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I’ve temporarily swapped the New Zealand winter for the northern hemisphere summer (though as I type it’s a cool, rainy day in Yorkshire) and I’ve done a bit of vintage textile sightseeing while I’ve been here.
One of the first things I did in London was visit the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street (http://www.ftmlondon.org/). It was founded by British designer Zandra Rhodes – you can learn more about the background story here.
Most of the previous exhibitions have been about fashion but the current one concentrates on fabric. Very Sanderson – 150 years of English decoration surveys the history and production of the iconic (and I think this over-used word is deserved in this case) textile company Sanderson.
Sanderson is best known for its chintz fabrics and wallpaper like Early Tulip (left), which was first unveiled in 1929 and is still produced today. However, as the exhibition demonstrated, Sanderson is about much more than overblown flowers. In fact, the history of the company is a good survey of western fabric and design history in general – there are the busy botanical William Morris-esque prints of the mid-19th century, followed by art nouveau and the stylised sun-burst and other art deco motifs of the 1930s, through to the abstract scientific patterns of the 1950s and the return to florals in the 1960s and 1970s. One of my favourite modernist designers, Lucienne Day, did this design for Sanderson:
The wallpapers and fabrics are largely displayed chronologically and are accompanied by large panels which give a summary of the company’s history and main achievements during each period. This is also replicated in the exhibition booklet which came with the entry fee – this will be a handy little source of information in the future I think.
The real treat is the wallpapers and fabrics themselves, which were loaned by the Sanderson archive for the exhibition. It was wonderful to have fabric that I’ve only seen in books and online before my eyes, the aforementioned Lucienne Day especially.
Fabrics from the 1920s to the 1970s were displayed in large drops on one wall. In the centre various fabrics were arranged in a cylindrical drop, which is how they were displayed in Sanderson stores as shown at left.
The 1980s chintzes were displayed on the floor above, along with ‘log books’ from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which contained strips of wallpaper produced by various companies eventually absorbed by Sanderson. These books included the pattern name, notes about the designers and cutters and the cost of this work. I thought it was odd to display such different artifacts from distant periods alongside one another like this – but I guess the log books were not strictly Sanderson so wouldn’t have fitted with the earlier pieces on the floor below.
Nearby were made-up curtains and upholstered couches and chairs which demonstrated patterns currently available. I really like Dandelion Clocks (below), designed for Sanderson by Fiona Howard in about 2009.
It references the motifs and style of the mid-20th century without feeling too derivative.
The one real criticism I have of the exhibition is the lack of information of the designers, whether in-house or contractors. It wouldn’t have been hard to have a panel about Lucienne Day for instance, and I would have been pleased to learn more about less well-known people. Luckily the visual feast helped me to get past this deficit.
The next couple of exhibitions here also deal in fabric. If you find yourself in London add this museum to your to-do list.
I had also hoped to get to the V&A’s Quilts 1700-2010 but so far train cancellations and flight delays have thwarted me. I have a small window of opportunity in a couple of weeks though so fingers crossed! Check out http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/ for a slice of this.
Now, in a complete and random (but hopefully pleasant) departure from what I’ve been talking about, here are some photos of two cute pieces I bought at a market in Aix-en-Provence in France for €5 (about NZ$10). I think they are handkerchief holders or something similar. Knowing about 10 words of French was not helpful at the time of purchase.
This one is made of beautifully soft cream embossed cotton. The flower is exquisitely embroidered – the maker didn’t put a finger wrong.
This specimen is much more work-a-day. It’s rough calico and the embroidery can be similarly described, but I quite liked the wee rower all the same.
Winter is almost upon the southern hemisphere and it’s time to unearth the blankets from the glorybox again. That’s what I like about winter: donning woolly hats, scarves and coats for outdoor excursions, and curling up with a blanket indoors.
The thing about the blankets I’m about to show you is that they are never shut away. These beauties are on permanent display.
I find a pile of folded vintage fabrics so very pleasing, don’t you?
Onto my number 1 favourite. I found this in a Salvation Army op shop in Hamilton. First sight was one of those heart stopping op shop moments – you instantly realise you are in the presence of beauty, and what’s more, it’s yours.
This is the genuine vintage, home-made article: gorgeous & stylish floral barkcloth on one side and somewhat irregular small rectangles of mainly men’s woollen suit fabric sewn together to form the underside. There’s wadding in between to make it warm.
The flowers are very cottage garden. I think addition of the mango and yellow lozenges and the curved white lines on the pale brown background are what makes this fabric so striking.
I wonder where the maker got the different pieces of suit fabric from? There’s a lot of quite different fabrics. Perhaps she (and I’m happily guessing the maker is a woman) worked in a woollen mill or draper’s shop. This is a great example of thrift and practicality on one side leavened by pure beauty on the other.
Number 2 is definitely nipping at number 1’s heels.
This photo doesn’t do this exuberant little lap-rug justice really. This is a blanket I made myself with op shop scored barkcloth fabric. It came in two parts and at the time I was not a confident enough sewer to try and join the pattern seamlessly together – my slightly clunky solution was to join them to a strip of white cotton. Nowadays I’d happily join the pattern, but this is a reflection of where I was at then and is part of the blanket’s story.
Anyway, onto the fabric. I love the combination of 1950s modernity in the shapes and colours with the more traditional floral elements. Sometimes floral and more abstract combinations really don’t work, but this sure does.
The underside is made of a more coarsely-woven cotton, perhaps of a similar era. I used part of an old, stained woollen blanket for the wadding. To acknowledge this element I removed the label from the blanket and sewed it to the exterior under side.
Number 3 is another blanket I made using vintage materials. It’s more simple than the other two – long rectangles of fabric sewn around the edges of a piece of grey woollen cloth, backed with tan woollen cloth.
I was lucky enough to get a lot of my dear old Nan’s fabric when she moved into a retirement village and this stunning 1950s barkcloth was the best. It came to me in 4 long strips – offcuts – and I couldn’t bear to cut it, so I decided to work with the dimensions I had and make a blanket. This is what determined the size of the blanket and (like number 2) it is more suited for use as a lap-rug than draped across a bed.
Again, this fabric mixes floral and abstract really well. In this case it’s the bold, predominately primary colours that make it a real winner. I love the ball-topped sticks too. They fill in the white spaces without crowding the fabric.
Don’t these babies make winter so much better?