Category: Grand days out

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.

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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

 

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‘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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Sep 07

Mending at Bath Artisan Market

 

The Big Mend will be bringing a pop-up mending workshop to Bath Artisan Market tomorrow, Sunday 8th September, at Green Park Station (the covered section, just down from Sainsbury’s) from 10am. So dig out those winter woollies nibbled by the moths and discover creative darning and patching.  Hope to see you then!

 

Come mend with us!

Come mend with us!

 

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Aug 23

Laura Ashley stories

 

Laura Ashley fans, this week’s your last chance to catch the exhibition at the Fashion Museum. But there’s good news for anyone owning a vintage ’60 or ’70s Laura Ashley dress: you can get into the expo FREE this weekend if you wear that dress along! 

I must mention the retrospective just one more time to share with you some of the background stories of the dress loans. One of my favourite elements of the exhibition was the stories behind the dresses: who owned what, when, and why. I’m a sucker for social history, so this aspect really floated my boat. Many of these stories were shared in the display cards, and in the accompanying booklet (see below). I’ll retell a few here to whet your appetite.

 

Joan Gould and Ruzi Buchanan, LA launch

Joan Gould and Ruzi Buchanan with their dresses at the Laura Ashley expo launch

 

The pinafore-over-maxi was a key Laura Ashley look in the 1970s. Joan Gould (left) bought hers when working as a copy-editor on scientific journals in London. She tells a great story, recounted in the exhibition booklet:

‘I wore the red dress with green Anello and Davide button shoes with flesh coloured tights, no jewellery. This was my “party dress” in the early 1970s when I was in my early 20s. I bought it from the Fulham Road shop where the changing room was downstairs. There were a few cubicles, but on Saturdays it was so busy everyone just removed clothes in the area outside the cubicles in a seething, hot and bothered mass of partially clothed young women and piles of billowing clothes. Anyone seeing an item on someone else would grab it to try on themselves when they saw it had been rejected. A few boyfriends would sit upstairs on a sofa in the window, glassy-eyed and exhausted, saying “looks lovely” to the stream of young women staggering from this underworld.’

 

Beverley Peach, a former landscape architect and now volunteer at The Bowes Museum (where the exhibition will relocate from September), made this skirt from patchwork pieces bought in the Bath store in 1975 for the outlay of 50p. Here’s some of her story, again taken from the exhibition booklet:

 

‘The skirt is made entirely from remnants that were all different shapes and sizes. From the age of about 15, I made most of my own clothes. Fabric was cheap and my mum taught me how to dressmake. For a teenager in the 70s there were few shops with acceptable, affordable clothes. Chelsea Girl was a revelation! …

I remember the skirt taking a long time to make. I spent evenings sewing when I worked as a nanny in Spain during the summer of 1975, between school and university. The skirt went with me to university in Newcastle. Everything travelled in a large blue trunk, which still holds all the clothes I can’t bear to part with, including the patchwork skirt.

I wore the skirt with a white cheesecloth shirt and a long blue corduroy jacket, both of which my daughter now wears.’

 

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Beverley Peach’s patchwork skirt, 1975

 

Patchwork Laura Ashley skirt

Beverley Peach’s patchwork skirt

 

 

Rose Gollop, whose picture is on this Fashion Museum press release, wore Laura Ashley on her wedding day, and her dress stands prominently at the entrance to the exhibition.

 

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Rose Gollop’s wedding dress

 

‘I was married on 11 August 1973, two days after my 21st birthday. I spent very little time looking for the dress. I didn’t want anything traditional and knew that I was likely to find what I wanted at Laura Ashley. I was lucky to live near the Bath branch, which is where I bought it…

In keeping with the non-traditional theme, I wore nothing in my hair, a simple “daisy chain” bead necklace, and Greek strappy open-toed sandals that I bought in a hippy-type shop at the top of Park Street in Bristol. Unfortunately, the formal flowers that my parents persuaded me to to have did not really complement the overall look! I would have preferred to go out into the fields and gather up natural flowers. I had no bridesmaids, and was slightly dismayed to find that my new mother-in-law had made matching lime green frilly dresses for her three little grand-daughters, so that when they stood together – and near me – they did indeed look like bridesmaids.’

