Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #21 - Plushies

We used to call them "stuffed animals" or "stuffed toys", but somewhere in recent history, they became known as "plushies". Plushies have been mass produced in the commercial realm (such as the famous Steiff), but they have long been created by hand. In economic hard times people can cut back on their purchasing to save money, but they also tend to want to indulge in small frivolities that make them feel happy and comforted. A small soft creature to hold onto is the perfect thing for anyone. It is like a pet but you don't have to feed it, change its litter box, or get a plushie sitter when you go away.

Historically they were made of natural materials such as mohair, wool, leather, or fabric. Nowadays, there are synthetics such as polar fleece and fake fur to add to the mix.

There are animals, creatures, even inanimate objects made personable by adding eyes and a mouth.
The ones I love the best are the articulated ones that are stiff and stand on their own.

I love how Sleepy King uses vintage fabrics with felt to create these sweet critters.
The printed plushie is beautifully realized in this butterfly by Artgoodies. Vintage lovers may remember printed tabby cats and pug dogs.
Sea creatures become adorable when they are "plushed"as demonstrated by Jaynedanger's octopus.
There are loads of monster plushies. You can buy and Ugly Doll mass produced in a factory, or you can buy this upcycled wool, handmade creature from Sighfoo.
I totally love these woo foxes from Strawberries and Cream.
The plushies from Kodomo are adorable, full of personality, and one of a kind. But the stories that come with them will really melt your heart.
A sweet little cloud with a smiling face like the one from Flufftail can't help but give you a positive outlook!

They are not just for kids, but you can get your kids interested in textiles and fiber arts by giving them small scraps or old socks, sweaters, etc. Help them stitch or draw a face and stuff it. They will love their very own hand made friend.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Little China Girl

My husband and oldest daughter just got back from a nine day educational tour of China and I am experiencing it vicariously through their stories and photos. I think my daughter really has an eye for design and composition and her photos are really great so I am going to post them periodically here.

I'll start with design and later post pictures of people, landscapes and building, art, and of course - textiles.

From the top:
A tray of vegetarian dumplings that was my daughter's favorite meal there. I think she liked it partly because it was so cute! The brown one was shaped like a walnut and filled with walnut paste.

A chic young woman framed by an ancient, beautiful doorway.

Cans of juice and tea in a market. The orange one had delicious chai type tea in it. The art on the cans looks like an esty artist's style.

I love this picture of a solitary chair in a country that we associate with crowding!

An ordinary, drab, winter street made beautiful by colorful flags and posters.

An example of efficiency and low gas usage - this is a florist's delivery "van". I also love the colors in this one.

A cool window in a shop. I want to print this one and send it to everyone I know with a wish for good fortune.

Lastly, a display of souvenirs from a building so tall, no one could see the top in the fog. They went to the top (I think it was 100 stories!) and were surrounded by glass walls, ceilings, floors, and fog!!!! I don't think I would have been able to handle that!

The overall impression they got was that China is a contradiction in time and space. It is crowded with vast open spaces, ultra-modern with ancient, ancient buildings, relics, and practices. It seems to me to be an example of a zen sort of timelessness, vibrant but still, where the immediate just is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #20 - Needlecraft in an Expo Hall

This Tuesday I am going to post another chapter out of my book on my adventures exploring fiber arts and textiles while living in London 10 years ago. It is a long chapter but I hope you will enjoy the humor and details about London. ...

When I first saw the posters hanging around town for the Creative Needlecraft and Home Decorating Show I was excited. However, I was also a little unsure of what it would actually amount to. The term “needlecraft” can be used to cover so many things. There are so many different categories and quite a range of creativity and skill in each one. I decided that regardless, I needed to go and at least have a look at what the term meant in this particular, English case.

My own experience with needlecrafts had been long and varied. My mother and favorite aunt had always sewn, out of necessity, knitted and crocheted for pleasure. When I was about seven years old, one of my brothers taught me how to use a sewing machine. We had my mom’s old electric as well as an antique kick machine in the basement and I used to practice making doll dresses in that dark, cool solitude. It was a good way to get away from hot, humid, Michigan summers and the commotion of my big family. My mother gave me scraps of fabric and yarn from projects that she had completed and I would use them in imaginative ways practicing sewing and embroidery.

