Missoni exhibition

Earlier this week, I travelled to London to see the Missoni exhibition in the Fashion and Textile Museum.

I love this museum.  Founded by Zandra Rhodes in 2003, it starts and finishes with bold colour. No better place to house the Missonis’ exuberant creations.Fashion and Textile MuseumInside, the exhibition announces itself within a painting by Ottavio Missoni himself …Exhibition front… and then you are led through a corridor lined with paintings that inspired the Missonis and set the tone for their work.  (Here are just a couple of those pics as examples – and please bear with me for the poor photography, light flashes etc throughout this blogpost – the conditions were not conducive to the camera!)

I wasn’t surprised to see that Ottavio loved Sonia Delaunay (her 1936 Senza Titolo here).Sonia Delaunay - Rythme couleurAnd Gianni Monnet’s 1946 rich and textured Costruzione also sits well with the Missonis’ work.Gianni Monnet - CostruzioneFrom the corridor, you step into a big, dramatic room.  First thing, you notice the mannequins.walking into entrance hallAnd then you take in the huge patchworks of knitted pieces hanging …huge patchwork in entrance hall…  all around the room. large patchworks in entrance hallThese are the most stunning pieces, and, best of all, it’s possible to get up to them quite closely to study the construction. They really do appear to be sewn together, but aren’t lumpy at all.more patchwork knittingNow back to the mannequins – they are amazing – where to look first?  The purple short jumpsuit, perhaps?  I read elsewhere in the exhibition that Ottavio Missoni considered purple a wonder colour because it went with everything.  That’s quite different to my thinking, so gave me pause to reflect.  What is really striking in this garment, of course, is those patterned hexagons on the jersey top.purple jumpsuitWhat about the elegance here?!  Those fluid lines with the extra black gore panels so perfectly inserted, and the skilful way the pattern sits on the body!  What a gorgeous and flattering dress to wear!amazing drape in the side panelsSuch an interesting dress here – the construction!kniting shaped to bodySurely my machine-knitter husband could copy some of these for me?!knitted skirt - inspiration for stephen .Trademark Missoni zigzags here!trademark use of zigzagJust take a more careful look at that dress glimpsed behind the zigzag pant suit – it’s actually mostly made of unconnected threads.  You’d have to be an Elizabeth Hurley to wear this dress.a dress made of stringHere’s one of my favourite garments, – this gorgeous multi-coloured, multi-patterned coat.my favourite coatOr is it?  There’s that red dress – right at the top – that I really like.  Can you see the one I mean?still trying to see red dress at the backStill trying to see more of that red dress … but now we come to one of the faults in this exhibition – you couldn’t see the the back of the whole display properly, nor could you see the backs of the individual garments.  trying to see red dress at the backWould anyone notice if I leapt quickly up the stand?wondering if I could slip up stand unobtrusivelyThat wasn’t the only tantalising thing with this exhibition.  I rather think the exhibition designers had got carried away with their exhibition designs, forgetting the point of the exhibition was to showcase the Missonis.  They had programmed the lighting on a loop which travelled constantly from highlights here to there, from dark, to shade – to finally (oh, thank heavens!) light all around.  Take a look:models in light sequence 1models in light sequence 2models in light sequence 3models in light sequence 4Stylish and cool it may be, but b*****  maddening!

Upstairs I was distracted from my irritations by the abundant and sumptuous examples of pattern.  These are Ottavio Missoni’s basic studies for designs. You can see how he takes simple graphical designs such as a child might do, and develops them into the fabulous patterns we associate with the Missoni brand.designing patternI particularly love the way he completely shifts his colour palette here.developing patternsMissoni zigzags.developing trademark zigzag patternsAnd this piece breaks out of the constraints of the grid to flow and ripple.designing irregular patternsAs well as these “starter” pieces, there were swatches.swatch samplesDetailed labelling was missing, but I guess some of these pieces became garments …sample knitsand others were just put to the side.Missoni zigzagsSuch a fabulous design resource here!sample swatchesmore sample swatchesIf you make garments, you will naturally be interested in not just the colourful patterns the Missonis designed, but the construction of the finished garments too.  So hard to see how those gorgeous clothes on the mannequins were constructed, but there was one Missoni jumper in a case upstairs which gave an interesting glimpse of how it was made.Missoni patchwork jumperIf you look carefully at the detailed photo, you can see that it’s a patchwork! I cannot imagine how machines coped with this work – or was it hand done?  I would be very hesitant to embark on such a work lest I get lumpy knitwear seams, but no evidence of that here.  It’s a stunning garment.detail of patchwork jumperFinally, the exhibition took you to a room furnished with Missoni carpets – oh, wow!Missoni carpetA really lovely space to sit down and watch the Missonis talk about their lives and work. What came over most strongly was the warmth between Ottavio and Rosita. This lay behind their successful business – and radiates today through the younger generations who currently manage the business.watching Ottavio MissoniA parting shot of the carpet in detail. I had a good look at these carpets and they are not made of separate pattern pieces seamed together – they have been woven as one continuous, flowing pattern. Remarkable!detail of carpetWhatever my complaints – a wonderful exhibition.  I’m just greedy – wanted to understand more.  A final piece was a film by Turkish artist Ali Kazma showing the Missoni factories at work.  This was important because I think we need reminding that this wasn’t just genteel playing with colour and pattern – this was an extremely successful business functioning with super speedy, super efficient and super sophisticated machinery.

