By Freya Hardy, issue two of Lionheart
Textile designer Kaffe Fassett is very possibly the most Californian person I have ever met. He’s lived in Britain since 1964, but somehow he’s managed to retain that peculiar… broadness (I’ve yet to think of a better word), that only people who hail from that part of the world possess. It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but he reminds me very much of one of those Hollywood actors, Robert Redford, or even Richard Gere and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s the health-giving year-round tan, the twinkling eyes, or the accent – it is true that I am always impressed, and not a little intimidated, by Americans. Whatever’s behind it, the overall effect is one of understated and effortless glamour, the kind that makes a person seem altogether alien in a place like this.
Kaffe’s obsession with colour and pattern is legendary and it seems to have utterly devoured this generously proportioned Victorian townhouse in Kilburn. This place is extraordinary. Even from street level it’s clear that something marvellous is going on inside and I feel a little like a rabid chocaholic standing at the gates to Willy Wonka’s Chocalate factory. I know this is going to be a special experience for me, after all, this man is at least partly responsible for my lifelong love affair with craft. My mum, who taught me to sew, and knit, and weave had his books all over the house and they were like pick‘n’mix to me, still are. And so here I am, perched on a wooden chair in his light-flooded studio surrounded by boxes upon boxes of yarn, sipping herbal tea whilst my hero, I hesitate to use that term, but there it is, sits opposite. Left to my own devices I could spend hours just pottering in a room like this, rifling through swatches and leafing through books. I suppose I had better ask him some questions.
I heard that you learned to knit on a train, is that true?
That’s right. I went up to Inverness with Bill Gibb, the fashion designer. He was going to start a little shop and we were going up to organize it. I bought all these beautiful yarns and on the train back to London I said to this woman ‘I want to make a sweater with these yarns but I don’t know how to knit – could you show me?’ I had bought a pair of needles, so she cast on and it was just fantastic. I knitted all through the night, got off in London, went and got a pattern and I put all I had learned into my first sweater. I put twenty colours in it.
So your work was quite colourful and complex right from the off?
(Smiling) Oh yeah, I wasn’t going to bake white bread. It wasn’t hard. I think knitting is like riding a bicycle. It seems hard at the beginning and then all of a sudden you find yourself wondering what the fuss was all about.
(ed) His first design appeared as a full page spread in Vogue Knitting Magazine.
How do you account for your fascination with colour and pattern?
‘I don’t know, it’s funny. People often say to me ‘why are you so obsessed with colour?’, and I can’t imagine why anybody isn’t. It’s kind of like saying ‘why do you love water, or food… or air?’ Colour is one of the most mysterious, miraculous, wonderful things about life. To have these gorgeous colours around us, they have the power to change our lives. If the colour is right everything is wonderful, if it is wrong everything is… he shrugs I have always loved colour.’
Do you have any favourite memories of colour? Are you one of those people who collects memories in that way? Kaffe pauses for a moment, just long enough for me to wonder if my question made any sense.
Well, I dream in colour. I suppose one of the most interesting things was to watch black and white television…we would watch these films and think we knew what the colours were, and then you’d see the film again years later in colour, and it was very interesting to see that the dress you thought was green was actually red.
Your imagination played a much bigger part?
Yes, we had colours in our minds.
What places inspire you?
Any place with colour. Colour is so lacking in our lives, and in the world. I’m fascinated by places like Portmeirion; wonderful little Italianate houses that are painted gold and baby blue, cobalts. I love parts of Ireland for that reason; great use of colour. I mean, there are many things that I also love besides colour, like beautiful stonework. The buildings around the Lake District are exquisite. Scotland is full of beautiful colourful subtleties in the landscape, so, you know, I would be happy being a prisoner here for the rest of my life. Here, and the collection of countries around here, are so rich with visuals, very very exciting.
You first came to England in the ‘60s, how has your view of it changed over the years?
I went through a period of completely falling in love with England and all it stood for, just finding it so romantic and exotic. It was by far the strangest place I’d ever been to. It’s very funny because, you know, we think as Americans that we speak English, so it’s better to go to Russia or someplace where it’s really exotic and different. The English were very different. Then I went through a period of being extremely critical, finding everything a pain.
Like what, do you mind me asking?
