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Archive for September, 2014

I’m a reluctant fan of Kaffe Fassett‘s work; my appreciation for his sense of colour has come to me only a couple of years ago. Partly this stems from my slight colour blindness, which can make working with colours difficult for me. It might also have to do with the era in which Fassett first became a household name: the 1980s. It’s easy to dismiss that decade as one with ugly garment shapes and be done with it, but once you start to really look at the designs from that era, there is a bounty of inspiration to be found. Knitwear designers like Susan Duckworth and Patricia Roberts to name just a few, and indeed Kaffe Fassett, were masters at combining textures, shapes, and colour and I find there is lots to learn from studying these elements of their design.

Kaffe Fassett Banner with Anna Maltz

My friend Anna Maltz takes colour to the 21st Century

Now that I have some of his knitting books, I have started to get an understanding of how colours can work together. Even if the end result is not always to my taste, I can learn a lot from it. But looking at pictures is very different from looking at the actual garments. So when my friend and knitbuddy Anna Maltz (some of you may know her as Sweaterspotter) asked if I wanted to visit the Kaffe Fassett retrospective at the American Museum in Bath with her, I just had to say yes.

Rosie Wilks tree decorations for Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

Kaffe Fassett inspired tree decorations by Rosie Wilks greet you when you walk up to the exhibition

Fassett has a connection to the American Museum that goes back to the 1960s, when he made beautiful pen drawings of the period rooms. These drawings are also on display throughout the museum. The knitwear, needlepoint, and patchwork quilts were displayed in a theatrical setting, saturated in colour and dramatically lit.

tomofholland in the Kaffe Fassett American Museum entrance

Here’s me in the psychedelic entrance to the exhibition

I think that for me, the exhibition was not entirely successful. It was great to see all those pieces for real and I really enjoyed looking at them, but both Anna and I felt we haven’t learnt more about Kaffe Fassett the designer than we already knew. If you are interested in the background story, then I can highly recommend a five-part documentary you can find on the 4OD website here (my apologies, I’m not sure if you can view this outside the UK.) It was made when Glorious Knitting was released, and he talks about his passion for knitting, the connection between knitting and painting, sources of inspiration, and on being a professional designer.

Kaffe Fasset at American Museum patchwork quilt and coat

‘Pools of colour’ in every corner of the exhibition

In order to bring some structure in the displays, the exhibition was grouped in ‘pools of colour’ and this worked well. Although Fassett sometimes uses up to sixty different colours in a design (and in the patchwork quilts this is arguably even more if you look at all the printed fabrics) there is usually one colour group that dominates and I think that’s the key to working with colour. Any other colours that are thrown in the mix are there to add a little frisson to the colour scheme, and thereby lifting up and bringing it all together into a coherent design.

Stone Colours Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

Tumbling blocks and a peplum jacket in muted colours

Yellow Chair Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

An artfully aged yellow chair with a beautiful needlepoint cushion

Hidden Treasures Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

A sneaky peek: hiding under this huge shawl were a sweater and a cardigan

Mirror mirror on the wall Kaffe Fassett American Museum

‘Mirror mirror on the wall’ the entrance to the exhibition

Apart from the Kaffe Fassett exhibition, which is on until 2 November, the American Museum also houses a great permanent collection of quilts, patchwork, rugs and blankets and is situated on beautiful grounds. Lest you think it’s only about textiles – I am biased, after all – the collection at the Museum is in fact extremely varied, ranging from quilts to Renaissance maps, and Shaker furniture to ancient Native American tools. It takes you on a journey through the history of America, from its early settlers to the twentieth century, which made it well worth a visit!

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A few weeks ago I visited the Fries Museum archives, and their textile conservator Gieneke Arnolli shared with me many beautiful textiles related to mending and repairing. It was the first time I saw darning samplers in real life. These samplers were educational tools for young girls, teaching them how to repair woven fabrics. However, the Fries Museum also holds many samplers for learning how to repair knitted fabrics. Needless to say that as I particularly enjoy repairing knitwear, these were possibly even more exciting than the darning samplers I shared in my previous post!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01a

One of many knitted darning samplers. This one stands out as it was knitted from and repaired with wool

The above knitted darning sampler is different from most of the samplers in the collection, as it was knitted from and repaired with wool. Most other samplers used cotton. Incidentally, it is also similar to the technique I used for repairing the Knitting & Crochet Guild Cardigan commission. As with most of these samplers, the back of the fabric is just as beautiful and interesting as the front.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01b