 

Do you have a Laura Ashley story to tell? The exhibition may be leaving Bath, but the Fashion Museum would still love to hear it. Take a moment and share.

 

Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at The Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

The booklet accompanying the exhibition features an introduction by Rosemary Harden and Joanna Hashagen, and contains several of the dress-owners’ personal stories. It is still available at the Fashion Museum shop price £5.99, while stocks last. 

Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine - exhibition booklet

 

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Aug 13

Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine

 

 

With apologies to Jane Austen, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a girl who grew up in the 1970s must have been in want of a Laura Ashley dress. Last month I went to the opening of a stunning new landmark exhibition marking 60 years of this major fashion label: Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine. And it helpfully confirmed my theory.

Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine - image c/o Fashion Museum

Laura Ashley the Romantic Heroine – image c/o Fashion Museum

 

I never actually owned a genuine Laura Ashley dress* but I’ve rarely felt so personally invested in an exhibition.  Laura Ashley was the designer who dominated my formative years. I blogged about that unbearably brown-Draloned decade and some Laura Ashley fabric scraps last time, in case you missed it. It’s really the early ’70s that I’m talking about, when Laura Ashley was in her creative prime. This was when I was developing my sense of what being a woman was about, and Laura Ashley’s designs grew to dominate my internal landscape, her patterns virtually etched on the inside of my eyelids. 

So my heart was seriously aflutter when I arrived at the Fashion Museum  last month for the exhibition launch. Despite the heat (Britain was still in the grip of an atypical heatwave) there were quite a few others who appeared to share my enthusiasm. The high-ceilinged Assembly Rooms – the Georgian setting of so many dances and assemblies and home to the museum since 1969 – were packed. I gratefully accepted a glass of something cool and sparkling. Looking around, the crowd was largely female and of-a-certain-age. As we awaited the speakers, we fanned ourselves with our invitations, like so many Jane Austen heroines. 

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After an introduction by a council official, legendary Fleet Street fashion journalist Felicity Green rose to recount her Laura Ashley memories. Now in her eighties, Green explained how Laura Ashley dresses gave British women just what they wanted in the early ’70s: a non-threatening response to Quant’s ’60s Youthquake mini. The mini had forced the wearer to be somewhat confrontational and angular, whereas Laura Ashley’s layered, pleated, gathered and ruffled styles wrapped women up in what Green described at the time as ‘soft-core femininity’ (Daily Mirror, 1st January 1970).  What did women want? They wanted an escapist, wholesome Romantic idyll. Most of all, to feel comfortable and unashamedly feminine. Laura Ashley happily supplied all that.

Green explained that one special thing which set Laura apart was her husband, Bernard Ashley. Green was not easily intimidated, but had she been rather frightened of Bernard, she confessed. He did not suffer fools and was very sharp-witted on the business side. Green also knew Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki (the designer behind Biba) and their husbands, who, by contrast, were totally charming but lacked Bernard’s business orientation. Both Quant and Hulanicki subsequently lost their trademarks, and this was the crucial difference between them and Ashley.  Thanks to Bernard’s nous, Laura Ashley became the first truly international label.

Turning to the exhibition itself, Green bestowed the strongest praise: “Unparalleled,” she said. ‘Truly a combination of fashion and style and presentation. Outstrips the V&A.” High praise indeed for curators Rosemary Harden and Ian R .Webb.

As we listened to Felicity’s fascinating memories, I spotted this young woman in a gorgeous floor-sweeping vintage Laura Ashley swan-print strappy summer dress. She told me later that it had been her mother’s.

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Guest wearing her mum’s original ’70s dress

Then we filed into the exhibition itself. The first sight to greet us was that distinctive lower-case logo, plus a row of simple, serene cream and white dresses.

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Entrance to the exhibition

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Serene white

 

We turned the corner to face the breathtaking spectacle of almost 100 dresses.

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Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine

 

What strikes you immediately is the pastiches of various periods: this Regency style, that Victorian governess outfit. You could see how Laura was influenced by what must then have been on TV at the time, which historical serial was capturing her (and the nation’s) imagination. Laura had such an uncanny ability to capture the zeitgeist. And her interpretation of the styles is so interesting: she wasn’t copying those earlier styles, but borrowing elements to make very wearable dresses.