Well, I don’t know, the fact that the roads were difficult, and everything was getting so expensive. It’s interesting to me that you seem to have an economy where basic things that you need, like tube fares to get around and bus fares are so expensive… everyday things in life, like postage... There was a period where they made train fares very cheap for older people, if you were over a certain age, you could go anywhere and you would see these old dears with their headscarves on, shining, looking so happy. And the guys all dressed up with their ties going to Scotland. It was the happiest period in England I think. And then all of a sudden they realized that it was costing far too much and they stopped it. I got very critical of all those kinds of things, and the fact that washing machines and cars were ten times more expensive than anywhere else. You know I’m used to an American economy where it’s all about competition. There everyone is trying to lower their prices, hit the common man and get the mass market going. That just wasn’t the thing here at all. When people here launched a new product they thought that they would make it expensive so it looked good, so all of that would just get on my tits. Anyway, I got over it. It is what it is. When you get down to it the good things are so good. It’s a very beautiful landscape and I like the fact that you don’t have a million choices. I used to love it when there were four channels on the TV and whoever you talked to they had watched a bit of the same thing you watched and so there were these common things…You had things in common with people… There are lots of things I love about this country and it gets better and better as the world gets crazier.
It sounds as though you think of it as a little bit of a haven?
Oh yeah, that’s why I’m still here.
You do manage to make England sound quite exotic.
I try to go into it a bit in my book. How funny the language was, and the archaic names of things, ‘flashlights’ were ‘torches’ you know, the idea of going with a burning torch to look for something in the cellar. There were millions of things like that which just fascinated me. I loved it.
You’re well known as a dedicated collector, thrift shopper and skip raider, is that still as true as it ever was?
I have enough stuff now. I have most things. If I see something wildly interesting, or rare, I’ll buy it …I need to buy less and less. I still buy books (I spotted a copy of Grayson Perry’s The Unknown Craftsman catalogue as I climbed the stairs to his studio) They’re wonderful for references to whole worlds of pattern and culture. Ceramics is a very rich world, but also beaded bags, fans…little bits of embroidery, weaving, things I come back with from Peru, Guatamala or somewhere. I have drawers filled with cloth, fabric that’s going to go into a still life. I have enough.
So is there an item in your collection that means something special to you?
I collect Buddhas, (he pronounces it in Californian, like ‘booodha’) those fat Buddhas covered with little children, there is something so odd about them and they began [to be made] so long ago. I suppose there is something wonderful about that image, and it has become a kind of good luck talisman for me… when I see a Laughing Buddha somewhere, in any part of the world, it just feels good. I suppose is started in San Francisco, in China Town. There were all these Buddhas with little children on them and it became something kind of… there’s a sort of lightness. I think if I was ever going to have a studio I would call it The Laughing Buddha.
Did you really ever raid charity shops and skips?
Oh completely. For years I was completely destitute. I was living by the seat of my pants and I decided very early on that if I was ever going to make a living here [in England] I had to begin the way I intended to go on and live very, very simply. I had the simplest possible diet, I never went to restaurants or anything unless I could find a really cheap workman’s café or something. I was always buying clothes in second hand shops because I had as a child anyway. My mother was always spending on building materials. She was always building some great house, or an addition to our house, and she found it difficult to get money out of my father so she’d save whatever money she could get her hands on for things like that and she’d give us a dollar fifty and say ‘go to the Salvation Army and get yourself some school clothes.’ And so we would go and get these old men’s tweed suits and make weird combinations – maybe a Chinese silk shirt with an English tweed jacket with leather patches on the sleeves. Most people were quite snobby about second hand clothes. They wanted ‘new, new’, but we loved the serendipity of what you could find in a thrift shop.
You don’t appear to be a big fan of perfection
No, absolutely not. I’m naturally an intuitive, instinctive designer. I have a terrible time following my own patterns. Now and then I’ll sit down and try to reproduce something. I think ‘I’ll take the shape of that and apply it to this new design’, and I’ll completely lose direction. Rather than follow directions I’m usually just making things up. . Some people find perfection an art in itself, and I just don’t. To me what’s important about a design, or a textile is that it has life in it. I’ve seen things that are so perfect that they are just ‘yawn’, they are just utterly lifeless and boring… bloodless. So I like something to feel like it’s made by human beings. That’s why I love Gee’s Bend quilts, for instance. They are the poorest people in America, this community, but they make the most unbelievable quilts out of table clothes, drapes and work clothes. If they can get their hands on a textile they will just reuse it. They are abstract and very imperfect, to the point where it drives some people crazy. A lot of us people who are a little lax in the technical department love people like the Gee’s Bend quilters.
