today’s inspiration

Kerstin+Olsson+modeling+her+Swan+design+Bohus+sweater
Kerstin Olsson in Karen Invarsson’s Bohus design “The Swan”.

twiggy-wearing-fair-isle
Twiggy iconic in Fairisle

paul-linda-mccartney-children-1976
The McCartneys in Shetland

mariusforisdeweb 016
Yoke design by Unn Søiland (1951)

70d58c1cbb0b068670b9e3a72e31a8c8
s31
f57d1d79c1aa725d7a75f686668f709d
41f045b45d3665c76e18589d0920892e

Yokes, knitted & crocheted pre-1950

Can you guess what my next book is going to be about?

Fred Perry Knitting Patterns

Fredperry

If you are like me and have long admired the longevity, distinctive mod styling, and careful brand aesthetic of British retailer Fred Perry your heart may have skipped a wee beat when you read those words. Fred Perry Knitting Patterns? Really?

fp4

Yes, really. The gorgeous golden cardigan on the left currently retails on Fred Perry’s website at £125, but the company is also offering knitters the amazing opportunity to really re-create this look themselves – why not download the pattern for free and whip one up today!

FP3

There are eleven designs for men and women, including both garments and accessories. Every attention has been paid to the patterns’ careful vintage styling and ‘authentic’ mid-century graphic design and layout.

FP2

But sadly, the same care and attention has not been paid to the content of the patterns themselves.

pattern

The recommended yarn for these patterns is Rowan British wool Red Faced Leicester. Have you come across this yarn? Or heard of a Red Faced Leicester sheep? No, nor have I. In effect, Fred Perry is suggesting you knit this sweater with a yarn which does not exist, that grows on a non-existent sheep.

Red Faced sheep do exist:

Sheep%2C+California+Red+2
(California Red Faced sheep)

One must assume Fred Perry is unable to distinguish between these delightful creatures and others, equally delightful, but rather different.

bfl
(British Blue Faced Leicester sheep)

Sadly, the problems don’t stop there. There’s no gauge or sizing information (!), nothing about yarn weight, quantities, shades, or other materials required, and the ‘language’ of these patterns would, I imagine, confuse any hand knitter either vintage or modern.

FPknittingpatterns

. . . certainly this contemporary knitter could make neither head nor tail of the incomplete and oddly constructed Cabled beanie pattern, which you might imagine, would be one of the easiest designs to get to grips with. Could it be, then, that Fred Perry’s offer to “knit your own” garment from their Autumn / Winter 2013 knitwear collection is merely a sneaky marketing ruse? A way of spinning and bolstering the brand identity of mass-market knitwear through recourse to familiar ideas of the ‘vintage’ and ‘handcrafted’? Surely not!

aranknitcardigan

But, when you fail to knit yourself a lovely golden Aran cardigan from Fred’s badly-put-together pattern (which fails to include instructions for the sleeves) , you can easily return to the website to purchase one ready-made. As you can see, this cardigan was “originally designed for fishermen on the Scottish isle of Aran” [sic] as opposed to the Irish Aran islands . . . you know, Fred, where actual “Aran” knitwear comes from? Perhaps the error-ridden and confusing “knitting patterns” are merely the tip of an eroneous marketing iceberg? Oh Fred! How cruelly you shatter my mod dreams!

Discussing a British brand I like and admire in this context is all the more galling as I really think these patterns are a brilliant idea. Why not engender more collaboration and interplay between high street retailers and hand-knitters? Between ideas of making and consumption? Between the world of “knit” as it is currently taught on fashion and textile courses, and the world of “knitting” as now practiced all over the world by savvy and talented craftspeople? Having had a good look at the Fred Perry Knitting Patterns, it strikes me that their single biggest problem is that they have been produced by someone who might know an awful lot about designing for Shima knitting machines, but has no understanding of the evolving descriptive vocabulary of contemporary hand knitting. With just a little more effort Fred Perry might have produced something truly innovative here, rather than this epic – and slightly cynical – fail.

All of your thoughts are welcome.


