I’m working on my Gawthorpe design. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.
Jane Hoodless “Pteridomania Contained” (©Jane Hoodless, 2012)
For more, see Sarah Whittingham, Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania (2012)
I’m working on my Gawthorpe design. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.
Jane Hoodless “Pteridomania Contained” (©Jane Hoodless, 2012)
For more, see Sarah Whittingham, Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania (2012)
Various things have been prompting me to think a lot recently about the role that sewing and knitting and other handmade things can play in the shape of ones life. Like many crafty folk in the UK, I enjoyed watching the Great British Sewing Bee. Unlike so many of these competitive TV formats, this programme seemed to me to celebrate genuine amateur skill, and although one might take issue with some of the judging decisions, the nature of some of the tasks, and particularly the time allotted to said tasks, I thought the series was largely really inspiring. I also found it both interesting and moving to see the levels of meaning that were invested in hand-made garments by the competitors themselves, and particularly by their family members, who were so incredibly appreciative of the things that had been created especially for them. It made me think about the fact that there is hardly a single photograph of myself or my sister from our childhoods where we are not wearing something hand-made.
Here we are, enacting a decorative and singularly jolly protest against the privatisation of some green public spaces at Castleton carnival, probably, I think, in 1980. My mum fashioned these gigantic floral costumes from tissue paper that was one of the waste products in the factory where my dad worked. Our headgear was attached around our chins with a pair of tights.
You could easily narrate the story of mine and Helen’s childhoods through the marvelous matching cardigans we wore. My grandma was knitting constantly, and had a particular penchant for the kids’ Aran patterns she found in Woman’s Weekly. These wee hoodies might well be my favourites. . .
. . . though I also love these sleeveless cardis.
Grandma had a ‘Tyrolean’ phase later in the ’80s. . .
. . I recall that she knitted my mum a similar garment, too.
In this photo, I am wearing a sort of snood-y balaclava thing knitted by Grandma, and a quilted coat sewn by my mum.
My mum is a whizz with the sewing machine. I couldn’t find a picture of the most memorable garment she made for me — a chocolate-brown dress with white polka dots, full skirt, and sweetheart neckline that I wore for my first grown-up party (a sort of prom equivalent, I suppose), but I did locate a photograph of me in my First Communion dress that she made from a Vogue pattern. I remember many details of this dress so clearly: it was lined, with a top layer of light cotton voile with teeny tiny pin-dots. There was a beautiful floral trim around the cuffs and bodice that my mum got from the market, and I remember that the whole thing hung really beautifully, and swished in a very pleasing fashion as I walked. I am the one sitting in the middle, without the red carnation.
I so enjoyed your translations and comments on this post, that I thought I’d continue the First World War theme with some of my favourite items in my postcard collection. Known to collectors generically as “silks”, these machine-embroidered cards first appeared around 1900, and were produced in vast quantities during the twentieth century’s first two decades. As an attractive and eminently portable form of sentimental greeting, these cards proved particular popular among British troops serving in France. Some estimates suggest that, in their wartime heyday, more than ten million were produced.
Sources used to suggest that these cards were hand-embroidered, but this isn’t the case. Though particularly elaborate panel designs might involve finishing by hand, I have never seen one that didn’t feature machine embroidery. Using innovative Heilmann or Schiffli embroidery machines, a design could be repeated up to 400 times across large panels of organdy before being cut out, and individually assembled into framed and embossed cards. There were several factories in France and Switzerland where cards might be manufactured from start to finish, but some machine-embroiders also produced piece work from home, sending completed panels to be finished and assembled elsewhere.
The cards were usually sent in military mail pouches rather than being stamped and posted in the ‘open’ mail. Because they were protected in transit, the embroidered panels could be quite delicate in design. Many of the cards use the structure of the embroidery to create a tiny envelope:
Into which another card, with a personal greeting might be inserted.
This is one of my personal favourites: the card would have been placed inside an envelope; the card is, itself, an envelope; and the embroidered panel also depicts an envelope-carrying bluebird.
