Category: Grand days out

Aug 15

Paisley: The Town That Thread Built

 

 

 

Paisley has been all over my Twitter feed recently because it’s been shortlisted for City of Culture 2021. I’m definitely keeping my fingers crossed for it. And if you want to know why I think it deserves such an accolade then watch this delightful BBC documentary, The Town That Thread Built, which aired last night. Hint: it has something to do with J&P Coats and their magnificent thread empire.

It was fascinating to hear the memories of the women who produced Paisley’s thread (for it was mostly women), and refreshing to hear a former factory manager (a descendent of one of the original Coats founding fathers) talking enthusiastically about the unsung importance of thread – even the distinct type used to make sanitary tampons. This is just the sort of obscure textile detail that I love to hear. So, please enjoy! Sincere apologies to those outside the UK who will be unable to view it. And note that it’s only available for another 28 days.

I was pleased to see a box of J&P Coats Bear thread featured prominently a couple of times in this film; in terms of design, this is one of my favourite antique reels, and I’ve had a full box (see below) tucked away in the Museum of Haberdashery the for some years now. The pink, dyed reels and orange thread are also a salutary reminder that the past was often more colourful than we tend to imagine.

 

Vintage haberdashery

J&P Coats Extra Strong Bear Thread, made in Paisley, Scotland

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Mar 27

Darning 101

 

 

I’m really happy to be offering one-off introductions to darning called ‘Darning 101’ at A Yarn Story in Bath. We hope to make this workshop a regular fixture, so if you’ve been meaning to find out how to repair the holes in your socks (or elbows), one of these would be a very good place to start.

We have three dates set up so far, all Sunday afternoons, on 2nd April, 4th June and 2nd July. More details here.

If you’re not familiar with A Yarn Story, it’s based in Bath’s artisan quarter, Walcot, and sells the most beautiful selection of small-production fine yarns. It also offers a range of crochet and knitting classes for a range of abilities. Carmen, the owner, is incredibly knowledgeable, nice and helpful too. Well worth a visit.

 

Darning 101 Workshop, A Yarn Story

Darning 101 Workshop, A Yarn Story

 

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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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Dec 02

Kintsugi at the Pitt Rivers Museum

 

I posted about kintsugi (literally ‘gold join’ or ‘golden joinery’) a couple of years back and wanted to share this lovely film made for the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford  – which, if you haven’t visited, is an absolute treasure house packed with the most extraordinary cultural artefacts. It’s well worth a special trip.

It’s wonderful to watch these beautiful repairs being worked by skilled Japanese craftsmen, seeing how they use processed tree sap and gold dust to create the join. In fact, while glitter is being applied by fractious toddlers (and likely their even more fractious parents) to a gazillion Christmas cards worldwide, it strikes me that this calm little film makes the perfect Advent antidote to the season’s relentless juggernaut. Maybe one of the Wise Men brought kintsugi know-how along along with his gold from the Orient for the Christ Child…? I know, that would be an anachronism, because kintsugi is only a few hundred years old, but it’s a very nice thought.

What if we considered giving the gift of repair this Christmas? We could offer to repair something treasured for someone, instead of buying something new…? Or give the gift of mending in another way? – a beautiful darning kit, for example. Or possibly by spending time with someone who is themselves a little broken. 

I’d love to have a go at this myself. Would epoxy glue and a little gold powder paint do the trick…? Have you attempted repairs on crockery or ceramics? If so, how did it go? 

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Apr 13

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched!

 

 

The American Museum

The American Museum wakes up for another season

 

‘Hatches, matches and dispatches’ is old newspaper slang for the births, marriages and deaths columns. You’ll also hear it used to refer to baptisms, weddings and funerals, the corresponding services offered by the Church. Now the American Museum in Britain, located idyllically on the southern outskirts of Bath, has tweaked the term for its latest exhibition, Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched! This exhibition, which runs through the year until 1st November 2015, brings together textile artefacts interwoven with life’s great rites of passage. And, as plenty of those textile items have been created using patchwork (and the museum has a fine permanent quilt collection), that’s where the ‘patched’ comes in.

