Kate Davies Designs

designing & publishing: part 3

COVERS
From Folly Cove by Julia Farwell Clay and Celtic Cable Shawls by Lucy Hague

Today I’m looking at another couple of recently-published books, from two very different independent designers, who both took completely different routes to publication. What these two books share, however, is an intelligent engagement with two specific aesthetic contexts, as both were directly inspired by artwork in other media. While Lucy Hague’s innovative closed-cable shawls are inspired by Pictish and Celtic knotwork, Julia Farwell-Clay took inspiration for her lovely collection from the prints, lives, and milieu of the Folly Cove designers.

carved-stone

Lucy Hague grew up in Orkney, and now lives in Edinburgh. Orkney has many important archeological sites, and abounds with examples of intriguing insular art. Inspired by Pictish and Celtic carvings, as well as by the work of George Bain (whose 1951 investigation into Celtic stonework, jewellery and manuscript illustration did much to revive interest in this iconic design style), Lucy has created a truly stunning collection.

carradal
Carradal

Lucy’s book includes patterns for seven shawls, each arranged in order of complexity, from designs with a plain centre and cabled edging, like Carradal and Kyna, to gorgeous allover patterns, such as Morvach and Malgven.

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Malgven, a beautiful centre-out shawl.

Lucy is one of those designers with a really distinctive aesthetic that she has pursued and perfected. I always enjoy reading about other designers creative processes, and you can get a great sense of the depth and thoughtfulness of Lucy’s work in this post about the Talesin shawl. Celtic Cable Shawls also includes an introduction in which she talks about her aesthetic inspiration, together with several clear tutorials for the key techniques involved in closed cable-knitting (elongated stitches, multiple increases and decreases, cabling without a cable needle). The photography is luscious and evocative and the patterns – though undoubtedly complex – are clearly explained and laid out with charted and written instructions.

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Ishneich

There are so many things I love about this book. The designs are breathtaking, but they are also eminently knittable and – best of all – wearable. So many pieces of cabled knitwear have sources of inspiration that have been described as loosely “Celtic”, to the extent that some styles are so familiar that they feel hackneyed or ubiquitous. Lucy’s original shawls are the polar opposite of this. With their strong lines, their carefully worked twists and loops, these designs speak of their aesthetic past, but they strongly articulate the contemporary knitterly moment too. I think that it is the sheer depth of Lucy’s intelligent engagement with insular art that makes her work so appealling and so very distinctive. I love what she’s done in this book.

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Kyna, and the jewellery that inspired it.

One of the most significant impediments to self-publishing is basic logistics: how are you going to store and distribute all those books? Lucy chose to work with Lightning Source – a large and well-established print on demand service. “It seemed like the least risky option,” Lucy told me, “you don’t have to put down a huge amount of money for an intial print-run (and you don’t need space to store thousands of books – useful for me, as I live in a tiny flat!)” And why, I asked, did Lucy choose self-publishing rather than to work with a larger publisher? “I knew that I would be making a book that would be quite long in relation to the actual number of patterns included (because of the complexity of my patterns, and the fact that I include full written instructions for all the charted sections), and I thought this might be off-putting and hard to pitch to to the types of companies who traditionally publish knitting books.” Print on demand has been ideal for Lucy: “I really love that I’ve been able to have complete control over the entire book-making process, from start to finish, and that I can so easily get my books to customers all across the world.” Celtic Cable Shawls is a beautiful, professionally produced book, that also comes with a complementary e-book, and a digital only option. You can buy the print book directly from Lucy and the digital book from her Ravelry store.

—-

I’m a huge fan of the work of Julia Farwell Clay, who often produces hand-knit designs directly inspired by 20th Century literature, art, and music. Her patterns have a rich context, that speaks of their creator’s breadth of thinking, and her recent collection for Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series exemplifies her intelligent approach. From Folly Cove is a collection of eleven designs inspired by a group of artists and designers, who lived and worked around Gloucester, Massachusetts, from 1938 to 1969.

