Were there an award for the nicest person in the world, I think my friend Alison would be a very strong contender. She noticed the above Gucci chicken in Florence and kindly sent me a photo to go with my own Fabergé attempt. Of course, this could just mean a lot more work: a series of chickens in the style of – Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston, Gudrun Sjødën and so on.
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:
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.
Every year I make a New Year Doll. I do this on New Year’s Day, and the only rule is that it has to be made on one single day. Last year I cheated a bit and assembled a doll from the arms and legs that I have already made in a bag for when I feel like making one, and she was really only dressed and accessorised on New Year’s Day:
She is a pretty glamorous example with her indigo-dyed silk skirt and elaborate hairdo:
I really just make the dolls for fun and a sense of achievement to see in the New Year, but this one did seem to herald a year which was to have some very glamorous moments.
This year’s is very different. She is very folky, and if anything she is about craft and going back to basics.
She is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t make her on New Year’s Day, mainly because I spent quite a bit of it on the M42 and M5 in driving rain hoping it didn’t all end here as I overtook lorries in a cloud of spray. So maybe this doll is about survival. She is made entirely of scraps, samples and leftovers. The fabric is all from a big bag of tiny furnishing fabric samples that my mother and I sat and sorted on New Year’s Eve. We pulled off the sticky labels which identified the fabrics on the back. My mother remarked that it was just like piece work which is what a lot of women did when I was growing up to make money to support their families. They mainly worked in the Nottingham lace trade, and did things like separating strips of lace with a hot wire mounted on a box to make edging lace from a large machine-made piece. There has been an awful lot written about exploitation and piece work and home work and women working for pennies, but that afternoon, and granted it was only one out of a lifetime and not something I had to look forward to all day every day, was really nice as we talked as we worked. I don’t want to sentimentalise all this, but I can see that working with your family at home rather than in a factory with a foreman might be a preferable way to earn a living.
Anyway, this doll takes on a very simple shape. I have been working with this pepper pot shape for a while and am enjoying exploring its versatility. I also like the wimple shape around her head, and the embroidery on her face is based on some of the tribal designs I have seen in years of sketching in ethonological museums:
The embroidery on the piece is mainly quite traditional. There is raised chain band around the face, and some herringbone, but mainly running stitch:
The thread is the wonderful perle cotton that Winifred Cottage sells. I was distressed this year to hear that there won’t be any more. It is my absolute favourite and I use it for everything. When I found out that it was coming to an end I asked them to send me a selection – it’s all beautiful so it doesn’t matter what you get:
I am really looking forward to using it, although a bit sad because it will be the last. I like it because it has such wonderful subtle random colour, is really strong and soft and glides through fabric. I wastefully use it on construction rather than just embroidery, as a real luxury.
For some reason I really wanted to leave the doll open so that she would stand up over a water bottle or a vase or some other receptacle. It rather makes me wish I were still seeing my therapist to work through some of this! I think, though, that she represents a year of solid, unshowy work, finally putting scraps of work into order and getting them published, and working at perfecting the craft rather than displaying the flash. Being my doll, however, she does have a bit of bling in the very ritzy upholstery trim sample stitched to her breast:
And the bit of silk among the cotton.
The final two pictures were taken with a very cheap clip on macro lens that I bought for my phone camera. I like to use the phone camera for the blog because the pictures load so much more quickly, but the phone takes ropey close-ups. These are a bit better. I still can’t find my fancy camera which I bought expressly to take close-ups, so this is a compromise. With luck the photography on this blog will improve next year.
Finally, and this might say something about what next year will bring, I prefer the back of the doll to the front.