Some artefacts have also been borrowed from exhibition partners the Beamish Museum, Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, the Quilters’ Guild, and Jen Jones’ collection in Wales, and so the sourcing reflects a mixed provenance from both the United States and the British Isles. But it’s the cross-cultural universality of the human condition which draws them all together, and there are plenty of poignant human-interest stories behind these objects, as curator Kate Hebert explains: ‘the personal and sentimental connections, the stories of the individuals that are linked with these objects, are what I have found so moving.’

I went along for the press launch early last month when spring was still struggling to assert itself and the banks of daffodils were only just beginning to open outside in the beautiful grounds. But there was plenty of stitched brightness and vitality to view within the exhibition. Here’s a taste of what I saw.

 

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched - & Patched!

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched! poster

Glad rags

Life’s big milestones are usually associated with looking your best,  so it makes sense that many of the textile objects featured in the exhibition are items of clothing (a subject I was possibly over-engaged with when I attended as I was in the middle of a ‘fashion fast’ – more of that in another post). Christening gowns, christening bonnets, baby slippers, bridal gowns and shoes, black clothes worn when an official period of mourning was enforced, even clothing worn by the dead to be buried in – modern day grave goods, you might call them – feature here.

The displays are subdivided into three grouped sections (‘Hatched’, ‘Matched’ and ‘Dispatched’), but I’ll dot back and forth between them for this post.

In the ‘Hatched’ section cascades of handmade broderie anglaise in a row of Christening gowns caught my eye. The christening gown took over when swaddling fell out of favour in the eighteenth century. Then gowns became longer and longer, an opportunity to display one’s wealth and status in the finest detail, all located at the front, of course, where it could be shown off. In a cabinet of baby bonnets, I spotted a cap with the tiniest imaginable white French knots – alas, my phone wasn’t up to capturing them. I was also drawn to a pair of 1930s silk baby slippers with padded soles worked very effectively in a hatched trapunto pattern of quilting, using coloured yarns which were just visible through the silk.

 

Christening robe, c. 1890 c/o Jersey Museum

Christening robe, c. 1890 c/o Jersey Museum

 

One of the wedding dresses on display was worn in 1887 by Agnes Lucy Hughes, the first mother-in-law of Wallis Simpson.  But most eye-catching is the daffodil dress (see below) embroidered by Henriette Leonard for inclusion in her bridal trousseau around 1892. Tragically, Henriette died before she was able to wear it; her brother persuaded her to take a tour of Europe shortly before her wedding, and during the trip she took ill with the flu allied with ‘nervous exhaustion’ and died. The pristine condition of the dress suggests that it was never worn and got packed away as a family memento.

Daffodil dress. Image c/o The American Museum

Daffodil dress. Photo credit: the American Museum

 

Sad rags

In the ‘Dispatched’ section there’s quite a bit of mourning garb, much of it nineteenth century and frequently featuring jet. As a Victorian female mourner observing a strict code of mourning etiquette, your yards of black crepe would be held together in part by ‘jet pins’ (actually ‘japanned’ or enamelled metal) so as not to allow the unseemly glint of frivolous silver caused by a regular steel pin.

Jet pins

Jet pins

 

Strict observance of an official mourning regime in Britain appears to have been relaxed during the Great War. Then the massive death toll in the trenches would have required so many to wear mourning garb that civilian morale would have been too sorely tested.

There’s a tradition in Wales of knitting stockings to be worn after death. Similarly, some women quilted skirts to be buried in. The late nineteenth century Welsh skirt below is a rare survival, made by two sisters who somehow left it behind when they moved house.

 

Welsh quilted burial skirt, nineteenth century, courtesy of Jen Jones

Welsh quilted burial skirt, nineteenth century, courtesy of Jen Jones

Quilts

Finely detailed items to adorn the home have often been made in response to a birth, stitched by a young woman in anticipation of her marriage, or by a mourning widow to mark the sorrowful departure of her life’s partner. The American Museum is justly famous for its quilt collection, and you get a chance to see a few of their gems showcased here in this exhibition.

