Textiles in the Archives

I was recently invited to attend a lovely evening hosted by Poppy Szaybo, a textile artist and archivist at the London Metropolitan Archives near Mount Pleasant.

In all the many years I have lived in London, I am ashamed to admit having never visited the Archives before, and was delighted to find such a fantastic resource for historians, researchers and genaeologists, not to mention artists, who often neglect their intellectual stimulus in favour of practicalities of producing new artwork!

The theme of the evening was ‘Fancy costume – the art of dressing up” and the talk was given by Charlotte Hopkins who works for the archive. We were a small group of creative people all with a common interest in textiles and history.

The lecture took a long and sometimes sideways look at the fascinating subject of ‘dressing up’ and it’s traditions in European and English society, from the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall to photographs taken by students at the London College of Fashion in the 1970’s.

One of our primeval instincts, completely acceptable in childhood, but modified and subverted in adult life is the need to ‘dress-up’ or take on another transient identity for the pleasure of ‘pretend play’. The escapism and anonymity of dressing up burgeoned in the 17th and 18th centuries, becoming part of upper class social life, and often viewed at the time as a pathway to depraved behaviour. Aristocracy and high society families spent large sums on having beautiful costumes created, and there was a large industry of costume and mask makers in London. The lower and working classes were more inventive in their creations for dressing up opportunities,

The Lord Mayor of London hosted masquerade balls for the children of the professional classes, and no expense was spared in the creation of their children’s costumes.

The London Metropolitan picture archive’s online resource ‘Collage’ allows free access to thousands of the documents and images in the collection, and is a fascinating resource for historians and artists alike. Tiny snippets from historic documents are available to view on request, old newspapers, photographs and illustrations are a rich resource of inspiration and a little window into lives led in another era. 


I loved the tiny catalogues of prices and business cards that had been taken out for us to handle, listing prices for ‘ladies undergarments’ and necessities !

We were lucky enough to be shown into the strong rooms of the archive, deep in the building. 

Long corridors filled with shelves and files, all housed in custom made archival boxes, with one member of staff purely responsible for creating these custom made boxes! The wonderful aroma of ancient documents and slightly musty books pervades the space. What look like really old bound books are stacked on some shelves, but on closer inspection date back only to the 1950’s, maybe the mere fact of them being in this environment has given us a preconception of their antiquity!

London coroner’s court records are stored here, with files containing both the mundane and the macabre details of lives prematurely reaching their end. A sobering view as we peer into the corridors of files. Illustrations of dress design and fashions were displayed for us to see, and I was delighted to find plates of Leon Baskt illustrations amongst the pages of the London Illustrated News from 1913. Radical costumes for the time, unstructured and body hugging in comparison with contemporary fashions.

I could happily return (and probably will!) To explore more of this fantastic free resource, but leave you to explore either through the virtual portal of  ‘Collage‘ or in person, do let me know if you find a treasure!

‘English Work’ at the V&A.

The current ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum took me way back to my student days when I was lucky enough to be of the generation when it was still possible to study Embroidery A’level. My lovely embroidery teacher allowed us to take off on flights of fancy with creative embroidery whilst instilling a respect for the timeless techniques of the past. It is hard nowadays to imagine a state school sixth form running an A’level course with only three students, but at the time we never even questioned it! Alongside our study of artistic and contemporary stitch techniques the history of embroidery was an integral part of the course and I was thoroughly absorbed for a while in the world of ecclesiastical embroidery and it’s techniques. The no photography protocol of the V&A meant me taking out my note book and sketching some of my favourite  fragments, and even this was time consuming, leaving me to speculate on the unnumerable hours that were spent actually stitching these pieces!

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The language of this exhibition was not unfamiliar to me as a past student of ecclesiastical embroidery, although I did hear several people wondering “What is a ‘chasuble for?” or “Which is the ‘split stitch’ and which is ‘couching’? ” ( A chasuble is the highly decorated tabard that a priest wears over his normal robes whilst celebrating Mass) Split stitch and Couching are shown  here:embroidery-stitches

In the 13th Century, English embroiderers were at the pinnacle of embroidery workmanship. Church and high society aspired to commission their garments from the English embroiderers in London.   bologna-cope

Large embroideries like the  Butler Bowden and Syon Copes were made by highly trained professionals, both men and women. They were employed in workshops which were funded by merchants and noble patrons. The merchants took the profits, not the embroiderers who received only modest payments for their work. Most workshops were in London where the necessary capital was available and which was the principal port through which the imported materials arrived. The phrase ‘opus anglicanum’ was first coined to  describe the highly-prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk and gold and silver thread, full of elaborate biblical imagery.’English Work’ or Opus Anglicanum remained the most sought after work until well into the 15th century.

