I wasn’t familiar with textile artist Anni Albers but when I saw that Charlotte (English Girl at Home) had made a visit from Birmingham I thought it must be worth a look.
I wasn’t disappointed either. You don’t need to have any previous idea of this artist’s work to enjoy and appreciate the quality of what you see before you in this exhibition at Tate Modern in London until January 27th, 2019.
To give you a little bit of background, Anneliese Fleichmann was born in Berlin, Germany in 1899, she was encouraged to study drawing and painting, becoming a student at the Bauhaus in 1922 where she met artist Josef Albers, marrying him in 1925. Not every class was available to women and she had been unable to get into glassmaking whilst at the Bauhaus [a renowned combined crafts and Fine Arts school from 1919 to 1933 before being closed by the Nazis] so she reluctantly attended textile weaving instead. She soon became fascinated by the whole process of weaving and gradually developed her distinctive geometric style.
She and her husband, who were both Jewish by birth although she herself was baptised a Protestant, eventually moved to the USA in 1933 where they taught at the experimental Black Mountain Academy in North Carolina, an art school with a kind of ’summer camp’ ethos of studies and farm and domestic work.
She continued to experiment and create throughout her long life although eventually she gave up weaving because of the physical strain it placed on her preferring, instead to create prints and monographs.
She was commissioned a number of times to create textiles for specific situations including domestic, hotels and student accommodation. These items included rugs and diaphanous hanging room dividers.
Here are just a few of my photographs, many don’t do full justice to the intricacies of the weave or the subtleties of the colours but hopefully they will give you a taste.
Sketches of design ideas.
Wall hangings and room-dividers.
Albers moved on to drawing and printmaking as she got older, often her subject was knots! Top right is a rug. She continued to explore textile-related areas though such as pattern, line, texture and knotting.
In the same room there are 3 huge screens showing the process of weaving in close up which was enthralling.
As I said earlier, you don’t need to know anything about Albers to enjoy this exhibition. My good friend Jenny (my culture buddy!) is a busy Vicar with no art or textiles experience but we always find much to enjoy on our visits to galleries even if they are outside our usual preferences or knowledge. The work on display here is beautiful and tactile (but don’t touch!) and could look very much at home in a domestic setting, not something I can always say about some art work we’ve seen!
I’m sorry to harp on about it but this is a really big deal for me.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook will have seen that I’ve just had my first ‘serious’ article published in Love Sewing magazine in the UK. I’ve done pattern reviews in magazines a couple of times before, as well as having the occasional photo featured in the ‘readers make’ pages but this is a new departure for me.
Understandably not everyone will want to, or be able to, buy the magazine but I thought those of you that are new to my blog in the last couple of months may be interested to read the original post which the article came about from. You can find it here, along with more photos and information.
If you’re visiting London and have an interest in how our clothing has developed over the centuries, and what the future may hold for the textile and fashion industries then this is a good way to spend a couple of hours. The exhibition is on at the V&A museum until almost the end of January 2019.
Whilst I was paid by Love Sewing to write the article I haven’t been sponsored in any way by the V&A and all views expressed are very much my own.
When I chucked in my last job 4 years ago I had no idea what the future held…4 years on, the Stitch Room Sewcial is the sort of wonderful opportunity that has come my way and I couldn’t be happier.
Back in March Anne ( New Vintage Sewing) emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in an event she and Lucy (Sew Essential) were organising at Anne’s place of work-the Textiles department at Loughborough University. The bare bones of it sounded great and fortunately the timing was perfect, exactly between other things in the diary-the stars were in alignment! I found out that several of my sewing friends were also going, as well a number of ladies I hadn’t met before but was really looking forward to having that opportunity. However, sadly, I noticed there were a few snippy comments on Instagram from one or two people who hadn’t been able to get one of the tickets that were put on open sale. Due to the size of the room and the activities planned it was limited to just 16 people and the accusations of ‘elitism’ were uncalled for-frankly if Anne and Lucy were putting all this effort into organising a 2 day event then they can invite whoever they jolly well like!! The sewing community is generally so supportive and inclusive and I was shocked, and sad, to see these types of comments published.
