New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines – my sketches

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The Medieval Historian and I decided to go to Amsterdam for our wedding anniversary this year.  I wanted to see the new entrance to the Rijksmuseum, and the exhibition, New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines, the catalogue for which the MH had given me after his previous visit there.  The exhibition is now over which is a shame because it turned out to be fascinating even for the MH who was not expecting to enjoy it.  It was a show of their collection of early fashion magazines, and the style of drawing was as interesting as the clothes for me.  Although you could take pictures and the illustrations in the catalogue (plentiful on-line) were magnificent, I think there is something about drawing which is useful because it makes you look hard and notice.  So here are my sketches – pretty rough – done in waterproof pen and ink, with a wash applied later in the hotel room, which is why there are colour notes on them.  I am sorry that for some reason I can’t enlarge them without the dreaded pixellation today, but they will give an idea:

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Incidentally, I loved the Rijksmuseum extension.  I love the idea of a main road running through a museum.  That really does bring in hard to reach audiences.

What I finished off at the weekend


I am still working on this large Laura Ashley wall piece, although there are other things I should be getting on with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I lost all interest in this piece and so I am rather surprised to find myself enjoying finishing it off so much.  I have two more of the Regency panels to go and then a very small Marie Antoinette and then I will have to get it all together which is going to be fun as it will be very heavy.

I am really pleased with these two panels, the one above and this one:


The colours, which have not come out well in these photographs, go together really nicely.  Almost everything, as usual, is scrap and was destined for landfill.  The beautiful machine embroidered silk, for example is a tiny scrap from a sample book:


I couldn’t bear to throw that away even though it is just a scrap.

These panels are supposed to evoke these ‘simple’ muslin gowns of the Regency period – seen here with the fashionable paisley shawl accessory, necessary because the dresses were pretty flimsy in the un-central-heated mansions seen in the background here:


All these panels have some Laura Ashley fabric, although the further I get into the project the more I am using silk scraps.  The Laura Ashley piece here is some very tightly woven, fine grade furnishing fabric printed with olives.  I decided that the ladies in these panels would at the very least have heard about olives from their dissolute brothers on the Grand Tour, even if they didn’t eat them.  I couldn’t be bothered to do the food historian bit to find out if olives were commonly eaten in the eighteenth century.  I apologise!

IMG_1047The scraps for these two panels were attached to the thin cotton wadding with decorative machine stitching which I did with the tank-like Singer machine that my mother gave me because she could no longer lift it.  Some of the stitches are perfect for doing a sort of pseudo-crazy quilt.


I’m afraid I use spray glue to keep everything in place and then do as much construction stitching as I can on the machine before doing the embellishments by hand.  I have no idea what the long-term effects of the spray glue will be, but I expect to be past caring in the nursing home when I find out.

I used some beads I bought on a weekend away in Brighton to finish off the quilts like the three little flower charms in the above panel which were exactly what I needed, and the key here:


Again, you can see a little bit of the luscious embroidered silk, also from a discarded sample book.

These beads are from a broken necklace, and I love the way they look like little walnuts or even brains:


Finally, I don’t really like the craze for buttons as jewellery.  Buttons are utilitarian things, unless they are the really special ones, and no amount of stringing them seems to me to create art from plain plastic in primary colours.  But, I do like mother of pearl and I like it, like all my embellishments, massed, so here are some ordinary round buttons, sewn on with pearl beads:

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I really like the difference in tone of the mother of pearl.


The Brighton Bead shop the beads came from was KerrieBerrie

What I did at the weekend


This weekend was spent filling up the reservoir, as it were, as I spent a lot of time with my Grate Frend Beatriz at exhibitions and in art shops.  On Friday we went to the blockbuster exhibition about Alexander McQueen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Fitwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the Treasured Possessions exhibition.

I may get round to writing about the McQueen exhibition at some later point, but for now all I can say is that it is every bit as stunning as all the publicity for it says it is.  It is more like art than fashion, visually stunning with brilliantly chosen music.  It is disturbing and horrifying and delightful and enrapturing.  If you like beads, embellishment, fabric, beautiful technique, which you probably do or you wouldn’t be reading this, then this is paradise.  But equally you could see demons around every corner and it wasn’t hard to see why he took his own life.  So sobering as well as seductive.

