Bath at Work on 25th February – do join me if you happen to be around), gardening, engaging, exploring, planting, thinking, meditating, walking, contemplating, writing and working very, very hard. But no more of the Penn Broadcasting Company. No more glib narcissism. I hope to be more generally on receive than transmit. In short, I shall be hunkering down and keeping mum. Enjoying the quiet. I’m just sorry that this coincides with when I might be tweeting etc in support of Labour Behind the Label’s challenge, but I’m sure they’ll understand. I’m happy to engage in email correspondence, so if you have reason to get in touch then please do so.

Roll on Saturday 4th April. And wish me luck.

Buttoning up for the foreseeable

Buttoning up for the foreseeable

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Mar 20

Would the real Mrs Beeton please stand up?

 

 

I’ve been reading a biography of Mrs Beeton, arguably the nation’s first domestic goddess. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes was published by Harper Perennial in 2006.

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Hughes’ biography of Mrs Beeton

 

As recent events have served to illustrate, the life lived behind the edifice of a lifestyle brand is rarely as it appears, and this book has been an eye-opener. Some interesting things I’ve discovered about Mrs B:

1. Isabella Beeton’s image was the first ever photographic portrait accepted by the National Portrait Gallery. Maull & Pollyblank’s 1857 plate, which the NPG accepted from her son Mayson in 1932, reveals a slim, striking 19-year-old Bella, not the stout, flour-dusted matriarch with a rolling pin that you might have imagined. Mrs Bridges from Upstairs, Downstairs she definitely was not.

2. Her first baby died a few months after birth, very likely of syphilis: a disease which she appears to have contracted from her husband in the early days of their marriage.

3. Bella’s husband, Sam, originally a printer by trade, made a killing publishing an unauthorised British edition of Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, exploiting a time when there was no copyright agreement between America and Britain. He and Bella together proved cunning publishing entrepreneurs, successfully exploring the new markets, trends and opportunities created by an expanding middle-class in Victorian England.

4. Bella Beeton was far from an experienced cook when she took on writing the Book of Household Management.

5. Which is why she plagiarised widely yet skilfully for the book; all this is documented in fascinating detail by Hughes.

6. Elizabeth David was particularly galled by Bella’s light-fingered borrowings from Eliza Acton.

7. Bella liked her red wine.

8. She had a great eye for fashion and pioneered the popularising of dress patterns  in the ‘Practical Dress Instructor’, a regular feature in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, capitalising on the boost to sewing created by the recent invention of the sewing machine.

9. She died very early, age 28. But that didn’t stop the ‘Mrs Beeton’ brand marching on. And on. And on.

10. Without her able management, and with the encroaching symptoms of tertiary syphilis, Sam went to rack and ruin after Bella’s untimely death.

She certainly packed a lot into her short life. I’d recommend this biography: snappy, witty, sensitively written, and especially riveting if you’re interested in publishing and journalism (particularly the history of lifestyle publishing, cookery writing and fashion journalism), and if you want an insight into the burgeoning Victorian middle classes and what made them tick.

 

 

 

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Feb 22

Sarah Campbell talk

 

 

Earlier this month I attended an illuminating talk by textile designer Sarah Campbell (half of the celebrated Collier Campbell partnership) at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Sarah has a display there showcasing recent solo work (post-2011) created for WestElm, M&S etc: From Start to Finish is located upstairs, next to the Artist Textiles exhibition.

Sarah Campbell display

From Start to Finish

 

Sarah spoke to an audience of teachers (mostly) on the subject of being commissioned as a textiles designer with insights distilled from her long and fruitful career. She explained, through numerous examples, how the commissioning process can go smoothly and frequently not-so-smoothly, how briefs can be understood or misunderstood, how relationships with clients can be sweet or turn sour based on a variety of factors, how vigilant one must remain on matters of copyright and licensing.