My father’s mother was from Ireland where she had learned to knit and she taught it to me. Throughout my childhood, I would go with a sister or cousin and stay with my grandparents for a week twice a year. They lived in an old neighborhood in Detroit in the house in which my dad had been born. My Grandpa tended to his giant tomatoes and carrots and gave us pennies for each bug that we picked off a plant. My Grandma had old dresses and a fox stole that she let us use for dress up. They told us stories of leprechauns and fed us oatmeal with buttermilk. I always sat and knitted with my Grandma making little squares of different colors that she said she would sew into a blanket.

Over the years I got better and better at my various crafts and eventually made my own clothes and sweaters. I also did crewel and regular embroidery, needlepoint and doll making. I gave away pillows, pictures, or stuffed toys as gifts. I even sold three of my handmade rag dolls at a craft show in Pennsylvania when I was only eleven years old. I had been visiting my older sister who was living the hippie life on a farm there. That summer I learned about craft fairs, and many other things that I cannot mention. Ironically, or maybe not, I came back to making and selling rag dolls when I was in between college and graduate school. I had my own line of one of a kind art dolls that I sold and galleries and street fairs for three years.

While I was working on my own art, selling, keeping or giving it away, I was immersed in that world. I was inspired and influenced by artists and craftspeople all around me. I also read and learned about artist’s lives, about histories and techniques that I hoped to someday try. I had already scratched the surface of so much of needle arts and it was a twisted path that had led me to the exploration of it in England.

My experience with this show was suitably surreal. It was to be held at a huge new exhibition center on the River Thames. Slightly out of town, it required travel on the tube and light rail train – all together one hour from my door to the show. I left the girls at home with David and set out on an unusually sunny day. I had clear directions but I felt I was venturing into the unknown. In the first place, I was going completely on my own which I rarely did. Secondly, I had never been on the light rail and had never been in that part of London. One thing you soon realize about London and the people in London is that the neighborhoods are very separate from each other and long time Londoners are quick to admit that they rarely or never go beyond their well-worn path. In my short time there I had picked up this habit and I could understand its logic.

Having said that, I got out of the train amid impoverished looking blocks of flats and old warehouses, and was taken aback by the enormous, shining Excel Center. The pathways from the train to the entrance were clearly marked and the way in was also obvious from the flow of the crowd of people. I looked around noticing a funny thing about that crowd. There was an unusual amount of men and many of them were wearing leather. I thought that these women were lucky to have such agreeable partners that were willing to go to a needlecraft show. Inside, I soon realized my mistake. The vast space was large enough to host three or four shows at once and there was a motorcycle show underway in the hall across from the one I was going to. That hall was filled with metal, black leather and mostly men.

I went into the appropriate hall reminding myself of my mission: to survey the range of needlecraft offerings and to get information on fiber arts resources in Great Britain. I was also hoping to get inspiration from the best that the show had to offer. I had high expectations. I was looking for things that were high quality and artistic, involving skilled technique and, above all, for me, creative and original ideas. I love to get inspired by work that uses age-old craft infused with new ideas (or at least new life in an old idea).

As I squeezed through packs of mostly women, I was able to do an overview scan of the trends and variety of booths. By the end of the day, I was only able to find three or four things that were remarkable and valuable to me. This was at least something, but I saw when I walked in, that I was going to have to lower my hopes and do some searching.

There were loads of booths displaying and selling cross stitch and needlepoint kits and I was actually surprised at how crowded they all were. Obviously, these crafts were very popular. At a quick glance, one would have thought it was a big cross-stitch show. I didn’t like this disproportioned presentation since there are so many forms of needlework and the variety makes up the richness of the field. For my interests, I don’t find mass produced kits as inspiring as original work. However, some are quite beautiful and I do admire the work that goes into them. Unfortunately, all these kit booths took space away from exhibitions of knitting, weaving, or quilting. Two or three or six or seven of these booths would have been totally appropriate and worthwhile, but there were way too many.

