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Kaffe Fassett at the London Fashion and Textiles Museum



Yesterday I went to the London Fashion and Textile Museum with my Grate Frend, Beatriz.  We went to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition.  She had never heard of him, which I found a bit strange as all knitters and  patchworkers and needlepointers in the UK will know his innovative and colour-soaked work.  Anyway, it was a lovely show – unfortunately it finishes tomorrow, so you will have to be quick to see it.

I took some pictures, but flash wasn’t permitted (understandably) so my photos are a bit murky.  There was plenty of his work on display including his paintings which I think I have only seen reproduced in his books up to now.

What was interesting to me, however, as a raging egotist, was Beatriz’s comment that his work is like mine.  I think it is probably the other way round.  He has been a huge influence on me, and still is, I think.  Since I came across his first book Glorious Knitting at an impressionable age, I haven’t been able to resist a yellow background:


His work has always been highly decorative, with detail being one of the main design elements:

IMG_1945 IMG_1946 IMG_1947

I love these little crocheted and beaded caps he seems to be doing now.

But I think that what I mainly got from him was something about pattern.  I remember going to a lecture by him in Bath years ago and taking away one thing he said which was that if you repeat something, even a mistake, it will look deliberate and like part of a pattern.  This has saved me on a number of occasions:


Pattern making, particularly with beads, is a huge part of my work.

Finally, he gave me what he gave lots of women in the eighties and nineties, a freedom with colour.  Again, I remember reading in one of his books that one red is difficult to work with, but ten reds are easy and give a vaguely faded feel to a piece.  I have used this a lot in my work.  Firstly lots of red which I love, and secondly lots of variations on a colour in one piece of work:


I’m not sure if you can still get this pencil print, but it is exactly how I feel about red, pink and orange.  This is why I will never be a really trendy embroiderer.  I cannot do that bleached out, stripped back stuff.  I think colour is life.  I have taken to wearing bright red lipstick in my fifties just for the hell of it and life really changes.  I had a friend who said that if every woman in the country were given an Estee Lauder Parallel Red lipstick we could do without assertiveness courses altogether.


Confidence with colour marks Kaffe Fassett’s work and I think I owe him a real debt for that.

images-3PS.  Naturally I bought his autobiography in the tiny shop.  I got it home to find it was an autographed copy which was a delight.  On reading it, however, I discover his birth name was Frank.  I seriously don’t think he would have gone so far called Frank Fassett.  Kaffe, by the way, comes from a children’s book about Ancient Egypt that he loved.




Walter Benjamin Artist’s Book – Progress


I blogged recently about the panel to make up the cover for the Walter Benjamin ‘Destructive Character’ artist’s book.  I have now finished the first half of the panel, the part based on the crazy patchwork tradition.  This is what I started with:


and this is how it’s finished:


I really enjoyed learning some of the composite crazy quilt embroidery stitches although I am not great at them.  I also loved putting a bagful of beads on as I haven’t done much of this sort of work recently.

I now have to make the stripped down top to this piece, and make the title, possibly on primed canvas.  I have bought some of those ready gessoed boards you can buy to mount it over.  I like doing coptic binding so I might use that to put the pages in, or possibly a loose Japanese stab binding I’ve found.  But I only have a fortnight to get the whole thing done – and, of course, I have had a whole year.

So farewell, then, Copenhagen




I’m not sure when a blog post becomes a what I did on my holidays post.  This one runs that risk.  I had brunch before I came home from Copenhagen at a very child-friendly cafe in Frederiksberg, which also had a lovely line in decorative arts.  I loved these colour co-ordinated crocheted blankets:





Then we had fruit served on vintage Royal Copenhagen Mother’s Dayplates.  I loved the ones from the seventies:






Nice touch in a cafe which welcomes children and their parents.