 

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High necks, pleats and lace frills

Some of the high collars looked a little uncomfortable, at least from the vantage point of a very hot summer’s day.

Beccy and I at LA launch, July 2013

Beccy (right) and I, thoroughly engrossed

 

There is no glass between the visitor and the exhibits, and it’s very tempting touch; all that cotton certainly screams “FEEL ME!” It’s quite special to be able to get so close to exhibits like this.

Early on in the exhibition are Laura’s first dresses dating from the ’60s. Recognisably of the period, but distinctive Laura Ashley tones and prints.

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A row of 1960s dresses

 

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Regency-style ruching

 

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The Governess look

 

I persuaded my friend and neighour, Beccy, to join me at the exhibition. She has just established re-be, a business selling upcycled clothes for children, and an early Laura Ashley dress had featured as the makeover target in her range, so I hoped that she’d find the exhibition both useful and interesting.

She brought the little outfit along, and how fabulous to find a sister-dress to the one she’d upcycled! Before you get upset, the purple object of her upcycling had been her business partner’s mother’s dress (following?) and had been ruined before Beccy’s scissors took to it.

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High necks and frills

re-be reinterpretation of vintage Laura Ashley dress

re-be reincarnation next to identical dress in different colourway

I was drawn to this grass-green pinafore, partly because I recognised that pansy fabric, partly because I made something very similar (but with long sleeves) from a commercial Laura Ashley pattern about 10 years later. This one had a great story attached. It was chosen by Alpen to use in their advert when they launched the breakfast cereal in Britain. At the time, all things continental were in favour (I remember the ‘continental quilt’ or duvet arriving in the ’70s, ousting the tradition British two-sheets-and-a-blanket combination). The slogan for the advert reflected how well Laura Ashley’s wholesome image dovetailed with the new breakfast cereal’s image: ‘more natural goodness every morning’.

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The Alpen dress

And then there were some extraordinary offerings, much more on the psychedelic end of the spectrum than I would have thought possible. My photos don’t quite capture their shock value. In real life, those checked fabrics really zing.

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Psychedelic checks

My only disappointment was wandering a little later up to the Bath shop, the first Laura Ashley shop to be opened outside of London. They had a lovely window display; note the same fabric used here as in that Alpen pinny.

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Current display in the Bond Street branch of Laura Ashley in Bath

But there were no nostalgic Laura Ashley goods to be found inside. What a pity.For those itching to get their purses out, there is a really nice little exhibition booklet available which can be purchased at both the Fashion Museum and The Bowes Museum for about £5.

This compelling exhibition set Laura Ashley much more firmly in context for me. She plugged right into the early ’70s hunger for the wholesome. I can see now how much she drew on historical styles, but without slavishly copying them; the dresses are not made in a historical way, but are her interpretations. But I was surprised to see how many of the fabrics were much brighter, the designs more eye-popping than I’d remembered. I can’t wait to visit it again and really hope that you’ll get a chance to see it for yourself. 

 

Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at The Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

In my next post… some personal Laura Ashley stories from women who loaned their dresses to the exhibition.

 

*though I did make myself a couple from a purchased Laura Ashley pattern

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Aug 06

Scrap of the week #31

 

These mid-1970s Laura Ashley scraps were the first materials I handled, shaped and stitched when learning to sew as a girl. I pulled them out of the Scrapiana archive after seeing the wonderful Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath recently. The exhibition made me feel deeply nostalgic for 1970s Laura Ashley fabrics and dress designs, which is ironic because Laura Ashley traded heavily on nostalgia herself, so I effectively entered a state of meta-nostalgia (nostalgia for nostalgia) from which I fear I may never emerge back into the 21st century.

I seem to specialise in unlikely survivals, and these Laura Ashley scraps really shouldn’t be hanging about intact still, 40 years on. There is no decent explanation for it. I may as well tell you that Peter Capaldi swung by in the tardis and dropped them off. But, for whatever unlikely reason, they remain with me still. Mostly unused. And I’m very happy to be able to show them to you.