What bothered me even more than that was the presence of booths selling magic markers, stickers, fuzzy pens, and cheap clothing accessories. About one third of the space was taken up by junk that had nothing to do with needlecraft or home decorating. There were also several booths under the category of equipment, demonstrating and selling sewing machines, lights, frames, computer programs and scissors. These were useful, but uninteresting to me at that moment. I kept trying to filter all this out and look for inspiring things. A little voice in my head was saying, “blah, blah, blah, don’t waste your time on crap, find the good stuff”.

As I walked through the crowds looking for an open space to breath, I came to a clearing at the back of one row. There I saw a small booth displaying beautiful sweaters and a couple of quilts. The Rowan Yarn Company was there and I walked over to talk with the representative. “Finally, something worthwhile!” I thought to myself. The excitement and surprise of seeing the actual people and products behind the books that I had admired and used made me a little flustered. The woman was very nice and welcoming. There was no one else at her booth and I wondered if she thought as I did, that we were coming to a different sort of show. She showed me the sweaters and told me where I could find their products in London. She also told me about their new books and workshops on quilting. The quilts hanging up were from the books and designs of Kaffe Fassett. Kaffe Fassett is an amazing textile designer/fiber artist who I have idolized for years. He does embroidery, needlepoint, knitting, fabric design and quilting. His works were as stunning in real life as they are in the photos I had seen in books.

I wanted to ask her what she thought of the show, how she came to be a Rowan designer, what role she thought Rowan played in the fiber arts trends in Great Britain. Since her booth was the first thing I had seen that really grabbed my attention, I wanted to stand and chat. I felt like a little kid wanting to say, “will you be my friend?” The fact that we were both grown women and that the English are often more reserved with strangers than Americans tend to be, made me choose restraint and I decided to be friendly but formal and brief. I told her that I was currently working on a Rowan sweater, asked for a packet of information about their suppliers and their workshops (which were held regularly) thanked her, and went on my way.

The next great thing that I saw was the International Felt-makers Guild. They had a display of handmade felt done in three different and original techniques. One had been dyed and then bleached to create a pattern on it. Another was made of small pieces of felt quilted together. And one piece had flax, lace and other fibers felted into it. There was a felt making demonstration underway at the booth, and they had books and posters and information sheets about felt making and about the guild. The ideas were new, imaginative and beautiful. They were executed with simple and age-old techniques, using quality materials. The woman, with long curly gray hair (reminiscent of a clump of angora fleece) was very friendly and encouraged me to attend some of their workshops. She even offered to pick me up at the train station since they were being held in Surrey. I did not take her up on this as I felt I had too many kettles boiling already and this would have been a new endeavor for me. I put it on my list of things to do in the nebulous future.

Further down the rows, I got a good grin and giggle out of the British Millinery School booth. They had a display of gorgeous, wild hats – so British! They even had one that was made of white straw with little hats plopped all around the brim and one on top, presumably for display only. It was interesting to see their selection of basic molds and their lists of individual head and hat measurements. A friend told me that if you have a custom hat made, they save your measurements in a book then you can always have other hats made that will fit you just right. Even though this would solve, once and for all, my problem of hats being too small on me, I could not imagine having a personal hat maker. I did love the fact that a person could go to a special school and have a respectable career as a high-class hat maker, even though it may not be something that a high-school career counselor would recommend. The exhibit was also highlighting the trend in the wearing of tiaras for brides as well as other formal occasions. This booth had the combination of complete seriousness and all out flair. As I walked on, I began feeling a little more satisfied with my decision to go to this show.

I gradually noticed among the aisles that embroidery was a major theme. In addition to all the cross-stitch, there was quite a range of technique and expression at many other booths. Several women had done watercolor on fabric then stitched images over the color. Some were landscapes or florals while others were abstract designs. These were beautifully done and deserving of the category of art.