I was particularly interested to hear about Sarah’s tools of the trade. She favours gouaches (any brand will do) and wallpaper lining paper for rough drawings (she describes it as having a “soft, sweet surface”, and it’s cheap, of course, which removes any anxiety over using up precious materials). Her work station is never without a squeezy bottle of water, and a bowl of discarded paint chips/tabs (used for meticulous colour-matching) which Sarah thriftily re-uses to create greetings cards. She keeps copious notebooks, in a variety of sizes, many of which are mounted in the display here.

Sarah Campbell display

From Start to Finish displays

 

And she’s never without an ordinary fountain pen, used both for drawings and notes.

 

Textile design by Sarah Campbell.

‘Mariposa’ bed linen design for M&S, 2013

 

As a stitcher, I enjoyed hearing about Sarah’s happy collaboration with West Elm on a project for “the Holidays” (in the American sense of Christmas etc) where one of her tiny gold and silver designs was interpreted by the company in sequin and thread.

 

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WestElm holiday designs

 

It’s evident that Sarah still relishes the nitty gritty of textile design, such as devising a clever repeat. And she is tremendously hard-working and prolific, as this relatively recent accumulation of work testifies. You can catch a glimpse of her at work, paintbrush in hand, in this short film about The Collier Campbell Archive book, which was published by ILEX press. Sarah also tweets and blogs

 

And this was my blog post about the National Theatre’s 2011 display of gems from the Collier Campbell archive in which I first realised the connection between the names Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell and those iconic Liberty prints.

 

From Start to Finish is on display adjacent to the Artist Textiles exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 17th May 2014.

To find out more about talks, events and workshops etc run by the Fashion and Textile Museum and short courses run in association with Newham College of Further Education, just click on the links provided.

 

 

 

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Feb 17

Art by the yard

 

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Lanz dress featuring Picasso fabric, 1955

 

I’m standing in front of a red dress by Lanz of California, 1955. Featuring nipped-in bodice, square neckline, half-length sleeves, gathered mid-length skirt and a dainty white lace trim, it has an approachable Sound-of-Music quality. On closer inspection, the white-scribble printed cotton carries the distinctive mark-making of Pablo Picasso.

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Lanz dress using Picasso ‘Notes’ fabric

 

A few yards away is another 1955 dress, this one with a bolder fish design, also by Picasso. The streamlined chic cut is signature Claire McCardle, the doyenne of modern American fashion.

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Claire McCardle dress for Townleys using Picasso ‘Fish’ fabric

 

Astonishingly, these special dresses aren’t behind glass. I could (but wouldn’t) touch. In the low light I lean in to examine the texture of the cotton fabrics. To think that these were designed by Picasso himself. Not a design interpreted by someone else from his painting, but actively intended by the maestro to be roller-printed onto cotton textile. And then worn by ordinary everyday people, everywhere.

I’m at Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol, a new exhibition tracing the history of 20th century art in textiles. The location is Zandra Rhodes‘ Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. Artist Textiles showcases over 200 rare items, a lot from the private collection of guest curators Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain. It’s a rare opportunity to see these works as many have not been on public display before. And the roll call is extraordinary: Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy, Barbara Hepworth, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Ben Nicholson and Andy Warhol.

Picasso cotton scarf, 1951

Picasso cotton scarf designed for the Berlin Peace Festival, 1951

 

Art by the yard was what Dan Fuller of New York-based Fuller Fabrics had in mind when he launched his Modern Masters project. His vision: to sell fashion yardage by famous artists on a mass scale for just $1.50 to $2 a yard. He managed to secure an extraordinary group of modern painters including Picasso (who jumped on board, it seems, because the project dovetailed with his own political belief that art should be accessible to the masses), Joan Miró, Fernand Leger, Marc Chagall and Raoul DufyHere’s a 1955 print designed by Joan Miró, entitled ‘Farmer’s Dinner’. The maker of the dress isn’t specified.

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Dress from Miro fabric, Fuller Fabrics, 1955

 

Again, it’s good to be able to get close to these textiles.