When I left the exhibition, I found that I had time on my hands so I dropped in on nearby Southwark Cathedral. Built between 1220 and 1420 it was the first Gothic Church in London. It was then repeatedly damaged by fire (including the Great Fire) so was rebuilt and repaired.  It’s a beautiful space.interior of Southwark CathedralBut with the Missoni exhibition still in my mind, I was drawn to the kneelers …kneelers in Southwark CathedralNot quite Missoni – but sort of interesting …

Advertisements

GiveWraps

About a year ago, my cousin Polly and I found ourselves searching for a textile project we could work on together.  We had lived quite divergent lives but as we approached the age of retirement discovered a new friendship from our shared love of textiles and gardens – and family history.

We cast around, floated various ideas.  And then I came across this blogpost by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle on GiveWraps.  Lightbulb moment! – could this be what Polly and I were looking for?  I emailed the link to her in hope, got an enthusiastic response, and we were away!

In a nutshell, Rebecca’s idea – implemented with her friends at the Needlework Collective – was to replace our wasteful culture of disposable wrapping paper with handmade re-usable gift-wrappers.  Each GiveWrap gets a label on the back, giving the maker’s name, locality and date.  Then they are set free: given, wrapped around the gift and the new owner can re-use them so (ideally) they get passed on and on and on. (Some people have been known to keep them because they like them so much …)

Polly and I were inspired.  She is an artist and print-maker; I am a knitter, spinner and sewer.  We were excited at the prospect of making gift-wrappers together, both because we love making things with fabrics and prints and colours, and because it is so sensible – after all, it is horrendous that so much wrapping paper gets thrown away after Christmas and birthdays.

So this is how we started.  Polly gave me some of her fabric printed pictures and I stitched them together with a sort of patchwork of fabrics.  This is one of the first GiveWraps we made together – one of my favourites.  I wonder where it is now?Polly and katherine's Second GiveWrapThere are stories in all these GiveWraps.  There are stories in the fabrics I have used, where they have come from, what people I associate with them.  There are stories in Polly’s prints too.  (She will explain more later on.)

We were having such fun!  We made contact with Rebecca and the Needlework Collective and told them how much we were enjoying ourselves making GiveWraps.  Rebecca was kind enough to write a follow-up blogpost about our English take on their wizard Australian idea.  By Christmas, we had made lots of GiveWraps together to send off to family and friends.Lots of GiveWraps for Christmas presentsWe decided to set one of our GiveWraps flying back to Australia, so we sent a GiveWrap to the Needlework Collective.   (The fabrics and prints have stories: Polly has printed the Japanese character for eternity in red, along with other patterns, on an old napkin that belonged to our mutual grandfather; I have stitched it onto a green backing that was once a dress belonging to my Australian grandmother.)Christmas GiveWrap for NeedleworkCollectiveAnd we received one back from them.  (This one also has a story: it was made from worn and much loved shirts by Rebecca and embellished to just brilliant effect with simple decorations made from these same shirts.)Rebecca's worn & loved shirt GiveWrapAnd then – as is the way with the best bands – there came a point when we decided we were going to do our own thing.  Not, of course, that we were splitting up – we still planned to work together again…