The whole range of individual expression in embroidery was very nicely represented in a project put together by various UK Embroidery Guild branches. It was called Rainbow Squares. Each branch chose a color and each member did whatever image and method of stitching they liked on a four by four square. There was smocking, crewel, appliqué and beadwork. Designs ranged from traditional to abstract. The pieces were all lined up in rows according to color like a rainbow. The overall effect did look unfortunately a bit like a group project. However, the individual artistic expressions, one after the other, were really impressive. I personally liked one with pink background covered in little pink flowers and the sea green fish appliquéd on sea green fabrics. I wished I had had my camera because there were lots of good ideas. In fact, I think they should photograph close ups of the squares and make an embroidery sampler book.

The Embroidery Guild’s booth did have loads of wonderful books on all subjects having to do with fiber art. Looking at them, I couldn’t decide which way to go: quilting, textile printing, or embroidery. So I made a list of titles and wrote down their website. One that I wanted was called Conversations With Constance about Constance Howard. In her photo on the cover she had long gray hair dyed turquoise! The embroidered images inside were whimsical and original. There were images of girls and flowers that had the look of the 1960’s about them. It was a style that I am particularly drawn to because it seems so free and fun loving. Who was this amazing woman, I wondered.

My head was full of images, thoughts, and ideas as I wound my way out of the exhibit hall. I added research on Constance Howard and embroidery to my list of things to do. I know that it is a long list that, because of my curiosity and love of all things fiber, continues to grow faster than I can get through it. However, needlework has taught me patience and I have faith that, little by little, I will get through my list and maybe even have some good finished products to show for it. Maybe I will even dye my hair turquoise when it turns gray.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yoga Sunday

It's Sunday and while I didn't actually do any yoga today, I have been thinking about a particular part of it all day. My daughter and her friend were doing a yoga video this morning and I heard the teacher say something that is a perfect mantra for me right now (and really, I think it is perfect for everyone all the time).

She said "Yoga is Effort without Tension, Relaxation without Dullness". I am going to try to remember this as I try to find balance in my mood and in my life.

The photos are from the bottom up: capri pants from Salts, t-shirt from Nirvana Yoga Studio, hemp pants from Nature Gear, lounge pants from Herban Devi, drawstring gauchos by Gaiaconceptions, and Yoga Girl collage by Claudine Hellmuth.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Break is Over

It hasn't been a great week. I have been plagued with frustration, regret, and doubt. I feel like I should be doing something else so I can't make myself do the things that I actually should be doing. I need a plan and an adventure to get me motivated. Somehow, I got left without anything fun to do this Spring break, and I really, really, really, want something fun right now.

I did go to the museum and saw a great couple of exhibits. The sun is finally shining and the house is fairly clean. I will do some sewing tomorrow - maybe.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Life in a Southwestern Town

Well, being of Irish descent and having the name Sheila Clancy, I always feel a little "holier than thou" on St. Patty's day. I'm not really sure what it is we are celebrating here in America but, walking around downtown Flagstaff today, it seemed everyone was celebrating sunshine, warmer weather, and beer!

This town was founded by two Irish brothers from Chicago who came out to make it big in the timber industry. They built a ton of things including the Catholic church and a large, Craftsman style home now known as the Riordan Mansion. Now a days, with the economy in the toilet, the state of Arizona is closing almost all of its state parks including the mansion (which the family donated to the park system). It is a sad statement about the cycle of progress, growth, decline, and decay.

I could use that glass of Guinness now.

The photo is of me and my lovely daughter. We are wearing our Clancy shirts made by my talented and gorgeous niece, Amy. They are made of organic cotton from Alternative Apparel. Check out her shop. Maybe she could do a custom family shirt for you!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Empty House

The house isn't really empty but it feels that way. My husband and older daughter are on an educational tour of China! It is Spring Break so the house and its remaining occupants (myself, my younger daughter, and the two cats) are devoid of the normal routine, responsibilities, and stresses of the regular schedule. There are things we can do, but there is very little that we really have to do. I am feeling lazy, enjoying the quiet for the moment, and spending too much time on the internet. I was just checking the time in Beijing and the weather in Seattle. The grey clouds and drizzling snow add to my lethargy.