Thanks to Karie (@kariebookish), Helen (@ripplecrafts) and Benjamin (@knityounexttues) for the enlivening twitter debate which prompted me to write this post.

not a onesie?

notaonesie

I purchased this boiler suit from LHD Marine supplies in Lerwick a while ago and have been wearing it pretty much constantly for the past three weeks. We have not had a washing machine; I have been spending most of my time decorating, and for both reasons it has formed a useful uniform. For some reason I feel very happy wearing it. Perhaps this is because the boiler suit makes me feel as if I am getting things done, and indeed, I actually AM. Last time I was in Shetland I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about these garments, which, given the amount of serious sea and land work that goes on there, are pretty ubiquitous. I was told that many Shetland men have boiler suits of ascending value, and keep one for “best”. I am seriously considering doing the same.

boilersuit

My “thing” for boiler suits is of some long standing, as I recall that, for my twelfth birthday I asked my Mum to sew me one, which she kindly did. This stupendous 1980s garment was pale pink, and featured turn ups and giant batwing sleeves. I have no photographs of me wearing it, but given that I also had a terrible perm at the time, I fear that I must have looked like a small, pastel-clad circus entertainer. I proudly wore the pink boiler suit for the first party I was allowed to hold without the presence of my parents. My only recollection of this momentous event is that Christopher Hodgkinson played frisbee with some mini tacos, firing them into next door’s yard, where, after the effects of evening rain, they expanded to form a soggy snack-based crazy paving. There were words, but not of the serious kind.

My affection for my boiler suit leads me to question my horrified reaction to the animal-print onesies that are the evening-wear of choice of many Edinburgh youths, as well as to the fleecy “leisure” suits that are sold for festering on the sofa. All these garments say to me is “fire hazard” and “adult baby”, neither of which are positive associations. Or perhaps I am merely late to the boiler-suit party as onesies of all kinds were certainly the thing a couple of seasons ago. I recall I saw an entirely functional-looking navy boiler suit on sale for £350 last year at YMC. All I can say is that you can get a boy’s age 9-10 32″ boiler suit from LHD Marine supplies for £15 and it will do you just fine. Do you have a boiler suit? Or do you, as I, arbitrarily divide different kinds of all-in-ones into categories of acceptability? I am interested to hear about your relationship to these garments.

This digression comes to you from upstairs, where I have finished the woodwork and am about to start painting the walls. Below me, the kitchen is actually IN, with its (gulp) oak surfaces and exciting appliances (including a dishwasher, which I have never previously possessed – the novelty!). But the plaster is still wet, and the walls have yet to be painted and tiled. This will happen in a couple of weeks and then I promise there will be pictures. In any case, I hope to have my studio painted and completed over the next couple of days and be back at my desk by Friday, so if you’ve been waiting for an email response from me I’ll be beginning to catch up then.

Mod

delaunay
(Delaunay in an outfit of her own design)

Do you remember a little while ago I was having a Sonia Delaunay moment?

simultaneous
(‘Simultaneous’ dress & car upholstery)

Around this time, I was knitting the the Puffin Sweater, and shortly afterward, I wrote a piece about Delaunay which has just been published in Rowan 53.

mag53

The brief for my feature was to write something to accompany this Rowan design story . . .

ikon

ikonknits

. . . and I felt that the influence of Delaunay was startlingly evident in mod-inspired knitwear collections.

delaunayvceline
(Delaunay, 1923 / Céline, Autumn / Winter 2010-11)

Delaunay’s proud, modernist vision of garments as wearable art was the starting point of my thinking . . .

vogue
(Delaunay celebrated by Vogue in 1925)

. . . but I ended up somewhere rather different.

jeanshrimptonmondrian
(Jean Shrimpton in Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian Dress, 1964)

perry&lim
(Lisa Perry & Phillip Lim’s appropriations of Lichtenstein)

You can read more in the magazine!

on the move


Sonia Delaunay, Driving Caps, Silk and Wool, 1924-28. Included in the Cooper-Hewitt Color Moves exhibition, 2011.