 

Ellen Bryant's 1863 log cabin quilt

Ellen Bryant’s 1863 log cabin quilt

 

One of my favourites is the stunning log cabin top shown above, pieced around 1863 by Ellen Bryant in  preparation for her marriage in Londonderry, Vermont.  Over three hundred log cabin blocks (each 4 and a half inches square) have been arranged in a variation known as ‘barn raising’ or ‘sunshine and shadow’. This eye-popping quilt has an even more intricately pieced backing created by Ellen’s sister, not finished until 1886. Evidently the resulting quilt – a sororal labour of love – took over two decades to complete.

And another favourite from the permanent collection is the Christmas bride. The appliqued holly leaves have faded over the years, as greens tend to do, but the red berries and festoons remain surprisingly bright. Insider tip: you may still be able to find a tea towel bearing this design in the museum shop.

 

Christmas Bridge appliqued quilt

Christmas Bride appliqued quilt

 

With my interest in mending, I was glad to see Bertha Mitchell’s quilt, made from dress and furnishing fabrics to celebrate her sister’s wedding in 1899. Bertha worked as a seamstress, repairing clothes in Keswick Boarding School.  You’ll find a close-up picture of that quilt over on my Instagram feed.

A very special cot quilt is featured here, on loan from the Quilters’ Guild, but unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of it. It’s the earliest piece on display (1700-10) and is a white, whole-cloth quilt, densely quilted by hand.

There are also a few mourning or memorial quilts on display, a couple dating from the American Civil War era (see ‘Darts of Death’ on my Instagram feed).

 

Poignant needle

And then there was possibly the most moving item of all, a simple embroidered tablecloth – its very ordinariness adding to its poignancy. The signatures of female friends and American servicemen stationed at Cheltenham during the months leading up to D-Day are partly embroidered. But some remain in the pencil. Helen Slater, the embroiderer, was working them in a variety of bright colours, but she stopped part way through one signature, and her needle remains lodged in the fabric. She couldn’t bring herself to finish the project after she heard that her fiancé, Jack Carpenter (his name embroidered in red) had been killed in action. She put the cloth away with a book (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) that he’d given her just before he left for the D-Day landings, and she cherished them both for 70 years until her own death.

Embroidered tablecloth, World War II

Embroidered tablecloth, World War II

Postpartum pincushions

I like a nice pin or several and so made a beeline for a couple of exhibits featuring pins. For the diehard haberdashery enthusiast, besides the jet pins mentioned above there’s the museum’s own 1821 baby-welcoming pincushion made of silk and steel pins. This pincushion, which has just been restored (the silk had shredded and the stuffing been lost), reminded me of a couple in the 2010 V&A exhibition of quilts, though those were dated a little earlier. Pincushions with elaborate patterns and phrases marked out with pinheads were popular gifts for new mothers. However, it was considered bad luck to gift such a pincushion before the birth, as that might sharpen the pains of labour. The museum notes explain that in colonial New York, births were announced by hanging pincushions on door knockers – a practice which apparently fell out of favour after the safety pin was invented in 1878.

Welcome little stranger pin cushion

‘Welcome little stranger’ pin cushion

 

Tonsorial textiles

Grim though they might sound to us today, mourning rings made from the deceased’s hair were popular on both sides of the Atlantic during the nineteenth century. The eagle-eyed visitor to this exhibition will spot fascinatingly intricate rings and brooches delicately woven from human hair. I didn’t get a good shot of them, sadly, as that part of the exhibition was dark, but do look out for the rings ingeniously formed to resemble tiny buckled belts.

There’s a lot more to see than I can show you here, but you can find a few more images over on my Instagram feed. And let’s not forget the person who put it all together: Kate Hebert, new in post as the American Museum’s curator. Congratulations, Kate!

Curator Kate Hebert

Curator Kate Hebert

 

Finally, a quick update on last year’s immensely popular Kaffe Fassett exhibition. I’m reliably informed that there is now a permanent Kaffe boutique at the museum, so whenever you time your visit you can always get your fix.