Last week I had a fantastic time in Oxford and London. I was in Oxford to give a talk to the lovely Oxford Embroiderers, and London for a meeting of a research team. While I was in Oxford I thought I would use some spare time to go to a show. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford had Francis Bacon and Henry Moore juxtaposed. I sat in the exquisite museum restaurant before going in:
I thought to myself that although I love Henry Moore’s sheep and London Underground sketchbooks, I can take or leave the sculpture. I actively dislike Francis Bacon’s work after a trip to his major retrospective a couple of years ago. So, why am I going, other than I feel I should. What a waste of a sunny autumn afternoon for me at least. So I had a stroll to the Art bookshop in Oxford and a volume on art and the New Materialism almost leapt into my hand. I am currently using this theory in my work so this was absolutely perfect for me. A sign from the universe, in fact, that I had done the right thing.
The next day I went with my lovely friends Beatriz and Alison to the Bellville Sassoon exhibition at the Fashion Museum in London:
I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t carry the catalogue home because I had too much stuff from the talk in Oxford, so I have ordered it, and I will be doing some work with it, I am sure. Photography was allowed, so I got some pictures. What I loved was the geometric arrangements of beads. I loved the whole thing so much that I came out feeling refreshed and delighted as if I had been eating lemon sorbet. Perfect. The photos were taken with an iPhone rather than camera and at least one is blurry, but they gave me inspiration for weeks to come:
I’ve never really known what to do with those scallop-shaped sequins that you often get in mixed packs but this is an interesting pattern.
I think that the grid patterns were very reassuring somehow. All’s well in the world when the beads are so clearly under control, a new take on the aesthetic beauty of effiency:
I also loved the painted coats from the Indian collection:
And this one where the client insisted on including her pet dog:
This more recent dress showed a fantastic sculptural quality through the manipulation of the cloth:
This one is almost entirely made of beads stitched onto a sort of beige net:
I couldn’t help but wonder if it was heavy to wear.
The one I would have had, though, would have been either this seventies hippy dippy gem:
or this one:
Maybe the one with sleeves would be better, but this fabulous yoke cries out to be reinterpreted in some way. Watch this space.
A small added bonus was that Mr Sassoon was there in person, looking remarkably fit as he is somewhere around 80, in an elegant midnight blue jacket. He seemed delighted about the whole thing and happy to pose for photos and talk about techniques. Being British I was far too reserved to approach him.
On the way home, I was bored on the train so I started to draw beaded flapper or shimmy dresses with the Vellum app on my phone:
I am temporarily back from my travels, which included a trip to Warsaw to the conference of an organisation I chair (www.scos.org). Warsaw is a fascinating place which really brings home the reality of the violence of the last century. A great deal of the old town has been rebuilt to restore the capital to its former glory as a way of asserting Polish identity. This means that what you think is really old on closer inspection turns out to be a modern rebuild, which I think was the case with our hotel, which was lovely but not the Edwardian palace it looked like.
The art deco feel was rather magnificent, though, (and only affordable through an internet deal). These are some pictures of it which might one day serve as a starting point for a piece of work:
All very Klimt-y. The final two photos are of a cut work leather panel which was very stylish:
This is the latest Laura Ashley husband doll, Marrakech Maurice. I wanted him to look a bit like Paul Getty in the famous photo by Patrick Lichfield of Talitha Getty on a rooftop in Marrakech:
I’m not quite sure where he came from, but he was great fun to make:
I had a couple of gos at his hairy chest. I tried colonial knots but they just looked like he had a nasty skin disease, and I tried little ties of stranded embroidery cotton, but they looked clumpy like a different skin condition and so, in the end, I fell back on free machine embroidery over some black net to fill in the gaps. Quite quick to do and a nice effect.
The reason that he is a Laura Ashley husband is that he is wearing trunks under his kaftan made from Laura Ashley fabric, with a belt made from the ribbon they use to wrap things up at Space NK and a small button with a Greek god or Emperor on it – which again seemed fitting:
The cotton fabric for his body was a remnant so I have no idea of the make, but gave him that toasty tan colour of a lot of peacock males, and the lovely green fabric for the kaftan, which I thought was just right is a Kaffe Fassett print which I bought in a sale in Bristol because I couldn’t resist it. Then it make the perfect fabric for Maurice’s kaftan with a good match of scale.