Who influences your current work, are you one of those artists who see themselves as connected to what’s going on outside, or are you more insular?
I have a kind of world view. This time last year we were in Korea, then after that Australia and New Zealand, and so then we’ll be in Scandinavia and in Canada, so we’re jumping around all the time and getting a feeling for what’s happening all over. I can’t think of an individual that is strongly influencing me right now. I like people that are experimental and creative, people who give you off-the-wall ideas. I like Lady Gaga.
Kaffe’s autobiography, Dreaming in Colour will be out in September 2012, published by STC Craft/ Melanie Falick
Helen Bullock: Clothes to tap dance in. Interview by Freya Hardy, taken from issue four.
Helen Bullock is understandably, but undeniably distracted. She has lost her portfolio. It’s almost the first thing she tells me after ‘Hello’ and as we sit down to chat it becomes clear that its disappearance is bothering her. She’s trying not to think about it so she can focus on answering my questions but I can see from her face that somewhere in the back of her mind she’s trying to recall the last place she had it, who was she with? Could it be there?... Could it be there? …Oh God, please don’t let it be there! To make matters worse, her collection is running late – pushed back by fashion week, teaching engagements, door-stepping Parisian fashion houses and various bits of illustration work.
I get the impression that focus is not a thing that comes easily to Helen. She talks clearly but quickly, moving from one subject to another quite suddenly and without warning, like a butterfly. Effervescent. During our conversation she references Paul Klee’s hand puppets and the British painter Marc Vaux. She tells me that sometimes she wakes up wanting to be an actress, sometimesa tap dancer. And actually, when I think about it, that’s all evident in her work. Her clothes are colourful, raw, primitive, playful and above all joyous . They are the kind of clothes you might imagine Isadora Duncan going bat shit crazy for if only she were around to wear them. I have as many daring outfits in my wardrobe as anyone else. Most are profoundly uncomfortable, forcing me to shrink and writhe and squeeze myself into them. But none of my clothes dare me in quite the same way that Helen’s do. You expand into Helen’s clothes. They ask questions of you, they dare you to be a braver person - the kind of person you might dream about being – a person detached from reality in the nicest possible way, a girl who is free to move, to dance to her own glorious beat. A one-woman carnival.
Could you tell us a little bit about your work?
It’s hard to define at the moment because I am doing quite a few different things. I always begin with shape or colour. That’s kind of what leads it. I did one collection under my name when I graduated and I’m working a new collection now. It’s very late. It should have been out in February but I’ve had illustration jobs to do. I’ve been trying to do samples on a smaller scale so I can understand it a little better and maybe save time and money, but it’s really not worked. I have to have that scale for it to have an impact. My work is very colour based… print based. Silhouette wise it’s always very large, oversized shapes. I kind of treat the garment as a canvas for my prints, it’s a painting basically. I am interested in silhouette and once I have more time to work on the collection I will start to add details but I don’t think I’ll ever be doing anything that’s ‘to the body’ under my label anyway. Helen recently produced a micro collection with Anthropologie under a kind of diffusion line- H by Helen Bullock -distilling some of her ideas into commercially workable pieces whilst managing to retain the expressive mark making of her walking canvases.
Who do you design for?
I don’t think it’s really for anybody until it’s left the print room. I think I design for myself more than anything. I have to want to wear it. I have friends who are starting to show an interest. They keep pestering me to make bits for them but I’m still quite surprised by it, because all my friends are quite different from each other. The people who are coming forward and saying ‘we want to wear that’ are all quite diverse but they are all quite lively, quite physical people. I think you need quite a personality to wear my clothes. You can’t be shy and retiring. Julie Verhoeven ( the artist), she’s been really great. She has a lot of my stuff at the moment, and I do sometimes have her in mind. My course director got so mad at me, asking me ‘what is your market?’ and ‘where will this sell?’ but I just don’t think like that and in the end she just said ‘you just need to design a dress for Julie’. I don’t really think I’m talented enough to design for someone though. I think that takes a certain skill, but I was really pleased when she wanted to wear my work. It reaffirmed that I was doing the right thing… People that are fun and lively and artistic. Creative, good people. Helen giggles a charismatic giggle. It’s really important that it doesn’t just become … print is really everywhere at the moment. It has been for quite some time, and I’m trying to make it feel different to a regular piece of clothing. People say they want to put my clothes on and play, and I think that’s kind of cute. That’s exactly what I want. It should make you feel happy wearing it.