The back shows how the sides of the hole were folded back and edges neatly trimmed

The knitted darning samplers can be split into two main categories: the first is the sampler in the shape of a sock or stocking, knitted in the round; the second is the sampler in the shape of a rectangle, knitted flat. Often, the sampler is divided into squares, using red yarn, each containing a repair. Some girls practised the same technique over and over again, whereas others show a great range of techniques.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Darning samplers in shape of stockings, one the left stocking even the cast-on edge has been repaired

Most often the repairs were executed in red yarn, although most samplers also have at least a couple of repairs in white yarn, too. The left stocking above mostly shows woven darns. In Dutch this technique has two names, depending on what is being repaired: if a hole is repaired by weaving, then it is called ‘stoppen;’ if a thin area is reinforced by weaving, then this is called ‘doorstoppen.’

The right stocking above shows mostly Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. This technique of emulating knitted stitches is called ‘mazen’ in Dutch. It also shows grafting, like the two single rows of red stitches in the right stocking above. It is a way of replacing a missing single row of stitches with a new row, using a blunt darning needle. Incidentally, you might also know grafting as a way of closing the toe on a sock, instead of binding off.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02b

 

The other side of the same stockings, showing more woven darns on the left, and duplicate stitching on the right, including in ribbing pattern at the cuff

Another technique that was part of sock repair, was reknitting the heel. You can see this in the picture above in the right stocking. For this, the heel flap and heel turn (respectively called ‘big heel’ and ‘small heel’ in Dutch) is unpicked. This leaves you with a hole which has a row of live stitches at the leg side and at the foot side, and edges that were originally the picked up stitches for the gussets. The stitches at the leg side are picked up on one needle, and the edge of each gusset is also picked up on a needle each. The heel flap is knitted as normal, but at the end of each row the last stitch is worked together with a stitch from the gusset edge. Once the heel turn is worked the last row is grafted onto the live stitches at the foot end. Tadah! A new heel!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04a

More Swiss darning, or ‘mazen’ on this square sampler, with a variety of different stitch patterns

The most common Swiss darn is executed on thinning fabric. This is relatively simple, as you can use the original stitches as a guideline. However, it is also possible to Swiss darn a hole. I also used this technique on my Knitting & Crochet Guild commission. The sampler above was never finished, and this gives us a glimpse of the technical aspects of Swiss darning a hole. You can see that the hole is neatened, and then a foundation is layed with sewing thread. This foundation will make Swiss darning easier, as it holds the loops of the yarn in place as the rows are worked.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04b

The back of the sampler shows that all Swiss darns filled in holes, rather than covering thinning areas. You can also see a piece of lino or floorcloth used as a temporary stabiliser

When the holes to be Swiss darned are on the larger side, then you can first baste a piece of lino or floorcloth at the back. This will prevent the hole from being stretched out of shape. At the same time the lino or floorcloth is flexible enough to allow for easier needle and fabric manipulation.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 05

A small undergarment used to practise knitwear repairs

Not all samplers take the shape of socks or squares. I particularly liked this small undergarment. It has beautiful underarm gussets, and a lovely sideseam stitch. Clearly no learning opportunity was wasted, as I’m quite sure the girls would first have to knit the sock, stocking, or other garment, before making holes in it to learn how to repair them. I think my darning workshop students get a good deal here, as I provide them with knitted squares to practise on!

The final sampler I want to share with you may not seem as a high point: at first glance it looks rather unassuming.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07a

The most exciting darning sampler of all!

It has yellowed a lot, the top half seems rather lumpy-bumpy, and apart from the lace stitches, not much seems to be going on. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the lumps are actually sock heels. Furthermore, most of this small sampler is covered in nigh-on invisible repairs.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07b

The back is finished off very neatly

The repairs are exemplary on the front as well as the back. Very neatly finished, the repairs really are virtually invisible. I think this was a stocking sampler of sorts. Not only are there heels hiding, there’s also a seam stitch right through the middle, with calf decreases alongside it. Then there are the stitches often used in knitted stockings: two types of ribbing, and a number of fancy stitches that would work well on stockings. It’s like a deconstructed stocking, broken down in its essential elements. We will probably never know why the maker chose to do it this way, rather than by knitting an actual stocking.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my foray into darning samplers, and I would like to thank the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli in particular for inviting me to see these textiles that are not on public display at the moment. I have learnt a lot from them, and their possibilities as sources of inspiration are like a map that will allow me to travel in many directions!

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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