If you think crafts like needlepoint, patchwork quilts, rag rugs and tapestries are suitable only for your grandma’s cupboard or for the ever so American stitch-and-bitch sessions, then think again. 25 years after the V&A showcased Kaffe Fassett’s designs, the Fashion and Textile Museum brings him back to London with Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour.
Besides featuring a nine-foot wide knitted shawl, and various coats and throws, the exhibition features a ‘feeling’ wall where visitors can touch the textiles and learn about their construction. There are cushions, quilts, throws that make up a list of over 100 exhibits. Fassett’s cushions are less tapestry and more a glorious celebration of nature and human-made colour. Nothing is too mundane to feature in his work. Cityscapes, rhododendrons in full bloom, and roosters at full cock are etched in fine needle-point on his cushions and rugs, and they would give William Morris’s full-blown colour a run for its money.
When Fassett isn’t designing his fabrics and quilts, he fashions costumes and stage sets for the Royal Shakespeare Company and he has written more than 30 books, hosted television and radio programmes, and run workshops and classes for his many followers.
All this frenetic energy and his love for colour are all very Californian. You can’t grow up in Big Sur and not grow up with a desire to colour everything in nature’s best colours. Fassett grew up in a house that once belonged to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, a house that boasted Henry Miller as a neighbour. And if that wasn’t inspiration enough, the house was attached to a restaurant called the Nepenthe, a hub for dancers, artists, writers and film stars in the ’60s. It would be difficult to grow up surrounded by people like Joan Baez, Jack Kerouac and Steve McQueen and not want to do something extraordinary with your life.
Fassett was only 19 when he won a scholarship to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and then in ’64, he moved to London, just when London was on the brink of launching into the swinging ’60s. The rest is history. Now, half a century and a six-part Channel 4 series later, the artist is still as prolific as ever, painting his earthy ceramics and patchworking his quilts.
Kaffe Fassett: A Life in Colour will run from Friday 22 March to Monday 29 June 2013 at:
Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey St