Kaffe Fassett: Dreaming in Colour (An Autobiography)

A Chenille and Lurex dress Fassett knitted with actual pearls, in front of one of his needlepoint tapestries. (1970s)

The new book, Dreaming in Colour, an autobiography by Kaffee Fassett, presents the story of this well-known, eclectic textile designer. Born in Big Sur, California, Fassett designed knitwear for Bill Gibb, the Missonis, and private clients (including Lauren Bacall and Barbara Streisand).

Though he trained briefly as a painter, his creative outlets have also included a wide-range of other textile arts, including needlepoint, rug-making, tapestries, costume design, yarn and fabric design, as well as quilting. He was also the subject of a rare, one-man retrospective show of his textile work at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1988. Though one can’t exactly call him a California designer (he’s lived in England most of his adult life), it’s clear his work was often inspired by California.

Kaffee Fassett in front of the Jars Tapestry, with a couple of his knits from the 1980s (Chapter opener for "The Glorious Eighties", pg 130)

Dreaming in Colour is a full of brightly colored photographs and illustrations of not only Fassett’s textile work, and illustrations, but also historical photographs. The chapters are laid out historically, and begin with a discussion of his “Childhood in California (1937-1956)”. They continue on to discuss “England in the Swinging Sixties” and “The Glorious Eighties,” among others: often focusing on the dress and textile history of those periods.

One interesting aspect of the book is how the photo-collages in each chapter show his development as a designer. Family photographs and artwork by other family members are juxtaposed by representations of his own work – showing a direct line of influence (such as a painting by his sister Holly of the Big Sur coastline shown alongside a handwoven fabric of the 1990s inspired by the colors of the ocean at Big Sur).

Those looking for previously unpublished information on Fassett’s design inspiration, history and art are sure to find their answers in Dreaming in Colour. It’s also a marvelous book for those in need of inspiration for their own art and craft endeavors.

Camp chairs Fassett covered with needlepoint florals, he called them "Gibson Girls" (1985-87)
The Hollyhock Tapestry, commission for the Stamford Shakespeare Company (9 X 6 feet), a more recent project.
Bordered Diamonds from "Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts" (2010) by Kaffe Fassett
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YSL & Mondrian

Yves Saint Laurent 1960s Modrian Inspired Dress (Click for source and additional clothing)

In September 2011, I embarked on what would become a very long knitting project – completed this month, July 2012. It was titled “Mondrian Skyline” and can be found in The Ohio Mills Knitting Book. It appealed to me for a number of reasons – I could wear it, simple construction, easy fitting, but most importantly it appealed to my sense of fashion history.

On August 2 1965, Yves Saint Laurent  created a series of the color-blocked wool and jersey shift dresses, inspired by the Dutch Abstract Impressionist, Piet Mondrian, dubbed the ‘Mondrian Look.” With this design, YSL was capitalizing on the growing interest in minimalist and mod fashion of youth. Harper’s Bazaar referred to them as ‘the dress of tomorrow’ and quickly found their way into the mass-market.

Mondrian inspired dresses by Yves Saint Laurent, with a Mondrian painting in the background. Click for source

But, his Mondrian dresses were not as simple as they appeared. As Richard Martin and Harold Koda have noted, his genius was not only the artistic reference, but in using the color blocks to both accommodate the body and hide the seaming (this is, in fact where my knitted attempt failed – seaming is not my strong suit and my final product is a bit ‘wiggly’). This might be, because YSL’s dress was not actually ‘just’ a shift dress. It in fact, ‘boasts a defined shape and interior construction that allows the double-faced wool jersey to yield gently to the lines of the body. That structure is ingeniously hidden.” (Rubenstein, 128)


Martin, Richard and Harold Koday. Haute Couture, New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art : Distributed by H.N. Abrams, 1995.

Mackrell, Alice. Art and Fashion: The Impact of Art on Fashion and Fashion on Art, London: Batsford, 2005.

Rubenstein, Hal. 100 Unforgettable Dresses, New York: Harper Desgin, 2011.