Cards might be designed for specific occasions . . .
. . . or with specific addressees in mind . . .
While many of the designs are conventional (though nonetheless appealing) others feel perhaps more modern and innovative.
and while theres a tremendous variety of embroidered designs, the same might be said of the paper-embossing, which on some cards is more elaborate than the stitching.
These cards carry human stories.
And there’s a particular kind of confluence between these stories and the stitches through which they are conveyed.
Here is one of my favourites: it is a scene unmistakably French with trees and tiny church; ploughed field and red earth . . .
. . . flowers bloom at the field margin . . .
. . . framing a message of poignant reassurance.
The roses hide. . .
. . .an envelope . .
. . . containing a message.
It is a simple, mass-produced, material object.
It is also a massive conveyer of meaning.
Well, I had a fantastic time in Shetland. As I was on my own, I stayed in Lerwick. I really enjoyed meeting up with Shetland friends old and new, and pottering about toon.
But I was there to work — I have a couple of writing commissions in the pipeline, one of which involves producing a short history of Fair Isle knitting for a new (and very exciting) book about Shetland textiles. So I examined a lot of Fair Isle pieces, and I thought a lot about them.
I saw some truly incredible textiles . . .
. . . so many of which defied any idea of the ‘traditional’ in Fair Isle knitting.
(This striking allover features 4 shades of Shetland wool and 3 shades of artificial silk)
So much to think about.
Bruce and I took a few hours off today, and spent the morning drinking tea and eating scones with our friend Sarah.
Sarah has recently moved to Edinburgh from Shetland, and it was the first time I’ve had a chance to see her new studio.
I love to see different kinds of spaces dedicated to making — they always carry the distinctive stamp of the people who make in them. This space is very Sarah.
The studio is full of haberdashery — gorgeous trims and findings. . .
. . .Vintage lace meets digitally printed crepe de chine . . .
. . . so many lovely pieces.
Sarah’s silk-jersey accessories feel more like jewellery than scarves to me. Precious and liminal, their wave-inspired and deliciously fluid fabric seems to emerge from a space somewhere between land and water. I couldn’t leave without one.
What Sarah does with fabric is totally amazing (just look at this beautiful gown she recently designed). I fear her studio may be a place of dangerous temptation . . . but it is lovely to have her nearby.
Yesterday I had a grand day out. Martin and Janet Curtis kindly invited me to the opening of the new showroom at Haworth Scouring, the world’s largest commission scouring company, and an important hub of the British wool industry. The opening showcased many different elements of the industry — from processing right through to retail and distribution — and I was there to demonstrate hand-knitting and design. My sister, Helen, lives nearby, and it was great to bring her along as a spare pair of knitterly hands. Here she is working on a BMC, with some of the beautiful throws from the Real Shetland Company and my Rams and Yowes blanket behind her.
She couldn’t resist trying out one of the Real Shetland throws.
. . . as well as woven textiles . . .
(These samples are from Abraham Moon, another great Yorkshire company)
. . .knitting yarns . . .
(Jamieson & Smith’s amazing Shetland Heritage yarn, of which more another time).
. . . finished garments . . .
But my favourite thing, out of the many wonderful woolly things on display in the new showroom, was a piece by artist Angela Wright.
Angela’s wool installations take coned yarn (supplied by Martin Curtis), which is reworked and rewound into gigantic woolly hanks. These huge hanks, when arranged, suspended, and carefully laid down by Angela, have a profoundly transformative effect on the spaces in which they appear. I only had my macro lens with me yesterday, so was unable to take a picture capturing the full effect of Angela’s piece on the showroom space, but you get a good sense of her work from this earlier piece in Bradford Cathedral.