I was looking forward to the rare opportunity to see ‘up close and personal’ the incredible detail in the embroidered vestements worn in the Medieval Church. I found it sad to think that the hours of work that were put into the embroideries were lost on the congregation, as they would not have had time or opportunity to ‘read’ the pictorial stories depicted on the garments, nor would they have been able to see the minutiae of the stitches that created these incredible works of art. There are exquisite examples of intricate stitching and beautiful fragments of embroidery in this exhibition, but I did feel that it was a missed opportunity on the part of the V&A. In comparison with the recent exhibitions of the past year , this one fits the norm of a dry, old fashioned, ‘museum’ exhibition. I had the impression of wandering amongst embroidery and theological aficionados, who, albeit enthusiastic, certainly did nothing to enliven the atmosphere.

The staging of this exhibition is in a dry, traditional style, some of the beautiful work is presented so far back in the glass cabinets, that it is impossible to make out the details. There are fantastic stories depicted in many of the Church garments, none of which were adequately told in the labelling. The minute stitches really needed to be magnified, but there was no way of doing so. A short film demonstrated the technique of one style of stitching, but was small and nestled between two glass cases, so difficult to see if there were more than two or three people looking. All in all I left, even after my second visit, feeling frustrated at the lack of interactive or engaging display.

However, if you have any interest at all in the world of textiles or history, then this may be the only opportunity  for a long while to see such a comprehensive collection of some of the worlds greatest embroidered treasures, so essential viewing !

Through rose tinted…

Having spent the last couple of weeks looking at various design exhibitions I couldn’t help but notice a predominance of Pink in the new launches this autumn.Not that ‘Barbie pink’ we all love to hate, but a fluctuation between soft dusty pink and what I always think of as a hot ‘Indian pink’.

There are so many preconceptions about the colour pink, but it has recently come to the fore of home furnishing palettes as a sophisticated and fresh tone within the home. Despite today’s misconception that “pink is for girls’, historically the colour has had masculine associations, notably in Japan, where the coloured pink-blossomed cherry trees are seen as representing the young Samuraii who fell in battle in their prime.The flowers took on a similar meaning during the second World war, when they were painted on the side of Japanese kamikaze warplanes

The city of Jaipur in India is known as the ‘Pink City’some say that the Raja Jawai Singh had the city painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales on an official visit, and the colour has become part of the reatition of the city  with new constructions taking on the colour to this day. As Diana Vreeland said; “Pink is the navy blue of India”

This dusty pink plays a part in the current colour trend, adding a subdued tone to the pink palette. Icons of Denmark have used this soft tone in the upholstery of their contemporary chairs as seen at Design Junction last month.

Icons of Denmark pink upholstered chair
Icons-of-Denmark

Chanel’s iconic pink tweed has been re-invented over and over in their collections, this season it ranges from the original soft pink through to hot “Shiaparelli” pink.

In the home textile collections launched at this season’s Focus show at Chelsea design Centre several companies reference this pink tweed, for example ‘Cestino Flamenceo’from Harlequin, which from a distance, gives a softly undulating pink tone.  Villa Nova also introduce their design Koji geranium; a  warm, dusty pink, textured weave from their Hana Weave collection.

Harlequin fabrics, Celestino pink tweed fabric
Harlequin-fabrics

Whilst Romo have created a new tiny geometric weave using the same tones of soft pink.

Don’t be concerned by today’s prejudices against pink as only being ‘for girls’,  This is a relatively new phenomenon.  For centuries, according to Jean Heifetz (When Blue Meant Yellow: How Colors Got Their Names . Henry Holt, 1994), European children were dressed in blue because the color was associated with the Virgin Mary. The use of pink and blue emerged at the turn of the century, the rule being pink for boys, blue for girls. Since pink was a stronger color it was best suited for boys; blue was more delicate and dainty and best for girls. And in 1921, the Women’s Institute for Domestic Science in Pennsylvania endorsed pink for boys, blue for girls. It is a matter of debate as to when the colour pink became tagged as being only for girls ( I blame Barbie, but am probably wrong!)

Pink is generally known as a colour of happiness and innocence and it has been shown to have significant effects on our psycological state.

  • It has been used in prison cells to effectively modify agressive or erratic mood swings in inmates.
  • Pink is a symbol of joy in Catholicism
  • The color pink is thought to have a tranquilizing effect. Sometimes sport’s teams use pink to paint the opposing team’s changing room!
  • Pink encourages friendliness while discouraging aggression and ill-will.
  • Male weightlifters performance has been diminished when surrounded by pink, whereas female weightlifters performance was enhanced!

The Portugese luxury interior design company Jetclass presented a sumptuous interior display at 100% design, with soft pink furnishings and contemporary accessories.

Of course The Pink House By Rebecca Cole collection is right on trend with our “Love Walk”  hand printed cushion design too!

Love Walk cushion
Love Walk. Rooted in SE5. 45x45cm cushion

Brighter pinks are youthful, fun, and exciting, while vibrant pinks have the same high energy as red; they are sensual and passionate without being too aggressive. This is on show in Mauel Canovas’ Indian inspired embroidered linen, Clermont Pivoine  which lifts the spirit in the true tradtition of pink design. Brighter pinks are stimulating, energising and can increase the blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, and pulse rate.They also encourage action and confidence. So we will keep an eye open for this positivity in seasons to come!

Manuel Canovas Clermont pivoine embroidered linen fabric
Manuel-Canovas

 

 

A story of dreams

The current blockbuster show at the V&A museum was a must see this week, it runs into the new year so you still have plenty of time to visit.

You say you want a revolution? Records and rebels 1966-1970.

Put aside at least a couple of hours for this mammoth collection of 6o’s and 70’s memorabilia, from Twiggy, The Beatles and Sam Cooke right through to the final 1970’speace movement, Vietnam war and a massive Woodstock festival experience.

Imagine taking the ‘Acid test’ and be absorbed by the musical timeline that cleverly takes you through the show on the headsets provided.

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Twiggy. Daily Mail

 

There was so much to take in, and so much to listen to, I could have done with a second visit, which, as a friend of the V&A I can do, but one day ticket holders are not so lucky and really have to immerse themselves in a head swirling cacophony of images, memories and music, which are, I suppose quite in keeping with the surreal hedonism portrayed in the exhibition!

The portrayal of optimism, and faith in the power of youth sails through the sixties, and comes crashing down as you enter the era of the Vietnam war, and the Black power struggle in the seventies. The quote that sticks in my mind is that of a young aamerican soldier being interviewed about the casualties of the war; the interviewer asks;

“And the children?”

he replies;

“And the children”

vietnam
Photo by Nick Ut of Vietnamese nepalm victims

 

Struggle against authority becomes the focus of youth and the era of festivals and the peace movement takes us into Woodstock, where we experience the music and fashions of Hendrix, Baez and The Who. The optimism of youth emerges once more and the naive optimism abounds amongst the music and naturalism of the moment.woodstock

Of course as we progress to the final room of the exhibition we are faced with the story in film of cynical consumerism, war and politics all overlaid with the soundtracks to CocaCola adverts.

I left the exhibition with an overwhelming sense of the rollercoaster of emotions I had experienced through the show, optimism, hope, idealism and freedom, juxtaposed with disillusionment, futility and brutality. John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is playing in our ears as we leave the show, epitomising all these emotions in one poignant moment.

Wooden it be lovely

Design Junction 2016  is one of my favourite mainstream shows of the annual London Design Festival. Contemporary design is presented within changing locations each year, all of which have some link with industry. This year’s Design junction is held at the newly revamped Kings Cross Granary Square, also home of the iconic Central St Martins School of art. Rather than attempting to give an overview of the show I have picked one theme which caught my eye as I was browsing the myriad of exhibits this morning: the trend for incorporating wooden elements into products that are more often seen using industrial, shiny or synthetic substrates.

 Notably in the lighting displays wood is being used in innovative ways, bringing a natural element to contemporary lighting.

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A.S design
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Another Studio design

Another Studio have developed new techniques for working with wood: taking sheet veneer and cutting and folding  it into dynamic shapes. The mix of machine and handmade processes serve to craft these beautiful forms.  The wooden sheets are backed with a fabric which adds colour to the inside of the lampshades.

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Tamasine Osher Design
Tamasine Osher has created a collection of wooden ‘cupola’ light forms that are from hand-turned wood with the beauty of the grain enhanced by the polished surfaces of the bowls which balance delicately within graphic steel and brass bases. The glow emanating from these wooden bowls has an ethereal quality that I love, and can envisage warming a cosy corner one winter’s evening.
Dinesen created an imposing backdrop to the entrance hall for the show. A giant wooden ‘tent’ structure served to showcase their range of stained Douglas fir and Oak flooring, setting the style for the strong wooden trend in this year’s show.
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Tala

The juxtaposition of industrial and natural was subtly used on the Tala lighting exhibit. This company has an ethos for sustainable design and have established a pledge to plant ten native trees in the UK for every 200 units sold within Europe. These lights have the aesthetic look of the traditional filament bulb whilst receiving all of the technical and energy saving capabilities of the LED. The bases or ‘knuckes’ of the lights are from turned wood, and soften the post industrial look.