Early 1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

 

They were probably bought in the Bath shop which opened its doors in 1971. This was the first Laura Ashley shop outside of London, and it soon acquired a legendary status.

Bath was a fairly frequent destination for family outings when I was a girl; sometimes we’d go to the American Museum or the Museum of Costume, the previous incarnation of the Fashion Museum, then just a few years old. Bath was not quite the tourist hub it is today, and it actually looked pretty shabby back then, though one couldn’t help but be struck by its elegant (if very blackened) stone architecture.

Looking at these scraps still fills me with a kind of feverish excitement, depositing me right back circa 1973. Laura Ashley had such an exhilarating aura of  elegance, sophistication and wholesome escapism, so unlike anything else I can remember from the period, though I didn’t get out much in middle childhood. Anyone under thirty might find it hard to imagine, looking at these little brown fragments, how they excited such admiration and longing. Maybe you just had to be there, with rocketing inflation, the 3-day week, the sexual revolution, the perennial fear of Soviet invasion (not to mention nuclear annihilation), doing your best to block it all out with your tranny tuned to Radio Luxembourg under your brushed polyester bedclothes. No wonder we were so ready to lap up The Forsyte SagaWar & Peace, The Onedin Line, and Upstairs Downstairs on the TV.

Laura Ashley fabric, early 1970s

Laura Ashley print of mythical beasts

 

I still love almost everything about these Laura Ashley pieces. The sturdy texture of the 100% cotton, a world away from my purple manmade sheets of the time (which crackled with static and snagged against my toenails when I rolled over). I love the earthy, hippy hues, giving the impression that they’ve been dyed with the products of a hedgerow, though I’m very sure they weren’t. I love the small-repeat designs in just two restrained tones, the pseudo-medieval, mock-oriental and Victorian-style motifs. These fabrics seemed so sophisticated, so opulent, yet incredibly safe and modest too. It was a compelling mix for a young girl.

But possibly most of all, I love the fact that Laura Ashley was selling these as genuine manufacturing offcuts: pieces culled from dresses made in the Welsh factory. No pre-cut patchwork squares from virgin metres of cloth in those days. I wish there could be more conspicuous selling of designer wastage today. Shall we start a campaign?

The dresses themselves would have been beyond the budget at the time, so scraps were all I could reasonably aspire to. These scraps date from when the company was still very much Laura’s baby, and I can easily imagine (though it’s purely my fantasy) that every piece of cloth still passed under Laura’s gaze for a final quality check. I’m sure it didn’t really, but her spirit is very much here. 

1970s Laura Ashley pansy design close-up

Print S105 featuring a triangular pansy motif

 

Laura had a keen sense of thrift and strove to avoid waste when pattern-cutting. One of her early designs was an oven glove, made from the wastage created by the scooped neck of a gardening smock. And it’s easy to imagine how her unwillingness to see such offcuts go to waste, plus her love of patchwork (notably sparked by a WI exhibition in the early ’50s) informed the decision to package them up and sell them.

Any pattern-cutters out there care to tell me which garment pieces you think these were cut from? Is that plum ‘C’-shape from a neckline, the comma-shaped piece from an armscye?

1970s Laura Ashley fabrics

1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

 

There’s a great story related by Meirion, one of the Welsh factory stalwarts, in Anne Sebba’s biography Laura Ashley: A Life By Design published in 1990 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson:

Once I cut the neckline wrong on three hundred dresses and I thought at first I’d just keep quiet and fill the gap with lace. But, of course, she would have noticed so I told her and we turned the scoop to our advantage. In future that style always carried the “wrong” neckline. All she said to me, very calmly, was, “Remember, you can always learn from your mistakes”.

And speaking of mistakes, here’s some of the patchwork I made from these offcuts, way back in my very earliest needle-plying days. Don’t look too closely at the stitching.  And how many shades of brown can you include in one piece, anyway? The cushion was well loved, but this wasn’t my finest hour. The item with the smaller piecing is a bag, with every hexagon stuffed. Not sure why I thought that was a good idea.