I am taking a break from my collection today, and researching a feature which somehow keeps bringing me back to the work of Sonia Delaunay. I came across these amazing wool and silk ‘driving caps’ that she designed, and was so blown away by them that I just had to show you. In their interplay of colour and rhythm, they capture so much of what I love about Delaunay’s work. They are hats for use as much as ornament, garments intended, like most of Delaunay’s clothes, to be worn with ease by what she regarded as ‘modern’ women — women on the move. Like Delaunay’s famous ‘simultaneous’ coats and dresses, the bold, undulating and interlocking rectangles that create the structure of these these caps are the effect of dense, woollen embroidery rather than knitted stitches . . . still, as you can imagine, they have got me thinking. But today I am not supposed to be thinking about knitting. I am supposed to be thinking about 1920s Paris and New York, of the grid of the city, of wheels in motion, sleek architectural lines, bobbed hair, sportswear, dancers and swimmers, runners and cyclists, chevrons and stripes, blocks and spirals. I suppose it does all come back to the knitting, after all.


Delaunay and her matching decorated Citroen B12, 1925


Delaunay, cars and clothes, 1925


George Lepape, cover image for Vogue’s ‘Winter Touring’ issue, January 1925, depicting Sonia Delaunay driving outfit with matching vehicle.

For anyone interested in Delaunay, I highly recommend the catalogue and accompanying essays of the Cooper-Hewitt Color Moves exhibition (2011).

Pleats now and then

I’ve been thinking about pleats for a little while now.

The heat-set pleats that have been a familiar feature of Issey Miyake’s “Pleats Please” brand . . .


(Issy Miyake, “Pleats, Please” in Dazed & Confused June 2012, image via Style Bubble)

. . . now seem, in attenuated form, to be everywhere on the high street.


(pleats at Maxmara, Jaeger, Cos, Paul & Joe, Hobbs / NW3)

I find myself ambivalent about contemporary pleats, largely because all of these examples (including Issey Miyake’s) are heat-set on 100% polyester fabrics. Frankly, the mere words “polyester heat-set pleats” are enough to make me feel a wee bit sweaty, but then you know I am all about the natural fibres . . .

The first name that springs to mind in association with modern methods of pleat-setting is probably that of Mariano Fortuny.

In 1907, Fortuny developed an innovative (and closely-guarded) pleating process for fine silks. He showcased this process, and the beautiful form-fitting fabric it created, on his famous “Delphos” dresses.


(Film star Lillian Gish in a Fortuny “Delphos”)

Worn uncorseted, and echoing the lines of the ancient chiton, Fortuny’s gowns had a forward-thinking, body-freeing simplicity. But the craft processes used to create them – pleating, cutting, cording, weighting with tiny glass beads – were of course incredibly elaborate.

In a way, however simple the lines of a garment, heavily pleated textiles immediately carry the suggestion of excess because of the sheer quantities of fabric they require. Thirty years after Fortuny’s silk gowns, another designer took a fabric with much more homespun connotations, and, through innovative pleat-setting, turned it into the height of fashionable luxury.


(Flax flower)

In the early 1950s, the combined linen industry of the North and Republic of Ireland employed more than fifty thousand people. Yet, like other traditional textile manufactures, the industry was threatened by the rise of man-made fibres. Linen, of course, has a propensity to crease and stay creased, which rather limited its range of uses as a modern dressmaking fabric. But together, Belfast handkerchief manufacturer, Spence-Bryson and Dublin designer, Sybil Connolly were attempting to turn what many regarded as the negative attributes of traditional Irish linens to their advantage. Connolly recalled the process thus:

“A challenge invariably makes one creative; after pondering the question for some time and in conjunction with the workroom staff, it was decided to experiment to see if we could develop a process that would permanently crush or pleat the linen and so make a feature of the problem rather than an insurmountable setback. It took eight months, during which time we put many theories to the test, before we came up with the correct solution. The process we decided on still remains our secret.”

Here is the beautiful fabric Connolly developed with Spence-Bryson.


Sybil Connolly Day Dress. Victoria and Albert Museum T.174-1973. Gift of Mrs V. Laski

Through Connolly’s pleat-setting process, nine yards of fine handkerchief linen were transformed into a single yard of dress fabric. Like Fortuny, Connolly used cords and smocking for structure, but her pleats were set in the garment horizontally rather than vertically, lending her full, floor-length skirts an airy, textured quality remiscent of the underside of a mushroom. In these dresses, as in many other of her designs, Connolly’s explicit aim was to promote and support ‘traditional’ Irish textiles. Yet her dresses perhaps proved so successful because they were also regarded as uniquely meeting the demands of the modern 1950s woman. “Crumple it into a suitcase,” enthused Vogue of one of Connolly’s dresses in 1957, “and it will emerge, uncrushed, uncrushable, to sweep grandly through a season of gaiety.”