Folly Cove Designers Book 6 - clippings and photos
Piece about the Folly Cove Designers in Life Magazine, November 1945

Many of you will know the books of Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. You may not know, however, that under her leadership, an important collective of artists and craftspeople flourished in and around her Massachusetts home. Demetrios developed a design course, followed by several of her friends and neighbours in Gloucester. As the Folly Cove course grew in popularity, the group was structured as a guild, with regular meetings to scrutinise and support each other’s work. Few of the group were otherwise professionally trained, but the collaborative structure of the Folly Cove Collective enabled them to grow into designers of the very highest standard, each developing their own signature style. The Folly Cove designers were mostly women, and I find something extremely inspiring in the way this group supported and enabled one another to combine their creative with their domestic lives, growing together into artists and craftspeople of international repute. Julia’s collection is infused with the spirit of Folly Cove, drawing inspiration from the lives and works of these women.

Folly Cove Designers Elizabeth Iarrabino "Butterflies" n.d.

Some of Julia’s designs are directly inspired by the graphic allover repeats created by Folly Cove designers, such as her Iarrobino Butterfly Cowl which echoes Elizabeth Iarrobino’s tesselating butterflies (above).

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Iarrobino Butterfly Cowl

Other pieces are not only linked to specific Folly Cove designs and designers, but also seem to celebrate the ethos of the collective in a more general way. One of my favourite patterns in the collection is Hetty’s Garden Coat, a garment inspired by one of Julia’s favourite Folly Cove prints, Victory Garden , by Hetty Whitney Beatty.

victorygarden
(Hetty Whitney Beatty, Victory Garden ).

“This scene,” Julia explains in the accompanying text, “speaks clearly of the community and hard work of this period and place. Making and growing what you needed was essential to comfort and survival during the Second World War and a lesson for the years that followed.”

hetty

This is a beautifully structured garment, whose flourishing sprigs really capture the mood and feel of Beatty’s victory garden.

Elsewhere in Julia’s collection, you’ll find pieces that are more about suggesting Folly Cove’s moment and locale than they are about direct design inspiration.

lanesville

I love Lanesville‘s neat vintage details.

natti

. . . and the cosy wearability of Natti, named for Lee Kingman Natti, a key member of the Folly Cove collective.

Taken together, Julia’s collection is powerfully suggestive of Folly Cove both as a place and a group of inspiring women. Many pieces have an eastern-seaboard, maritime feel, while others carry a graphic exuberance which echoes both the energy and the aesthetics of the Folly Cove collective.

kenyon
Kenyon Dress

meteori
Meteori Shawl

And there are other important echoes with Folly Cove too, as Julia’s collection is not simply the work of one designer, but the product of a supportive collaboration. From Folly Cove is part of Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series, “an open collaboration between the indie designer and the resources at Classic Elite” the aim of which is to “give a talented designer the freedom to tell a story with a themed collection of their designs.” Julia worked closely with Classic Elite’s creative director, Susan Mills, honing her design ideas, and developing them into patterns that would work with particular Classic Elite yarns. “Classic Elite were a complete joy to work with”, says Julia, “they gave me this great freedom to imagine what the book would be about, and what it would look like, and then let me run the show.” Thus, in this collection, Julia’s voice doesn’t just speak through her patterns, but she has the space to introduce and talk about the inspiration behind, and context of, each design, as well as discuss the work of the Folly Cove collective more generally. I think this publishing model – in which an independent designer is commissioned and supported by a yarn company to tell their own design story in their own way – is really refreshing and inspiring. As I write this post, Julia preparing to talk about the Folly Cove designers and her collection at Slater Mill. How I wish I could be there!

You can purchase From Folly Cove as a print + digital package direct from Classic Elite, as an ebook only via Ravelry, or as individual patterns.

designing & publishing: part 2

Well, I sat down a couple of days ago and thought I’d write a quick post about the great new books I’d come across, all of which had been either produced completely independently, or had been commissioned from an independent designer. As I reflected on recent directions in hand-knit design, and digressed into my own thoughts on self-publishing, I realised that one post had turned into two . . . and today I predictably find that two has turned into three. . .

Yesterday I mentioned Felicity Ford’s Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and Gudrun Johnston’s Shetland Trader Book 2 as inspiring examples of independent design and self publishing. Here are two more brilliant designers, and two more brilliant – and very different – independently produced books that have recently appeared. I’ll mention a few more in my final post tomorrow.