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My New Job at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

After years of plugging away at the academic study of dress and textiles, I am about to start a new position in my preferred field! My new job as the Marketing Director for the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles begins tomorrow, and I’m so thrilled to be working in a museum, with textiles, and in the bay area!

For those who aren’t familiar, the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles is a small museum with a big mission: to “promote the art, craft and history of quilts and textiles.” and they will celebrate their 35th Anniversary this year.

Haena Point (Hawaiian Sunset No. 1), By Mark Adams, Quilt, 1979 From the Collection of the Stanford Library of Art and Architecture

It all began in 1977, when the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association opened in a Los Altos storefront. Now in its permanent home in downtown San Jose, the collection houses “850 quilts, garments and ethnic textiles, and a research library of more than 500 books on the history and making of quilts and textiles.”

If you’ve never seen an art quilt on a museum wall, you are missing out – quilts are a flexible form, that can work as painting, sculpture or artifact. I’ve seen quilts as portraits, landscapes, using the same painterly techniques as pointillism or impressionism and the fashion techniques of bead and ribbon work to create evocative masterworks of art. The museum also frequently exhibits non-quilt textiles, including fashion, crochet and knitwear, and tech-textiles.

Sea jellies crocheted with metal by Arline fisch at SJMQT

I can’t tell you just how excited I am about this opportunity. As I grow familiar with my new role, I’ll be sure to share exciting exhibitions, events, objects and opportunities with you.

Check out the Facebook page, and the list of upcoming exhibitions for a preview of what I’ll be working on – and if you happen to be down in the South Bay, be sure to pop by!

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The Future of Tradition: Weavers of Oaxaca, Mexico Connect Their Future with Their Past


On Thursday, May 10 at 12pm, The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco will play host to the Chavez Santiago family of the “famed weaving village of Teotitlan de Valle presents its story of this ancient art form, a family, a culture and preserving a way of life across generations.” The New York Times travel writer Freda Moon included them in her article “36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico” in January (they also have a wonderful slideshow that includes some great images of weaving).

Panelists for the Commonwealth Club talk include:

Caracol pattern rug dyed with pecan shells by Federico Chavez Sosa, Master Weaver, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico (Via Facebook)

The Chavez Santiago family uses a “combination of traditional patterns and weaving techniques with modern colors and sensibilities.” The family also works to support their local community and the traditional Zapotec culture.  I’m particularly interested in their commitment to using only 100% natural dyes in their work, which seems both forward-thinking and historically accurate.

Doors open at 11:30am, with the program beginning at noon. Tickets are free for Commonwealth Club members and cost $20 for non-members and $7 for students (with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased online here. Hope to see you there!

For a quick taste of the talk, here is a short film featuring Federico Chavez Sosa:

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UC Botanical Garden’s Fiber & Dye Display (Closes April 8!)

If you hurry, you can see the last of the UC Botanical Garden’s current display, “Fiber & Dye,” which highlights plant-based natural fibers and dyes, as well as natural fibers themselves (including bamboo, hemp, soya, abaca and pina).

As sustainable and eco-fashion grow in popularity, so too will the public’s general interest in these longstanding craft techniques. This Saturday (April 7) from 1-2:30, the gardens are also hosting a workshop on naturally dyed eggs.


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Travel opportunity: Folk Costume of Romania

From the Exhibition, Between East and West: Folk Art Treasures of Romania (Mengei International Museum in San Diego)

Joyce Corbett, curator at the Mengei International Museum in San Diego, sent me this notice of a tour she is leading to explore the folk art of Romania. For a quick preview of what you’ll see on the tour, check out my photos from last year’s exhibition Between East & West: Folk Art Treasures of Romania.