I think it is quite rare to find textile art that manages to combine the spectacular with the contemplative, but Angela’s work is both. These installations are grand and public in scale, but there’s a quiet intimacy about them too, which arises from the woolly materials Angela is using, and (very clearly, I think) her own distinctive personal ‘feel’ for space and substance. Sited in Bradford, the historic home of the British wool industry, the installation seems celebratory and commemorative, both veil and shroud, a portal connecting past to future. There is a tremendous weight to Angela’s pieces — the wool threads hang, drape, and flow with a heaviness that is deeply emotional. Angela told me how some folk were moved to tears upon encountering the piece in Bradford Cathedral — I can well believe it.
I recommend you go and have a look at these photographs which document the process of Angela’s wool installations from Yorkshire sheep to finished piece. Pretty amazing.
Here is Angela, discussing her installation with Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who came to open the showroom yesterday and who, like her brother in law, is firmly committed to the Campaign for Wool.
. . .Martin Curtis presented her with a very special woolly gift. . .
. . . a beautiful hand-knitted lace stole, created as part of the Shetland fine lace project.
It was a day in which, from start to finish, the best of British wool was celebrated. Helen and I felt honoured to have been a part of it and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thankyou, Janet, and Martin, for a truly grand day!
A few weeks ago, I discovered a craft / design book that really blew me away. This hasn’t happened for a while, and I love this book so much that I’ve been itching to mention it. Here’s how I came across it: back in April, I decided I would design a tea cosy for Woolfest. I knew that, if I was going to design a tea cosy it had to be an all-out kitschy novelty item, and I also knew that I wanted the design to have a Woolfest-appropriate sheepy theme. After a few days of thinking about sheep; of the generic shape and design of tea cosies; and just letting things mill about and brew in my head (my general way of working), I had a mild eureka moment: a Sheep Carousel! Yes! This idea seemed a good one, and I felt excited about designing and knitting it. But had anyone thought of it before? Tea cosies (which are often striped) seemed to lend themselves so well to representing a circus tent or merry go round: perhaps another designer had previously had the same idea? This does occasionally happen, and I find it is generally worthwhile checking such things out before one embarks upon a design, so I spent a morning poking around the interwebs, searching for sheep carousels, and carousel tea cosies. During my search I discovered that Jade Starmore had designed a marvelous carousel-themed baby blanket called Widdicome Fair; that Kathleen Sperling had designed an intarsia merry-go-round child’s hat; and that a JC Penney carousel sweater had recently generated some interest when it featured on Glee last year:
So there were a few knitted carousel designs, but none featured sheep, and none were tea cosies. But then, on one of my searches I came across a discussion of a “Merry go Round” tea cosy in a book by Ike Rosen called Modern Embroidery. Like most carousels, this one apparently featured horses rather than sheep, and it was a stitched rather than a knitted design, but I was nonetheless intrigued and wanted to check it out. So I tracked the book down on ABE. Here is the tea cosy in question:
It was indeed a carousel, but happily quite different in inception to the stripey marquee and bouncing sheep that had popped into my brain. . .
. . . and, as it turned out, Rosen’s merry-go-round was, for me perhaps one of the least interesting designs in a book which was packed full of TOTALLY AMAZING THINGS.
Rosen’s book was first published in Germany in 1970, and translated into English in 1972. Rosen addresses herself to women with “two left hands” who assumed that embroidery had to be fiddly, complicated, and difficult to execute. She clearly wanted Modern Embroidery to be an enabling beginner’s book, and so the stitches featured in her designs are very simple – most use a combination of stem stitch and chain stitch. But the variety of results Rosen achieves with this limited range of stitches is pretty incredible, as well as really beautiful.
This is a book very much of its moment – pitching its use of colour and simple ornament as definitively “modern”: “Sensitive people of taste,” writes Rosen:
” . . . at the beginning of this century, were no longer able to put up with the overpowering ornamentation of the last century, and consequently the reaction against it was a rigorous cut-back of all artificial adornments. A new objectivity asserted itself, and strove under the leadership of prominent architects and artists for a pure clean-cut form. We have been profiting from it up to the present time and we are still gaining from it, for it is a style which was carefully thought out from many angles and deliberately fought for.”