(Sybil Connolly with Robert Briscoe, Lord Mayor of Dublin and Patti Curran wearing one of Connolly’s signature Irish linen dresses in Life Magazine, May 20th, 1957)

Like other mid-century designers and entrepreneurs, Connolly had a clear sense of the value of the idea of Irishness. She frequently launched her work across the Atlantic, and her designs were perhaps most popular in the United States and Canada. When Jackie Kennedy chose to wear one of Connolly’s gowns for her official White House portrait, there was a clear statement being made about national presidential connections.


(“Irish invade Fashion World” Look Magazine, August 10th, 1953)

When promoting her work, Connolly consistently lauded Irish skills and craftsmanship, and often developed styles in direct reference to those ‘traditionally’ worn in rural Ireland. For example, the striking cloak that appeared on the cover of Life in 1953 was meant to suggest red flannel petticoats.

But as the 1960s rolled on, the diasporic romance that Connolly’s work spoke to began to seem rather anti-modern.

Sybil Connolly didn’t move with the times. She professed a profound dislike for the mini skirt, and instead turned her hand to ceramics, producing some beautiful work for Tiffany, inspired by Mary Delany’s eighteenth-century floral paper cuttings.

Until her death in 1998, Sybil Connolly continued celebrating and promoting Irish craft and design, producing several publications on the subject. I have a copy of her last book Irish Hands, which is not only really interesting and informative, but also a damn good read.

At this year’s BAFTAs, Gillian Anderson’s attire spoke to current trends . . . in a heavily pleated linen dress designed in 1957 by Sybil Connolly.

Perhaps the time is now ripe for a revival of pleated Irish handkerchief linen? I suppose one can dream. . . and continue to feel ambivalent about heat-set pleated 100% polyester.

Further reading:
Sybill Connolly, Irish Hands, The Tradition of Beautiful Crafts (Hearst Books, 1994)
Alexandra Palmer, Couture & Commerce: the Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s (UBC press, 2001)
Claire Wilcox, Modern Fashion in Detail (V&A reissued edition, 1997)

(You can see examples of Connolly’s pleated linen dresses at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Dublin (I had the pleasure of seeing these gorgeous garments last year); at the Hunt Museum in Limerick; at the V&A and the FIDM in Los Angeles)

Jean Moss interview and giveaway


(Ceilidh)

Today I’m really pleased to bring you an interview with Jean Moss, as part of the blog tour for her new book, Sweet Shawlettes, which has just been published. With twenty-five different designs, this book is a veritable showcase of cowls, shawls, capelets and collars. Small projects provide an ideal canvas for exploring new techniques, and one of the most distinctive things about Jean’s book is the sheer range of knitterly styles and techniques it covers. So if you have never tried entrelac, intarsia, or shadow knitting, there’s a nifty project or two in here for you.


(Penumbra)

Perhaps contrarily, given its impressive technical range, my favourite design in Sweet Shawlettes is possibly the simplest – Enigma – a dramatic and contemporary two-piece shawl. Knit in plain stockinette with two sweet-shop shades of kidsilk haze, it has a truly elegant simplicity.


(Enigma)

Working with Rowan, and Jamieson and Smith, as well as international brands like Ralph Lauren and Benetton, Jean has been at the forefront of British knitwear design for more than three decades. Based in the UK, but traveling all over the world, the trajectory of her career really interests me, so I began by asking her how it all started.

Could you tell us a little about how your design career began?

Originally I learned to knit before I went to school because I wanted to please my beloved grandmother who spent hours teaching me. A fallow period ensued but my interest was rekindled in my teens when I started to make my own clothes. It was the swinging sixties and I loved what I was seeing on the street and in magazines, but had no way of achieving anything similar other than to pick up my needles again. From then on I was hooked. It never occurred to me that I’d ever be able to make a living out of it, especially as I had no formal training in design, but after getting requests for sweaters I’d made for the kids, I decided that it might be a way of making some extra cash from home. No-one was more surprised than I was to find that very quickly I was presenting my designs to luminaries such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein and they were placing orders! It was a meteoric learning curve!

. . .and how you began to create designs for hand knitting?