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Geoffrey Fisher

The wooden home accessories of Geoffrey Fisher have all those wonderful tactile qualities of natural wood. The natural forms found in woodlands  make beautiful and sustainable products, Geoffrey transforms twigs and branches into products ranging from hooks and tabletop dustpan and brushes to whistles, catapults and skipping ropes.Retaining the bark and juxtaposing it with perfectly smooth surfaces gives this range an honesty that is both comforting and pleasing to hold.

In the spirit of sustainability, Design House Stockholm present the Atelier 2+ greenhouse. Essentially an architectural design, this mini greenhaouse is made of laquered solid Ash, with toughened glass panes. and a galvanised metal planting tray. it is designed to be a freestanding interior ornament, and brings my perusal of all things wooden to a natural close.

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Design House Stockholm

Top Drawer

As each season of new products approaches, I look forward to visiting the Top Drawer Show in London. This is in the knowledge of course, that after so many years of trend spotting, I am extremely difficult to please, and find it hard to be ‘wowed’ by the products launched by the multitudinous companies that show their wares to the trade buyers at these shows.  However, I am the eternal optimist and turn up every time looking for that wonderful object, design or personal ‘click’ that makes me feel warm inside!

I am of course always drawn to the textile products, as that is my background, and this week chanced upon the stand of Peaceable Kingdom. The Peaceable Kingdom cushion collections came about through the artist designer Hugh Dunford Wood creating an image of a cat for his daughter and subsequently grew into a range of lino block printed cushions.

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Peaceable Kingdom cushions

The random qualities of hand block printing lend an individual element that I love to these simple and striking designs, and I feel that they embody the pared-down and simplistic feel of the current trend for naturally produced, bespoke furnishings.

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Mon Amie are a couple of florists from Leicestershire who have designed a simple work apron that is deliciously stylish, just the kind of thing I can imagine Vita Sackville-West donning to collect fully blown roses in her Sissinghurst garden! I was initially attracted by the sumptuous colour of their stand, a combination of soft slate, earth and warm mustard aprons simply hanging and folded in unassuming piles.

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Mon Amie Aprons

Again I was drawn to the organic simplicity of the presentation and products from this duo, and love that they have been brave enough to make a limited colour statement for the launch of these linen aprons. Mon Amie living has a gentle and restrained sense of style that so many of us aspire to, but are not often brave enough to make that statement.

Moving from garden to kitchen in a smooth transition, the understated luxury of The Silver Duck cutlery collection is an example of form and function pared down to a beautiful simplicity. Charlotte Anne Duckworth ihas refined the craft of silversmithing to forge light and elegant pieces of silver cutlery, combining this luxurious metal with the pale wood of holly  for the handles. I personally can’t resist a lovely wooden box, and Charlotte has presented her pieces in simple presentation boxes, with the pieces of cutlery nestled amongst wood shavings. These little cabinets of curiosity are beautiful in themselves, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the utensils can’t be used, they are perfectly functional and Charlotte provides a litttle bottle of oil and a soft cloth for us to maintain the holly wood after it has been washed!

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These were my pick of the Top Draw show this season, minimal, organic and functional all, but above all exemplary pieces of timeless design.

Impressions of Manhattan

It is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of central Manhattan. Skyscraping buildings, blinding electronic billboards and towering piles of food are what we assosciate with New York City. So on my recent visit I decided to concentrate on the details, and this brought a whole new dimension to a city that I have known and loved for many years.

It is funny how, once you decide to focus on one thing, examples pop up everywhere, and so it was that I started noticing the textures in stonework, and architectural details reflected in the products on offer in shops and art exhibitions too. I think it must have looked very strange to the locals seeing this strange person taking close-up pictures in Grand central station or at the Metropolitan Museum, rather than photographing the vast architectural expanses of New york!

The simplicity of embossing, and imprinted texture needs little embellishment through colour, and perfectly fits the New York fashion week’s neutral colour trend of muted candy pink and pale smokey blue which is already in evidence in the cities home decoration collections.

 

Of course I was spoilt for choice, but have grouped together some of my favourite images here; mixing up the art, architecture and design of Manhattan to show the emerging trend for embossed details and pattern in my world of decoration and design.