I got some sewing done and talked on the phone with an old friend . She lives in Oregon - lucky to be so close to Portland and all the cool art happenings! We had some good laughs, some shared outrage at social situations, and swapped sadnesses and worries. We are at that age I guess. She said "don't postpone joy." I don't, really. I am like those people in the old commercial about midwesterners where they say "we are smiling" through deadpan faces! Deep down (and just below the surface), I am smiling. It is quiet now, but we could break out into a dance party or a fit of hysterical laughter at any moment...

Friday, March 12, 2010

4 SKIRTS: Update - March

I've been thinking about the success, or effectiveness of my 4 skirts project. Has it accomplished what I wanted, have I learned anything from it, has it made any difference at all?

I originally wanted to streamline my wardrobe, minimize my consumption, and challenge myself to stick to a project for the sake of discipline.

I have definitely streamlined my wardrobe. I'm just not sure if this is a good thing. I was overwhelmed with too many clothing choices. I was hoarding clothes and feeling like I needed more in order to be stylish. So I have stopped doing that. I have made better use of some of my clothes but I have almost forgotten about others. I like having my daily outfit predictable. It is less of a bother. But I have gotten boring and sloppy. I pick things that go together too well and lack imagination or style. On the other hand, I sometimes throw on anything together with one of my skirts even if they clash (and not in a good way).

I have definitely minimized my consumption and I even lust after things much less. I don't really shop as much as I used to and when I do, I am much more likely to pick something that is quality over quantity. I am starting to think about my birthday and some new duds that I would love from handmade sellers on ETSY.

I mentioned before that I adopted a new skirt so that really, now, I have 5 skirts - even though I really only wear 4 of them. I did also slip a couple of times but I did not let that dissuade me. I am realizing that I am not a disciplined person and I don't really like following strict rules. So I think I am doing a pretty good job with this, but I don't think it is really going to have any long term effect on me.

With winter being so long and cold it is hard to think about any fashion other than flannel pajamas and down coats and boots. I think I have managed this aspect of it pretty well with leggings, leg warmers, scarves and sweaters. But, I have to say that I am itching for summer (I think our Spring is just going to be more snow and wind)! I think my skirts wardrobe will be revitalized when I can shed all the bulky layers.

My 12 year old daughter informed me that I need to pay better attention to my total look - accessories, jewelry, shoes, and hair style must go with the skirt and top. I knew this but I have gotten lazy and sloppy.

I am going to try harder over the next 3 months. I will even consult her when I am in doubt. I am glad I chose 4 skirts because I do love the skirt.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #19 - Stripes!

Take a straight line of varying thickness, set it next to another one of a different color and the same or different thickness, and repeat. This is the formula for one of the simplest and most basic design elements - a stripe. You can use just two or multiple colors, they can be equal thickness or thick and thin (a pin-stripe), they can be vertical or horizontal. They can be printed, woven or knit.
These photos are all great examples of the varieties of looks or styles you can create with a stripes.

You could be a pirate, or a French mime in this little dress by Miss Lirjam. Pair it with a yellow daisy brooch and some boots and you could be straight out of the fashion pages of the 60's. The black and white is so dramatic and simple at the same time, it can easily transform into whatever you like.

This dress reminds me of Doris Day meets the Queen of Hearts! I love the femininity of the cut with the power of the bold stripes and the red! This is made by a company called Audrey and Grace. They make new, custom dresses with authentic, vintage patterns.

This camisole from Evil Needles takes on a modern, retro '80s look with the turquoise and black. Just by changing the color combination, you get a totally different feel.

This sweater by Punk Rock Hippie mixes a fat and a skinny horizontal stripe with a few fun details to create a mixture of sailor, victorian, artsy, pirate look. I love it!

A pale navy vertical stripe can look very preppy or even Victorian. The corset by Gas Lamp Corsets is reproduction but it looks authentic. It would be great for a period costume or a Steampunk fashion wardrobe.