When I started, I was living in an ramshackle old farmhouse with my husband, two toddlers and a menagerie of pets miles away from anywhere. My husband was commuting daily to teach miles away, so we were wracking our brains to find another way of making a living, which involved less travelling. So… we bought a knitting machine! My designs sold well so we quickly had to get more people to knit them. At a London show an agent for Ralph Lauren asked me to do some handknits for him. I jumped at the chance although at the time I had no production capacity and handknitting was definitely not my forte, but within six months we had 2000 knitters in the UK producing handknits for the Polo/Ralph Lauren label as well as selling my own collections to boutiques in the US and Europe. Obviously, as I had no design training whatsoever, there’s a certain amount of luck involved, but this was the eighties when the ethos was go for it and anything can happen.


(Treasure)


From your perspective, how has British knitting and knitwear design changed since the 1980s?

The internet has changed everything. When I started I saw myself as a fashion-led knit designer, producing fair isle, aran, lace and intarsia sweaters which were difficult to knit, had limited production and therefore had a very high price point. However, the cult of the knitted stitch has superseded the fashion angle now. Knitters are into techniques, relaxing with their knitting and sharing the fruits of their labours with their friends and the web is a fantastic tool for facilitating this. If you look at the most successful books on knitting right now they are all about techniques – there are far fewer book which are purely collections of designs. This is fine with me as I’ve always been interested in both – I love fashion, but I’m also a technique junkie, so I try to make each design a mini tutorial for at least one technique.


(Harlequin)


How would you describe your style? Do you feel this has evolved over time?

My signature style has always been a combination of colour, texture and form. However, I’m interested in exploring as much of the art of knitting as I can and I like to think my designs are ever-evolving as I learn more and more. I keep my camera to hand and I take many pictures of interesting objects, people and places – looking back over them often sows the seeds of new patterns. Fashion is essentially ephemeral, and what gives me a buzz is creating timeless pieces that transcend fashion, which hopefully will look just as good in twenty years time as the day they were knit.


You have a great knack of selecting exactly the right yarn for a design. What’s most important to you in a yarn?

I’m flattered that you think that as I do try hard to find beautiful yarns for my designs. I make a list of the yarn requirements for each project and then try to find one that fits the bill. Having said that, it’s become impossible to be au fait with every yarn on the market at any given time, so I always start with yarn companies I love like Rowan, Sublime or Jamieson & Smith. You can never know how a yarn will behave until you’ve swatched it, some projects demand drape, others need stitch definition and every pattern is different, but for me it’s important for the yarn to feel good in the fingers whilst being knit.


(Twine)

Some of the most distinctive of your “Sweet Shawlettes” are inspired by vintage fashions. Do you have a favourite era of fashion history? Or a favourite fashion icon?

I love the glamour of the 1920s and 30s. Poiret’s orientalism, Fortuny’s sumptuous pleats and the fashion drawings of Erte and Iribe are all hugely inspiring. Women were trying out all sorts of new ideas as they threw off the shackles of the Victorian era and fashion design was innovative, outrageous and chic – all the things I love. It’s hard to name one fashion icon, but having done a whole book on Audrey Hepburn, I must say the research was a delight. She was the perfect muse, as Ralph Lauren famously remarked: “Who wouldn’t want to drop everything and design for Audrey Hepburn?”


(Grace)

Your work takes you all over the world, but is there a particular place that you love to visit again and again?

Definitely Morocco, but I love the theatricality of Venice too. I’ve been hosting knitting holidays with my partner Philip Mercer for ten years now, mainly in the UK, but our trip to Morocco last year was one of my favourites – design inspiration wherever you look.

Your love of plants and flowers has inspired many of the designs in “Sweet Shawlettes”, and your garden is clearly very important to you. Do you see any similarity between the processes involved in knitwear design and gardening?

Yes I do find many similarities. At the start of each book I have to have a couple of weeks of cooking time, when I do nothing but displacement activities like gardening, cooking, playing guitar or going on long walks. This gives me a chance to mull over and crystallise ideas and it’s amazing how the seeds of designs are often planted years before and given the right conditions they spring forth – much like growing plants.


(Evergreen)

Thankyou Jean!

Now, a giveaway! Courtesy of the nice people at Taunton Press, I have a copy of Sweet Shawlettes set aside for one of you. Following Jean’s remarks about gardening and knitting, to enter, please leave a comment on this post telling us the name of your favourite garden flower. We’ll (randomly) select the winner on March 21st, the date of the final stop on Jean’s world blog tour.