There was lots planned over the 2 days of the Sewcial including some actual sewing! I decided to cut out a soft linen version of the Moana dress by Papercut patterns because I wanted a easy-to-wear dress for my upcoming holiday. I put in a couple of other pieces of fabric and suitable patterns in case I finished it and had time to spare (hah!)
I set off early on Friday morning with my sewing kit and a suitcase of me-mades to wear. We’d already been told that one of the things laid on for us was a photo shoot in the professional studio in the Faculty when we could have photos taken wearing our own makes.
I thought, just for once, I was going to be a bit early arriving but the Sat Nav had other ideas! I found the venue eventually and spotted my friends Clare (Sew Incidentally) and Kara arriving at the same moment-phew.
After coffee and hellos we were taken upstairs to the fantastically equipped room that is Anne’s domain. There was a domestic sewing machine for each of us to use and I didn’t get off to the best start with mine…I’ve used many different machines over the years but this computerised one flummoxed us completely, we couldn’t work out how to fill a bobbin!! After 15 minutes of trying, which included Lucy phoning the Sew Essential office for advice, consulting the instruction book (!) and randomly hitting buttons, I was eventually able to start sewing [it turned out to be the touch screen that was showing a pretty but unhelpful video] Then it was time for lunch!!!
Before any of this palarver though we split into 2 groups and some of us were shown around the printed textiles workshops and then the weaving workshops while the others were with Anne getting demos on all the machinery.
We were shown where the screens are produced in giant darkrooms, the huge quantities of different types of dye in every colour imaginable and the ‘kitchen’ the students learn to mix it all up in.
Salva and Rebecca ( Red W Sews) had a go at screen printing.
On next to the weaving workshops where there were an impressive number of looms of all types available for students to weave their own designs. It’s all quiet now as their work is finished and on display (more on that later) it must be really noisy when it’s full of students working.
We had a demonstration of how the looms work and were told you need to swap legs every now and again otherwise you’ll get one super-muscly leg!! Each push down opens the warp threads for the shuttle with the weft yarn to pass through thus eventually forming the design.
This is the digital jacquard loom weaving a complex pineapple design, it’s noisy but amazingly fast. The hand loom in the previous picture uses a series of pegs through a small board to raise and lower the correct warp threads in order for the weft thread to go between them, this loom does all that for the weaver.
After our studio visit we swapped to return to Anne’s room where she showed us all the various, and impressive, industrial machines she has and which we can use as appropriate over the next two days.
Many years ago I went to college and then worked in industry for a few years so I was aware of some of these types of machines but most of my lovely friends have only been home sewers and they were bowled over by the speed and efficiency of them. Each machine performs a specific task, unlike domestic machines, there were machines for putting on bias binding in moments, rolled hem edging, and so quiet compared to industrial machines that I remember. There were also 3 and 4 thread domestic overlockers for us to use, and a cover stitch machine…sewing heaven really.
Time for a break after all that activity and information so we trotted off to the breakout room for lunch where we were greeted by this most wonderful surprise. It’s the sewing cake of dreams! Made by a former student of Anne’s, Becca @calicoandcake (who now makes ballet tutus and sculpted body suits as well as amazing cakes)
It has Anne and Lucy on the top! There were tape measures and scissors, patterns, buttons, pins, you name it. We were astonished and swooning over it [it tasted great too]
Before we returned upstairs Lucy and Anne handed out our personally labelled goodie bags….OMG they were terrific. There were several lovely, and useful, patterns as well as 2 metres of fabric and loads of kit like marker pens, machine needles, a box of thread, a fat quarter, an unpicker! loads of things. So generous of the various sponsors of the Sewcial-thank you so much.
Eventually we returned back upstairs to get down to some sewing and going to have our photos taken. Salva and I went together-she’s much more of a natural than me I have to say, the practice I’d had for Love Sewing magazine last Autumn wasn’t a lot of help! I wore my linen Farrow dress I’d made recently and also the coat I made earlier in the year. [I didn’t get any photos of this activity so you’ll have to take my word for it happening] We spent the remainder of the afternoon sewing.