I’ve got a large collection of knitted tension and pattern swatches, and they lend themselves so well to GiveWrappery.  This is a sample for a beaded cardigan I made myself.  I have crocheted round the edge of the swatch to finish it off.Katherine's Beaded knitted GiveWrapThese knitted swatches got me thinking.  Why not knit a GiveWrap straight off? Here is my first attempt.  It looks woven but is actually knitted.  (I think it is what is called Woven Stitch).Knitted woven stitch GiveWrapYou can make GiveWraps from all sorts of things.  Another cousin, Lucy, gave me her beloved pink cashmere cardigan when it literally fell to bits and became too moth-holed to wear, hoping I’d find some use for it.  I patched the moth holes with stars, cut the arms off and gave it a fabric backing.  Whey hey! – it’s a GiveWrap.  Lucy got her Christmas present wrapped in this GiveWrap that year.New life for Lucy's cardy GiveWrapWhen my mother moved to a retirement home, she gave me all her sewing materials, including these blue squares of fabric, pre-cut for some project she’d had in mind.  They make a nice GiveWrap – and, of course, I used it to wrap a present to her.Re-using Mary's patchwork GiveWrapThe best GiveWraps are made with people in mind.  My son’s girlfriend, Barbara, loves cats, so I knitted this GiveWrap for her one year. (I don’t think she’s passed it on 🙂 )Katherine's knitted cat GiveWrapFor my daughter Helen, I dug deep into my stash and put together a GiveWrap of all the animal print fur fabrics she loved.  (I know she hasn’t passed on this GiveWrap 🙂 )Fleecy and furry animal print GiveWrapThis GiveWrap was made with a very special friend in mind.  I wanted to convey to her what it is to live here in Northumberland, within sight of the sea.  I was sewing it when the fields around the house were gold and yellow, and sky and the sea were oh so blue.Northumbrian sea and sky and golden fields GiveWrapEnough of my GiveWraps!  Now I’m going to pass you on to Polly for her to tell you about her GiveWraps and the stories behind them.

**********************************************************************

For me the pleasure of the GiveWrap project has been in connecting with people: with Katherine and family history, with Rebecca through her original inspiration, with the friends I pass the GiveWraps on to, and more widely through Instagram. It’s a way of sending my work out into the world. It’s about value which has nothing to do with monetary value.

I was already printing a bit onto fabric with Akua inks, but with the GiveWrap impetus I went into full-scale production! As well as old family linen I used beloved worn-out clothes, and rummaged around in charity shops for interesting fabric. I got out my old lino blocks and was pleased to see these images reincarnated as repetitive patterns. Here is an early one, printed onto a woven silk scarf that Katherine’s mother (my aunt) had given me long ago.Polly's GiveWrap G1Katherine asked me to print something for her mother’s birthday – it had to be blue, her mother’s favourite colour. It turned out very blue indeed! She then backed it with her old Japanese dressing-gown and beaded the edge beautifully. Katherine is an ace sewer whereas my sewing is perfunctory – I prefer the messy business of printing and developing an image that way. You can see our mutual grandfather’s name embroidered in the corner, most likely by our grandmother.Polly and Katherine's GiveWrap for Mary G2I rarely plan ahead, but start somewhere and then see where it takes me. Even when I think it’s a disaster, the Japanese kanji for eternity – repeated and dancing across the surface – will miraculously pull a design together. Katherine’s father tapestried this symbol onto a cushion cover for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, and it has become a recurrent motif in my GiveWraps (did you spot it several times in Katherine’s blog as well as in these last two pictures?)

Rebecca sent me a damaged table-cloth all the way from Australia and I had such fun working around the spoilt area and turning it into a GiveWrap. Here is the finished result:Transformation of damaged tablecloth into GiveWrap G3With a close-up of the rescued area:Detail of damaged tablecloth GiveWrap G4I sent it back to Australia with little English presents from Cambridge for her family. The backing is from a duvet cover I made for my parents in my 20s, fabric I still love.

Friends started giving me fabric once they saw what I was doing. I was inspired by an old sarong to print fish onto a silk handkerchief . Held up to the light you can see the fish from the backing as well as the fish I’ve printed. Often friends receive gifts wrapped in a GiveWrap of their own fabric.Polly's GiveWrap G5On the left there you can just see a silhouette of me and my mother, taken from a photo. My mother didn’t like the precise business of sewing any more than I do, but she did have an old Singer machine and there are intimations of her showing me how to thread it whenever I use my much more modern version. In my current imagery I am on a journey with my mother – though she died in 1990. Here we are together, on our way somewhere with the fish. (Katherine can’t resist commenting here that this is my favourite of Polly’s GiveWraps, and it’s with me at the moment – may not be travelling for a while!)Polly's GiveWrap of her mother and childIn this one you can see my mother as a child peeping out from the corner with her doll. The Japanese onlooker is the lamp that sat on my brother’s bedside table throughout our growing-up years. She is often looking on, a kind of witness, in my images.Japanese doll and Polly's mother as witnessIt’s astonishing how clear printing can be on old linen, often with the added beauty of the damask pattern showing through. This one is a drypoint, for those of you interested in the printing process. I still have stacks of family table-cloths and napkins to use – what a satisfying way to give them another lease of life.Drypoint image GiveWrap G8I love the process of putting imagery onto fabric that already has history and meaning – texture in the fullest sense – and then turning it into a beautiful gift complete with carefully chosen ribbon. I used to be impatient with wrapping presents but now I enjoy it – no more carting rolls of wrapping paper home, no more sellotape and wasteage! The only problem is that sometimes the gift has to be chosen to fit the GiveWrap – to be honest often the present is only an excuse for the GiveWrap…….. This one’s on a silk handkerchief that belonged to my father, and I gave it to my brother for Christmas. I can’t remember what was inside……GiveWrap ready to go G9