Good Luck, Everyone!

If you’d like to follow the Sweet Shawlettes world blog tour, here is the full list of destinations:

Wed 7 Mar Jen Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Jen Arnall-Culliford
Thurs 8 Mar Yours Truly
Fri 9 Mar Rock and Purl Ruth Garcia-Alcantud
Sat 10 Mar Woolly Wormhead Woolly Wormhead
Mon 12 Mar Yarnscape Alison Barker
Tues 13 Mar Confessions of a Yarn Addict Anniken Allis
Wed 14 Mar Joli House Amanda France
Thurs 15 Mar This is Knit Lisa & Siobhan
Fri 16 Mar The Knitting Institute Katy Evans
Sat 17 Mar Life’n Knitting Carla Meijsen
Sun 18 Mar ConnieLene Connie Lene
Mon 19 Mar Just Call Me Ruby Susan Crawford
Tues 20 Mar Tiny Owl Knits Stephanie Dosen
Wed 21 Mar Ulla-Bella Anita Tørmoen

album

I have a downstairs neighbour (also a knitter) who, in the course of her work, often comes across interesting objects. She sometimes brings these up to show me, and together we will enthuse over a gorgeous set of art-deco buttons or an ancient pair of butter-pats. The other day she brought up a very special object, which I thought you’d like to see.

It resembles a small bible, but it isn’t.

One clasp is broken, but the other is in fine shape. The pages are heavy, gilt-edged.

Shall we look inside?

On the first leaf is a print of a young and grieving Queen Victoria.

It is a photograph album. A typically Victorian repository of memory.

The style of the clasped book, and the particular settings of the cartes-de-visites dates it, I’d say, to the late 1860s.

But there are many types of studio portrait in here, from the 1850s to the 1890s.

This fragile-looking woman has a face that seems to recede from the camera. Her shawl is simple and heavy – perhaps the property of a photographer who requires some drapery to set this pale and light-boned figure off against the studio background.

I love the drape of the mantle over the crinoline; the detail around the skirt; the combination of the mantle’s internal pockets with the rather elaborate corded bag.

You can almost hear the rustle of her dark, heavy silks.

His beard-quiff combo is really quite extraordinary.

And I love the jewelery and piled hair of this woman of later era, who appears in the album several times.

To whose memories do these faces, long dead, belong?

Cabbages & Roses


(Peerie Flooers hat and mittens, Caller HerrinSheepheid, and Funchal Moebius, all styled with Cabbages and Roses garments from 2007 to 2011.

I receive a lot of queries about the clothes I am wearing in the photographs you see here, and I generally receive the most queries whenever I am wearing clothes from Cabbages and Roses. Anyone who reads this blog will know how much I love and appreciate good clothes. Apart from my precious vintage garments, and some things I have made myself, it is fair to say that I love Cabbages and Roses clothes most of all. The very name Cabbages and Roses – in its suggestive combination of beauty and utility – conveys what is so different about these clothes. They are classic British garments: sometimes luxurious, sometimes practical, but always aesthetically pleasing and designed and made to last. Here is an anecdote which will immediately suggest to you the depths of my fondness – nay, obsession – with these clothes: when I had my stroke, I was wearing a Cabbages and Roses coat which was (and still remains) one of my favourite things in my wardrobe. I collapsed while out walking, was manhandled into an ambulance, and taken to hospital, where all my clothes were swiftly and forcibly removed. I was terrified, half paralysed, and undergoing gruelling neurological examination, but there was still room in my brain to worry about the condition and whereabouts of my coat. The first thing I asked poor Tom when I emerged from the CT scan was to check that The Coat was ok. There was a small tear to the lining which I have now repaired, but it was otherwise happily unscathed.


Me and Bruce in October 2010. I am wearing Tantallon hat, Tortoise and Hare gauntlets, and The Coat.