Those of us that didn’t live in the area were staying up the road at a hotel so we headed back there to freshen up before going out to a local restaurant for a lovely meal. Because our number wasn’t huge, and we were spread over just 3 tables, it meant we could actually have conversations with some of our fellow-sewers. It was a lovely way to finish the day.
Saturday morning was set aside to visit the student shows which were taking place as part of the College Open Days for outside visitors.
I was absolutely blown away by all the wonderful work on display. There was so much originality, beautiful colour, innovative designing and covetable products, here a just a few of the many photos I took to give you some idea.
I WANT that rucksack!…and those cushions too…oh, and the handbags….
A few months ago Anne had contacted me to ask if I was willing and able to make up a garment for one of her students. Heather was a textiles student and she would print, embroider and embellish fabric and then send it to me to sew up into a kimono for her. I was happy to do this and the parcel duly arrived. She’d marked out the placement of the main pieces so it wasn’t guesswork, I pinned the pattern on in the usual way and cut it out. She’d chosen the Kochi Kimono pattern by Papercut patterns and wanted it lined with silk noil. It all went together beautifully and looked stunning. I posted it back and thought no more about it.
I finally got to see it along with Heather’s other work, and by complete chance she was there with some friends so I actually got to meet to her and chat about it.
The original concept involved essential oils and using them and their effects on and in fabrics-hence the kimono embedded in a planter with mint plants!
I ‘nearly’ made this cape for another student but the loom broke down and then the timing didn’t work out so someone else made it-it looks lovely and the buttons were fabulous.
Look at this fabulous neckpiece! The bead work must have taken hours and hours.
After seeing all this inspiring work it was back to sewing our own work. In spite of my ‘issues’ with the sewing machine I was making good progress with my dress. Having the use of amazing industrial steam irons (Anne had given us a H&S talk about it the day before-basically, it’s nothing like our steam irons at home!!) really helped the process and I even used the industrial rolled hem machine on the edge of the ruffle. It was speedy, quiet and gave a beautiful finish, the version my domestic overlocker does will never compare now, sadly.
After lunch Salva and I had our session on the A-MAZE-ING embroidery machines. The lovely Bea, who was endlessly patient and enthusiastic with us all weekend helped us to choose and create an embroidery to take home. Some girls had made things specifically like jeans pockets but I’m going to put mine in an embroidery hoop in Threadquarters when I get home.
These machines are serious pieces of kit-there are 3 of them-and there’s a vast number of threads to choose from too. As I have magpie tendencies of course I chose metallic threads!
I settled on the mantra of every home-sewer…
There wasn’t much time left after this but I managed to finish my dress and have a quick try on-I didn’t actually expect to have a finished garment to take on bearing in mind how many activities we’d packed into 2 days.
And finally it was time for goodbyes…we all agreed how much we had enjoyed our 2 days and Lucy and Anne had created an wonderful event for us. I hope they’ve had a well-earned rest now! If they decide to do it all again next year I really hope I’ll be invited, the small number meant we all chatted at some point with every other person there, something which doesn’t, or can’t, always happen at bigger events.
I can’t thank Anne and Lucy enough for creating such a lovely event and for inviting me to attend it. Thank you too to all the generous sponsors for their gifts and support. Roll on next year….
This is one of the most recent exhibitions to open at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and it’s a very thought-provoking one exploring the relationship between man, fashion and the natural world. It’s divided into the now familiar format of the historic element downstairs with the larger more modern and forward-looking section upstairs.
This works well because there are displays containing beautifully conserved clothing and accessories dating as far back as the 1600s alongside helpful and fascinating short films and information about the origins and manufacture of textiles using both traditional sources such as cotton, flax, silk and wool but also the more unusual such as pineapple fibre.