Rachel Coopey, Coop Knits Socks Volume 2.

Processed with Moldiv

I love how Rachel uses the sock’s small canvas as a place to explore stitch and creativity. This book includes twelve different patterns, from Dave (a plain vanilla sock with a choice of simple heels) to Otis (a striking colourwork sock, designed for a set of chromatic mini-skeins) to Wilbert (a cabled sock for blokes or women). Rachel has all needs of the contemporary sock knitter covered here! The book also includes a few well-illustrated tutorials, and (as someone who mostly knits socks for men), I appreciate the fact that relevant designs are photographed on a male model. As well as her characteristically careful attention to structure (all of these designs are supremely well balanced), there are several other things about this book that strike me as being “very Rachel”: 1) the palette (the whole tome has a pleasing ice-cream feel), 2) the design names (who can argue with Dave, Delbert and Ernestine?) and 3) the styling and photography.

Processed with Moldiv

Believe me, it is really difficult to photograph things like socks and gloves. Just when you want them to look elegant, feet and hands have an annoying tendency to look weird instead. Photographing 12 pairs of socks well is an unenviable task, but every pair here is placed on the foot so that the patterns sit just right. There are things that knitters need to see, and Rachel has made sure that you can see them: features like heels and shaping are well-illustrated, differently textured fabrics lay flat on leg and foot, every detail is clear and crisp, and the yarn colours are lively and luminous. Look at how the lighting and angles are the same, and the horizon lines up neatly on all four shots above. I know from experience that such consistency is very difficult to achieve. Jesse Wild was responsible for the photography and has done a fantastic job.

Hannah Fettig, Home and Away: Knits for Everyday Adventures

Home+and+Away+by+Hannah+Fettig

I’m a big fan of Hannah Fettig’s work and this is a really beautiful book of really beautiful designs. Hannah is in possession of that indefinable knack of creating wearable, contemporary garments with an elegant simplicity that absolutely sings. That’s in evidence here in nine designs, six of which are cardigans (which I think are her real forte). Hannah correctly describes the designs in Home and Away as “knits that will become wardrobe essentials – pieces with simple lines knit in wonderful, hard-wearing wool.” Surely that’s what every knitter would like to make and wear? There are many distinctive things about this book, top of the list of which is its enabling inclusivity. The patterns are written for the knitter to make them in their preferred way, using a seamless or a pieced construction. Having recently decided to provide seamed and seamless options for one of my own recent patterns, I know that this can be quite a bit of work for both designer and editor. But I also know that the choice of construction methods is something that’s really appreciated by knitters. So whether you prefer your garments with seams or without, you could make yourself Hannah’s lovely Rosemont cardigan, or any of the other sweaters in the book.

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(Rosemont can be knit in seamed pieces, or seamlessly, from the top down).

To my mind, such “bonus” features (such as alternative constructions methods, choices of charted or written instructions etc) are one of the many additional elements you are most likely to find in patterns that have been created by independent designers, rather than large companies (to whom it would perhaps be difficult to make the economic case for the added value of such “extras”). And Home and Away is packed with many other knitterly “extras” too. There are several super essays about swatching, blocking, reading a knitting pattern, and substituting yarns. I particularly enjoyed the conversation with Quince & Co’s Pam Allen, whose lovely yarns are really shown off at their very best in these pages. I think that this is a book that would make a wonderful gift for an enthusiastic beginner, as well as being a source of enjoyment and inspiration for any knitter who wants to make herself a classic, wearable garment.

simple hat

And I have to say that I find the photography and styling of this book completely gorgeous and deeply appealing. Simply browsing through these pages makes me want to immediately head out to Maine, take a brisk walk in a snowy rural landscape, hunker down for the winter, and knit myself a cardigan. There’s a very well-thought-through balance between interior and exterior shots, between detailed garment photography and lovely locations – between the “home” and the “away” of the book’s title.

moto

calligraphy
I visited Maine in the summer of 2005. I loved it. This book makes me want to go back. And definitely in the winter.