This coat has all the hallmarks of what I love about Cabbages and Roses’ garments. It is beautiful, distinctive, carefully constructed and tailored. It looks and feels special (folk are always asking me where I got it) but is also comfortable and easy to wear. The design includes several thoughtful signature details, such as the pleated empire line, and the ribbon-tie at the reverse. And importantly, it is made from a lightweight wool (hurrah!) that is really of fabulous quality. The label inside the coat not only told me this, but gave me information about where that fabric had been sourced and woven. Like all of the clothes in Cabbages and Roses’ collections, this coat was made on a relatively small scale in their London factory. So not only is the design truly lovely, but the quality of the British craftmanship in this garment is absolutely top notch. I have already worn it over several winters, and it still looks glorious.


The Coat in 2009. Also wearing Fugue mittens.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, first because I would like to come clean to those of you who are always asking me about my styling: really, quite a lot of it is due to Cabbages and Roses. Second, at a moment when so much of British fashion design seems sadly plastic and ephemeral (I would really rather not wear a disposable blouse inspired by a 1980s pencil case), and when the UK high street is full of badly made synthetic garments that will end up as tomorrow’s landfill, it is really rather nice to be able to celebrate and warmly recommend a company whose design aesthetics, quality textiles, and admirable values are the happy antithesis of those you will find in the Wovember Hall of Shame. And finally, because today I have the very great pleasure to share with you an interview with Christina Strutt.

Christina’s background is in interior decor and styling. When, just over a decade ago, she found herself unable to source the quality vintage-feeling fabrics which she needed for her work, she established Cabbages and Roses and began to design her own. Following the popularity of their textile line, Cabbages and Roses brought out their first garment collection in 2006, and since then have gone from strength to strength. Christina is clearly an individual with tremendous creative flair, yet there is also a good-humour and lack of pretense about both her and her work that I find really refreshing and inspiring. So, here’s our virtual chat, interspersed with some of my favourite looks from the current Cabbages and Roses collection.

KD: Could you say a little about how what lead you to develop your clothing line after the establishment of the C&R fabric and interior design brand? What were the core ideas behind the line?

CS: When our first fabric rolled off the production line, we were so excited by its beauty, in the style of The Sound of Music we made dresses, skirts, shirts, cushions, curtains from our first creation ‘bees.’ It was so refreshing to have in our hands a beautiful faded rose print, something we had been searching for for so long that it was hard not to make anything and everything from it. Then when we joined forces with our current partner, Jigsaw, they wanted a Cabbages and Roses collection in their stores. At this point our clothing collection more than doubled in size.

KD: What would you like women to say about your clothes?

CS: That their daughters steal their Cabbages & Roses clothes from their wardrobe. That we have a cult following. That still, five years later, they are still wearing the same piece with as much pride as when it was new. That they have been chased up the street by a complete stranger asking where they bought that coat / dress / skirt from. That our clothes make them very happy. That at last there is something interesting for women of a certain age to buy that their children also covet.

KD: Would you describe the Cabbages and Roses style as British ? I certainly would, but I wondered what that meant to you?

CS: Yes, I think I would describe our style as British as it has a certain ecclectic-ness that says “I am my own person.” The influences that go to make a collection are, on the whole, inspired by a generosity of spirit, an extravagance of fabric, and the ‘Made in England’ labels that we are so proud to sew into our seams! Although born of Italian and South American parentage, I have lived in England for all of my life. I am privileged to travel extensively, but truly I am happiest at home in England and quite resent having to be abroad so much! I am very proud of this fine country, and to be involved in a very English label that sells all over the world is a source of great pleasure.

KD: Is there a particular era of fashion history that you find most inspirational?

CS: Yes indeed, everything from 1066 to 2011! Since childhood I have loved the history of fashion, from the gentle empire lines, to the exuberant Victorians, from the grand elite to the working-class garments. I also love Edwardian lines and sixties shifts — the only period that distresses me is the 1970s and 80s — a time of my life when I was able to take charge of my wardrobe, but when clothes took on a strange giant-shouldered boxy shape and hair spiraled outwards in a curly, shaggy mullet-shaped embarrassment!

KD: Whose style — either now, or in the past — do you most admire?

CS: When I was a young 20-something girl, working on Vogue Magazine, Kenzo Takada was de rigeur – his beautiful, colourful prints and lovely shapes were all I desired. I also love Helena Bonham Carter’s eccentric and interesting ensembles: she has an independent spirit, wears what she loves, and always looks splendid – especially when she wears Cabbages and Roses.

KD: Do you feel that your design aesthetic has evolved over the decade since you established C&R? If so, how would you describe this process of evolution?