Laura Ashley patchwork items

My early Laura Ashley patchwork

Laura Ashley and me

Don’t look too closely at the stitching

 

Hexagon patchwork also features in the current exhibition. There’s a cover pieced by Rosemary Harden, the director of the Fashion Museum, and a vibrant patchwork skirt made by Beverly Peach. Now, I don’t remember Laura Ashley producing particularly bright fabrics, but I realised how wrong I was when I visited the exhibition. More about that (and some surprisingly psychedelic offerings from Mrs Ashley) very soon. 

1970s Laura Ashley patchwork

Spare hexagons

 

In my next post: a report on Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine which celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is currently on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at the Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

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Aug 03

Join the chicks @theFarm!

 

 

I’m delighted to be working with some excellent creative people (plus a few chickens, geese and dogs) on brand new project, @theFarm.

You can let your imagination run wild and your talents go free-range from this September when the the first @the Farm courses and workshops go live. It’s the place to learn a new craft skill, or spruce up an old one, with the very best hand-picked tutors in an ancient honeyed stone farmhouse in Wiltshire, just 20 minutes from Bath. Gorgeous lunches and refreshments are laid on within the workshop fee too. And parking is easy and ample. Could it get any better? I don’t think so.

To give you a small taste of what you can learn, there’ll be upholstery and lampshades c/o Joanna, who is also the clever lady who devised our photoshoot.

There’sdarning from me. My swift introduction to the subject, Strictly Come Darning!, has been favourably reviewed in Simply Knitting and Simply Crochet. I have sessions currently booking on Wednesday 11th September, Friday 11th October and Wednesday 13th November .

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Darning at the Farm

 

And I can also familiarise you with your sewing machine: the one you bought ages ago which has been gathering dust ever since. Or the one your grandma handed down to you, maybe rather like the one below. Whatever its age or make, bring it along to have its mysteries revealed at my one-day event, Get to Know Your Sewing Machine. You’ll also make a satisfying first project to take away. Dates: Monday 23rd September, Monday 14th October, and Saturday 23rd November.

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Allow me to introduce you to your sewing machine

 

Emma (pictured darning with me above) is the lovely boss and total organisational whizz, and the lady you speak to to make your booking.  Early Bird offers on these autumn courses end 23rd August, so get on the blower (01225 783504) or pooter (emma@at-the-farm.co.uk) before all the other chicks scratch over the best pickings. And don’t forget to sign up for @theFarm‘s monthly newsletter – if you can’t find the link, send Emma an email and ask to be put on the mailing list. More exciting tutors and workshops will be unveiled in due course, so keep your eyes peeled.

Hope to see you @theFarm very soon! Wellies not obligatory.

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Jul 14

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

 

I lucked out and won a pair of tickets to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show c/o Country Living magazine. DH and I drove up to London in Thursday’s glorious sunshine, our euphoria tempered only by a determined thrifty agenda: to buy no plants (I’ll admit that I was conflicted on this one), and to view the event mainly through thrifty allotment-holder goggles.

Show entrance

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is really the biggest village fête in the entire world. There are lots of people-of-a-certain-age in straw hats. There is bunting. There are best-in-shows to be voted for (we helped with the best-gerberas-grown-by-schoolchildren competition), and there are big wooden wheels to be spun to win prizes (DH won a pretty mug c/o Clipper Teas).

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Yellow bunting, as far as eye can see

But instead of the village green as the backdrop, you have this.

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And, rather than just the one marquee, there are several.

Some say it’s better than RHS Chelsea because you don’t feel quite so much like a sardine, and you have that backdrop.

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Long Water, the rectangular lake extending away from the palace, is wonderfully cooling on a hot day too. Very sensibly, the refreshment areas line the lake.

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The event embraces many contradictions: it somehow feels intimate yet is enormous; rural yet urban; thrifty yet opulent (you can buy anything from a ball of twine to a large garden palace); escapist yet crammed with people; it was hard, for instance, to see the show gardens for the pressing throng.

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Hard to avoid the crowds in the show gardens

And you had to watch your ankles for the little pink plant trolleys being wheeled around. Everyone (but us) seemed to have them! Which possibly explains why the RHS porters were resting on their wheelbarrows when I spotted them.

