Sunday, 21 September 2014

Kaffe Fassett Exhibition

Picture rich post!

Yesterday my hubby and I drove up to Bath to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition taking place this autumn at the American Museum. I am very grateful to Diana of Velvet Moth Studios for alerting me to this – she posted recently about her visit, and I would not have missed it for the world – I have been a great fan of Kaffe’s for many years.

In case you don’t know, Kaffe (pronounced “Kafe” to rhyme with “safe”) is an artist who came to England from the USA in the 1960s. Originally he was a painter, but on his arrival here, he fell in love with textiles, and so began the adventure which has lasted his whole life long. He revolutionised the knitting world in the 70s and 80s with his riotous use of colour, and branched out into needlepoint, patchwork, fabric design and mosaic as time went on. He is a complete pattern junkie and has combined this with his passion for colour.

My hubby gave me my first Kaffe Fassett book, “Glorious Knitting” for my first birthday after we were married – on our honeymoon, in fact. He subsequently gave me “Glorious Colour” and “Kaffe Fassett at the V&A” – along with his love of flea markets for inspiration and the purchase of many eclectic objects, Kaffe has found much inspiration at London’s famous Victoria and Albert Museum. All these books are large format, and lavishly illustrated, and have been a source of inspiration for me for many years, but yesterday was the first opportunity I had had to see his work in the flesh, and it was a mind-blowing total immersion in colour!

I took nearly 100 photos, including some of the location. I will not be able to put them all in this blog post, but will select as many as I can, and will upload the whole collection to my Flickr album. Now uploaded: click here.

When we arrived, I was delighted to see my very first examples of “yarn bombing” – I have read about this and seen pictures, but so lovely to see the real thing – and how appropriate for the occasion!

04 Yarn Bombing on Decorated Tree

The foyer of the exhibition centre, which doubled as a shop, was decorated for the exhibition.

09 Floral Swags in Foyer

The letters forming the “Kaffe Fassett” title over the door into the exhibition proper were solid and wrapped with blue fabric.

We were led along a short tunnel made from distorting mirrors on both sides and the ceiling, into the wonderland beyond. Throughout, the floor was adorned twith a covering printed with Kaffe’s designs.

12 Mirrored Entrance

The first thing to meet my eye was Kaffe’s famous knitted coat which featured in the books, and also on his 6-part TV series several years ago. This was inspired by the costume worn by Rudolf Nureyev in the ballet “Romeo and Juliet.”

15 Coat Back

Surrounding the foot of this magnificent coat was a series of crochet hats embellished with buttons and beads. I loved how the heads were first wrapped with rich lurex fabric to reflect the colours of the hats.

18 Embellished Crochet Hats

His jewel stripe shawl – actually more of a blanket!

21 Jewel Stripe Shawl

In the centre of the main exhibition hall was a mock-up of part of Kaffe’s studio, showing work in progress, and an eclectic collection of colourful and patterned fabrics and objects.

25 Studio Mock-Up

A very pretty little antique nursing chair, covered with Kaffe’s needlepoint in a crazy patchwork design, with a piece of knitting in progress.

26 Detail of Knitting on Chair

Kaffe’s palette and a wonderfully paint-stained jug containing more brushes, in front of a painting standing on an easel.

34 Palette and Brushes

During the 80s, when Kaffe broadcast his TV series, he visited the beautiful town of Arundel, which so inspired him with its walls and buildings constructed of brick and knapped flint, and the lichen growing in the churchyard. From this sample of lichen you can see how he interpreted this inspiration, in pattern, and uncharacteristically subtle shades.

36 Lichen

37 Arundel Inspired Samples

38 Arundel Inspired Knitting

When we visited Arundel, I was equally inspired, and my camera was never idle!

In one display case, along with many beautiful needlepoint pieces and other objects, was a collection of Indian metal embellishments. They were all embossed from thin sheet metal and coloured – how easy it would be to make something like this from embossed drink cans and alcohol inks!

41 Indian Embellishments

Kaffe has been heavily influenced by the beautiful Islamic art of North Africa, and several of his pieces reflected this – the geometric tile patterns and the rich jewel colours of blue, purple and green, in knitting and patchwork.