How important is comfort to you?
Yes, that’s really key. Massively. I hate feeling restricted by an item of clothing. I want to feel empowered by it. I want to feel confident and able, not able to move in a sloppy way. You almost feel a bit naked in my clothes. And for me that gives you confidence, so although my clothes kind of take over - they can wear you - you’ve got that space around you, you’re also yourself a lot more and it’s quite freeing. There isn’t much of a silhouette, butI wore one of my pieces to a weddingand I made it a little bit shorter and the neckline a bit softer and it actually feels quite sexy. You feel quite feminine, with a pair of heels on, and it hangs with you. Comfort is very important.
There seems to be an African influence in the shapes, is that deliberate?
It’s not intentional, but it comes up a lot. I wish I’d travelled more – I haven’t been away properly for about two years, but I do look at a lot of layering, and things that hang, and there is quite a tribal influence. I look a lot to India and Pakistan, I love to feel that kind of colour… I do have a lot of Kaftan kind of dresses from Dalston and Shepherds Bush – a lot of African print.
Are you a colour collector?
Yes, always. I photograph a lot of things… I saw a lady the other day wearing a lime green coat and a contrast green shoe and then I got on the train and I was going past Battersea power station and there was a complete contrast, a pale, powder ice kind of blue… I love putting together random combinations. I look, I take photographs. Sometimes I just write words down and that will trigger memories.
Is that where you start from?
It is, yes. The colour is the most important thing, but I’m always forgetting that. Nothing can start until I’ve got my colour composition going because that is what’s exciting about the work, the relationship between the colours. The work can’t start until I have that.
How important to you is the physicality of screen printing?
I think it’s really important. I don’t have my own empire yet, partly because I want to do lots of different things. I keep thinking should I just try and get a proper job in a fashion house but things start to happen when I’m in the print room and I’ve actually got that space. It depends on my mood and everything about it is really physical. I just can’t imagine being sat at a desk, being confined to that.
You think that would be taken away from you?
Yes. I think so. There wouldn’t be the facilities for me to do that. Ideally I’d like to work with houses but in a print studio, in collaboration with them. I think that shows through my work because if I go and meet anyone they’re like ‘we’d like to work with you in the future but we just can’t see you sat in the studio’. I make a big mess, I like mixing colours myself, that’s really important. I feel energised by the actual process, and yes, the physicality of it.
So what do you want? What’s your ultimate goal?
I want to be as I am now but more productive. I’d like to do more collaborations, and I’d like more regular illustration work. I think all the things I do are separate but linked, and I’d like to keep on going that way. I want to keep it small - a friend suggested I produce limited editions, so every garment I do I only make about ten of. I don’t want to be getting into production and the business side of things so much. I want to keep it contained. I want it to still have that personal touch, so they continue to feel like one-offs. As soon as it becomes more mass then I think it loses something. Perhaps I’ll do homeware, somebody recently said my stuff would look good on, like, a sofa.
Pat Albeck is a textile designer whose exciting designs were hugely embraced by postwar Britain; from voluminous 50s dresses, to being one of the first designers to add a pattern to bedlinen, to National Trust tea towels. I interviewed Pat Albeck for the first ever issue of Lionheart, back in 2011. After our two hour chat on the phone, I felt inspired and excited about textile design, art and the possibilities that come with trying something new. I was also mesmerised by her stories of growing up, 60s Britain and the rise of patterned textiles, something she has been credited for in the home and obviously became massive. I love this feature on The Guardian, on her home. Anyway, I barely edited the interview because I love the way that she talks and you get a real feel of Pat and her storytelling. I don't mind at all that the piece is really long, personality is vibrantly alive. I sent Pat a copy of the magazine and she emailed me to say: "That is the best article I've read about me. Did we really talk for 2 hours? Thank you for sending both copies. I think your magazine is really lovely, and full of interesting things. Congratulations! I will subscribe." I think it will always be one of my very favourite interviews.
