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Those looking for previously unpublished information on Fassett’s design inspiration, history and art are sure to find their answers in Dreaming in Colour.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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Yarn Bombs, Knitting and Gender

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A friend recently drew my attention to the 80 feet of new yarn in downtown Berkeley – suggesting that I was the culprit. I was not, but ever since reading The Culture of Knitting by Joanne Turney I’ve become fascinated with this particular iteration of street art / graffiti. Bansky’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was the first time I thought remotely about graffiti as art, but it wasn’t until I watched the trailer below that I began to think of yarn or knit bombs as a gendered pursuit – though I have to wonder about showing images of mothers ‘yarn-bombing’ with children in tow. This potential film brings up a number of questions for me: Does it have the same level of danger associated with it? Are there substantial legal troubles? Do businesses like it better than ‘traditional graffiti’ (now there’s an odd turn of phrase)? Do people consider it art, or merely decorative ?

I do hope that Sarah Gonzalez gets to make and release her documentary, I’d be curious to see the artists profiled and find out of they have the same legal troubles that standard graffiti artists face. In the Bay Area at least, it seems that knitted street art has more staying power and less of a stigma. It seems somehow more egalitarian, and that anyone (or any knitter) could participate. Does that also mean that the artists are less respected? How do male graffiti artists perceive this format – and will it eventually loose its cache once a museum does an exhibition of yarn bombs? I’m curious to see where this goes…

*Image via Berkeleyside

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