Out of fashion at glHoltegaard




I am still in Copenhagen enjoying an extended work visit.  My hosts are quite wonderful and suggested that I might like to see an exhibition just outside the city in a little place on the way to Elsinore, called Holte.  The museum is called glHoltegaard and in a  beautifully restored country house.  It is worth going for the house and its wonderful baroque gardens, but the exhibition, as they say, is right up my street.  First the house:


I really liked the cannon firing a trailing plant:


The gardens are quite beautiful, and there was an exhibition of sculpture on called ‘Secret Garden’.  the lady in the gift shop was quite anxious for me to see the pink sheep.  I can only hope they were sprayed with food colouring type dye, but I did dutifully troop off to find them.  They are strangely tame and instantly wandered over to see me (and any food I might have, I suppose)


The piece is called


Self-explanatory, I suppose.

My favourite piece in the ‘Secret Garden’ was definitely this installation of blue and white china:




Probably just because I love blue and white china.  As Oscar Wilde said:

 “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.”.

There is a great cafe which sells a chocolate mousse cake with walnuts so almost a health food really.

The exhibition I went to see was called ‘Out of Fashion’ and was about artists who make work with textiles and clothes.  So my Grate Frends Alf and Sara Louise were right – completely up my alley.  There was a large tapestry by Grayson Perry.  I have never seen his tapestries up close and they are quite superb.  The work is exquisite.  I took a lot of pictures, but with no flash and just my phone, the close-ups were rubbish.  Here’s a reasonable one of Alan Measles, the teddy bear from childhood who turns up in a lot of Perry’s work:


Blurry, but you get the idea.  Here are a couple more details which I loved just for their decorative feel:




They were also showing Yinka Shonibare MBE’s stunning silent ballet of a masked ball.  New artists to me included Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen who had this compelling video piece about the art world:


Bad photo but spellbinding video.  Which is something coming from someone who finds video art tedious in the extreme.

I really liked these unsettling pieces by Erwin Wurm – probably because I love dolls so much.  These are quite small – maybe two feet high:


Wonderfully detailed, like the tiny buttonholes on this suit:


But sinister, and quite a brooding portrayal of male power.  There was something about the feet that did it:



Probably my favourite piece of the lot was this one by Kaarina Kaikkonen in which she took her dead mother’s dancing shoes and exploded them.  They seemed to turn into winged creatures:


There was a strange rustling as I was typing this outside the hotel door – hope they aren’t trying to get in!  Actually, they weren’t particularly scary.  I don’t know if was her mother’s obvious love of dancing, or her affection for her mother, but they were elegant and charming.  I am interested in this idea that clothing has the imprint of the personality or the emotions of the people who wore them.  I don’t sense it, but lots of people do, and it is an interesting thing to work with.

So, it was a brilliant exhibition, small and compact with some great work and some frankly, dross, but well worth the trip.  And, as the icing on the cake the public transport to get to it was cheap, smooth, fast and regular.

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Walter Benjamin Artists’ Book continued




I am continuing my slow progress on my artists’ book about Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Destructive Character’.  I think that this might eventually be the cover.  This is the bottom half of the panel.  The top is going to be stripped back, bleached, slashed, raw edges and with a modernist stainless steel brooch incorporated somehow.  This is the botton half.  This represents the Victorianism or Bismarckian or Gruenderzeit aesthetic that I think he was rejecting (I am almost certainly misinterpreting it, but the project has changed from understanding the essay to understanding how Benjamin is my muse).  So in this part of the panel I wanted to use a very traditional crazy quilt style which was hugely popular in England for a while and epitomises the leisured class element of Victoriana, super-over embellished pieces of needlework which serve very little purpose except to show off the maker’s ability with the needle:





Much too delicate and too heavy to sleep under, so they tended to be throws and firescreen panels and so on.

My big problem was that I could not bear to cut up the pieces into the irregular or crazy – like crazed glazes on china – shapes that you need to make this work.  So I have ended up with squares from a pack I bought which I think were samples for fancy waistcoats or ties or similar.  My crazy really should be crazier, but I did enjoy starting to embellish it, and learning some of the combination stitches you need to use to make it look authentic:



This is a decorated cretan stitch.  The following is a more composite stitch:



It’s cretan stitch with straight stitch and colonial knots, plus glass beads which look like bunches of grapes to me.  The close up makes me realise how shocking my embroidery is – certainly not making me marriage material in Victorian England.  But I wanted to include some photos of the piece before it get encrusted with stuff, which it will.  It’s a perfect travelling piece and the pieces, which are properly  turned under (unusually for me), have stayed very flat because I used thoroughly contemporary fabric spray glue to keep them down while I sew them.. The result is much flatter and less ‘domed’ than you usually get with an applique piece.  The glue might eventually corrode the silk, but I expect to be dead by then and past caring!