This skirt below by Snuggle Pants, is a great example of multiple varieties of stripes. It is so colorful and fun! And, it is made from up-cycled sweaters so it is warm and eco-friendly!

The stripe is so plain and so familiar that it allows designers to use their imagination to take it wherever they like. I have just looked at women's clothing but the stripe also dominates men's fashion and home decor. Maybe I'll do a couple more posts devoted to those areas in the future.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wrap Around Joy! (Skirts Project)

Does anyone remember the wrap around hippie skirts of the '60s and '70s? Whether it is an Indian tapestry hippie skirt with the hem down to the ankles, or a short tennis skirt, or a stylish classic length kilt, the wrap around skirt always seems to have staying power.

I saw these little girl skirts by Rare Birds Clothing, on Etsy and it reminded me of how fun they can be. They are easy on and off, and they can be adjusted to whatever feels comfortable on the waist or hips. There is something really free, sporty, and a little sassy about a wrap around skirt.

My Mary Jane skirt (the brown hemp one) is a wrap and it is a pretty good substitute for pants. With the extra bit of fabric I can sit on the ground, I can move around easily in it, and I always get compliments on it.

Here are some fun examples from a google search and from Etsy - starting at the bottom going up:

I love this vintage pattern from Cemetarian Vintage.
How about this fun dotted one from Elle et Lui Indian Exports.
Are these not the coolest from Fantasy World Heroes? They are meant to be worn as an outer layer to keep warm and dry when you only have a short coat!
My absolute favorite is this retro looking one from Katinkapinka.
And this is on my wish list for my birthday this year - Made With Love by Hannah.
Reversible little girls' skirt by Rare Birds Clothing.

Check out all these great shops and remember, you don't have to be a hippie to wear a wrap around skirt!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I like Happy Music!

When iTunes was having their contest for the one billionth song sold, I tried to think of a song that I wanted to hear. I looked up Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. I was first exposed to them in about 1982 when I was working in a pizza place and the manager was a big fan of theirs. I think Cruel To Be Kind was a hit then so I probably knew about that. I studied Hamlet in high school so I loved that rock and roll was being literary and witty.
Anyway, I found this American Bandstand video on youtube. As one of the commenters said, it probably would be criticized now because of "inappropriate" messages, but I love the youthful energy and charm. I can't think of any contemporary comparisons. I guess I would have been a senior in high school when this came out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Textile Tuesdays : #18 - Lucienne Day

This is an chapter from a book I wrote about my year exploring textiles in England. Unfortunately, I was never able to get it published but I am still holding out hope, and I thought I might share a couple of chapters here on my blog.

As I am posting this, I see that Ms. Day died just one month ago at the age of 93. She lived a long and creative life! Click here to read her obituary.

Lucienne Day was an amazing woman, a talented artist, and one of my heroes. I hope you enjoy this story.

Chapter 6

Lucienne Day Exhibition at the Barbican

The weather was getting the slightest bit better and even though it was just the beginning of March, my friend, Sheila, and I were getting motivated to make the most of our remaining time in England. Sheila and her husband were in a perpetual state of indecision and uncertainty about returning to the states or putting down roots in London. They loved their life abroad but missed having close contact with family. I knew that I had only three and a half months left before we headed back to Arizona and I felt that I had only scratched the surface of things to do and see. The more I tried to prioritize and narrow down the list, the more things seemed to pop up.

I had seen an article in the Sunday paper about a show at the Barbican Gallery and Arts Center. It featured a husband and wife pair of designers who were very big in London in the sixties and at the forefront of Contemporary Design. I read that he – Robin Day, did primarily furniture design and she – Lucienne Day, did mostly textiles. I wanted to go right away.

Sheila and I both had our little girls in nursery school for only two and a half hours each morning so our free time was limited. I suggested we go to see this exhibit mid-day on a Monday, taking the wee ones with us. This was less than ideal, as I would have loved to go alone and take my time quietly dwelling on each piece in the show. Hoping and waiting for that however, would leave me having seen very little. So, Monday we picked up the girls at the school at 11:30 and took the tube to The Barbican. It is right at the Moorgate stop on the Northern Line, which was a “straight shot” as they say, from Highgate to the exhibit.