**********************************************************************

Let’s end where we started.  Recently Polly and I started making GiveWraps together again.  Here are Polly’s green fish, set in watery and weedy fabrics.Polly & Katherine's recent fish GiveWrapIf you use Instagram, you can check out these and many many more GiveWraps that we – and lots of other people – have made.  Search under the #GiveWrap hashtag, and be sure to add any GiveWraps you may make 🙂 .  A big big thank you to Rebecca, Aisha and Emily (AKA the Needlework Collective) for setting us on this wonderful GiveWrap journey!

(If you too are inspired to make a GiveWrap, check out Rebecca’s original post for ideas and instructions.) 

Family treasures

Recently I wrote about my story quilt, and the fabrics I had chosen to include and their family associations.

It got me thinking.  I started looking around at all the textiles lying about the house, and thinking about the people who had sewed or knitted them.  I was amazed to find so many treasures that family members had made.

Let’s start with the needlecase that my step-great-grandmother made.  Great-Gran lived in Miss Havisham-esque magnificence in her bedroom in a huge house in Leicester.  She took to her bed in early old age in the belief that her heart was weak, and she was waited on hand and foot by her family and a saintly elderly retainer, Miss Wood.  All around her bedroom were cupboards and boxes, filled with beads, silks, threads and other treasures.  If I was lucky (and a good girl) she would give me some beads or silks from her treasure trove.

Great-Gran’s workmanship was exquisite.  Here is the needlecase she made me.  I still use it everyday, and look at her skilled stitches and remember her bedroom.  It’s worth enlarging this image to see her detailed work – there’s beading along the edge.Great-Gran's needle caseHer son, my step-grandfather was also extraordinarily skilled at – well, just about everything.  He repaired clocks, made jewelry – and was a successful and busy business man to boot.  He also did tapestries.  This is one of a set of chair covers he embroidered.  A very stylish simple design which regularly gives me great pleasure.  (And – sadly – he predeceased his mother, tucked up in bed with her so-called heart problems). Gampy's embroidered  chair seat His wife, my Australian grandmother Dordy (she didn’t want to be known by any ageing grandmotherly term, so we grandchildren gave a family twist to her first name, Dora), was also a fine sempstress.  She never did any “hobby” sewing that I know of, but she made almost all her own clothes.  Perhaps there’d been greater necessity for practical sewing in the world she’d grown up in – I don’t know.  She loved to wear batik fabrics which suited her colouring very well.  Here she is outside her little London home with it’s beautiful garden wearing one of her handmade batik dresses.Dordy wearing batik dress 1971Many, many of her clothes came to me, and I wore them (usually cut down and altered into shapes I considered more fashionable).  The dress Dordy is wearing above is now in my story quilt (of which I have written more here).  Look below! My story quilt featuring Dordy's batik dressMy father, (Dordy’s son) took to tapestry like his step-father.  The best of his embroidered cushions are masterpieces of design, incorporating words and phrases in many languages. (He had been a linguist, a traveller and a diplomat).  I treasure this cushion particularly.  Apparently the Japanese characters say “Good Health.  No smoking.”  (I can’t verify that!)    A rough translation of the ancient Greek at the centre might be: “For each person chooses best for themself.”  The cushion was a gift from my father to mark the occasion of my giving up smoking.  He’s put his initials round the motif on the left, RHE, and the date on the right, 1982.  An important and precious reminder to me.RHE's embroidered cushionNone of the men on my mother’s side of the family sewed, but her mother did.  Granny was another embroiderer, and her chosen colour was blue.  She worked the cover of this stool, and this little bag for me.  It’s got my initials on it (KE) and the date (1960).Granny's embroidery stool and bagMy Aunty Jilly (her daughter) was a talented weaver.  I treasure  this scarf she wove with it’s red and purple pink tones – and the occasional shot of turquoise to give it lift.  Her use of colour is brilliant – she always gets it just right.Aunty Jilly's woven scarfMy mother is a sempstress par excellence!  She made many of our clothes when we were little.  Here we all are, in a symphony of blue (her favourite colour like her mother), at my youngest sister’s christening in the hot hot 1961 Belgrade sun.  I’m the eldest on the left, and my sister, Marian, is on the right.  My mother has made us the most enchanting hand-smocked blue and white cotton dresses.  Her dress is also blue – a paler colour.  Don’t we look an delightful family, with these beautifully dressed children (I see we’re even wearing gloves!)?  How extraordinarily photos can conceal the truth – my mother’s heart must have been breaking amidst all the happiness because just a year before she’d given birth to a still-born baby.  I don’t remember at 7 being aware of this – just the heat and the cosmos and sunflowers growing exuberantly. Elizabeth's christening 1961 My mother also knits, embroiders and does patchwork.  It’s really hard to chose what to chose to show that captures her skills best but I think I have to include a patchwork quilt.  Here she is, sitting beside the patchwork quilt she made with my mother-in-law, Liza, for my 1979 marriage to Hugh.  My mother designed the quilt, and sewed the patchwork.  Liza was an artist and embroiderer, and added names and dates, and some delightful little embroidery stories.My mother with the wedding quiltAaaggh –  this quilt evokes so much pain and guilt in me!  So much care, so much love, so much skill, and what did Hugh and I do but get acrimoniously divorced!  I know it is ridiculous, but the quilt sums up all my sense of failure at our divorce.