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Joan Miro textile design ‘Farmer’s Dinner’

 

You can’t cover the subject of fine artists and textile design without mentioning nineteenth century English artist, political theorist and textile designer William Morris. Morris saw the production and mass marketing of textiles as a way to combat the elitist tendency of art: “I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.” Into the early 20th century, the Fauvists, Futurists and Constructivists took up textile design, graphic design and book illustration as legitimate – in fact, important – areas for their artistic endeavour.

 

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But the story told by this exhibition effectively starts in the 1940s when the relationship between artists and textiles became particularly close and fruitful, paving the way for Fuller and others.

With post-war Britain on its knees, textiles were central to national recovery efforts. An export drive was directed with the American market very much in mind. Zika Ascher, the London manufacturer of luxury textiles, cajoled Henri Matisse and Henry Moore into designing scarves and fashion yardage to aid the recovering couture industry. It wasn’t necessarily an easy sell; Picasso turned him down, and Matisse didn’t say yes straight away. This little film, Fame in Fabric, made by Pathé in 1945, shows Ascher searching galleries for suitable artwork, gives a glimpse of the screen-printing process, and shows some of the finished textiles and scarves being modelled. 

 

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Henry Moore scarf featuring standing figures, Ascher Ltd, 1940s

 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, New York textile converter Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics captured the zeitgeist in a confident, post-war, modernist America, engaging several prominent Surrealists including Dalí and the Franco-Hungarian painter and graphic designer, Marcel Vertes to create a range of headscarves. Dalí’s c.1947 design, ‘Number Please?’, used artwork originally created for a 1946 Disney cartoon, Destino. The film was never released.

Number Please?

Dali design produced by Wesley Simpson, c. 1946-7

 

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‘Flower Heads’ design by Marcel Vertes

 

Back in Britain, long-established Lancashire cotton goods manufacture Horrockses Crewdson & Company Ltd  set up fashion subsidiary Horrockses Fashions in 1946. It snapped up British artists’ offerings, including designs by Alastair Morton and Graham Sutherland. In the 1950s, the Horrockses dress came to epitomise the English cotton summer frock, worn by everyone including the Queen, Princess Margaret, and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. 

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Horrockses Fashions’ frocks

 

I was taken by the snowdrop print. Interesting that it was used horizontally.

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Horrockses’ snowdrops print

 

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Horrockses dress

 

Perhaps my favourite design of all featured was this 1951 fashion border print designed by Ken Scott. Entitled ‘A Fish is A Fish is A Fish’, it looks remarkably fresh and modern.

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‘A Fish is a Fish is a Fish’ by Ken Scott, c. 1951

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‘A Fish is a FIsh is a Fish’ by Ken Scott

 

Upstairs at the exhibition, the story continues into the 1960s. In 1963, two major Picasso projects launched; one for White Stag après-skiwear, one for Bloomcraft Fabrics, producers of furnishing textiles. A Look magazine feature (December 1963) about the Bloomcraft project  claimed, slightly mischievously, that the maestro’s designs were suitable for every form of interior decoration except upholstery: “Picassos may be leant against, but not sat on.”

 

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Bold Picasso designs for Bloomcraft Fabrics, 1963

There was so much more upstairs, but I had Sarah Campbell’s talk to get to – which will fill another post – so I whizzed past the Andy Warhols.

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Andy Warhol print, ‘Bright Butterflies’

 

And zipped past an appealing section of whimsical New York book illustrations. On a day of transport disruption  (I’d walked from Paddington to Charing Cross to catch the overland train to Bermondsey – greater love hath not textile-phile), I was drawn to this 1952 border print, ‘Paddington Station’ by Saul Steinberg. Not so far off the real thing, though the trains have changed. This would make a cracking skirt for the First Great Western corporate summer uniform, don’t you think?

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‘Paddington Station’ border print by Saul Steinberg

 

'Paddington Station'

‘Paddington Station’ – a 1952 design by Saul Steinberg

 

Back soon with a write-up of the Sarah Campbell‘s talk. It will feature work From Start to Finish, an exhibition of the prolific textile designer’s recent work (post 2011) which will be also be on display at the Fashion and Textiles Museum for the duration of  Artist Textiles.