But, among the clean modernist lines that then dominated design, Rosen detects “a longing for pattern,” and a yearning for bright colours that might “harmoniously unify various articles in a room.”
The styling of Rosen’s embroidery in “modern” 1970s interiors speaks to this idea of harmony — decor, objects, and designs speak to each other in a most extraordinary matchy-matchy way . . .
. . . these purple and orange plates with their nifty built-in egg-cups and even the eggs themselves are carefully styled to tone in with Rosen’s table runner . . .
. . . and the forms of cakes and biscuits echo Rosen’s abstract designs.
Despite the overwhelming 1970s vibe of this book (and it is overwhelming – shades of brown, orange and purple dominate; cigarettes nestle daintily among the pretzels) as one flicks through it, it is difficult not to find something contemporary and familiar about Rosen’s designs; hard not to think that Orla Kiely has somehow been inspired by these chained-stitched stems and pears. . .
And there are many knitting design-echoes too: these oven mitts immediately reminded me of Heidi Mork’s lovely Vinterblomster mittens.
But perhaps it is less a question of direct influence: rather, Rosen, (much like Orla Kiely and the inimitable Spillyjane) has a feel for a combining the folksy and the abstract in bold, simple and colourful design.
Rosen’s design referents are vast and eclectic, ranging from the Bauhaus through to Tiny Tim. The text of the book is extraordinarily eclectic too: there are occasions where Rosen seems to be setting out an entire design manifesto, while at other times she becomes philosophic and reflective with observations about the gendered division of labour or the tastes and habits of modern teenagers. In fact, I would say that the book is worth getting hold of not just for the designs (which I absolutely love) but for Rosen’s text, which is often weirdly engaging, even in translation. For example, this is how Rosen introduces my favourite design in the book:
“The more people there are, the scarcer mushrooms and edible fungi become. The case is similar to that in the adage: where we set foot, no more mushrooms grow. Moroever, at the present time, with more free time and a lot of cars to take us out into the open, we would have a lot of fun looking for mushrooms. Let us hope that some professor or other will find an opportunity of making these mushrooms grow in increased numbers everywhere. Since we are accustomed to the fact that scientists make everything possible, and in double-quick time as well, we will console you with this prospect, and in the meantime we have embroidered a dish of mushrooms which at least you can feast your eyes upon.”
Personally, I think there is only one appropriate reaction to “The Dish of Mushrooms” which is to hail it as a work of pure stitched genius.
I’ve not been able to find out about much about Ike Rosen herself – – perhaps because my German is so poor. I wonder whether any German readers might know more about Rosen and her influence? In the meantime, if any English speakers would like to track down a second-hand copy of the 1972 edition of Modern Embroidery, here are the details:
Ike Rosen, Modern Embroidery (London: B.T. Batsford, 1972) ISBN 0 7134 2655 1
In case you were in any doubt at all: I love this book!
It is a while since I have been totally blown away by a book. Here is that book – a very generous gift to me from Mai, one of my Estonian readers.
It is hard to know how to start telling you about what this incredible tome contains – it really is that amazing. Perhaps I can start with a couple of images:
Like other areas of Estonia, Muhu island is proud of its textile traditions.
These textile traditions are many, varied, and very distinctive, and this distinction and variety is due to the incredible needlework skills of the women of Muhu. I’ve written a little before about how interesting I find Estonian ‘folk’ costumes, and about how the strong sense of regional and national identity one sees expressed in such textiles emerged against a backdrop of cultural annexation. I have only had the opportunity to read about Estonian knitted textiles before – but this book gives a much fuller picture of the wide-ranging skills of the women of Muhu, who are clearly possessed of a quite remarkable creative energy!