More on this as it develops.



So they do have wifi in Copenhagen



I am in Copenhagen to do some external examining at the university, but I have tagged on a couple of days to see some of my best friend in the whole world.  I said I would blog if I could get wifi.  As it turnes out the wifi in my hotel room is very good, quick and reliable, so I can blog a bit from here.

This is my dala horse which I painted with my lovely God-family last time I was here.  It isn’t exactly in the tradition, but it is nice, the glaze is really deep and rich, and it came out much better than I thought.  Here he is with a thimble to give an idea of the scale:





And here is my portable sewing stash:




And, finally, here is a page from the start of my travel journal









Let’s not get sentimental but…


I might be getting sentimental in my old age, but I just wanted to say what lovely people those who make with their hands often turn out to be.  I was out with my Grate Frend Mike in Bath many months ago when I went to the lovely woolshop with its black labrador, Wool.  I bought a pattern for a little collar which I thought might enable me to keep up with the young folk without looking stupid, which was made from one hank of silk yarn with pretty gold and silver beads threaded through.  Quick and manageable, I thought.  But no.  It turned out to be a fiendishly difficult pattern,  So it was cast aside after about an inch had been knitted.

Then I showed it to my Grate Frend, Lynne, who is a terrific knitter, who understood the abbreviation and showed me how to do the fiendish turned point.  Which was fine when she was sitting next to me, but when she went back to York I was stumped again.  So, last month, asked her to help me again when we met up again for a meeting.  She did better than that.  I swopped her the pattern for her making the collar for me.  And here it is.  A thing of beauty.  And a very kind gesture on Lynne’s part.


Just to let you know

I will be doing my external examining duties this week, and fully intend to blog, but it will depend on internet access away from home.  I have been getting on with things, so there should be plenty to blog about on my return.

What did we learn at the weekend?


I am surrounded almost all day every day with people who are mad for learning, the lifelong variety and the skills acquisition kind.  So, it seems only in the spirit of things to reflect on what I learned this weekend: how to construct an album from manilla envelopes and never to trust anything I hear on You Tube ever again.

I was looking for something on You Tube the other day when it directed me towards this tutorial from Follow the paper trail on making a mini-album from plain DL envelopes – first problem, the US version is not DL but 10 so all the dimensions are slightly different.  I really liked the look of it, plus I liked the idea of recycling envelopes (although I bought mine new, you could very easily make this with old ones) and I liked all the secret pockets.  But, never, ever believe anyone on You Tube (or in most other places really) telling you that a project is quick and easy to do.  This quick project took me all weekend and kept me awake trying to figure out how to construct it.  In the end, and this was a first for me, I took the mac up to my workroom and worked along with her.  It is ‘cool’ but it was time consuming and tricky, and you do use recycled envelopes but you will also need a lot of decorative paper, which I happened to have lying about, plus a circle punch and a corner rounder-offer if you want the classy look:


I was lucky that the weather was dry and warm so the glue dried really quickly otherwise I think it would have taken me even longer.  The original had chipboard covers but I made mine out of Tim Holtz grunge board which is some sort of composite paper which is flexible but sturdy and I also used some of his pre-cut shapes for the hinges.  I painted it all to look a bit distressed:


It has made a lovely chunky little book about six inches by five and a half with a depth of about an inch. I really like open spine books and this is one, achieved by applying double sided tape a bit in from the edge to allow for give.


It has pockets on both sides that you can slide things into like tags, cards, photos and so on:


All in all, I think it’s a pretty nice thing, but it certainly wasn’t quick, and it was only really easy when you had figured it out:


To be fair, when the video went up there was a link to the website, I think, but that has since gone missing so you have to know what you are doing a bit to follow it.  But I recap: never ever believe anything you see on the internet.