I had never been in that area before and it was very interesting. It had a different feel to it compared to other parts of London that I had seen. Instead of small tightly packed Victorian buildings and shops, there are lots of newer offices and large diner-type restaurants, obviously geared towards the business lunch masses working close by. Also, I think that this area was heavily bombed in WWII and new buildings went up later.

The Barbican Center is a huge complex built in the 1970’s. It consists of theaters, cinemas, galleries, meeting halls, restaurants, and even private apartments. The buildings themselves are modern, gray concrete with abstract, crooked lines carved into the walls in random places. They are not pretty to look at, and the landscaping is minimal. However, the whole thing is built along and over a canal or some sort of waterway. There are fountains, brick piers, patios and benches, so that it is fairly clear that thirty years ago or so, there was definitely a progressive plan to the entire space. It was not just a huge ugly thing that grew mistakenly wherever it could.

The aggressively modern design and the combination of art, architecture and daily life, made it the perfect place to exhibit the work of Robin and Lucienne Day. The show was called “Robin Day, Lucienne Day: Pioneers of Contemporary Design.” It was a retrospective of Lucienne Day’s textile, wallpaper, and ceramic dish design work alongside that of her husband’s furniture design. The exhibit was set up to look like actual rooms that someone might have lived in during that era. As I walked from room to room, I could easily imagine people drinking martinis, women with puffed up hair-dos, and men with thin ties. It felt like walking onto the set of the Dick VanDyke show. There were fabulous, striking fabrics and wallpaper hanging on the walls and hip, sleek chairs, tables, sofas and cabinets positioned next to them. They also had rugs, televisions and radios designed by one or the other of them so that the scene looked complete.

Having grown up in the sixties, the style was so familiar that I almost forgot that I was there to look at the design and techniques used in the textiles. I snapped out of my nostalgic episode and focused on the placards describing the artist and her works.

Lucienne Day graduated from the Royal College of Arts in the 1940’s. She met Robin Day at school and they were married before she had graduated. The two shared a talent for and interest in contemporary design that focused on minimalistic, abstract elements. They worked in the same studio, side by side, but independently, from then on. They still do. She worked as a textile designer for Heal’s department store for twenty-five years where she pushed for the production of her first contemporary designs against the judgment of the store’s design director. No one else was doing this type of design in the early fifties, but her Calyx design was a huge success that started a whole new trend in textiles and decorative art. Looking through the exhibit and marveling at all the original and beautiful textiles, I got the impression that she had a very focused, productive and successful career. Besides Heal’s, she also worked for a German company called Rasch producing wallpaper and dishes.

Her early work included stylized natural images such as leaves, flowers, and animals, placed in a geometric order, in large black or neutral colors. One piece was a large checkered pattern made up of alternating abstract horse heads and curlicues. Over time, the designs shifted gradually to color and abstract shapes and textures. They were bold, playful and cheerful. She was inspired by the works of Alexander Calder and Joan Miro, and it is gratifying to see such inspiration applied to textiles.

Lucienne Day was also influenced by the artwork that she had seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was amusing to think of her as a young woman, visiting the museum and studying the piles of beautiful objects. Did she know or even dream that today her own fabrics would be kept in their textile department?

Starting her career towards the end of WWII, she was impressed by the scarcity and bleakness that people had to live with. Her bright, whimsical designs are an expression or her belief that art should improve people’s lives. According to her comments noted in the show’s narrative, as a young designer it was the goal of she and her husband to make artistic items that were accessible and affordable to masses of people. For almost three decades, she succeeded in doing this through her own dress and interior decorator fabrics, and also through the influence that her work had on a whole wave of artists.