Rachel’s and Hannah’s books are, as I said, very different but what surely connects them is the strong stamp they bear of their creator’s personality and individual style. From the curly-wurly fonts and candy colours of Rachel’s book to the hand-drawn maps and warm neutrals of Hannah’s, these are tomes that are definitely and distinctively theirs. Both books are available in print, as digital copies (via Ravelry), or in a print + digital package.

More to come tomorrow.

designing & publishing: part 1

pages18-19
(One of my favourite layouts from Yokes, pages 18-19)

I think that these are really interesting times in knitwear design and publishing. I’m someone whose interest in hand-knit design directly lead to my establishing myself as a (very) small publisher. Having previously written several academic books and articles, as well as various editorial features, bits of film and literary criticism, and other journalistic pieces, I had some idea of what might be involved in making a book. When I decided to produce Colours of Shetland, what really drew me to doing things myself was that I could hopefully make the kind of book that would be a very hard sell to a mainstream publisher, but which I knew I would love to create, and which I also felt that knitters would hopefully want to read. By creating my own books, I could write about archeology and knitting, puffins and jazz and lighthouses . . . and knitting. I could even write about Danish foreign policy and its representation in one of my favourite television series. . . and knitting. Creating your own books as a small publisher means that you retain control of all aspects of the process, from how things look on the page to the paper quality of the page itself.

insidecover
(Colours of Shetland inside front cover)

In my former career, I had many frustrating experiences working with academic publishers where editorial control is largely out of one’s hands. I vividly recall, for example, spending around six months tracking down and, with some considerable effort, securing one-time, non-commercial reproduction rights to a particular eighteenth-century image which I needed to illustrate an article I was writing for a well-regarded academic publisher. At the proof stage, I was appalled to discover that the painting was so poorly reproduced and so small on the page that it was barely visible at all, let alone in the detail that would have been needed for the reader to make any sense of what I was saying in the accompanying text. My objections had no effect. But if you are doing things yourself, you can address such issues, and try to find a good balance between useful illustration, and cost (which is of course a major consideration).

ESKIMO

For example, when I found this poster of Eskimo – George Schnéevoigt’s 1930 film – I knew I wanted to include the image in my Yokes book. As well as illustrating a key part of my discussion (the Greenlandic costumes worn in this film inspired Norweigan designer, Annichen Sibbern to create her famous Eskimo yoke), I felt the image held a general aesthetic consonance with my thinking, and I found it very inspiring to look at on my mood board while I was writing the chapter in which the film appeared. Yoke sweaters are a modern – and in some respects modernist – design phenomenon, both of which were suggested to me by the font and feel of this striking poster. Nic (my book production guru) loved the image too, but there were other matters to consider. The chapter had to work as an 8 page spread, with several other wonderful images of Greenlandic costume, (which the nice people at Greenland.com had permitted me to reproduce)

greenland

In the end, the layout Nic came up with completely thrilled my editorial eye. She had used the photograph of the Greenlandic girls in their nuilarmiut at full page to introduce the chapter, but had then flipped it, so that the figures were facing right, leading the reader into the text. Schnéevoigt’s movie poster, meanwhile, held an important prefatory role – slotting into the chapter’s opening paragraphs, reproduced at centre page at a size at which its details were easy to see, and with its colours picked up in the chapter’s title font and subheadings. This use of colour in the chapter’s subheadings makes the poster’s aesthetic effect echo throughout the chapter. Amazing job, Nic!

page8-9
(Yokes, pages 8 and 9).