I am slightly troubled that I appear to be falling in love with these boys, and what that says about the state of my psyche, but they are really good fun to make. The Medieval Historian rather likes them as well, which helps. Maurice seems even more pleased with himself than Gorgeous George. I think it might be the moustache. I have another piece underway where there is no moustache (but a rather nice Laura Ashley shirt) and he looks a lot less smug. I think Maurice’s love affair with himself is infectious, though, he makes me smile whenever I catch sight of him.
Last night the BBC took a short break from wall-to-wall Olympic coverage and showed the first in a series of three programmes about colour. The series is called A History of Art in Three Colours. It’s presented by James Fox. The programme itself was a bit unconvincing. A claim was made that Klimt was attempting to reinstate gold as a precious thing after its debasement in the aftermath of electroplating. This might be true, although I would have liked a bit of proof rather than assertion. That said, it was a lovely thing to look at for an hour, and I look forward to blue and white which are to come. The programme had a warm golden glow and glittery feel to it. So we got Tutankhamun’s death mask:
And Cellini’s salt cellar:
And the Scandinavian Sun Chariot of Trundholm:
And, of course, quite a bit of Klimt, particularly The Kiss:
All the gold was sumptuous and lovely, and very, very glamorous. Glamour is a theme that I have been thinking about a lot in my work on women and brands. Anita Roddick had personal glamour and Laura Ashley promised a kind of aspirational, glamorous chateau-style lifestyle in the nineties. Gold is clearly glamorous and nicely ambivalent. It’s beautiful and dangerous, larded with temptation. Miraculous. I love the way that it doesn’t corrode or tarnish so that when the Anglo-Saxon treasures come out of the ground they are always pristine. The boy pharaoh lives forever, as does Klimt’s wonderful Adele Bloch-Bauer
‘Mehr Blech als Bloch’ [more brass – money – than Bloch] was the joke when it was exhibited. I got the idea of the programme, the links between what we hold most precious and gold, but the presenter himself was an interesting case with regard to glamour. He wore Tarantino Reservoir Dogs outfits throughout:
It didn’t matter what the terrain or temperature, our boy was in his black and white outfit, usually with Ray Bans:
I understand about the demands of continuity, and I was glad that he didn’t whip out the gratuitous iPad without which no documentary now seems to be complete, but somehow it the suit, shirt and tie just didn’t look hip or cool or glamorous. It looked contrived. It looked like he was trying. It didn’t look effortless. And it looked derivative. The sitting in the sun in a white shirt, black tie and black suit and Ray Bans looked like a still from any number of films, including one of my very favourites, Grosse Point Blank:
With John Cusack.
Dr Fox looked like he’d watched a lot of Taratino and Robert Rodriguez at an impressionable age. Glamour, I think, has to look like your style. Dr Fox looked styled. Elizabeth Taylor or Talitha Getty would have wafted through those locations in kaftans looking utterly convincing:
And look at this for glamour:
This is a woman who even wore her rubies and diamonds in the swimming pool:
This might seem to be a digression, but although Taylor clearly thought about the impression she was making, she looked utterly like herself even in her pool.
So what about glamour in my own work? Why all that gold and beading and jewels and sparkle?
The work demands to be looked at – these are showgirl textiles. The Body Shop Quilt requires its own space in any exhibition (and gets it) and preferably a halogen spot to bring out the bling. So glamour demands attention. Glamour is about lustre, about light. It is about surface. And in my case glamour is about excess – where it can easily tip over into camp, gaudiness, chaviness and trashiness:
This brings me back to one of my favourite topics: taste. Glamour doesn’t normally suggest good taste, but really glamorous people, Taylor and my mother’s instant selection, Joan Crawford, know when to stop. They know when to take one piece off. They are self-aware. This is the sort of glamour which makes us think if we tried very, very, very hard we could actually achieve:
And we can’t finish about gold and glamour without this picture:
These thoughts are still underdeveloped, but it’s good to have a tv programme that makes you think for once.