49 Islamic Stars Knitwear

80 Islamic Blue Stars Quilt

There were many examples of his knitwear adoring the walls, displayed on wooden poles to show them to their best advantage.

50 Knitwear

Some of his pieces feature bold, simple designs in squares and rectangles. This glorious shawl boasts a full, rich fringe, and a contrasting border along the top edge.

51 Fringed Shawl

A favourite pattern. While true Fair Isle knitting traditionally has only two colours going at once in any row, Kaffe’s method of knitting using manageable short lengths, enables many colours to be used at once – you simply pull out the colour you want, and weave in the ends as you go. Many of the pattern repeats are relatively simple; the elaborate effect is created by the abundance of colour – to quote Kaffe, “When in doubt, add forty more colours!”

53 Diamond Knitwear

The next picture shows an intriguing design. The yellows, with a touch of lavender, appear to be overlaid with a lighter shade, which, from a distance, looks almost like lace. In this picture you can see how the background colour of the wall matches the knitwear. This was a common feature of the display; you might think that it would have the effect of reducing the impact of the pieces, but it actually enhanced them in a stunning way.

57 Yellow Knitwear

Moving on now from knitting to needlepoint, although the medium is different, there is no departure from the rich use of colour and pattern. Unlike traditional canvaswork designs, in Kaffe’s pieces, the background is as important as the focal motif.

58 Shells Needlepoint Panel

More shells.

59 Spiral Shells Needlepoint Panel

I can see great potential for developing basic Zentangle patterns with the use of vibrant colour to create designs such as these.

There was an additional room beyond, which contained mostly needlepoint pieces, with a green colour theme, mostly based on designs of leaves, flowers and vegetables. I love Kaffe’s designs of humble vegetables like cabbages, leeks and beetroot, and his use of subtle shading brings them to life.

62 Printed Floor from Vegetables Needlepoint Panel

Again, the floor covering was printed with Kaffe’s designs. This is the original needlepoint panel from which the floor print was taken.

61 Vegetables Needlepoint Panel

On the table were many pieces, inspired by teapots in the shape of vegetables, etc. Many of these items were collected by Kaffe from flea markets in London and elsewhere.

63 Green Needlepoint

This tiny tea set in the shape of bunches of asparagus is one such object.

64 Asparagus Tea Set

Also in this room was a beautifully distressed and vintage bench with needlepoint cushions in the design of vegetables.

65 Bench with Vegetable Cushions

This floral panel was an unusual piece because the background included some lurex yarn that caught the light and sparkled.

66 Floral Needlepoint Panel with Lurex Background

At the far end of the room was Kaffe’s magnificent hollyhocks needlepoint hanging. From this picture you can see that on entering the room, one felt one was stepping into a garden!

68 Hollyhocks Needlepoint Panel

Here is a detail of the hollyhocks hanging.

69 Detail of Hollyhocks Needlepoint Panel

You can see that he has used a long-and-short stitch, with several strands in the needle. This gives great coverage at high speed, but it is not very hard-wearing and is really suitable only for hangings – most of the cushions are worked in traditional tent stitch which will stand much more wear and tear, but it does take much longer to do. You can see the amazing life-like effect he has achieved with the subtle shading – painting with the needle!

Another needlepoint panel, this time depicting various fruits.

70 Fruits Needlepoint Panel

Back in the main exhibition hall, a collection of cushions worked in needlepoint and patchwork.

72 Needlepoint and Patchwork Cushions

The bottom-left cushion, depicting blue and white china. Kaffe has used this motif frequently, both in needlepoint and knitting. Some years ago I embroidered some miniature blue and white pots in cross stitch, which was inspired by this design.

73 Blue and White Pots Cushion

Another beautiful needlepoint cushion, this time in a more subtle shade. The beautiful two-tone background shows off the intricately patterned moth to perfection.

74 Needlepoint Moth Cushion

Moving on to quilting, this beautiful quilt is worked in a sunray pattern.

76 Sunray Quilt

Here is a detail.