 

Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol runs until 17th May 2014 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, Bermondsey, London, SE1 3XF. Nearest overland train station: London Bridge. The museum has a pleasant cafe, Teapod@FTM, offering a selection of hand-made cakes, salads, soups and stews. FTM also has a shop selling products by up-and-coming design talent, plus vintage and new fashion-related books.

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Jan 17

Persuasive labels

 

In my Etsy shop you’ll find Persuasion labels. These sew-in tags feature a searing line from Jane Austen’s book of the same name, plucked from the love-letter of Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot. He’s explaining how he’s on tenterhooks. His old love for her continues, but is it still reciprocated…? As he waits for her reply, he writes:

I am half agony, half hope. 

If you’ve read the book and not bawled your eyes out at this point, your heart must be stonier than mine. Persuasion isn’t an easy read if you’ve been waiting for fortune (in love or anything else) to turn in your favour. Not to be recommended, possibly, if the powers-that-be appear to be conspiring against you. But do read it. It’s about endurance and stoicism and – eventually – joy. The moral of the story is that the good things in life are worth waiting for, with the stress very much on the waiting; Austen’s working title should have been Delayed Gratification.

So, who would use a label like this? And how? Well, late last year I got an order for some of these labels, all the way from Singapore. A while after I despatched them, a lovely message came in from the buyer, Lala, with a link to her blog, Girl with a Sewing Machine. And there was the label. Looking wonderful. Stitched inside the waistband of a skirt she’d made for the Yellow Skirt Project.

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

 

Doesn’t that red-green-yellow-pink combo just kerpow? And here’s a full-length shot of Lala wearing her cute skirt.

 

Lala in her yellow 'Persuasion' skirt. It persuades me!

Lala in her persuasive skirt

 

Lala calls her skirt ‘The Grapefruit Chardon’, based on the Deer and Doe pattern. She goes on to explain on her blog that she’d heard about the Persuasion labels here on Roobeedoo‘s blog. And here. I’d missed Roobeedoo’s mentions completely, so am really grateful that Lala pointed them out. It gives me a real kick to think that these labels are being worn inside real pieces of clothing, flying an invisible flag for persistence, endurance and (not least) sew-in labels.

At school in the 1970s, my drab grey and bottle-green school uniform was marked with Cash’s name tapes: my mother let me choose the lettering, and I went for the biggest, boldest font available: large red capitals on a white ground. I didn’t want my obscure Welsh name to be indecipherable. These labels were tremendously reassuring: they would be legible; they would withstand the laundry, they would stay on through the forlorn rummage of the lost-property bin. For me, they also signified how much I (as well as my uniform) was cared for. I don’t think there was an option to attend that school without sewn-in labels (that was how things worked back then) so presumably some of my peers had the same feeling. For me, those labels were like a talisman, a St Christopher ferrying me (in my uniquely named me-ness) safely through the world.  Once I had kids of my own, it had to be my guilty secret that I actually enjoyed the chore of sewing their labels into their first school uniforms. It felt as if I was nurturing their specialness too, in the way that mine had been. And, though I could not be with them as they took their first solo steps into the significant places beyond home, my stitches could touch their skin. For me, a Sharpie scrawl on a laundry tag is just not the same. I know, I know! My name is Eirlys and I’m a label purist.

Since then I’ve discovered old laundry marking labels, usually with a couple of elaborate embroidered initials only. These are mostly red thread on white cotton. Intricate. Delicate. Beautiful. Most of us don’t send our clothes out to laundries these days, so don’t have to mark our smalls and detachable collars with these dainty anachronisms. But they are still delightful, and add a touch of elegance to a making project. If you’re wanting antique labels with your own initials, they can be found – with a little persistence. Do drop a comment below if you happen to be an antique textiles dealer who sells them. 

