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Soft inheritance


‘The less an ostrich uses its wings, the less it will be capable of flight’ Philosophie Zoologique, 1809. Lamarck’s evolutionary theory may have lost out to Darwin but centuries later Chinese designer Ma Ke is heeding his warning. Ma Ke believes we are in danger of losing something vital in the race to make all things practical, fast and competitive. Perhaps her greatest fear is that we will lose the ability to appreciate the unusual, the rare and the beautiful. Ma Ke’s third, and most esoteric, fashion line Wu Yong (Useless) champions the survival value of beauty. Rejecting the

unity of form and function it celebrates form alone. Wu Yongfol

lows her accessible and successful labels, Exceptionand

Mixmindwhich she founded nine years ago. Her goal for the new

line is similarly long term; ‘I want to create things which... are the bearers of values for the future.’ She hopes others will inherit her appreciation of ‘essential simplicity’ through her designs. Organic yet theatrical, the experimental nature of the collection captured the imagination of award winning Director Jia Zhangke. His documentary (also titled Wu Yong), traced the preparation and launch of Uselessin Paris. Zhangke explained he was interested in recording the work of the designer whom he describes as ‘far-sighted and sensitive to

ordinary things in our everyday life.’ His film footage of workers

in a Guangdong garment factory contrasts with images of Ma

Ke's artisans at their hand looms. For Ma Ke the decision to work

this way is part of the spirit of Wu Yong. She aims to foster in buy

ers a desire for objects with innate value until choosing the wellmade and the beautiful becomes a natural selection. ••• China Design Now, Exploring the explosion of new design in China and the impact of economic development on architecture and design. 15 March-13 July 2008, T: 020 7942 2000,




Driving through the countryside of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you first notice the farm

steads floating like islands on the rolling fields of

green. Then, you become aware of other, more

subtle things. There are no power lines to the

homes. In the driveway is a horse & carriage, instead of a car. The children wear bonnets and tied aprons that might lead one to believe it was the mid-1800s. These are the ways of the Plain people, different religious groups that include the Amish and Mennonites who left Germany for the United States in the late 1700s. Known also as Pennsylvania Germans, these families have passed down traditions that defy time – no

electricity in the home, no cars and deep

family ties. Yet one custom that has barely

survived is the tradition of homespun fabric. To

compensate guardians like Wendy Christie are doing all they can to preserve this humble, yet telling sign of life that was central to every family farm from the 1790s to the 1860s in this area around Lancaster. Specialising in 19th-century rural textiles, Christie's collection is rooted in one place. A move to Lancaster County 15 years ago exposed her to the textiles of the Plain people. She immersed herself in their history and traditions,

visiting living history museums and talking to

older scholars. Through diligent study she “moved from what to why” – not only wanting to

know about the fibres but also about the women

who made them. She had found her passion

and was ready “to make it her vocation.”

To Christie, homespun is a good introduction to the area's textiles because its design remained consistent. Homespun is a broad term for fibre that was spun at home. For the Pennsylvania Germans it consisted mainly of linen and wool, and eventually cotton, in shades of natural, brown, blue and white. Wool came from sheep raised on the family farm, while flax came from their fields. Clothing each family member for the year required 1/4 acre of flax.

Often, you could tell how large a particular fam

ily was by the size of their plot. Taking nine

months from seed to fibre, this was a labour

intensive task: from seeding of the fields to harvesting the stalks to the finishing processes involving scutching, hackling, and finally spinning the fine thread, it took every hand in the family to see it through. With a religion that emphasised reverence for the everyday, Pennsylvania German women of all ages gathered to spin in communion. With the intention of making everything from bed linen to wagon covers they spun shorter fibres to

create the sturdier fabric known as tow, or

longer, finer ones for garments and household linen. The output from these spinning sessions

then went on to male-staffed guilds to be dyed

or woven into yardage. Returning once again to

the women's hands, this fabric would become

the clothes to keep families warm or linens to make a bed cosy. From necessity, came form. Spun of the finest fibre, bed linens are Christie's favourite because of their “quintessential invisibility” – the ultimate utilitarian textile. In a society that did not emphasise material goods, there remained an innate yearning for noble fabric. Hidden from view, but used everyday in the most intimate, personal setting, the woven linen sheets were often bleached to look their

best. A young woman was thought to be wealthy

if she brought to a marriage an armful of well

woven bed linen. Like a well-stacked cupboard,

these stacks spoke “of possibilities...that things will be all right.” Most bed linen was not marked, but Christie can tell if a certain family of women made a piece by looking at the spacing of the stitches or the way