As you might imagine, the amount of work involved in creating and publishing one’s own books is pretty vast, and self-publishing by no means implies that you are doing everything yourself. I have been completely blessed in working with a superb team of people like Nic, Jen, and Rachel whose expertise in print and production, as well as technical and copy editing mean I can create books properly professionally, to the high standard and quality that I want. I’ve found it absolutely essential to have a really good team of folk on board, all of whom can take responsibility for various aspects of the process, and who also work well together. As the publisher, the writer, and the designer, you have to be prepared to listen and take advice, to take firm decisions, and to take some risks too. You (or rather, your business) has to invest time, energy, and a large amount of money into each book. Yokes involved an awful lot of research, travel, designing, knitting, writing, and photography before we even got anywhere near the editing and production stage. Personally I really enjoy this all-encompassing absorption in a project – you have to really live the book – but I suspect that this isn’t for everyone, and probably neither is the level of risk involved. The major benefit of working with a larger publisher is that they are shouldering the financial burden and any associated risk involved in a book’s production, but when one is one’s own publisher, that risk is yours and yours alone. When I wrote this post and received so many responses along the lines of “yokes just aren’t for me” I confess I was a wee bit concerned. Was I making a book that was of no interest to anyone but me? Did anyone even want a book about yoked sweaters, their provenance and their recent history?

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(Yokes, pages 4 and 5, with wonderful illustrations by Felicity Ford)

Happily some people were interested in such a book.

In the end I would say that the best thing about small publishing is the very basic pleasure that’s derived from making a thing of which one is proud. This pleasure-in-making is integral to every aspect of the process for me, from the initial idea, through the writing and the designing and the knitting, through to the editorial, layout, and production stage, to finally holding the book in my hand. And in some ways, the actual made-thing is only the very start of that productive process. From that point on, one has the additional pleasure of seeing folk engage meaningfully with the thing that you have made. Knitters knit your jumpers. Folk write and say they enjoyed reading a particular chapter, that they liked or disagreed with something that you said; that they loved a certain pattern, or that there was a design element in it they felt might be improved. All of these interactions are important – they are all about people actually engaging meaningfully with your made thing — and this can be very affirming.

foxglove

(Lovely Karen from Oxford Yarn Store has made and adapted several patterns from Yokes. Every sweater she makes makes me happy!)

I said at the start of the post that these are interesting times in design and publishing. I suppose the thing that I find most interesting (and heartening) about them is that I’m not alone. So many designers and writers are now finding that small publishing is a viable route of pursuing their own creative direction, finding their own independent voice, and realising their own visions. We are often told that the world of print is struggling in the digital age, but it seems to me that in knitting, as perhaps in other areas of relatively “niche” interest, that a host of independently-minded folk are using small publishing to make really wonderful, successful books that also often combine print and digital production in innovative ways. My friend Felix crowdsourced funding for her amazing and completely distinctive tome in a way that was both incredibly professional and really, really inspiring. Designers like Gudrun, meanwhile, are publishing their own beautiful pattern collections, which, because they are the product of a single, undiluted creative vision – from the stitch patterns to the photographic locations – have something really striking and specific to say. I think that small, independent publishing has made the knitting world much richer, more varied and certainly much more interesting than it was a decade ago, when the majority of knitting books were put out by mainstream craft publishers or large yarn companies (whose priorities were sometimes rather narrowly trend-led).

I have been prompted to these musings by the sheer number of fascinating, beautiful, and important books produced by my fellow independent designers that have recently caught my eye. In tomorrow’s post I’ll review a few examples.

at Scottesque

buchanan19

Hello! Hope you have had a nice weekend! On Saturday Mel and I took a wee trip to Aberdeen, to visit Scottesque. You may remember that I’ve mentioned Scottesque before (in connection with the midi kilt with which I styled my Buchanan yoke).

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I absolutely love my midi-kilt – I think its handkerchief paneling and bias-cut lines makes it an incredibly flattering and feminine way to sport tartan, and I find it really easy to wear. I commissioned my midi-kilt from Scottesque by email: having found an iteration of the “ancient” Buchanan tartan that I liked, and which was a good match for my yarn palette, I sent them my measurements and they designed and made my kilt for me. Anyway, I recently had an idea for a special and slightly more complicated garment (of which more later), and I thought it would be great if I could talk to Scottesque about creating it for me. So Mel and I hit the road, and found Scottesque in the lovely Rosemount area of Aberdeen (just down the road from the Beechgrove Garden, which I confess I found rather exciting).

sign

Scottesque is run by Jan, who has worked with textiles in Aberdeen for many years. Her business began with vintage and upcycling, and grew to focus on giving tartans and tweeds a contemporary feminine look. When she applied techniques of draping and folding to the design that became her signature midi-kilt, Scottesque never looked back. The bias lines of the fabric, and the design’s subtle volume and drape means this is a skirt shape that looks good on just about everyone.

midi

It was fantastic to see Jan’s shop and workshop, and get a sense of what’s going on at Scottesque.