CS: Yes, I do think we have evolved: it has been a hard road that we have travelled, but I think that with our sales growing so steadily year on year, confidence in my designs has grown too. In the early days our designs were simplified to correspond with our limited manufacturing facilities. Now with access to marvelous pattern cutters and a splendid London factory, the designs tend to be more complicated and fewer compromises are made.

KD: Fabric quality is clearly very important to C&R. Could you say a bit about the kinds of textiles you like best and why?

CS: For me, choosing fabric is a matter of aesthetics above all else. When buying fabrics I tend to go for look, texture, and colour, it is an instinctive process and without any sort of financial or manufacturing control! It is only when sampling is being ordered that I am reigned in by our production department — this is where compromises come, but only in the quantities that are to be made. Although I prefer to to use natural fabrics — cotton, wool, linen — I do not mind having to use a man-made fabric if its look is in line with the design.

KD: Are you able to successfully source these textiles within the UK? Is it important to you to that C&R supports the UK textile industry in this way?

CS: In Winter nearly all of our textiles are made in the UK, as the British tweeds and tartans are perfect for our requirements. However, Summer fabrics are necessarily sourced from abroad. I would like to be able to say that we only use organic cottons but sadly this is not true. In a perfect world all of our fabrics would be organic but at the moment we are just too small to be able to afford to make our clothes from organic cotton. However, all our furnishing linens are printed with Okatex approved water-based inks; all our own fabrics are printed in London; and all our woven collection is also made in London. Wherever possible, we support British industry, and wherever possible, we print, manufacture and source British goods and textiles. It is extremely important to us.

KD: One of the most impressive things about C&Rs clothes is that they are so evidently designed to last. How important to you is it that your clothes have longevity in women’s wardrobes? And do you ever feel that this this longevity is at odds with current trends toward the disposable in women’s fashion?

CS: It is absolutely the most important aspect of our clothing collection. Longevity is the antithesis of fashion, and we are so un-fashion-conscious that we consider that it if something is not in fashion, it is not possible to be out of fashion. I do have a horror of seeing someone walking down the street wearing an article of Cabbages and Roses clothing and looking ridiculous: if, say, we had produced a ‘one-sey’ in an extremely fashionable leopard print (I think that this is the name for the all-in-one boiler suit that was fashionable earlier this year) I would feel compelled to throw a blanket around her shoulders and lead her home to change. Happily, though, I don’t think we have ever produced an article of clothing that I wish we had not! I love seeing perfect strangers wearing a Cabbages and Roses piece from five years ago and still being proud of what we have produced, often I see clothing that I had quite forgotten about and think – ‘how clever’!

KD: I love old hand-knit sweaters, and think that good clothes, like those designed by C&R, can really last a lifetime if they are cared for properly. I wondered if you had a favourite item of clothing in your wardrobe that has lasted many years and whether you could tell us a bit about it?

CS: I am wearing, as I write, a Cabbages and Roses A-line sweater first introduced in 2006. We have reproduced this sweater every year since and it remains a best seller to this day. It is designed in our favourite A-line shape, as flattering a style as possible: fitted at the shoulders and bust and gently flaring out so as not to hug body parts that should remain hidden. I am also wearing a navy wool side-button skirt, again produced about four years ago and still featuring in our current clothing collection.

KD: I love your books about textiles, interior decor, and sewing (particularly Home Made Vintage), and wondered whether you had any plans in the future to produce a book about fashion and styling?

CS: Yes, my publisher has asked that we do another book — we are trying to think of a suitable subject. I would very much like to make a fashion book, but it would be difficult to make it not seem like a catalogue of Cabbages and Roses clothing. A retrospective, perhaps — but I am not sure that we are at that stage yet. Perhaps your readers would like to suggest a perfect topic for Cabbages and Roses next tome?

KD: And finally, just for fun: do you have a favourite variety of English rose, or, indeed, of cabbage? I don’t think you can beat a January King.

CS: I think cabbages are as beautiful as roses and often use lovely savoy cabbages as decoration. My favourite rose is Eglantyne – named after Eglantyne Jebb who founded the ‘Save the Children’ charity. It is multi-petaled in delicious pale pink, and has a lovely delicate rose scent.

Thankyou so much, Christina!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,027 other followers