Rinne Alle n





Myth and methodology


In 1989 at a symposium on African-American quiltmaking connected to the exhibition Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South, quilt scholar Cuesta Benberry gave a provocative lecture, calling for the definition of African-American quilts to be widened. She said, “High drama was associated with the early research, with scholars only looking at a small number of African-American quilts proudly different visually from the accepted aesthetic of traditional American patchwork quilts. Scholars were looking for the linkage of these quilts to African design traditions, and unconscious cultural memory of the far away motherland. Thus a number of theories were quickly accepted as fact. This myopic view began to make researchers uneasy. How could such a small sample represent the entirety of African-American quilts made over two centuries? It is not useful to view them as isolated folk art objects, divorced from the lives of African Americans and the social, political, and economic conditions under which they have lived. A small percentage are visually exotic; the majority is not. Instead the quilts represent a diverse body of work by an ethnic group distinguished for its lengthy participation in American quiltmaking. Isn't it time we looked clearly at the mainstream?”



2. John Smedley, Sea Island cotton vest, £54,

While many companies can be congratulated for their recent recognition of ecological issues, John Smedley deserve a special mention as environmental awareness has been part of their ethos for over 220 years. It's an integral part of their heritage along with sourcing the highest quality fibres – extra fine New Zealand Merino wool and Sea Island Cotton from the West Indies – and knitting garments in their Derbyshire Mill using 'Cotton's Patent' machines introduced in 1877. Recently the eighth generation of Smedleys have taken environmental awareness to new heights. You can now trace your fine gauge knitwear all the way back to the field in New Zealand and even the sheep from which it came. That's an impressive level of detail but Smedley can offer more. 2008 will see the launch of the “world's most environmentally responsible and social positive t-shirt” AKA “luxury redefined”. This bold claim is backed up by the following information – the company are using naturally irrigated, fairly traded, organic Peruvian cotton – and their mill is powered by renewable energy.




and Have

buying have amassed an

impressive collection that has

recently come out from hiding. The

textiles now form the fabric of the

A TOUCHING TALE OF COLLECTING On their travelsLord and Lady McAlpine collect textiles and over a lifetime of

interior decoration in a 15th century Franciscan monastery in Southern Italy which the couple run as a bed and breakfast from March to November. 'When I got engaged to Alistair he had a collection comprising 3500 textiles and a ruined Franciscan monastery' explains Athena, who quickly realised the potential of marrying the two so they could display, live with and enjoy the textiles,

'we bundled everything down to the South of Italy,

restored the convento and used the textiles as a

backdrop to other collections.


Stephen Green-Armytage,Extraordinary Chickens, A brahms Books

3. Elizabeth Yarborough bangles from £36

Just because it's cold and miserable doesn't mean you should dress to depress. True, being swaddled in seven layers can sap your enthusiasm for artful accessorising but the answer is to think big and bold. Delicate jewellery and a thin wisp of a summer dress make a perfect couple but winter requires something simple and substantial. Elizabeth Yarborough's designs can hold their own in the heaviest weather. Her collection of cable knit alpaca, cashmere and mohair bracelets is feminine, humourous and wittily accompanied by Stephen Green-Armytage’s extraordinary chicken photographs. Previously a book editor, Elizabeth decided she wanted to reengage with her creative side. She moved to New York and set up her flourishing jewellery workshop a year ago. Inspired by anything and everything from her grandmother's sewing box to retro cars – Elizabeth's collections demonstrate her approach to jewellery as a ‘hybrid of decorative and industrial art.' An interesting idea but what we are really saying is ‘a pretty bangle might cheer you up...’


INDULGEtextiles to buy, collect or simply admire

13 Six ways to survive ‘til Spring Shopping suggestions to beat off the Winter blues

58 Plain and simple Wendy Christie is passionate about Pennsylvian textiles

79 Guiding hand Collecting old quilts

INDUSTRY from craft to commerce

39 Design fileThe case study of Alexander Girard’s classic textiles

40 Clear Vision Former CEO of Neutrogena Lloyd Cotsen teaches by example

44 England’s roseMuriel Rose and her crusade for British craft

ANECDOTEtextiles that touch our lives

96 Living doll Deidre McSharry has a fashion icon in the family

CONCEPTtextiles in fine art

28 Paddling her own canoe Finnish sculptor Merja Winqvist comes ashore

48 Myth and methodology Shelly Zegart unpicks African American quilt scholarship

ATTIRE critical reporting of fashion trends

20 Soft Inheritance Chinese designer Ma Ke leaves a precious legacy

62 Feeling good Eco fashion is looking fine

67 Awkward grace Reem proves nothing worth having comes easy

72 Old hat Is vintage fashion looking dated?

COHABIT stunning interiors beautifully photographed

32 Have and hold Lord and Lady McAlpine’s touching tale of collecting



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