As I looked at the pieces hanging on the walls, I imagined all the things I could make out of them: pillows, dresses, curtains, quilts. The abstract geometrics would make great fabrics for quilting. I wished I could go into a fabric store today and see some designs like hers. I would have loved to find them reproduced for decorator fabrics, and also some of the patterns shrunk down a little for dresses. I hadn’t seen anything remotely like her work in new fabrics. (I even went into Heal’s.)

It is possible that some of the originals could still be available, undiscovered, at thrift stores and estate sales. There may even be some new fabrics being produced in this style since the sixties are regaining popularity. However, I decided, the most likely and the most rewarding way of obtaining my own stash of original and unusual fabrics would be to make my own. I thought - if she could do it, I could at least try. I saw a book at the needlecraft show called, Fabric Dyeing and Printing by Kate Wells. It looked great and I planned to get it and even use it. I wanted to practice making line drawings on fabric, using large repeat patterns of primitive or geometric shapes. I had always loved checks and dots and it was fun to think of making my own variation on this theme. It was uplifting to me to think of fabric as a canvas (which is ironic in a way). I loved the idea of painting or printing my own designs on fabric that I could then use in my projects.

I wished that I could get a book all about Lucienne with color photos of all of her fabric, however, I had to settle for the book about both of them that accompanied the show. It was actually a beautifully done book with interesting facts about both of their lives and work.

I was really glad that I had found out about this show and that we had made the effort to get out and see it. The Lucienne Day exhibition left me inspired and motivated both by the actual art and also the dedication that this woman had to her work. I would have loved to meet her and I wished I could bump into her on the streets in London and tell her that I am a fan.

[I did get a fantastic book called : Robin and Lucienne Day - Pioneers of Modern Design, by Lesley Jackson. I have done lots of textile design and fabric printing since I wrote this and she was one of my greatest inspirations. I have also discovered through ebay and etsy that her fabrics are still available to buy through vintage sellers.]

Photo credits: Retro To Go posted these pillows by Spirographica made of Lucienne Day fabrics, her famous Calyx fabric design, a photo of the woman herself. RIP.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stream of Consciousness

I have been feeling blocked lately. I just feel in limbo. I have things to do and I am doing them. I am fulfilling all of my responsibilities - eating, sleeping, working, exercising, parenting. I just don't feel very engaged or inspired. I am usually the kind of person who is driven with creative and nervous energy - always thinking, planning, striving. Just now, I feel like something in my brain is on pause.

I know that it is mostly due to so many changes happening right now - some of them definite, some of them TBD. Loads of things are in the planning stage. This is good but it makes me feel like I can't dig my hands in and charge ahead with any plan of action.

I have been having a hard time thinking what to write, since I don't want to be just whining and moaning, so I thought I would write just whatever comes up without editing and just do a Freudian, stream of consciousness thing. It seems like it might not go anywhere but let's give it a go:

This morning I was at the breakfast table with my girls. I was talking about a song stuck in my head - "hopelessly devoted to you..." then I started to say "hopelessly demented in my brain". There was a radio show in Detroit where the DJ was called Dr. Demento and he played weird music like The Monster Mash. But my brother in law worked in a sleep clinic where the head researcher was called Dr. Dement, for real!

I dreamed last night that a friend and I (we were both about 16 in the dream) invented a new form of travel. It was a bar that swung off of telephone poles and you could swing from bar to bar like monkeys and go miles in just minutes. I think we were in Michigan and we wanted to
go to Portland, OR.

I wish we could go to a resort or something for Easter. Christmas seems like the holiday to be at home but Easter is more suited to getting away. It is already March first and I wish this month were over. I know I need the time and I shouldn't wish time away but for some reason I know that April and May will be more positive and productive.

I am supposed to be organizing a party for the fun of it. The theme is "Preppy". I originally got the idea to have a send off party for my husband who was going to teach for a term at Princeton. That was a year ago. Still, I haven't scheduled a date for it.

I've been listening to Chris Evans on bbc radio 2 lately while I sew. Little things that I hear get stuck in my head: a love immeasurable is a love unmeasured; it's good to be important, but it's important to be near the kettle - how's that for stream of something? I laughed when he said he put his wetsuit on backwards with the zipper in the front.