Over to Pat.
The only time I was ever told off by my father was when I picked the pansies in the garden. We lived in what my father called his ‘Dream House’ in Albany, just outside of Hull. I was about four or five-years-old when we moved in. Our front garden was part of the woods, within a place called Tranby Croft. The famous Royal Baccarat scandal, concerning the future King Edward VII, took place there in 1890. As a child one of my favourite activities was to do something called ‘trespassing’ in the woods. We would explore and climb up as high as we could. I had no idea what trespassing meant back then, but we would trespass for hours.
People used to call their houses such dull names, our house was called ‘Mid-Oaks’. It looked normal on the outside, but it was very different to many other homes internally. Mainly perhaps, because it was designed by a local stage designer.
It was quite art deco, as many houses were then, but there were lots of very unusual aspects. From a star shape cut out of my sky blue ceiling to a peach coloured mirror in the drawing room and a clock with amber squares instead of numbers. Every room also had abstract murals, I had a stained glass surround to an electric fire in my bedroom. It represented Little Red Riding Hood and was designed by students at Hull Art School. Unlike many other homes, we had polished floorboards and specially designed rugs from Liberty. It was extravagant in some respects, but then we would have whole rooms completely unfinished for years. We also seemed to never have any actual money spare.
Back in the thirties, in Hull, people had paved gardens with dowdy flowers. I remember in great detail how our own garden was laid out. We went to this garden centre, well, a garden centre didn’t exist in the thirties, we went to a plant buying place and oh, it was wonderful. I was always mad about flowers. Our garden had, as was popular then, half moon-shaped beds, filled with abresias, then rhododendrons and lupins at the back. My favourite flowers now are lupins and pansies, which I think is partly a nostalgia thing. I used to adore the flower shops, though I do have flower prejudices. I remember buying my mother a poinsettia, which was very new then, awful thing!
We weren’t rich by any means, but we had a gardener. He used to create amazing dahlia flower displays. I didn’t know the word oasis back then.
1.A fertile spot in a desert, where water is found.
2. A pleasant or peaceful area or period in the midst of a difficult or hectic place or situation.
Trademark. A type of rigid foam into which the stems of flowers can be secured in flower arranging.
Oxford English Dictionary
My parents were very different from each other. My father was very political and clever. People used to call him Mr Oilbeck because even back then, he thought oil was the route of all evil.
They considered him very intelligent and would ponder over something before deciding to ‘Ask Mr Oilbeck!’ My mother devoted herself entirely to looking after my father. They had four daughters, of which I am the youngest. I always thought that they must have been disappointed after three daughters. I remember the meals. My father wouldget the very best bits and would always be fed before us. Always. We had what was left over.
My three older sisters were academic but I wasn’t, so my father asked me to be accepted by the art school. Oh it was wonderful. There were lots of like minded people there, into modern and contemporary design, as opposed to the chintz, neutral and rosy patterns around. It was also just after the war and people wanted to prove that Britain could make it. There were lots of dashing young army men there. Survivors, getting on in the world after they’d missed out on vital years of their lives by being in the war.
Designing was a crusade. I absolutely thought that I could make life better by design.
After art school, I was lucky enough to get into the Royal College of Art. I had a brilliant time there. It really was marvellous. I was surrounded by painters, sculptors and theatricality. I also met my husband Peter Rice, a theatre design student, whilst studying there.
It was such a wonderful and glamorous time.
The college was attached to the V&A, which was like my cathedral. Many of the roads around there don’t exist anymore.
Horrockses were the first company to bring cotton dresses into fashion. There were many other companies influenced by them. I believe I got picked up by them because I was standing where I was.
Don’t you think that’s how things happen? That so many people take the day off when something important tends to occur? You have to be there incase you’re needed.
Anyway, I was stood there painting these sort of, blobby flowers, when it happened. They took me on and I spent half the time with them and half at college. It was lovely to have industrially produced fabrics in my show.
I spent a large amount of time working at The Mill in Manchester, which I love. I am devastated that they are no longer making English cotton there anymore.