So what do you do when your marriage has fallen apart, and you have this beautiful beautiful quilt, made specially for you, and relevant only to you?  Well, you put it in the attic, which you know to be a nice dry place because you keep lots of other old fabrics and children’s clothes etc up there.  You put it in it’s own suitcase, which you know is clean and safe – and you forget about it.  Your mother never mentions the quilt again.

Then, one day, there’s a patchwork exhibition locally, and you think – wouldn’t that just be the right place to put this patchwork quilt, so it could be exhibited and admired as its due?  You hasten to the attic, get down the suitcase, and absolute horror of horror, the suitcase has “wept” red-brown stain (as I have never known a suitcase do before) all over your quilt.  Aaaagh again – and again, and again. *Wedding quilt dateAnd, no, I have never told my mother what happened to the beautiful quilt she and Liza made with so much love and hope for my first marriage.Wedding quilt signaturesLet’s move on to later times, other generations.

My husband, Stephen, is an absolutely whizz with the knitting machine.  It suits him so well, giving his mathematical mind full scope for the design of elaborate and beautiful patterns.  Here is the blanket he made for us.  These are all patterns he devised himself – that’s something I could never do, so I am completely in awe of this skill.Stephen's machine-knitted blanketThen there’s these gorgeous cushions that my cousin, Lucy, knitted for me.  Vibrant strong colours and patterns.Lucy's knitted cushionsThis beautiful wall-hanging that another cousin, Polly, designed and worked.  There’s calligraphy and stitchery and printing all combined into one marvellous work.Polly's View-Points calligraphic printLast Christmas, my step-daughter, Zacyntha, embroidered this cushion cover for me.  Incredible use of colours and design.   Each time you look at it, the patterns shift and it looks different.Zacyntha's embroidered cushionAnother step-daughter, Lorna, also designed and made us a cushion cover. I think this was part of her A-level Art project.  I love it – particularly how the colour changes just slightly where she’s run out of a yarn.  Just like the carpet weavers of old.Lorna's embroidered cushionThen there’s this wonderful box that my daughter, Helen made.  It’s another A-level Art project – she constructed the box, and the fabrics that adorn it are machine and hand-embroidered.  Naughty, naughty mum left it in the sun so the top is much bleached.  It’s still a treasure.  It was always a secret….. Helen's embroidered box So many precious things, so much love, so many memories – so much inspiration!

*Comforting words from Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt : “And remember, no matter how careful you are, you might not be able to prevent some damage to your quilt – no matter how attached you are to it… something may ruin it beyond repair, leaving only the memory of the quilt behind.  Do not castigate yourself; you may not be to blame.  You did your best.  These are fragile textiles.  These things happen.”

Thank you, Whitney.