Kate Davies Designs

Delaunay retrospective

You all know of my Sonia Delaunay obsession, and I was extremely excited to attend the opening of the retrospective of her work at Tate Modern last week.

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Box, (1913)
Delaunay crossed disciplinary boundaries effortlessly, and it was wonderful to see her ease in various aesthetic / commercial contexts properly represented. Delaunay did not impose artificial disciplinary separations on her work, but strove to develop a continuous aesthetic across all the media in which she worked – an approach I find really inspiring. I was moved to see the cradle quilt (out of which one might argue her distinctive take on colour and contrast emerged) and her incredible painted boxes (much derided by short-sighted critics when they were first exhibited alongside her paintings). One of the aspects of her work I find most interesting is her commitment to transforming her own domestic space into a sort of spectacular lived artwork. For Delaunay, the boundaries between the intimate and public spheres seemed pretty irrelevant: only she could have created a curtain-poem.

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Curtain Poem (text by Phillippe Soupault) (1924)

However many times you look at an art-object in a book, nothing quite matches actually being there with it in front of you. This was the first time I’d seen Delaunay’s work up close, and doing so made me reflect on many things. I thought about circles and discs and just how important rotation was to her aesthetic (a swirl of dancers, a spool of film in a projector, the whizzing mechanisms of a car or aeroplane).

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Robes et Tissus Simultanes de Sonia Delaunay (film, 1925)

I began to really appreciate the difference in her materials and techniques between the early and later periods; I thought about how soft pinks and and purples really defined her palette in the teens and twenties, and then how grassy, mossy greens later dominated her work. Looking at the way she blended and overlaid shades in the remarkable canvases she produced in the years that preceded the first world war, I felt that for the first time I was beginning to understand what she was doing with colour — how colour had really become form for her.

electricprisms
Electric Prisms (1914)

The retrospective also lent me a renewed appreciation of Delaunay’s playfulness, her confidence, her joie de vivre. In the body of work included here – in these rooms full of objects alive with such a profound and continuous aeshetic energy – you can really feel that Delaunay was not in the least hesitant or self-questioning, either as artist or individual. Her approach to both life and work seems to have been basically to embrace the moment and just get on with it. This appeals.

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Discs (1968)

I also confess to an, ahem, mild excitement at hearing myself talking about Delaunay on the audio guide to the retrospective. I’m proud to have been invited to contribute: it was one of those moments where my old life as an academic and my new one as a creator of textiles happily collided. So if you visit the retrospective and take the audio tour, you’ll also hear me talking about the garments Delaunay designed and made in the 1910s; the innovative patterns she created for Metz & Co, and her carpets (such as this one, produced in 1968).

This is a groundbreaking and breathtaking retrospective of this important, polymathic modernist. If you are in London, I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. The accompanying book – including several illuminating essays exploring Delaunay’s work – is also superb.

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay
Tate Modern: 15 April – 9 August 2015

a trip to London

YARN

Hello! I’m just home again after a fantastic trip to London. I was there to attend the opening of the Sonia Delaunay retrospective (of which more shortly), but I also . . .

fortnums

. . . had a wonderfully jolly time in Fortum and Mason with top wool comrade, Felix. We drank posh tea, talked feminism and politics, and filled our faces with finger sandwiches and cakes. The battenberg comes highly recommended.

loop

. . . spent a lovely afternoon with Rachel (brilliant tech editor, talented designer, fellow northerner, and all-round good egg). It was ideal weather for some leisurely pottering around the streets of Clerkenwell, hanging out at Loop, sampling the unbelievably delicious wares of Paul A Young, and finding a length of beautiful fabric at the Margo Selby sample sale.