On Sunday morning Beatriz and I spent some time in her studio working with what we had seen and, in my case, pouring liquid watercolour as a starting point for a design based on the impression McQueen had left on us.  This is mine:


Treasured Possessions, on the other hand, was small and rather restrained, certainly compared with the ravishing excesses of the McQueen experience.  It was about material culture, and in particular, shopping and consumption, with a big emphasis on the eighteenth century.  Something I would never have predicted was just how lovely a set of Meissen figurines depicting people selling things would be.  The very word Meissen brings back Sunday teatime and ‘Going for a Song’ (I am that old) and ‘Antiques Roadshow’.  But these were delightful.IMG_4423

My very quick sketch of the Meissen figurines.

I got a huge amount of inspiration for my work on Laura Ashley at this show, which I will write about later, but what I really I want to talk about is an accompanying exhibition to the main show called ‘A Young Man’s Progress‘.

This is a collaboration between sisters, artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead and fashion designer Bella Newell (Burberry); and Professor Ulinka Rublack.  In it they take a remarkable book, a collection of images commissioned between 1520 and 1560 by Matthäus Schwarz of his most fashionable outfit of the year and recreate or reimagine them telling the fictional story of Matthew Smith, a young man from North London, who is obsessed with clothes.  The modern photographs are sumptuous, I think lifesize, images of exquisite clothing, but what makes them so arresting is the witty reworkings of the original picture.  Now, while the Fitzwilliam has postcards of the contemporary pieces, it does not have the corresponding images of the sixteenth century source material so I can only demonstrate using this not very lovely snapshot taken with my phone:


So we can at least see the substitution of the North London scooter for the horse, and possibly appreciate the way the cut of the coat echoes the folds on the original tunic.  I really liked the weapon being replaced with the mobile phone in this image.



It’s a shame these aren’t clearer but there is a very good video on the Fitzwilliam site.  I loved these photos and the process to create them because they were clever, inventive, aesthetically lovely and they made me laugh outloud.  I really recommend this little show, which is separate from the main one, and free and on until 6 September, if you happen to be in Cambridge.

What I did at the weekend

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These are really not very good photographs of the work I did on the new Laura Ashley piece.  I have had a big burst of interest in this quilt, and I am wondering if it is because the other large piece has gone.  There is a lot about at the moment on the subject of decluttering.  One idea is that you have to clear out old stuff to let the new in.  I wonder if I had to let go of that piece, which had every technique I knew at the time in it, and completely wiped out my bead collection, in order to produce something new.

Anyway, I spent a couple of hours yesterday working with scraps of cloth to put together the foundation for two panels.  Again this is mainly fabric which would be in landfill if it hadn’t ended up on one of these pieces, although the Regency prints are commercially produced.

I wanted a record of how they looked before I started really working on them.  The pinkier one has some embroidery already, but the bluer one is at the very beginning.  The minute the embellishment starts to go on they really change.  All of my embellished quilts are like Vegas showgirls – nothing much until they put on the bling and step out into the lights.

I will post again when I have made some progress on them, and it’s good to have some hand-stitching to do again in these long, dark winter nights.



The Femme Fatale Collar

The title of this one is pretty self-explanatory.  I was in two minds whether to include a collar like this.  The whole topic of sexuality at work is a tricky one.  There is no doubt that some women do use their sexuality as a way of advancing their careers, and that the double standard still applies.  There are male womanisers in my profession, of course, and people smile and wink.  Women who do it, on the other hand, are often viewed with some distaste and even a tinge of pity.  There is also a very strong argument that women’s sexuality has always been strictly policed and controlled, and this just continues into the workplace, a method of social control that should be challenged.  So, it is a contentious area, and a difficult one to work with, but one which has to be included in any serious discuss of women’s clothing at work.

This collar is a bit of a cheat as I bought the neckpiece and then stitched some feather trim around the edge.  I had forgotten the hazards of using this kind of elaborate edging, which is that they can often have a prodigious amount of glue keeping them together which quickly transfers to the needle.  I had to throw two away because they were so gunged up by the end.  The idea is a bit of a cheat too, as I saw it in Cloth magazine ages ago and had a yen to make one.

I think that this one would be wearable in the evening.  My inspiration comes from Mata Hari and all the jewellery and accessories of the Roaring Twenties:

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I think I bought the centrepiece in Liberty:


All this is reminding me that I bought a bargain copy of the recent version of The Great Gatsby and that I should sit down and watch it, if only for the costumes.