The items chosen for display demonstrate both the influence of natural subjects in the design-primarily plants and animals, and the effects of textile production on society as a whole. Cotton and wool for example were a huge part of the success of the UK for hundreds of years and made fortunes for a relatively few people but at vast human suffering for many in the form of slavery, overwork, terrible working conditions and resultant illness. Added to this was the decimation of animal and bird populations to supply the demands of the burgeoning fashion industry with feathers, fur, tortoiseshell, whalebone etc and you have a some uncomfortable viewing.
These poor little hummingbirds became fashionable earrings after Empress Eugenie wore a pair
over 5000 beetle carapaces where embroidered onto this Victorian gown.
The origins of the RSPB in the UK started towards the end of the 19th Century when Governments around Europe became concerned for the welfare of bird populations brought to the point of extinction in places.
Ostrich feathers were extremely popular on evening gowns and fans, this little hat is labelled as being the ‘improved starling’ hat with it’s printed feather decoration, the natural beauty of the feathers not being quite good enough presumably?
Seal populations were hugely reduced by the desire for seal fur to make or line coats, muffs and hats, as were whales for their flexible bones which were used in corsets, amongst other things. And then there’s ivory for buttons, umbrella handles and hair decorations, the list goes on…
New resources such as rubber found uses for footwear and to give elasticity to things like stockings and mens braces.
Not everything is doom and gloom in the exhibition, there are some stunning pieces of embroidery and garments which are a visual delight. One of my favourites was an Eighteenth century man’s waistcoat embroidered with Macaque monkeys.
Floral motifs are a perennial favourite both as woven cloth and as embroidered fabric.
I was surprised to discover that using pineapple fibre to make fabric has been around for a couple of hundred years, especially given they were such expensive fruit in their own right.
This evening gown uses pineapple fibre fabric, and the handkerchief is cotton embroidered with pineapple-fibre thread.
Moving upstairs you will discover garments by designers keen to explore and embrace new textiles and technology. Stella McCartney is a well-known exponent of these with her refusal to use any animal-based product and there are some interesting examples of faux leather being made from the waste by-products of the winemaking industry, and ‘leather’ made from a type of mushroom protein! [Incidentally the episode of Desert Island Discs featuring Stella McCartney is very enjoyable and she talks about her use of ethical fabrics and textiles during it] Extraordinary stuff and virtually indistinguishable from real leather. These are ‘designer’ products though so I have no idea of the cost but like any new technology it has to start somewhere and will hopefully filter down eventually to be more affordable.
There were other examples of flora and fauna in the textile design including my favourite Alexander McQueen with a reptile-inspired dress from his Plato’s Atlantis collection.
There is plenty of information and several films which go into greater depth about the effects not only of over-consumption of textiles but also the damage it’s production does to the planet and the workers. Denim, and therefore jeans, for example if the most water-wasteful and polluting of any fabric being produced, we have to address this fact and soon. I’ll be honest and say that I was flagging a little by this time, absolutely not through boredom, far from it, but from information overload. If this is your primary interest in visiting this exhibition then go straight upstairs because there’s so much fascinating, often shocking, but ultimately encouraging information to explore.
Also, did you know that Velcro got invented because a Swiss scientist Georges de Mestral noticed while walking in the Jura during the 1940’s that burrs from plants were clinging to his clothes and his dog’s fur so he investigated further and found they were tiny little hooks. Eventually this discovery became the basis for the product we know today!
Up-cycling is another area that’s looked into, reusing textiles be it unwanted clothes or end-of-line products like ribbon to make new products. Refashioning is not new but it fell out of favour, now it’s making a return.
I could go on, adding more photos of everything but I urge you, if you get the opportunity, to go for yourself and see this exhibition. If you’re interested in fashion and clothing it will really open your eyes to some of the facts about it’s production which you might not be aware of and make you think about how we can improve the situation by our own consumption of goods.
Vivienne Westwood is a leading advocate of choosing fashion wisely, her motto being Buy Less and Buy Well, in other words buy the best you can afford because it’s more likely to have been ethically made from better materials and will last you longer. I know personally I can’t always manage this but by making my own clothes most of the time and wearing them frequently is making a start.
Fashioned from Nature is on at the V&A until next January 27th 2019. I’ve not been sponsored to write this piece, I have my own membership which I use frequently!
