I was so excited when Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft by Sandy Black arrived on my doorstep. Black is a well-known clothing and textiles scholar from the London College of Fashion (who also founded the journal Fashion Practice). Sandy Black’s work in this book is not only fascinating, but satisfying to someone (me) who’s been looking for a comprehensive history of knitting. In four well-illustrated chapters Black covers the history of knitting:
1. History, Tradition and Mythology: from the Third Century to the Late Nineteenth Century
2. Livelihood and Industry: Hand- and Machine-knitting from the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Centuries
3. Knitting in the Home: from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day
4. Classics to Couture: Fashion Knitwear from 1900 to Now.
Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craftis full of historical eye-candy for those looking for inspiration, but also includes plenty of the hard facts that historians crave. I was particularly drawn to the “Knitting in the Home” chapter (since that’s what I often do and write about). It includes a section on the evolution of the knitting pattern that begins:
With the development of printing and the rise of literacy, the popular market for needlework and knitting had grown considerably by the end of the nineteenth century. To reach this audience at more accessible prices than the drawing-room manuals, there emerged several series of low-priced monthly journals. Significant among these were the Family Friend (1849-66 and 1870-1921) and Weldon’s Practical needlework series (1886-1929), including Practical Crochet and Practical Knitter. . . . Knitting instructions also evolved. Gradually, more attention was paid to teaching the basic knitting skills in printed form, and reference began to be made to the notion of knitting tension and needle gauge. instead of continuous prose, instructions were separated into lines. Despite Mrs. Gaugain’s pioneering efforts, the standard knitting abbreviations now in common use were first established by Weledon’s in 1906.”
Granted – the vast majority of in-text examples and photographs in Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft relate more specifically to knitting in the UK, and many of the objects shown are held in the collections of the V & A. Of course, that isn’t all that surprising, given that this is a V & A book.
That said, major American companies – like Oregon-based Jantzen – are mentioned. Smaller American companies, like Jack Frost, are not. American knitwear is occasionally mentioned in a number of places, like the sportswear section. World history of knitting is included (Europe, Americas, Asia), as are technological developments and knitwear trends in high fashion through history.
Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft includes a diverse number of viewpoints, and perspectives on knitwear throughout history: and also includes knitted dresses by designers like Jean paul Gaultier and Julien Macdonald; as well as World War II knitting; intricate lacewear; Victorian beaded bags; and socks from all eras.
It seems a thorough examination, and I can’t wait to dive into it more deeply.
This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the de Sassiet Museum at Santa Clara University for a Costume Society of America Western Region program, led by Elise Rousseau, on the collection of liturgical vestments of the California Mission era.
The skill and craftsmanship displayed within these examples are a beautiful sight to behold – regardless of any personal religious affiliations. They included delicate metallic embroidery, stump-work, lace, and other high quality hand-work. The textiles themselves included rich brocades, chenille pile velvets, taffeta’s, and other delicate objects of finery (all VERY old, especially for California). The de Saisset Museum houses one of the most important collections of ecclesiastical garments and liturgical accessories dating from the founding of Mission Santa Clara de Asìs in 1777 through the 1920s. This collection had been hidden behind a false wall for years, unknown to the collections staff until a recent 2005 renovation revealed it.
Mission-Era Vestments from the Permanent Collection (on view to December 2) presents only a small portion of what may very well be the largest known collection of California Mission Vestments. Groups of 17th and 18th century copes, dalmatics, chasubles and accessories demonstrate a range of styles and purposes, as well as fabric and production origins.
The composition and use of these textiles offered a glimpse into the history and role of the global silk trade with far east Asia on the Spanish Galleons during the height of the Spanish Empire, Colonial Nueva España, and into the Franciscan Missions in California.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Federico Chavez Sosa, Master Weaver in the Zapotec tradition
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:
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.
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:
THE FOLK TREASURES AND HERITAGE OF ROMANIA
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.
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:
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 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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.