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RHS porters resting on their laurels

First to catch my eye was Mr. Fothergill’s Seeds . The packets were discounted from the catalogue/shop price, and are brand spanking new, with long plant-by times. Here I could go slightly wild, so half a dozen packets (at just £1 a pop) were snapped up. I am drawn to unusually coloured vegetables, and just about anything purple. But, with great determination, I managed to resist the purple carrots and pea pods, but yellow courgette and rainbow chard came home with me.

Then I spotted Franchi’s/Seeds of Italy; well, I first spotted an eye-catching Roman centurion on their stand – it’s something I’m used to, living in Bath. Franchi’s is the oldest seed producer and seller in the world; the company was established in 1783, the year (their catalogue explains) that Mozart wrote his first mass and the American War of Independence ended. Impressively, Franchi remains in the same family after seven generations. A fellow allotment-holder had recommended their seed to me just the other week, and substantial show-deals made a purchase necessary. I  bought such things as yellow carrots – originally a peasant food, considered no better than forage for cattle, but now served as a novetly in swanky restaurants – artichoke, and winter salad. I hope they translate to northerly latitudes OK. I asked the centurion about borage – whether it had really come over with the Romans – and he produced a great little book all about Roman plants which confirmed borage’s Roman provenance. I was so chuffed.

There was more borage on the Plantlife stall, and a lot of embroidery. More of that in another post.

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More borage! Seeing it everywhere now…

I was really mesmerised by the lavender.

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It’s at this point that I very nearly weakened and wanted to buy a small plant for £2.50 from the lady holding the national collection. But my will-power support app (a.k.a. my husband) reminded me not to wobble. I know it’s edible and the bees and butterflies love it, but it’s a plant. No plants, remember.

But I could indulge in the edible plants marquee, as there was garlic c/o the nice people on the Isle of Wight. Garlic was another Roman import to our shores, and I have fond memories of a tandeming holiday around the Isle of Wight, visiting a Roman villa and catching the scent of garlic growing in the fields. So I bought a head to try on the allotment; the salesman uttered the magic words ‘rust-resistant’ which sounded more realistic on Bath valley clay than something happier with its feet in free-draining Provençal soil. Realism is everything on an allotment, tempered with a light sprinkling of sod-it-I’ll-try-it-anyway.

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This pink shed from made me smile; this pink is the signature colour of Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, as you could probably tell by that banner at the beginning. I liked the ‘raised bed’ – an idea I was going to try on the allotment with an old wooden bedstead, but Hampton Court (not to mention The Archers) got there first.

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We enjoyed speaking to the man on the Hozelock stall. If hoses feature in your life at all, their new non-kinking lightweight hose technology is really impressive. But we didn’t buy.

I have to mention Felco, the Swiss company which produces excellent secateurs for the very serious gardener. They are not cheap but are investment shears which have repair built into their concept: a serious piece of kit which will last a lifetime. It’s good to know that you can take your ailing ones to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, drop them at the Felco stand and (provided you cough up £19) they’ll be returned to you, completely serviced and overhauled with any knackered parts replaced. Nice one, Felco.

The Rose and Floristry Vintage Festival had its own marquee. There were stunning roses in shades I haven’t seen before.

Roses at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

And I spotted a vintage Singer sewing machine (another of my favourite repairable tools) posing next to the very orange Rose of the Year 2014.

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Lady Marmalade, Rose of the Year 2014

There was a giant bee upcycled from Ecover bottles

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Ecover’s giant upcycled bee

And Purbeck ice creams came along just when I needed some refreshing lemon sorbet.

Lemon sorbet

Alliums were everywhere. I reassured myself that I am satisfied with the packet of ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs bought for a couple of pounds and planted several years ago, now spreading itself gently in drifts across my garden (which I like rather better than regimented rows, I must admit). I hope to transplant some to my allotment.

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Alliums standing to attention

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And the spectacle went on and on. A hay windmill banded with dried flowers.

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A large bed planted entirely with basil.

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Basil bed

And a giant glove made of roses for a thornproof gardening-glove company whose name escapes me. But they deserve a big hand.