Below is the description and registration information for the tour that Joyce is planning:


May 29-June 10th, 2012

Join us for a journey back in time as we experience the history, folk culture and legendary sites of the Transylvanian Carpathians, Maramures and Bucovina. We’ll travel through the Romanian countryside to enjoy a close-up look at the several cultures of Romania: Hungarian, Romanian, Saxon, Jewish and Roma. We’ll visit UNESCO World Heritage sites, see the beautiful wooden architecture and gates of Transylvania and Maramures, experience the ancient painted monasteries of Bucovina, and stroll through Saxon German medieval towns, fairy-tale castles and quaint villages. We’ll see craftspeople practicing traditional folk arts. We’ll look at collections of regional embroidered textiles and costumes, enjoy performances by folk dancers and Roma musicians and sample wines from local vineyards. We’ll also stop at the largest regional fair in Transylvania, where village people sell local wares, and folk art. .Our tour includes: comfortable lodgings in pensions and hotels, hearty breakfasts and dinners featuring regional specialties, wine tastings in local cellars, all transportation in our private bus, plus all site entrance fees. We will have our own experienced English-speaking Transylvanian guide, a local expert on the history and culture of the region.

Land Only Price: $2999.

For detailed itinerary and information, contact Joyce Corbett joyce-dot-corbett-at-yahoo-dot-com or  call 619-825-9590.


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Fashion & Textiles on view in California and the West

click for source

I recently received a note from a reader, describing her trouble finding information on upcoming fashion and textile exhibitions on view in California. So, I thought I’d share what I know with readers. Quite a variety of exhibits are available across the western states: exhibitions of film costumes, exhibits using old techniques in new ways (embroidery and knitting), historical design aesthetics (including ‘California’ design and the Aesthetic movement), as well as contemporary body art (tattoos!). Quite the range to choose from. Please feel free to comment if you’ve been to any of these or others you think readers should know about:

20th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design
Through April 28, 2012
The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising/Museum & Galleries (Los Angeles, CA)

The FIDM Museum is proud to present the twentieth anniversary Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. Celebrating the art and industry of costume designers, this exhibition will present more than 100 costumes from twenty films released in 2011. The exhibition includes selected costumes from all five 2011 Academy Award® Nominees for Costume Design: W/E, Hugo, Jane Eyre, The Artist, and Anonymous. The exhibition also showcases classic film costumes from the FIDM Museum collection and the Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, Historic Hollywood Collection. Some of these same costumes were featured during the first Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition in 1993.

Common Places: Printing, Embroidery, and the Art of Global Mapping
Through May 13, 2012
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles)

Common Places features three objects from LACMA’s permanent collection which transform printed works on paper into one-of-a-kind embroideries: a seventeenth-century valance, a cigarette silks quilt, and Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa. The resulting textiles articulate contemporary aspects of global phenomena and suggest that far from being a recent development, globalization has deep historical roots that extended into the home and everyday life.

California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”
Through June 3, 2012
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles)

This exhibition is the first major study of California midcentury modern design. With more than 300 objects—furniture, ceramics, metalwork, fashion and textiles, and industrial and graphic design—the exhibition examines the state’s role in shaping the material culture of the entire country. Organized into four thematic areas, the exhibition aims to elucidate the 1951 quote from émigré Greta Magnusson Grossman that is incorporated into the exhibition’s title: California design “is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…It has developed out of our own preferences for living in a modern way.”

The Art of the Anatolian Kilim: Highlights from the McCoy Jones Collection
de Young Museum (San Francisco)
Through June 10, 2012

A world-class collection of Anatolian kilims given to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by H. McCoy Jones and his wife, Caroline, is showcased in a choice exhibition of two dozen of the finest examples. Presented in the textile arts gallery at the de Young, the Anatolian flat-woven kilims on view, dating from the 15th to the 19th century, include a variety of design types and regional styles, as well as superb examples of artistic and visual prowess. The kilims in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection are considered the most important group of Anatolian kilims outside Turkey.

Knitted, Knotted, Twisted & Twined: The Jewelry of Mary Lee Hu
Through  June 17, 2012
Bellevue Arts Museum (Bellevue, WA)

Over the past 40 years, Mary Lee Hu has affirmed her distinctive voice in the world of jewelry with her elegant, voluptuous creations. Using wire the way hand weavers use thread, Hu has blazed a trail as both artist and innovator, exploring the nexus between metalsmithing and textile techniques. Keen to metal’s ability to bend and manipulate light within a textured surface, Hu’s work is a testament to her sophisticated eye for weightless and rhythmic lines, translated into body adornment. Featuring more than 90 exquisite earrings, rings, brooches and neckpieces drawn from public and private collections internationally, this retrospective traces Hu’s evolution from her experimental designs of the 1960s to today’s creations full of light and movement.