War Collar Three: The Don’t Mess With Me Collar


This piece is another which has been looking for a home.  I made the piece on a workshop at Heartspace Studios with Basil Kardasis in 2012.  I’ve noted before that I love things that are really heavy with beads and this little sample definitely is.  I could have mounted it as a piece in its own right, but I always felt that it wanted to be worn.  So finally I made it up into this very large amulet.  It does have a flavour of tribal beadingimages-11 images-10 images-7

but as I was thinking about it, I thought it was also very much influenced by those enormous macrame beaded neckpieces from the 1970s:



These are from a wonderful book I picked up for 50p from a second-hand bookshop (thrift store):


I have always loved big clunky flashy jewellery with lots of things hanging off, and this piece is flashy.

I made the rolled fabric beads and mixed them with commercial beads, which I think works really well:


and I kept to quite a restricted rich palette:


and then added a bead necklace in the bargain bin at the supermarket as the neck strap.

The back is atrocious, though:


A bit of cotton velvet against the skin.

This piece is basically an amulet to ward off anything that needs warding off, basically!  I loved making it, so possibly it protects by giving off positive energy rather than anything more sinister.

War Collars project


I have spent quite a lot of the summer at conferences presenting my research to my colleagues.  One of the new projects for this year was on the connection between suits of armour and contemporary men’s business suits.  Both are about protection and display, and both are designed for men.  Women fit very badly into business suits just like they fit uneasily with big organisations.  My explanation for this is that organisations are arenas for men’s aggression, real or symbolic, micro-aggressions as they are known in the sociology business and women have no place in men’s quasi aggression (consider women’s football, cricket, rugby, boxing).  You can decide whether you agree with this or not, but whenever I listen to my corporate friends talking about their cars I always think of the scene in `Henry V where the Dauphin and his knights boast about their horses.  Anyway, according to this logic, women going into the corporate fray need their own sort of protection, so I thought it would be interesting to make some gorgets for them, based on an element of plate armour:


Gorgets were the piece of armour that protected the throat.  The throat is a vulnerable area, and also produces the voice, which so many women find gets silenced in organisations, hence the old New Yorker joke, ‘That’s an excellent idea, Miss Jones, perhaps one of the men would like to suggest it.’  So, I decided to make some gorgets with the proviso that they had to be just about wearable.  More about this project later, but I wanted to start with the second one I made, which I call the ‘Money Gorget’.  The finished piece is at the top of the post.

I started with a piece of fabric made from remnants of previous projects which I had started and then abandoned:


These were rough strips of blue, woven loosely together then tacked down onto a piece of Laura Ashley needlecord.  Then, for some unknown reason, I started to do seeding all over it with thick yellow perle cotton.  What a stupid idea.  Very hard on the hands.  But the little yellow marks look like tumbling coins when you step back a bit.  I added some more stitching with Madeira’s lovely lana thread which has a high wool content and so makes quite a nice firm mark and comes in really good subtle colours which tone down my preference for fuschia and lime:


I outlined the pattern with tacking stitches and then filled it in with stitching.



Then I began to cover it with smoky acrylic gems that I collected from a flashy top.  There is a custom in my part of Bristol of leaving things on the wall for others to take if they can use them, and I picked up the top on a walk with the dog.  Fantastic to find so many gems for free:



Finally, I lined the piece and then stitched some cube beads on with buttonhole, using a technique that I learned from Laura Kemshall, and the whole thing sprang to life and suddenly looked very finished:


These cube beads used to be violently expensive so you could only do a bit of the edge, but they seem to have come right down in price.

I finished it off with a secret pocket on the back for messages of encouragement and support:


Which is the fabric without any embellishment.  I made the strap with a chain necklace in Sainsbury’s sale – and you could see why – which fitted well and makes it look like the more ceremonial hanging gorget you see after plate armour was no longer widely used in battle.


The idea behind this piece is to prompt thought about how bad women still are about talking about money.  The grey gems obscure the coins, but the money is still there.  Maybe I should put some cash in the secret pocket and see if that has any effect.

Here’s the workbook page for those of you who like sketchbooks:


Revisiting a classic


I have been working on a new project, which I will blog about shortly, and I thought that I would get out my copy of The Shining Cloth by Victoria Z. Rivers.  It is a great book, a bit of a classic now, published in 1999.  Every page has something gorgeous on it, and the photographs are stunning.   It’s a study of ornamented clothes from a wide variety of countries, but mainly Asia and Africa.  Most of it is tribal costumes.  I pick the book up from time to time when I want some ideas about beading.  I have used it so often that the cover came away from mine as I was using it, which gives it a battered field guide quality which I really like.  I was looking for neckpieces to study, and I find drawing is the very best way of studying something and seeing how it fits together.  Here are the drawings I made from various pages:


I am making a series of neckpieces which I will share in my next blog posts.