I have a perennial interest in how textile ‘traditions’ emerge on, and cluster about, islands. Muhu shares many cultural similarities with, for example, Shetland: over the past couple of centuries, the women have tirelessly worked the land in the absence of their menfolk in the fishing, and (later) the construction industries, and this has produced a similar discourse about the indomitable and formidable qualities of Muhu women.* Just like the women of Shetland, those of Muhu are described as proud, strong, and capable. They are skilled with their needles; they are dryly humorous. This Muhu aphorism is so very similar to some Shetland sayings I’ve seen:
“Kuidas Muhu naine korraga 4 asja tegi:
Ma aasi loomad karjaaruse, kudusi cardud,
aasi ärraga juttu ja kussi kua”
(How Muhu women do 4 jobs at once:
I was driving the cattle to the meadow, kniting,
talking to the landlord, and taking a piss)
But what makes Muhu very different from Shetland – and what I had never thought about until I absorbed myself in this marvelous book – is that domestic textiles (until very recently) never expanded beyond being dowry gifts or heirlooms into being produced for a market. Kabur, Pink and Meriste explain that the driving principle behind Muhu women’s production of domestic textiles was “to make one’s clothing as fine as the finest garment of one’s home village, and even a little bit better.” Without the pressures of external commercial markets, the women of Muhu simply competed among themselves to produce domestic textiles of ever-more glorious variety, ornament and colour. I think it is the sheer variety of styles and skills that I find most striking about these textiles, which include . . .
Stranded colourwork mittens, gloves and stockings – here with duplicate stitches . . .
stockings and gloves with travelling stitches . . .
. . men’s ‘vatt’ in traditional orange and black two-colour knitting (characteristic Muhu colours are bright pink, bright orange, and bright yellow)
. . . crocheted lace (this example was based on traditional Muhu designs, and was produced by Kaidi Holm of Vanamoisa village in 2010)
. . . satin stitch (shirt collar from Tõnise farm in Koguva village)
. . . beading (bridal cap, owned by Helju Vaher of Võlla village)
There are also examples of different kinds of weaving, machine embroidery, and lace techniques. Clearly these women have an inexhaustible range of textile talents! Kabur, Pink and Meriste introduce the reader to gloriously decorative slippers and blankets, aprons and belts, skirts and jackets, stockings, gloves and baby garments. And as if the sheer range and variety of highly-skilled techniques that these women had mastered wasn’t enough, they then start to combine them in ways that are quite breathtaking.
But it isn’t just the pictures in this book that are absolutely wonderful. Kabur, Pink and Meriste also provide charted instructions for much of the embroidery, crochet, and knitting, and talk about technique in a way that not only demonstrates their own practical knowledge, but generously allows the reader to share in it as well. So the editors introduce the reader to, for example, the distinctive Muhu zigzagging decrease (which I am itching to try out on a sock) and explain how large bold motifs were added to the centre of plain-coloured mittens (using a particularly nifty combination of intarsia and double knitting).
This combination of the historical and the practical is what makes their book so very good, and it is really quite unusual. Textile books are often rather rigidly (and annoyingly) divided between the academic or the ‘how to’ markets, but Kabur, Pink and Meriste’s super tome happily crosses that divide, allowing the reader to gain a close, material understanding of some truly amazing objects – the sort of understanding that you would only ordinarily gain by taking a visit to an archive, handling textiles, turning them inside out, examining their stitches and their seams, decoding their canny methods of construction, and then going away to try things out for yourself. It is an absolutely brilliant book: the images are glorious, the cultural information is carefully and respectfully put together, the instructions for the different techniques are clear and well-demonstrated. Having this book in one’s hands really is the closest thing I’ve ever encountered to actually being right in among a museum textile collection. It is a very rare treat. Now, when do I get to go to Estonia?
So thankyou, Mai, for this lovely gift; thankyou, Anu Kabur, Anu Pink, and Mai Meriste for making this treasure trove available (and in English, too, which is a particular treat for me) and thankyou, most of all, to the needlewomen of Muhu to whose incredible talents this book pays fitting tribute. I’m thrilled to have been introduced to – and enormously inspired by – you all.