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Rose glove

My phone (and camera) battery died before I could snap the Country Living marquee. If I’d wanted to dress like a  lady gardener, there would have been ample opportunity to try gardening hats, linen smocks, wellies, aprons and gloves with giant gauntlets. I didn’t manage to snap the butterfly dome either, erected in a fortnight by the Eden Project.

We drifted home, tired, happy and clutching our seed packets, with our heads full of what we’d seen and dreams of crops to come. I’ll bring your more news about Plantlife’s embroidery project soon.

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Apr 15

Strictly Come Darning!

 

If you’ve been wanting to learn the basics of darning in a tidy and structured way, come along to my new class: Strictly Come Darning!

You’ll try your hand at stockinet darning, Swiss darning, and linen darning. This will be mostly a hand-work class, but we’ll take a look at how you’d go about darning by machine too.

Swiss darning

Swiss darning

 

The first scheduled Strictly Come Darning! class will be at Jumble Jelly, 10 Silver Street, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1JY on Friday 3rd May, 10am to 1pm. To book your place, phone the shop on 01225 866033.

 

NB If I handed you a flyer yesterday (attached to a reel of vintage tacking cotton) at Bath Artisan Market, the date printed there was incorrect: please note that this class is on the 3rd May and not the 4th, as stated. Thank you! Do feast your eyes on this delicious write-up of yesterday’s Make-Do-and-Mend-themed Bath Artisan Market c/o Captured by Lucy.

 

 

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Apr 10

Bath Artisan Market

 

This month’s Bath Artisan Market at Green Park Station on Sunday 14th April has a Make Do & Mend theme, and the Big Mend will be there all day with a pop-up mending workshop.

If you’re in Bath and happen to have something needing a new button attached, a seam fixed, or maybe a hole darned, come on down! We’ll show you how. And it’s FREE! More about the Big Mend mending socials over here.

This Sunday’s market also brings you the Big Bath Clothes Swap, screenprinting for the kids (c/o Happy Inkers), and plenty of local gourmet food. Now we just need the Great British spring weather to co-operate! If you aren’t coming by public transport, by bike or on foot, there’s free parking for an hour and a half in the Sainsbury’s and Homebase car parks.

Bath Artisan Market Make Do and Mend Day

 

If you’re on Twitter, follow Bath Artisan Market for latest news and updates. This market happens every second Sunday of the month. Hope to see you this Sunday!

PS I’d welcome some willing volunteers to help with the stall. If you can spare half an hour on Sunday, do get in touch. No previous darning experience necessary!

 

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Mar 23

Green Living Fair

 

I’ll be taking a pop-up mending workshop to the Green Living Fair in Bath tomorrow, Sunday 24th March, 10am to 4pm. If you’re within striking distance and fancy trying your hand at Swiss darning or adding some really beautiful patches to your favourite jacket or cardi, drop by the Big Mend stall any time between 10am and 4pm. You’re very welcome to bring items that need mending to get free advice on how best to repair them. 

Green Living Fair: 24th March in Green Park Station, Bath

Green Living Fair: 24th March in Green Park Station, Bath

 

You’ll also find 40 other green community organisations, local businesses and installers running activities, selling their produce and products, and sharing their expertise.

You can make your own pedal powered fruit smoothie, pet the pygmy goat (12pm-2pm), bring your bike and get it checked out for free at the Dr Bike clinic, have a go at eco arts and crafts, and much more.

There will be a marquee of topical talks running throughout the day covering home, energy and environmental themes.

You can book a 30 minute appointment to talk to an architect in the Ask the Architect Zone to discuss plans, schemes and dreams for large or small projects and The Royal Institute of British Architects’ 21st Century Living Exhibition, featuring images of fantastic local architectural achievements, will also be on show.

It’s all under cover so no need to worry about the weather!

The Green Living Fair is part of the Bath Green Homes project which features over 20 events throughout March & April including talks, activities and workshops which aim to help people make their homes warmer, greener and cheaper to run. There will be an Open Homes Weekend on 13th & 14th April showcasing inspiring examples of energy efficient homes across Bath.

To find out more you can:

Hope to see you there!

 

 

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