The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900
Through June 17, 2012
Legion of Honor (San Francisco)

The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 is the first major exhibition to explore the unconventional creativity of the British Aesthetic Movement, tracing the evolution of this movement from a small circle of progressive artists and poets, through the achievements of innovative painters and architects, to its broad impact on fashion and the middle-class home. The superb artworks on view encompass the manifold forms of Victorian material culture: the traditional high art of painting, fashionable trends in architecture and interior decoration, handmade and manufactured furnishings for the “artistic” home, art photography and the new modes of dress.

Order and Border
Through Oct. 21, 2012
Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA)

Stripes are a fundamental visual element, appearing naturally in vertical lines as trees and in manmade products of all kinds, from street dividers to ornate fabrics. The stripe is so basic it is rarely given isolated attention. This installation examines how stripes decorate and structure objects, bodies and spaces. It follows the many ways that stripes are formulated—swirling, rigid, ragged, skinny or bold—and shows how they appear in a wide range of media from a multitude of cultures. These objects help us recognize the range of meanings that a stripe holds, from a minor design feature to the sign of a significant mythic journey.

Indelibly Yours: Smith Andersen Editions and the Tattoo Project
de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA
February 24 – March 18 and April 13 – July 1, 2012

Featuring work by ten artists—five known for tattoo and five known for printmaking—Indelibly Yours explores the kinship between marking on skin and the practice of drawing on a printing plate.

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Making your own yarn?

Following up on my post last week from the Portlandia episode featuring the material culture of the 1890s, I thought I’d tell you about a little historic side-project I’ve been working on for the last month: Learning to spin wool into yarn.

What? Why would anyone want to do that when there are so many fabulous stores to buy yarn in already? Well – I’ll tell you – it’s not something I went out looking to do. By happenstance, I got a spinning wheel as a hand-me-down from a cousin (who found it in the garage of their newly purchased house), and for Christmas, my sister gave me a bag of fleece from a farmer friend of hers in Oregon. Suddenly, I had the materials I needed – so why not learn?

Of course, I had to do some research (yeah!) and started off with a few books from the library, some video’s on youtube, and trying to understand how the machine worked. These methods helped get me started, but I didn’t get very far. I clearly needed a class, and thankfully the Piedmont Yarn shop had one available. So, for the last month, I’ve been taking a once-a-week wool spinning class from Lou Grantham, of San Francisco Fiber.

I’ve learned about washing the wool (not too much soap, not too hot, don’t put the water down the drain); preparing the fiber (using paddle carders, flickers, dog-brushes and even a drum carder), drop spindles and spinning wheels, worsted and woolen, and the most fun (for me anyway) is the difference between long draw and short draw (long draw for short fibers, short draw for long fibers).

It’s like magic to watch this messy ball of fiber to into a nice sooth piece of yarn! The only thing I haven’t quite mastered is plying – but I think with some practice I’ll get there (and I do need to learn how to dye it). Thankfully, I still have three very full bags of fleece (yessir-yessir, three bags full) to practice with.

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Surface Design Association seeks Executive Director

Ready to apply your business skills to an art organization? Then SDA needs you! We are looking for a high-energy member who is ready to collaborate with staff, contractors, volunteers and the Board to lead the organization poised for growth and expansion. You need to bring demonstrated management, planning and organizational skills and most importantly, the enthusiasm to make a difference. The position requires dedication, sensitivity to and tolerance of differing views, community-building skills and above all, a sense of humor. In return you can anticipate being part of a team of like-minded individuals who contribute much more than what is expected and who want to move SDA forward. Position application opens February 7, 2012 and closes February 24, 2012. Position start date is Monday, March 26, 2012 and requires attendance at the Spring Board meeting in Philadelphia April 1-3. All inquiries and applications may be directed in confidence to: secretary@surfacedesign.org

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