Anu Kabur, Anu Pink, Mai Meriste, Designs and Patterns from Muhu Island: A Needlework Tradition from Estonia (Saara Publishers, 2011) ISBN: 978-9949-9181-3-3
*For more on this discourse of indomitable femininity in relation to Shetland, see Lynn Abrams’ important book Myth and Materiality in a woman’s world: Shetland 1800-2000 (Manchester UP, 2005)
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.
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!
The best things in my wardrobe are made of wool. Some of these are ‘vintage’ items that have worn incredibly well. I thought I’d show you one of my favourites today.
I picked up this hand-knitted cardigan second-hand. From its shape, patterns, buttons, and the kind of worsted- spun Shetland wool that was used to knit it, I reckon it dates from the 1930s. 80 years later, it is still in fantastic condition. The right side of the fabric has that slight sheen that Shetland hand-knits seem to develop after many years of wear. There is not a single pill to be seen.
The strands along the back of the fabric have felted ever-so-slightly. The work is incredibly fine and neat.
But this is not a pristine garment. It has been worn a lot. Where this is most evident is under the arms. Here, movement and friction have created areas of felting on the fabric’s right side.
It is also a garment that has been cared for. There is a place on the back of one elbow where an area of about two square inches has been repaired. The darner has taken great care to match the pattern. You can see that wool of a slightly paler-blue than the original has been used. Here is the darn from the wrong side . . .
. . . and here from the right side.
These are clearly the repairs of a seasoned darner. The stitches are perfectly made, the fabric perfectly stable. I do love to see good darning. One of the most moving hand-knits I have ever encountered is a Fair-Isle sweater now on permanent display in the Shetland Museum. It belonged to a local who spent much of WWII as a prisoner. He wore this sweater constantly, repairing and re-repairing the areas that suffered from wear. A powerful document of his interment, as well as his Shetland identity, this sweater really looks as much darned as it is knit. It is very beautiful. Next time I visit Shetland I’ll get a photograph for you.
Here is another repair conducted by the hand of an inexpert darner – ie me.
Not only is this an example of my second-rate mending, but you can also see how difficult it is to find contemporary yarn that is a good match for vintage palettes. The brown colour I’ve used to darn is a Shetland that is close in hue to the original, but it is a blend with flecks of green in it. Like all of the colours used on the original sweater, the rusty-brown shade is very flat and solid. This ‘flatness’ is one of the many things I find interesting about knitting wool from the 30s and 40s. Those marled, heathered, or tweedy effects that we might think of as being ‘traditional’ are really of relatively modern ilk.
I love the simple construction of this sweater. The button bands are so neatly done that I originally assumed they had been knitted at the same time as the colourwork. Had the knitter actually purled those stitches back-and-forth instead of working in the round?
No they hadn’t – but they had conducted a kind of knitterly magic when picking up the stitches. Each cut yarn-end on each row has been individually bound down and woven in. It is an incredibly nifty piece of work.
Impressive! But how had the knitter secured the steek before cutting? When I looked closely at the armhole steeks (similarly neat, and flat) I discovered more about her method.
Upon careful examination I discovered some tiny cotton thread ends showing that the steek had been hand-sewn before cutting. While the majority were removed when the steek was completed, a few of these stray cotton thread-ends actually still remain in the armhole joins, as you can see at the centre of this rather blurry photograph.
The work is so neat, so very carefully done, that there is no bulk at all — hardly a hint of anything resembling a join or ‘seam’.
The sweater has very little shaping: there are some decreases in the arms, and a narrowing at the waist created by the ribbing, but there is no underarm gusset, or setting-in-of sleeves. The sleeves are, in fact set in to the armholes totally squarely, as you can see here.
This squareness is probably one reason for the increased wear that the underarms have seen – but the totally un-tailored sleeve actually fits surprisingly nicely under the arms — not much excess fabric at all.
The cardigan is a good, neat fit on me. I love it, and love to wear it. I’ll keep admiring it, repairing it, wearing it, caring for it. Maybe under my proprietorship it will be able to see another several decades of wear — just as it did with its original owner.