Back in March I made a flying visit to see the Burberry 2017 A/W collection which was being displayed to the public in Soho at the Makers House. It was a wonderful collaboration between the long-established design house and the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire which resulted in some beautiful, wearable and covetable clothes. You can read that blog here
I’d visited the Foundation at Perry Green about 4 years ago with a GCSE Art group from the school I worked in at the time and really enjoyed it so, having been reminded of it in March, I thought another visit on a sunny day was a must.
My friend Janet and I had originally planned to go to the Tate at the end of May for the David Hockney and then whizz on to the newly opened Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A but, in the end, the day promised to be too darn hot to travel into London so we came up with plan B, and I’m so glad we did.
The Foundation is set in beautiful quintessentially English countryside and it comprises of the home that Moore lived in from 1940 until his death in 1986 and surrounding it are acres of gardens and fields where his monumental work is displayed exactly as he’d intended. He had numerous studios and workrooms scattered about the site in which large quantities of the maquettes, tools and preliminary works are on show, much as he left them in most cases. Since I last went they’ve now built a fabulous new visitor centre with a classy shop and a seriously gorgeous cafe overlooking the gardens which, on a glorious sunny day, was idyllic.
In all honesty I’m very far from knowing anything much about sculpture so I’ll just share some of my photos that I took on the day. You could easily spend most of a day here because the grounds are extensive and you’re free to roam around them, you can take a guided tour of Hoglands, the house Moore and his wife Irina lived in which is still filled with his personal belongings of books, ethnic artefacts, paintings and other objects, and it’s where he ran his business from too (he never had an agent so if you wanted to buy a Henry Moore you dealt directly with him) Many influential world figures visited him here. Moore was never knighted, he was the son of a Yorkshire miner and one of eight children so he was a Socialist all his life but he did receive an Order of Merit (OM) of which he was very proud.
There is a large modern exhibition space which features a new show every year, as well as an ancient barn which he had dismantled from elsewhere and reassembled on the site, it now contains some fabulous tapestry versions of several of his paintings.
Many of the objects in the workshops were the springboard to the garments within the Burberry collection, especially his blue and white striped aprons which cropped up as ultra-longsleeved T-shirts which I loved.
It’s lovely to wander in the fields alongside the sheep which are so integral to the overall effect of his work-they’ve rubbed the bronze with their fleeces over the decades so that it’s very shiny at sheep-height! Moore loved to watch the sheep from his window and sketched them over and over again. You’re free to touch any of the external sculptures too which makes a refreshing change from “don’t touch!” Incidentally the sheep were a direct inspiration for the Burberry collection in the form of beautifully sculptural Aran-influenced knitwear.
So that’s a few photos of a lovely day out, and I urge you to go if you’re at a loose end in the area although you’ll definitely need a car as it’s very rural. There’s a pub next door too if a cafe doesn’t quite cut it for you. If you’re a really serious art buff then the archive is on site too although I guess you need to make an appointment for that.
I’m so glad I’ve been because it’s created the link between the show I saw all those months ago and also it’s made a real change from being indoors looking at art!
I haven’t written a blog in ages but there are a couple in the pipeline, I know this isn’t directly about my sewing exploits but I wanted to share my thoughts on this visit because it brings together two of my greatest interests-sewing and art.
As ever, all views expressed are my own and most photos are my own too, the rest were collected from Google images.
I need to give you a bit of preamble to explain how I heard about this museum first of all. I’ve been a member of the V&A (Victoria and Albert museum of decorative arts in London)…bear with me…since the early part of last year [so I could keep going to the McQueen exhibition but that’s a whole other story!] One of the benefits that goes with membership, along with unlimited visits to temporary exhibitions, is the chance to attend talks by speakers in the Lecture Theatre and external visits to places of interest. These are many and varied and some are of more interest to me than others-the best I’ve been to was an ‘in conversation’ with milliner, Philip Treacy, totally fascinating and engrossing. Anyway, the new list of upcoming events was sent out and it featured a visit to the London sewing machine museum-who knew such a place existed? I didn’t! I managed to get myself a ticket (easier said than done because the website went down-demand for tickets was high LOL) so I was all set.