 

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched! runs till 1st November 2015 at the American Museum in Britain, Claverton Manor.  There will be a talk by Edwina Ehrman, Curator of Fashion & Textiles at  the Victoria & Albert Museum, this Thursday 16th April 2015. Check out the museum’s website for other associated events.

Running alongside this exhibition is Spirit Hawk Eye, a celebration of American native culture through the portraits of Heidi Laughton.

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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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Nov 09

Kaffe Fassett at the American Museum

 

My blog is still on life support, but I couldn’t resist popping back to take you on a brief tour of the Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath.

I squeaked in at the tail end of October, just before it closed. Perhaps it’s cruel of me to tantalise you with images of the King of Colour’s show that you now have no hope of seeing, but maybe you’re far away and had no chance to visit anyway. Or maybe you got there and are happy to be reminded of your grand day out. Whatever the case, I hope you can enjoy these images. Did you catch the exhibition? What was your favourite area or thing on display?

This huge tree hung with pompoms and lampshades was really stunning. It was a magnet for small children: delightedly scurrying about beneath it, batting at the yarn balls.

Bececked tree at the Kaffe expo, the American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath

Bedecked tree at the Kaffe expo, the American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath

 

The pictures don’t do the original concept justice as the fabric on the shades had faded considerably over the 6 months of the exhibition. You have to wonder how long it took the team to set this up last March; I assume it was a cherry-picker job. It makes me want to do something similar (though on a much smaller scale) with this year’s Christmas tree, possibly even decorating a tree outside, for a change. How about you?

Pompoms and lampshades

Pompoms and lampshades

 

Here was a rendition of Kaffe’s studio, complete with painting area on the left.

Studio area

Kaffe’s studio

 

A blazing yellow area.

Cushions, cats and cardigans

Cushions, cats and cardigans

 

A tactile section.

Please touch! I appreciated this.

Please touch! I really appreciated this touch.

 

Glorious needlepoint.

Kaffe cabinet

Needlepoint cushions

 

Plenty of vegetation.

Kaffe veg

Vegetables and flowers

 

Some nods to items in the museum’s collection.

Early American portraits

Early American portraits

 

Beautiful neutrals.

Tumbling blocks

Tumbling blocks

 

And a wall of Kaffe quips and wisdom.

Kaffe quotation wall

Kaffe quotation wall

 

Meanwhile, back in the main house (Claverton Manor proper, rather than the modern exhibition building), there were a few Kaffe touches on display for the determined visitor. It was fascinating to see the spreads and colourway varieties for a selection of printed textile patterns – apologies for the quality of the image.

 

Design sheet

Design sheet

 

But I was really smitten by these quiet inked line drawings of the museum’s room sets. Kaffe is an old friend to the museum and worked these in the 1960s, when the museum was brand new. Astonishingly little has changed in those room sets (which illustrate America from its early colonial days). As a Penn Dutch girl by ancestry, I loved his rendition of the decorative tinware, particuarly that perky coffee pot. And how fascinatingly un-Kaffe is this absence of colour? – not to mention un-Penn Dutch.

 

Kaffe's early work for the American Work, 1960s.

Kaffe’s early work for the American Work, 1960s.

 

In the museum’s Penn Dutch room, the mass of highly decorated stuff can be riotously hard to swallow, but the beautiful folk-art lines of those plain tinware cookie cutters are delicious in their simplicity and always draw me back.

 

Penn Dutch artefacts from the American Museum

Penn Dutch artefacts from the American Museum

 

And then home

And then home

 

That’s all for now, though I’m hoping to be back here more regularly soon. Meanwhile, I’m now signed  up on Instagram and find that an interesting place to post. Please join me. 

 

 

 

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Mar 30

Swaddling bands

 

 

For Mother’s Day, and at the end of Museum Week, I bring you a vision of babes past c/o the V&A which I visited Friday.