I actually tried to organise a march along the M1 once, to save cotton in Manchester.
When college ended I became full time at Horrockses, designing all day, still living in London. I worked with three dress designers, all of us under the eye of Jimmie Cleveland Belle, a great inspiration. One would design very clean cut dresses, another matronly dresses and then a boy called John Tullis, was the flamboyant one. The fabric designs came either from myself or I was asked to design something specific by one of the dress designers. I remember John asking me to do a design of large pink bows. I was horrified! Anyway, I managed to design something quite dashing in the end.
Most English people were very influenced by Paris, a sort of sub couture. When I was 20, I travelled there myself. It was 1953 and Dior had created a new look for fashion.
Shop windows in Paris were created by artists and they were stunning, absolutely mesmerising. The flower shops and markets were also beautiful. You could get ‘mixed bunches’ of flowers, something that didn’t simply didn’t exist at home.
We were also very influenced by the USA fashions. Films were highly popular, dresses for younger people were being created, inspired by the likes of Shirley Temple. I would say France, Italy, Scandinavia and the USA were all very important. I was myself very inspired by these places, anything from abroad was very desired.
No one had travelled during the war, so anything from outside England was influential.
When I left Horrockses in 1958, I realised that there was so much built inside of me, as I had just concentrated on clothing, solely for five years.
I had an explosion of creativity.
I worked with the textile publication, Ambassador Magazine created by two refugees from Germany, Hans and Elspeth. Elsepeth is now 100-years-old. You must get a copy of that magazine. They used to do things like have a ballet shoot with furnishing fabrics everywhere. Perhaps that’s a little extreme!
Later I joined three fellow former Royal College students who were in charge of design at Cavendish textiles, the production department for the John Lewis stores. We had very much the same ideas about design.
At John Lewis, I designed for products I had never thought of as being patterned before, like sheets and towels.
Previously sheets had always been white, or dyed pastel colours, blue, pink, green or yellow, or sometimes were printed or woven pastel stripes. Tea towels were plain or they had ‘Glass Cloth’ woven in a primary stripe colour down the middle.
These products were waiting to be decorated!
It was a great time for furnishing fabrics for me, and I really felt I knew and understood the people purchasing all of my fabrics. I was there for ten years.
I would say that personal inspiration in the fifties tended to come from nature and historic plant forms, as well travelling and designers like Ken Scott and Fornasetti. The latter of whom had a very amusing approach to decoration.
My house was also very creative; full of magazines, theatre and design.
My husband would put on theatre productions set in different countries, periods and worlds. Shakespeare would be performed on stage with all the absolute correct attire. We were terribly committed to our work.
After eating in the evening that would be it, we would be straight back at our desks.
The sixties - as everyone agrees - was a fabulous and exciting decade. For me it meant my first trip to New York, the birth of my son Matthew Rice, my travel scholarship to Australia and my move to Hammersmith by the river.
I am mad about New York. Another place, like Paris, with wonderful flower markets and window displays.
My visit was completely inspirational; I loved the museums, architecture and amazing shops. You asked about the smells of places, well Barneys, the smell of Barneys, is just the most brilliant. It’s where I purchased the only perfume I wear. When I first travelled there, I took a collection of dress fabrics to show and hopefully sell in New York. I was introduced to a wonderful agent who continued to sell the designs I sent him into the sixties.
In 1962, after some important time off when Matthew was born, I won a travel scholarship and chose to go to Australia. I went via Bangkok and Hong Kong, very interesting and exciting places to be, I still have many pieces from Bangkok. Whilst in Australia, I drew an awful lot.
Architecture, flowers and the desert all inspired new designs.
Later I travelled to Florence through Osman Fabrics who became clients of mine. I also became the colour consultant to Marks and Spencer, Design Consultant to Fergusons and Heathcotes and I was on the Council of Industrial Design selection committee. I was able to go on buying trips to France and Italy in the two former roles.
By the end of the sixties, it was the tea towel that became a major part of my designing life.
My relationship with The National Trust began in the seventies. Shops were opening next to properties, it was the beginning of a new style of shopping, a new market. I was designing items that people might be tempted to buy at the end of a visit to a National Trust house or garden. This influenced my work. I was using line drawing as my work became more representational and my colour became more muted to go with the historic houses. I got used to painting buildings in great detail, designing tea towels, then table linen, kitchen textiles and ceramics.