77 Detail of Sunray Quilt

Kaffe works in both plain, brightly coloured fabrics, and prints. He has designed many fabric patterns. The following quilt shows some examples of these.

79 Diamond Quilt

This particular quilt was the design chosen for most of the merchandising for the exhibition – mugs, place mats, book marks, etc.

Some of Kaffe’s fabrics and trims.

82 Fabrics and Trims

An unusual example of Kaffe’s mosaic work. He loves to piece together fragments of broken china and glass, and has covered pots and other objects, and was commissioned to produce some mosaic work for the Chelsea Flower Show.

81 Mosaic Shoe

Some fabric fans in a display case. Beyond, you can see a beautiful glass vase with a circular pattern.

83 Fabric Fans

I took a close-up of this, but unfortunately it is rather out of focus. This design of concentric circles is a favourite of Kaffe’s and frequently features in his knitting.

85 Glass Vessel Detail

The view from the exhibition hall back along the mirrored tunnel into the foyer.

89 Back Out to the Foyer

One of the sales tables, displaying some of Kaffe’s books.

90 Sales Table

When we came out, we went into the Orangery Tea Room for a well-earned cup of tea, and were entranced by the beautiful stencilling on the walls.

95 Stencilling in Orangery Tea Room

Finally, the outside of the Tea Rooms, built from the beautifully warm and mellow golden Bath stone.

99 Outside Orangery Tea Rooms

Today I had more comments about my wheelchair with its mixed media spoke guards than ever before – I suppose I should have expected this, as the exhibition was going to attract creative people! Everybody loved them, and unlike the usual casual commenters, they all wanted to know exactly how I’d done them!

To finish this virtual tour of the Kaffe Fassett exhibition, I would like to share a piece that I made, inspired by this incredible artist. I’m afraid I haven’t got any photos of the other pieces, and I can’t find them at the moment, as they have got temporarily mislaid during our house move!

Yellow and Purple Knitting 1

If you look carefully at my blog header, you can see this incorporated into the digital collage.


  1. Lovely bright colours. What a treat for the senses. I'm glad you went to see it xxx

  2. Oh yes..your spoke guards would have had people looking!
    What an exhibition! Fab. i have the Cosy Home book, and I love the cover(as well as the contents of course). What a home to live in..Kaffe's home is constantly changing.
    Judy x

  3. Wow, thank you so much for letting me know about your visit to the exhibition - I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and I now feel I've had another visit after reading your post - your photos are lovely and you've captured a lot of his work I didn't get pictures of. He is a truly amazing artist isn't he.

  4. Hi Shoshi, lucky you what a great experience. Kaffe is truely a wonderful artist and has a real passion for colour. I was lucky enough to meet him at a talk he did in Manchester, I think it had to be in the early 80's. He signed one of his books for me and I still have it.
    Thank you for sharing all the gorgeous photographs. Happy crafting, Angela x

  5. Thank you so much for taking me through the Kaffe Fassett exhibition. Beautiful! (The American Museum often has great exhibitions. A few years ago I went to a quilt exhibition) I remember Kaffe knitting yarns and the books too. But I didn't know how it was pronounced though. That Nureyef inspired coat is beautiful. There were so many beautiful things to look at. I spent a good hour looking at you post! Thank you so much.

  6. I've just been to look at the full set of photos on Flickr - thanks so much for letting me know. It looks like you photographed absolutely everything - the tea room is delightful and we had a delicious lunch in there - I don't know why I didn't photograph it! It's funny you mentioning the moth cushion as it's one I fell in love with but couldn't find a kit or pattern for anywhere. In the end I enlarged the pattern from the book and worked it out for myself, copying the colours as close as I could, and guessing the bits of pattern I wasn't sure of - it turned out beautifully and almost an exact copy, but for the last 15 or so years it's been rolled up in my tapestry bag waiting to be stretched and then turned into a cushion or picture! I really ought to do something with it before another 15 years goes by!

  7. Wow! What a feast for the eyes, love Kaffe Fassett's work, such an inspiration - I really enjoyed browsing through your Flickr pics thank you :o)
    Hey Shoshi, I wanted to follow your blog, but I can't see a follow button anywhere ....????


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