foundling

. . . spent a morning at the Foundling Museum – an institution of which my background in eighteenth-century history means I know a reasonable amount, but which I’d never visited. Nothing can really prepare you for the profoundly moving affect of the ordinary objects and textiles that parents left as identifying “tokens” for their children. (If you’d like to know more about these, do go and explore the excellent website associated with John Styles’ Threads of Feeling exhibition)

sevendials

I also had the very great pleasure of meeting up in Covent Garden with one of my knitting heroes – the incredible June Hemmons Hiatt. I only spent couple of hours with June, but could honestly have sat and talked matters knitting and otherwise with her all day. Every project June undertakes speaks of a truly exemplary care and thoroughness and I find her tremendously inspiring. We all have The Principles of Knitting on our bookshelves. We know it is the book any designer or knitter can turn to with any kind of technical question, and be certain of finding a clearly-written, well-illustrated answer. For over three decades this book has set a standard, and we are all beneficiaries of June’s hard work. I have often been struck by the fact that this repository of knitterly wisdom has emerged from the tireless research of one individual over several decades, and if you’d like to read more about the process of creating (and recreating) The Principles of Knitting, there’s a really fascinating account on June’s website. As someone who knows a reasonable amount about the interconnected worlds of scholarly research and book production, I find what June’s achieved pretty staggering.

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Thankyou, London, for the sunshine, and the inspiration!

I’ll be back tomorrow with Sonia Delaunay.

haps!

haps
(image courtesy Shetland Museum and Archives)

I am a great fan of haps (which form the focus of one of my long-term projects) and I’m very happ-y indeed to see increasing interest in these simple and timeless shawls: Gudrun has a wonderful Craftsy class on haps, and has been running a knit-along for her full and half hap patterns for a couple of months. And, yesterday, led by Louise from Knit British, the much-anticipated hap-along began!

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Several participants in the hap-along are knitting either my Northmavine Hap (above), or my Hap for Harriet (below) and I wanted to say a few words about these designs.

hap5lo

These patterns are inspired by, and share elements of ‘traditional’ Shetland haps: they are worked over a garter stitch fabric; are knitted in a “heavy” rather than a “fine” Shetland wool yarn; and feature simple Shetland openwork patterns, rather than fine lace. Their construction, however, is rather different from the borders-in, or centre-out method used by Shetland knitters to create a hap: Northmavine is a top-down, centre-out design, and Hap for Harriet is worked from side to side with some simple shaping and openwork to create its sweeping points.

hap4lo

My understanding of the word “hap” is as a simple wrap or covering – a word that has been used in Scotland and Northern England for centuries to convey the idea of cosiness and warmth. I wrote about the etymology of “hap” in Colours of Shetland thus:

“As knitters, we may have come across the word “hap” in reference to Shetland (or Shetland-type) shawls featuring simple openwork, but what precisely does it mean? “Hap” is a word common to Scots and Northern English dialects, as well as Shetland, and means to wrap, to cover, or conceal. From the 14th century on, the word “hap” crops up frequently in a wide variety of Northern texts, its usage ranging from the quotidian (the protection of crops in cold ground, the repair of a thatched roof) to the sombre (the wrapping of a corpse or the burying of a secret). In Scots, to be “weel happit” means to be well wrapped-up against the cold, and, it is perhaps in reference to colder winter weather that the word has been most often used. In The Brigs of Ayr (1786) for example, Robert Burns summed up the time of year as “when the stacks get on their winter haps”, and James Hogg memorably captured the atmosphere of a chilly evening: “When gloamin o’er the Welkin steals / And haps the hills in sober grey” (Forest Minstrel, 1810). More recently, ‘hap’ appears as a singularly Wintery covering in Edinburgh author, James King Annand’s lovely poem, Purple Saxifrage (1991).

Aneath a hap o snaw it derns
Deep in a dwam for maist the year
To burst throu in a bleeze o starns
Syne skail its flourish on the stour.