'Surely she wouldn't miss just one,' cries my inner klepto as the Hull-born designer unveils a tempting pile of brightly coloured linen tea towels from the Sixties and Seventies (since Pat practically invented the decorative tea towel, these are not just lovely, they're serious collector's items).’ Fiona Rattery, The Observer
I fell further in love with the countryside as I got to travel to a huge number of the properties in England and Scotland. I very much enjoyed it.
**‘Can Design, Will Travel!’**
I don’t care to travel so much these days. I’m a bit like an overripe fruit. It used to be so glamorous to go to Heathrow and have a lovely meal and now it’s far harder.
It’s very important to make the most of travel.
I continued to design throughout the eighties and nineties, for The National Trust and Department 56 in America and for Gisella Graham in England. I used to travel to New York regularly, to attend gift fairs. Matthew created his own paper company designing decorated stationary and greetings cards. I did flowery things and cats, neither of which he particularly liked drawing.
I adore cats, I don’t understand anyone that doesn’t love cats. They are such wonderfully designed animals.
Our cat isn’t so smart at the moment, not with hair parted down the middle like a proper cat. We used to have three white cats, a design advantage, as it was just eyes, nose and whiskers. They are terribly sentimental, cats. Yet they are thought to be too obvious like hearts, or roses, or lavender.
Matthew married Emma Bridgewater in 1987 and I had an exhibition of flower paintings in her Fulham Road shop. My husband was still designing madly for theatre then, and so my life was pretty well filled with design. I started doing watercolours in the eighties and nineties, just because Peter and Matthew were always painting and I felt left out.
It was terribly sad leaving our London home in 2000. It was in between Hammersmith and Chissick in a sort of cut off bit of London. Everyone was an artist or writer and we knew every person. We still go back now and again. I will always try to go to the Michelin and buy ludicrously priced coffee, just to sit by the flowers. Also Liberty’s have that flower store, Wild At Heart. You must do this too. We are closer to our grandchildren now though, each one of which is wonderful and spectacular in their own way.
These days, living in Norfolk, I still paint, I still design. I paint flowers with water colours. I pick them then spend two hours arranging them and making sure all my paints are washed and clean, before I paint them.
Then it takes a while to get started and I hate it, then I get into it and then there is a rough patch and then I love it again.
I listen to Radio Four all the time. These days sometimes Radio Three, as I am learning music again. I’ve always liked music, Frank Sinatra - not the stuff you lot like. Though i was a fan of Amy Winehouse, let’s not go into that. OK well, it’s just so deeply tragic. I used to watch her on TV, she was so clever. I stopped when the Beatles came out, I like some of their numbers, but everyone chooses them on Desert Island Discs. Perhaps that’s a kinky thing on my part. Anyway, yes, I always need sound when I am working, but never at the beginning of a piece. It always comes when I have got into the flow.
I have many students ask me about what it was like working in the fifties and I say, what’s the difference, designing now and then? Of course though, they mean with paint, they all use computers these days. It’s not the computer’s fault that I haven’t designed with one, but I’ve always used hand.
I love new art materials, a new rubber will put me in a good mood for weeks!
Art materials are reinvigorating. I also love my vegetable patch, though my husband hates corguetes, so I have to disguise them!
Bravery I think is going to war. That’s what it means to me, I am a wimp. If the soldiers hadn’t gone to war I wouldn’t be here now, because I am jewish. I am a passivist though. I don’t like physical pain, I am terrified of it. I like sport however and I will listen to the cricket when I am not listening to Woman’s Hour occasionally. I tell my grandchildren; ‘Don’t go too near the edge’. I am not terrified of using paints and patterns, but I don’t know if that’s really bravery. I am brave with food, I will invite people round for dinner and not know what to give them until an hour before. I am worried now, am I not brave?
I thought I would give up on work, but I still paint, design a National Trust tea towel every year, as well as charity tea towels. At the end of the year I will have an exhibition of my tea towels at Norwich Cathedral. I’m into lots of of nostalgia at the moment. I’m looking through it all. I like to work and do as much as I can, but there is never enough time. The days rush by.