To describe the influence of this man and the central place he holds in British textile and design history wouldn’t be possible in a single blog post as this one… It’s not an exaggeration to claim that he started a revolution in the world of handicraft as he challenged old traditions of a (mostly) female community of crafters. I’m speaking of Kaffe Fassett, the first living textile artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The year was 1988 and the exhibition became a huge success and went on tour in nine countries, among them Sweden where I had the opportunity to see it in 1990. By then Fassett was a well-known celebrity in his forties due to many successful books and television shows on knitting and textile art. I remember the unbelievable line-up outside the prestigious museum in Stockholm and how breathtaking it was to enter the austere hall with its huge staircase and stone pillars, now warm and inviting by all the colourful textile works of Fassett. Looking back I can see this as a starting point of my lifelong passion for colours and patterns.
Let’s jump back in time to the 60s where a young artist from San Francisco decided to quit art school and move to London. His intention was to continue painting but a journey to Scotland would change his path in an unexpected way. Visiting a wool mill he got inspired and bought 20 colours of Shetland wool and some knitting needles. On the train back to London a fellow passenger taught him how to knit. Obsessed with this new passion he created garments that didn’t look anything like traditional knits. His technique was highly unorthodox according to common practice – he didn’t settle for a limited number of colours but added new ones along the way until a piece could have thirty or more. But this was not the end of it… He didn’t bother about the practice of neatly attaching loose ends on the backside of his work, but left them as they were. Collaborating with the fashion designer Bill Gibb his first design ended up on a full spread in Vogue Knitting magazine. He became a sensation – the male designer who knitted everything himself! Shortly he was asked to make a piece for a big feature in British Vogue which led to a collaboration with the fashion house Missoni. It was 1970 and Fassett had embarked on a new career.
Knitting was not enough, he soon dived into other areas such as needlepoint and surface pattern design to get an outlet for all his ideas. I love the consistency with which he translates his colourful patterns into different mediums. You never miss his signature style be it patchwork, stitching, knitting or painting (see below). His patterns made a profound impact on me in my twenties and he is still such a shining star on my list of pattern pioneers! Fassett has since worked more with textile arts and crafts than fashion. He still collaborates closely with Rowan Yarns, Rowan Patchwork and Quilting, Free Spirit Fabrics and Ehrman Tapestry to mention a few.
You will find a lot to read on this fascinating artist here for example, so I will not go into further details about his life and work. I just wanted to introduce him as the eye-opener to the world of colours and patterns that today has resulted in my illustration studio and this blog!
In 2013, Kaffe Fassett followed up his 1988 exhibition with a new big solo show in the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, A life in Colour, celebrating 50 years as a textile designer. You will still find him producing new collections every year, isn’t that a life to dream of!
Want to know more? Here is where to start:
All copyrights of the pictures belong to Kaffe Fassett Studio, Rowan Yarns, Ehrmans Tapestry or Free Spirit Fabrics.