(Anglicised:
Beneath a hap of snow it hides
Deep in a dream for most the year
To burst through in a blaze of stars
Then spill its flourish on the storm)

When the weather is chilly, what better way to be “weel happit” than in a warm and cosy wool shawl? While, in 19th-century mainland Scotland, the noun “hap” might suggest a plaid or other type of women’s wrap, in Shetland a “hap” came specifically to refer to the attractive openwork coverings made and worn by the knitters of those islands. In contrast to the luxurious fine lace shawls that were produced for merchants or special occasions, haps were intended for everyday use, to be worn around the house or on the hill. Spun and knitted thicker than fine lace, a hap was a garment with a function: to keep the body warm. Wrapped and tied around the torso, or tucked hood-like around the neck and chin, a good hap would efficiently insulate its Shetland wearer against the exigencies of cold and wind. Knitted over a background of garter stitch, and featuring shaded chevrons of familiar Shetland openwork patterns (first in natural sheep-shades, and later in dyed colours), haps could also be incredibly beautiful and striking in their simplicity. Like the best kind of functional clothing, haps possess a certain timelessness of design, and today this Shetland classic is frequently re-interpreted by knitters around the world.”
Colours of Shetland, 2012, p.52-3

hap11

I think it is their functional quality – coupled with a certain elegant simplicity – that make haps appeal to me so much as both a designer and a knitter. These are garments to be made and worn. They are relaxing to knit, add colour and warmth to our outfits, and have a certain timeless ease which to me suggests the importance and longevity of the simple shawl in women’s wardrobes. Because of this, the Northmavine Hap and the Hap for Harriet are among my favourite designs, and if you are making either in the hap-along I do hope you enjoy the patterns!

hap3lo
(Hap for Harriet in Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 2ply)

hap3

(Northmavine Hap in Jamieson and Smith 2 ply Jumper Weight)

Thanks so much for all your good wishes over the past couple of weeks. I really have been quite unwell, and because of this somewhat grumpy – hence the silence here. As you might imagine, it can take me a while to recover from what to most folk is a routine infection, and I find this really frustrating, but am happily regaining my energy now. If you are waiting for an email response to a customer service query I promise I’ll get back to you soon!

bleugh

Just to let you know that, due to ill health, I’ve not been able to post any shop orders or answer any customer queries so far this week. I hope to post all orders by this weekend and will catch up with email next week if I’m better. Many apologies, everyone!

(t)insanity

tins

The other day I noticed that a particular corner of the kitchen was feeling a little dark. Upon investigation I realised that what was blocking out the light on the windowsill was a teetering tower of tins. These were not tins with any useful function, containing food or craft items. These were empty tins. My name is Kate Davies and I have a tin problem.

italian

charaix

I have a tendency to purchase products with little knowledge of the contents simply because I like the tin.

apron

I am unable to throw away any decent-looking tin.

stpetersburg

I purchase tins as souvenirs.

poulard

I develop particular obsessions with particular tin designs. Why oh why do I need a Mere Poulard tin in every single colour ? Note: These tins are empty — I just like the look of them.

teacake

I much prefer Tunnocks tea cakes and yet I had to buy this tin of Marks and Spencer’s tea cakes, simply because it was a tin shaped like a tea cake.

deer
cheese

Tins of monochrome design are particularly appealing.

tea
bettystea

And Betty’s tins clearly pose a specific problem.

bettyscake

bettysbiskits

How can I possibly possess eighteen Betty’s tins? The majority of which are empty?

Obviously there are aesthetic reasons for many of my tin acquisitions, and some are simply personal favourites which I shall never get rid of. But I think it is time to let some light back into the kitchen.

THE MOUNTAIN OF EMPTY TINS MUST GO!

in which I discover Scottish Madras

madras1

The other day Brenda, my lovely neighbour, appeared with a piece of paper in her hand, a gift for me. When I unfolded it, the piece of paper turned out to be a rather interesting and very beautiful hand-painted floral design, which I could immediately tell was some sort of pattern repeat.

madras2

But what sort of pattern repeat? I have a limited knowledge of weaving, but in many respects this pattern didn’t really resemble the weaving directions I’d seen. Upon further examination, I felt the motifs had a sort of open quality about them that suggested lace. There was an identifying number on the reverse of the paper.

madras4

This suggested the pattern was intended for use in an industrial, commercial context. But what kind of machines produced charted lace? I examined the patterning and instruction marks, all of which were carefully hand-painted. . . as was the lettering.

madras3

Then I noticed this word – Madras. I had a vague recollection of some kind of openwork fabric of that name being produced at the turn of the twentieth century. Poking around my books, I found a reference to “Scottish Madras” in Lesley Jackson’s Twentieth Century Pattern Design. Semi-sheer muslins with openwork patterns were traded from, and associated with the Indian port, and, in much the same culturally appropriative way that Paisley became a byword for textiles originating in Kashmir, so an Ayrshire iteration of Madras’s gauzy, lacey muslins began to be produced in the mills of the Irvine valley from the 1870s onwards.