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Mel fell in love with the greens and magentas of the Lindsay tartan.

rack1

And I was blown away by the array of beautiful fabrics . . .

fabric

. . . and colours . . .

colour

. . . but most especially by Jan’s design acumen, bringing tartan to life with characteristic pleating, volume, and drape.

silk

Mel and I had a fantastic time, and, ahem, placed some orders . . .

shop

. . . so if you find yourself in Rosemount, I highly recommend a trip to Scottesque (especially as there’s a spring sale on at the moment!) But if you are unlikely to able to get to Aberdeen, you can always order a kilt to fit you, in your choice of Tartan, by contacting Scottesque directly.

jan

Thanks, Jan!

Fantoosh!

fantoosh12

FANTOOSH! – my new spring shawl – is now available.

Fantoosh is a top-down triangular shawl featuring a tesselating allover motif defined by centred double decreases and twisted stitches. Its a lovely rhythmic knit with a pleasing end result!

fantoosh13

In Scots, fantoosh means “fancy”, or a wee bit “over the top”. When I was at the beginning of the design process, this shawl felt quite fantoosh to me (although I suppose if you compare it to, say, any design of Shetland fine lace, it is not in the least fancy at all). But because it is worked in a beautiful, luxurious yarn (of which more in a moment), coupled with the fact that it features twisted stitches and openwork, the design idea initially seemed a wee bit more elaborate to me than my usual style. I really enjoyed creating this shawl, and spent quite a bit of time swatching and re-swatching as I honed the motif. I like tesselating shapes, and my favourite kind of lace patterns are those with a well-defined geometry. Playing around with the decreases and twisted stitches meant I could lend this large leafy motif a really graphic strength and structure. Then, once I’d finalised the stitch pattern, I was pleased to discover that the shawl itself was going to end up being incredibly straightforward: memorised after just one repeat, the motif is extremely easy and satisfying to knit. Its an intuitive design whose slightly fancy appearance in fact belies its real simplicity. When I’d finished, it was the exuberance of the shawl that pleased me most – I think it really suits its name – Fantoosh!

fantoosh4

The yarn is (gasp, sigh) Old Maiden Aunt Aunt Alpaca / silk / cashmere 4 ply. This blend of luxury fibres makes it a very fantoosh yarn indeed for me to work with. . .but I took one look at Lilith’s colours on this base and I was completely hooked. I knew I had to work with it. The shade is called “Pretty Floral Bonnet” and it really is exceptionally pretty: a subdued shade of pink-y purple, just slightly semi-solid, with these amazing luminous pops of eau de nil running through it. The overall effect is subtle but luminous.

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It knits up into a wonderfully soft, drapey fabric that also feels substantial and warm. Perfect to wrap oneself up in on a breezy day.

fantoosh1

The shawl is knit from the top-down, to create a triangle twice as wide as it is long. I personally love the flexibility (and wrapability) of a Really Big Shawl. With a wingspan of almost 2 metres, this sample is, ahem, quite large, and uses around 700 yards of yarn (2 skeins).

fantoosh11

But a mahooosive shawl is not for everyone. I knit up a second sample and found that a single skein (400 yards) still makes a good-sized shawl with a 114 cm / 45 in wingspan and yarn to spare – so I’ve written the pattern for two sizes, small and large. And because the repeats are short and simple, you’ll find its also really easy to adjust their number to suit other size preferences (and yarn quantities).

fantoosh9

Fantoosh is both relaxing and fun to knit – there’s enough variety in the stitch pattern to keep things interesting, and its satisfyingly addictive seeing each new motif appear.

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Designing and knitting Fantoosh has put me on a something of a roll, and I suddenly find myself with quite a few ideas fizzing around my brain.

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Lets see if these ideas come to fruition!

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Fantoosh is available digitally via Ravelry and in print via Magcloud

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Happy knitting!

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.

curtain
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.

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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

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!

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