 

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Antique laundry labels

 

If you’d like some of these ultra-romantic Persuasion labels, you can buy them over here. I  also have some I love you labels which you might sew into a homemade garment or wearable vintage find for your beloved (or would-be beloved) on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure it’ll do the trick.

 

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Sep 11

Scrap of the week #32

 

 

I don’t think I’ve covered the subject of leather scraps before, so this is a happy first. I had an inspiring encounter at the Bath Artisan Market on Sunday and wanted to share.

A wonderful lady named Hiromi came to say hello. Hiromi doesn’t speak much English, but thankfully her daughter (who does) was on hand to translate. Hiromi quietly emptied various beautifully made Liberty (yes, I know, I am a woman obsessed!) bags out of her handmade linen shoulder bag, finally producing a large powdery blue square of Liberty lawn from one. If you don’t recognise the fabric, it’s Glenjade, the classic pattern which first appeared on Liberty Tana lawn way back in 1955.

She also extracted a short leather strap with two D-shackles on each end.

I watched, entranced, as she fed two adjacent corners of the fine lawn square through one set of D-rings (securing them with a half-knot, just to stop them slipping back through).

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Two corners in this side…

 

Then she did the same with the remaining two corners and the other set of D-rings.

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Two corners in that side…

 

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A half-knot…

 

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Insta-bag!

 

Hey presto! She’d created an instant bag! So chic!

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A capacious, stylish bag with a comfortable grip

 

By this time, I was almost fainting with excitement at this wonderful idea. To cap it all, Hiromi had made the leather strap herself, and (Oh still my beating heart!) she wanted to give it to me. Did I accept? Do bears sashay in the woods?! Yes, I accepted (probably just a little too eagerly), offering a couple of little Liberty button/patch items in return. Now I’m singling out a Liberty fabric from my stash to create my own impromptu carry-everywhere bag. How much more pleasurable to use than an old plastic shopper! Or a bulkier fabric one (assuming I remember to carry it, which I tend not to). All it needs is a simple turned hem each side. Supposing I remember to tote it with me, it could double as a impromptu scarf. Or table-cloth. Or napkin. The list goes on. Isn’t that just the BEST THING EVER? Thank you, dear Hiromi!

 

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Hiromi’s strap

 

Next, I want to figure out how to construct my own bag strap, so I’m eyeing several discarded scraps of upholstery leather with intent. Hiromi used a strong strip of leather about 2cms wide by 24cms long. This upholstery leather scrap isn’t quite as thick, but seems strong and unstretchy. It handles nicely. 

 

Leather scrap

Leather scrap for bag strap

 

My riveting experience is pretty limited, so I’m going to need some advice. It seems that what’s needed is a double-ended riveting kit. I’d like to make do with what I already have, and I bought an antique packet of rivets on one of my (very dangerous!) boot-sale outings with Ruth Singer this summer. Not double-ended, but they might just do the trick.

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Bifurcated rivets

 

Ideally I’d like them to match the rings, though. And I don’t have any copper rings of any type – D or otherwise. Do you happen to know where some might be found? Actually, I prefer Hiromi’s choice of antiqued brass for this colour leather, so I guess I’ll have to scout around and find some.

Copper rivets

Copper rivets, with tool

 

So, I have my work cut out. I’ll let you know how I get on. My apologies, in advance, if you receive one of these insta-bags as a birthday/Christmas/other special occasion gift in due course. The bug has really bitten!

Final thought: do you think these might possibly ever appeal to men? I’m wondering here about heterosexual men? Seems to me that the leather strap could look quite masculine, so maybe teamed with a fine lawn shirting of this, or this, or even a Liberty pattern like this, it just might work. Or plain black? Are premeditated fabric convenience bags a place Average Hetero Male will never go? I suppose you’d have to remember to pop it inside your man-bag… Do give me your honest opinion, and feel free to suggest fine, strong fabrics that you could use for this project, besides (very expensive!) Liberty lawn. The next year of family gifts might well hang on it.

 

 

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