Further poking around revealed more information: that Scottish Madras was introduced to Ayrshire by Alexander Morton, a Scottish textile innovator and entrepreneur who admired and emulated the technology of the Nottingham Leavers Lace machine. The semi-transparent nature of the fabric meant that it was ideal for curtains, and, by the turn of the twentieth century, design houses such as Voysey and Morris & Co were using Morton’s machinery to create lightweight curtain and furnishing fabrics for sale at outlets such as Libertys, in London. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, several mills in Irvine valley were hard at work creating fine lace fabrics like “Scottish Madras”.

MYB textiles
(image courtesy of MYB textiles)

Scottish Madras was, then, quite a specialised textile, involving precise design techniques and innovative technologies. The resulting fabric was pretty ubiquitous in the 1910s, and decorated countless early twentieth century domestic interiors. But what had happened to these technologies? Had they died out, as did so many other important innovations, when the Scottish textile industry declined later in the century? Well, imagine how delighted and excited I was to discover that that a company still exists in Ayrshire, using essentially the same specialised technologies to create contemporary interpretations of this important and distinctive local fabric! That company is MYB textiles and I suggest you pop over to their site immediately to read about their history producing Scottish Madras and laces. Even more excitingly, Kashka Lennon, one of the designers at MYB textiles, was able to tell me more about the pattern Brenda had given to me.

madras5

According to Kashka: “This is a Nottingham Lace draft, you can tell from the colour used to paint it, the red symbolises the most opaque areas, the green semi-sheer, the white represent the sheer of the lace and the blue symbolises the tags used to pull the yarns together to create very open areas of the design. I can also tell that the design you have would’ve have been for a small 16” café net style fabric by the orientation of the pattern on the graph paper.”

Kashka also mentioned that while she has been taught to recreate these patterns digitally (perhaps in much the same way as we knitwear designers do using Illustrator and other charting software) her design director was trained to make drafts using a similar hand painted technique to that of my chart.

There are beautiful and intriguing things about so many charts and patterns. I find this chart especially beautiful and particularly intriguing because it was a gift that has taught me something about a distinctive Scottish textile I never really knew existed. I now intend to visit MYB textiles to find out a little more about the techniques and traditions of machine-made lace in Scotland! I am very excited about this and promise to report back here after my trip!

Thankyou, Brenda, for sending me on this journey!

between weathers

one

Finally! A break in the weather. It is beginning to feel vaguely Spring-like at last.

two

Primroses! Things in bloom on my doorstep again!

six

Bruce and I have been making the most of the weather on our daily walks.

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You can see the water levels of Loch Lomond are rather high – a result of the near-biblical rain we’ve been having of late.

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One of my greatest pleasures on my walks is observing the way the weather (of which there is a lot out here) transforms familiar objects. The light, for example, is different every single day. This tree (a favourite) looks different each time I see it. Yesterday it was all but submerged.

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Tom has been making the most of the weather too – running the Deeside Way – a 33 mile race in preparation for the Highland Fling. I rather like the lo-fi jam-jar lid ‘medal’. 4 hours 19 minutes! Well done, Tom!

I had hoped to show you some knitting today – but there is honestly not much to see. For the past few weeks I have been working on a garment with an, um, “atypical” construction. Today I had to concede that despite my best efforts it really hasn’t worked out. Now, if you were ever in need of a tightly-fitting woolly superhero outfit that sits on the bias, then what I have created would suit you rather well. Sadly, though, this wasn’t quite the look I was after. Time to rip it out and start again!

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