The museum is in Tooting Bec, south London and very easy to find, Tooting Bec tube station (Northern Line) is only a couple of hundred yards away.
We were greeted by Joe and Lauren who I can’t fault for their knowledge and enthusiasm. The cramped entrance area is filled with extraordinary machines, including the biggest sewing machine I’ve ever seen, it was about 6′ long and HUGE, they used it for making ships sails apparently.
Once everyone had arrived Lauren and Joe took us upstairs where an absolute Aladdin’s cave awaited! [I should point out there’s no lift so anyone unable to manage stairs would find it difficult, or impossible]
I’ve never seen so many different machines for different purposes! Basically, if it needs sewing together then there’s a sewing machine to do it. As well as clothing they sewed gloves, shoes, corsets, handbags, boot-patchers, buttonholes, leather and fur. There were 4-needle machines for sewing corsets, blind stitch machines for curtains and hemming, waistbanders, early zigzag machines and cornelly embroidery machines (fiendishly difficult to operate by all accounts…like the others looked really simple, not!)
One of the things that struck me was just how beautiful many of the machines were. They were so ornate in their decoration, lovely objects as well as functional, not like today’s homogenised offerings. Many featured Mother of Pearl or even 24ct gold.
The first room contains the industrial machines, along with an old workshop left much as it would have been since it was last used.
Space is cramped in this area and we were a reasonably large group but we were free to look, and touch, for as long as we wanted. Many of the machines still work to one degree or another and Joe was able to demonstrate several of them for us.
There were also two small side rooms which contained all sorts of fascinating bits and bobs, like old pattern books and patterns, a display of needles, masses of instruction manuals for soooo many different machines
Once we’d finished in this room Lauren took us through to a second, larger, room which contained lots of domestic machines as well as the gems of the collection and a recreation of the original shop front.
Lauren’s enthusiasm for the telling us all about the machinery in this room was infectious and her interest in her subject was clear, she told us how Ray Rushton was a hoarder, an ‘accumulator’ of ‘stuff’ so the room also contains the last licensed barrel organ in London (we had a go, no monkey though) Another interesting fact is that Ray supplied over 3500 sewing machines to go in the shop windows of the All Saints clothing brand, as well as the machine used in episodes of Downton Abbey. Queen Victoria’s sewing machine from 1865 is here (she never actually used it, a Nanny did for many many years) it still has all it accessories and, intriguingly works left to right, not front to back.
The museum also contains the rarest sewing machine in the world, one of only two known to still be in existence. It’s wooden and dates from somewhere between 1829 and 1839, long before Isaac Singer patented his machine design.
There’s a fascinating story attached to it as well, having been discovered in a store room in Argentina! incredible that it survived at all because it doesn’t look much like sewing machines as we know them and could have been dismissed as something else less important.
The foot pedals on the treadle machines were lovely too.
So that’s a very brief idea of what this enthralling little museum contains. Clearly it’s rather specialist but if you love sewing, have been doing it for as long as I have and if you don’t live a ridiculous distance away then it’s well worth a visit. This was the first time the V&A had organised a visit and I’d urge them to repeat it before too long, We were made very welcome by Lauren and Joe (who I feel I must point out were very young -compared to most of the group-and not doddery 90 year-olds as you might expect!)
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the museum has limited openings but it’s regularly open on the first Saturday of the month. It’s free to enter but they welcome donations to their favourite charities. The Sewing superstore [another fabulous selection of fabric/haberdashery/machines etc] is just along the road and we were treated to refreshments in here afterwards before we all wended our way home. Judging by the reactions of a number of people I chatted to we’d all thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
As ever, I’ve not received any payment or inducements to write this-I bought my own ticket! I just think that with the resurgence of interest in sewing and dressmaking there are probably many of you out there who, like me, didn’t know the museum existed and would be interested in visiting. If you do, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if I’ve publicised it a little more then that’s good.