Drawing armour at the Wallace Collection


The first subject on this week’s list of things to blog about was drawing armour at the Wallace Collection.  This all started because I am interested in men’s workwear, and in particular the development of the business suit.  There is a fair bit of interesting material about this.  Anne Hollander and John Harvey are probably the best place to start.  One argument is that men’s suits can be traced back to suits of armour in that they are composed of tubes of cloth which encase the body just as armour is made of tubes of steel.  You get the idea if you think about suits made in mohair or silk which are shiny and metallic.  Here’s a classic:


And a suit of armour:


My argument, of course, is that the suit acts like armour – symbolic armour against the symbolic violence in organisations.  A perfect example of that is Suits (which you can see on British TV on Dave).  The series is about an aggressive US law firm, and the protagonists are all exquisitely dressed:


And style and self-presentation is everything:


The women are also exquisitely dressed in very close-fitting dresses.

One of the things that is really interesting about armour is that battlefield armour is different to ceremonial armour and to jousting armour.  Form really does follow function here.  Jousting armour is designed so that lances glance off it, and ceremonial armour is meant to dazzle.  It was violently expensive, custom-made, and people commissioned it from craftsmen all over Europe, particularly Germany and Italy.  So, despite my qualms about the violence involved, it is interesting in its materiality and functionality.

It also has a complicated relationship with civilian clothing.  Sometimes the armour apes civilian fashion, and sometimes civilian fashion borrows from men’s armour.  Uniforms are a case in point with Jimi Hendrix and his heavily frogged jacket:


The Middle Ages/Early Modern period mixed fashion and opulence and function and utility and back again.  So armour mimicked the very close folds of linen worn by men (and changed very frequently):

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The armour, then, is modelled to look like fashionable civilian dress as seen in these sketches from the Wallace Collection, but equally, there was a fashion for ordinary clothes to ape battledress.  An example of this is the slashing found in much of the clothing of the period.  The little puffs of fabric do demonstrate that the wearer has sufficient money to buy the fine silk required to get this effect, but it also looks like fine underlayers coming through slashes from a sword blade in combat:


My sketch of two portraits in the National Gallery shows many of the features that armour displays.  In the figure on the right we can see the very broad shoulders and tapered waist of the warrior’s armour, the pleated shirt which we see in the plate armour, and the slashes echoing the sword blows.  The military and civilian is collapsed together.  The drawing on the left shows the silhouette found in so many of the suits of armour in the Wallace.  Paintings in The National Portrait Gallery brilliantly show the silhouettes on which the armour was modelled.  The peascod jacket is seen in its fabric incarnation in the famous portrait of the Earl of Southampton:


It’s a great portrait because he looks so dastardly:


So.  There is more to say about this, but that can wait for the summer and the conference presentation.  I wanted to end this post by adding in elements of the Zentangle doodling I mentioned in my last post.  The workmanship on these pieces is stunning, and the catalogue and the commentary in the Wallace Collection urges us to see them as works of art (although it is difficult to see past them as works of murderous intent).  I took some of the armour in the Wallace Collection and added the zentangle patterns I’ve learned so far to turn them into works on paper, to show their proportions and their decorative qualities.  I started by drawing them in my sketchbook and then filled in the spaces with the doodles:



This last one is done with a white gouache pen on black sketchbook paper and gives a nice feel for some of the black armour or the bas relief pieces.  This final sketch is my rendering of a design on one suit of armour’s screw heads into a Zentangle pattern.  It was fun to make:


I really think that the doodles help to capture something about the armour.  I just haven’t quite understood what yet!

Quick burst of creativity



There is a nice part of Bristol called Westbury Park which has some great shops, like a proper baker and a tailor that does alterations, and the very lovely Heart Space Studio.  This year the local church is running a sort of treasure hunt in which the Bethlehem shepherds have lost their sheep and the children have to find them in local shops.  So the participating shops (and I shall not be using the non-participating again any time soon) have a sheep with a name tag in their window.  I am not sure if the shops had to provide their own sheep, which they might have done as the sheep were all shapes and sizes, but some were really obvious and some made you look hard.  My favourite, though, was definitely the fancy dress shop which decided to dress theirs up as Johnny Depp.

Nice use of creativity all round, and the acceptable face of craftivism.