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Italian swaddling band in the V&A

 

This Italian swaddling band, dated 1600-1625, is made of linen with an embroidered cutwork border. Its display card offered some almost contemporary (1671) advice to mothers and nurses on how best to dress newborn babies c/o midwife Jane Sharp: ‘lay the arms right down by the sides’, and then wrap them in bands of cloth ‘that they might grow straight’.

 

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C17th Italian swaddling band, V&A

 

Leafing through my trusty Shorter Oxford English Dictionary I find that swaddle is first found in Old English as a noun for a length of bandage used to wrap an infant. The verb swaddle followed in Middle English. I’m not sure if it helps them grow straight, but very small babies do seem to enjoy the restriction of being tightly bundled. Perhaps it reminds them of the cramped conditions they left behind in the womb?

If you’re counting back from the Feast of Christmas, Mothering Sunday (the 4th Sunday in Lent) often falls around the the Feast of the Annunciation (25th March). And, still in the V&A, my eye fell on this rather comical painted and gilded oak sculpture representing my favourite archangel, Gabriel.

 

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C15th oak Angel Gabriel in the V&A

 

The display card explained that he’s from Northern France, dated 1415-50, and probably comes from an altarpiece. His orientation is unusual because ‘Gabriel usually approaches from the left’. I’ve never noticed the left-ness of Gabriel’s approach to Mary in fine art but will look out for it from now on. He does look a little hesitant (a bit like the apologetic demeanour of the vicar in BBC’s Rev. series which, I’m pleased to note, is now back on our screens). Gabriel is, incidentally, the patron saint of journalists and communicators, and this Gabriel looks like he understands only too well the concept of shooting the messenger.

 

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French C15th oak Gabriel in the V&A

 

On this trip to London, I also visited the Clothworkers’ Centre, the V&A’s new state-of-the-art facility at Blythe House, Olympia, West London. This is where the museum now stores the majority of its textile collection – some 100,000 objects, everything from buttons to carpets – and where items can be accessed for study by groups and individuals. The public can tour the centre on the last Friday of the month, though pre-booking is absolutely essential. I found my visit quite awe-inspiring, though (very sadly) I’m not allowed to show you any of my pictures. But next week I’ll share some pearls of wisdom gleaned during the informative tour – not least how best to combat those dreaded clothes moths.

 

 

 

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Mar 08

Briswool

 

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Briswool’s version of Totterdown

 

The City of Briswool Project‘s improbable aim is to produce a giant model of the city of Bristol – in yarn. As a concept, it’s about as mad as a bag of chickens. Which is why I had to get involved.

For me, the lunacy-infused ingenuity of this project typifies Bristol at its very best. I have to declare an interest here as Bristol is my home city: I lived there from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. The place has a distinctive non-conformist confidence which I still find refreshing when I go back home for a visit. Somehow this attitude crystallises around an unconventional approach to materials. Back in the era of wooden sailing ships, Brunel launched the SS Great Britain, his crazy iron steam ship, from Bristol. Aardman founded its animated plastic empire there in the 1970s. And Banksy used the very fabric of the city’s buildings as his canvas in the ’90s and noughties. Given such a heritage, maybe it was inevitable that Bristol would eventually be recreated from leftover balls of yarn.

Over the last few months Bristol’s landmarks, large and small, have been materialising in knitted, crocheted and needle-felted forms, created by an army of volunteers. The vast majority of materials have been donated: all has been done on an absolute shoe-string budget, fuelled largely (as so many of the very best things are) by the unquenchable enthusiasm of its originator.

That originator is Vicky Harrison, of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster on the south side of the city. True to her positioning of Paper Village as a creative community hub, she wanted Briswool to be a genuine grass-roots project, with people offering to recreate landmarks that have held some personal resonance for them. And Bristolians have been coming forward in droves to do just that. Someone’s made a model of the Matthew, the ’90s replica of the craft in which John Cabot sailed from Bristol to ‘discover’ Newfoundland in the fifteenth century. There’s a Concorde, the supersonic plane which was famously developed in Bristol. And, of course, there’s an SS Great Britain. There are harbour boats, and bikes, and zoo animals. Remarkably, there have been little or no duplicates. The scale is a little elastic, but that gives the project even more charm.

I joined Vicky in late January at the M-Shed with a group of volunteers intent on knitting a landmark section of the city called Totterdown where rows of brightly painted terraces line a ridge on the city’s skyline. I didn’t have a direct connection to those houses, but everyone from Bristol knows them by sight. Brilliantly, one of the people attending had lived in one. We were given a knitting pattern, some yarn, and quickly set about casting on, fuelled by chocolate fingers. I’m not a natural knitter, but soon got to grips with the simple pattern devised by Paper Village’s knitting tutor, Elise Fraser.

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My purple house takes shape

 

I love creating in a group environment, whether I’m the teacher or a teach-ee. In fact, I think it’s one of life’s profound pleasures. I’m sure we have always gathered to share the process of making (or mending), from our very earliest social days when we huddled around the cave fire joining pelts with gut-threaded thorn needles. The conversations (which are approached obliquely because you’re doing something else, after all) are often surprising frank and illuminating. And, whatever your level of skill, you always learn something new technically, if not from the teacher then from someone else in the group – for me this was was casting on in cable, which the knitter across from me demonstrated (though too late for my first house as I’d already cast on in my old way). I also got to grips with mattress stitch, at long last. I’d like to thank Vicky, Elise and my fellow house-knitters for all their helpfulness, generosity and sociability, and for creating a really enjoyable afternoon.

 

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Ridged roof

 

Alas, the two hours of the workshop weren’t long enough for me to finish my house so I had to complete it at home. Here it is. Now I just have to mail it back to Vicky, along with a pink house I’ve made since, plus a little greenery.

 

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Finished house

 

The pattern ended at the basic house structure, so it was up to us to complete the smaller features of the house as we saw fit. As a nod to my enthusiasm for mending, I worked mine in darning wool in Swiss darning (replica stitch). The thin black yarn didn’t cover the DK stitches fully on the windows, but I think that gives the impression of them glinting in the daylight. Maybe.

 

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Still plenty of yarn left for a newbuild next door

 

If you’d like to contribute your own little woolly piece of Bristol to Briswool, there’s still time  to get involved. But hurry! Everything has to be complete and ready to assemble by the end of month. I gather that 6 cm green squares will come in handy at this point. There are making events through the rest of March. Or you can contact Vicky at Paper Village Arts (the number’s below) who’ll be very happy to hear from you. I wonder if anyone’s made  a little version of Bristol’s Olympic champion Jen Jones yet, complete with snowboard and bronze medal…?

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Briswool’s Totterdown – WIP

 

Briswool will be on display at Paper Village Arts from April, and then at the M-Shed later in the year. 

Paper Village Arts is at 200 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JF, telephone 0117 963 9452. They hold a drop-in knitting session every Wednesday afternoon, 2-5pm. You can keep track of workshops, classes and community activities via Paper Village’s Facebook page

 

 

 

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Mar 06

Freudian coats

 

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Freudian coat by Anna Gahlin

 

I was approached last year by fine artist Anna Gahlin for some technical help with a couple of pieces she was preparing for an exhibition.

Anna had set herself the challenge of embroidering significant words onto the linings of two old fur coats. She wanted to work them in purple embroidery threads, but wasn’t sure how to begin.

We discussed how best to transfer the letters onto the fabric, and how best to handle the slippery and uncooperative lining fabric, how best to work within the confines of an existing coat lining, what thread and stitch to use to achieve the desired effect.

Anna embroidered two coat linings: one with words reflecting the content of dreams, the other with the emotions stimulated by those dreams.

 

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Embroidered coat by Anna Gahlin

 

It was such a pleasure to help Anna, and this is a very good moment to mention that I’m more than happy to be approached for creative collaborations or private sewing lessons. Do get in touch: eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom.

You can see Anna’s coats exhibited as part of artist collective Studio XYZ ‘s Freud’s House exhibition at Burgh House, Hampstead until 30th March 2014.

 

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