INDULGE textiles to buy, collect or simply admire 13 HOW TO Make a tide beret from Knitting from the North By Hilary Grant 15 HYGGE A heart-warming lesson from Denmark By Polly Leonard 62 SHOP TALK Jane Audas goes shopping at The Shop Floor Project 74 LOFTY AMBITION Fibre from the roof of the World By Sarah E. Braddock Clarke
GLOBAL textiles from around the world 16 FIERCE AS FOLK Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann 32 PERENNIAL PRINTS Josef Frank’s Striking Botanicals By Lesley Jackson 36 HAND ME DOWN Friends of Handicraft Combine Tradition and Innovation By Susanna Strömquist 46 COLD COMFORT Keeping warm in Siberia Photographs and text by Bryan Alexander 68 UP THE MOUNTAIN FOR DOWN June Cashmere Unlocks a Kyrgyz Treasure Chest By Amy P. Swanson
ANECDOTE textiles that touch our lives 22 NIGHT BLOOMS Fashion is suffering from a case of Tulip Fever By Kate Cavendish 26 ROYAL OPERATION Inside the wardrobe at the Royal Opera House By Liz Hoggard 96 SWATCH Favourite Fabric No.34: Burel Felt By Sarah Jane Downing, illustrated by Georgina McAusland
ATTIRE critical reporting of fashion trends 44 ALPINE INSPIRATION Moncler’s subversive yet traditional collection By Nicola Donovan 64 PERMANENT COLLECTION The philosophy behind Korean label Oma By Jessica Hemmings 70 GO WITH THE FLOW Annemarie O’Sullivan’s aesthetics of movement By Ptolemy Mann, photographs by Alun Callender
CONCEPT textiles in fine art 38 UNRAVELLING TRADITION Carpets in contemporary Art By Cosima Stewart 57 THE GOSPEL TRUTH Ethel Mairet picking up the threads of tradition By Donna Steele
INDUSTRY from craft to commerce 31 FLORAL FREEDOMS Printing the past and the future By Grace Warde-Aldam 54 ACTING THE GOAT Vedat Demiralp’s Revival of Turkish Rugs By Ptolemy Mann
COHABIT stunning interiors beautifully photographed 60 HANDSPUN Thibault Van Der Straete spins a good yarn By Anne Laure Camilleri, photographs by Kristin Perers p20/21
ROYAL OPERATION Inside the Wardrobe at the Royal Opera House
I’m in the basement of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden looking at costume treasures. Here are the thirty-six snowflake tutus for The Sleeping Beauty, double-layered and decorated with elaborate detailing. There’s the sweeping blue cloak worn by the mysterious magician Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker, with its trick pockets for his magic tricks. I wander past rails of soldiers’ tunics, dresses for garland girls and even a wolf outfit, where the tail neatly passes through a hole in the tights, allowing the dancer full body movement. It’s a wonderful insight into the backstage life of The Royal Ballet.
The Royal Opera House is home to the largest collection of theatre costumes in the UK. Each year it lays on over fifty productions on its main stage alone. No wonder head of costume Fay Fullerton presides over a one hundred strong team (plus around sixty freelancers), with a department that extends over four floors of the building. With nearly everything – from props to dresses to wigs – made on site, the process involves long hours spent handcrafting each bespoke garment.
Costumes are made to last (some are still being used by the Royal Ballet forty years later). For each revival they are brought out of storage and fitted to the new cast in the workshops at the Opera House. Tailors work from the ‘costume bible’, that details original designs and subsequent revivals, to make sure that costumes stay accurate to their original design. Faded colours are re-dyed, worn darning is repaired. Working on five to six opera and ballet productions at a time, carrying out around 6,000 fittings per season, it pays to plan ahead. They buy in a small number of costumes for some contemporary productions: but where possible, if a show is not in use any more costumes are recycled for other shows.
Designing for live performance is different from designing for film because costumes have to be larger than life, so the audience can see them from any seat in the house. “Everything has to be more defined. with more depth to it. The colours also have to be stronger otherwise they just disappear on that stage,” explains Fay. “Costume tells the story,” she continues. “It develops the character, it plays a big part in the whole picture. But when performers go on stage they shouldn’t be thinking about the costume. As it should become part of their body.” Their most important job is to support the dancers. For ballet, the movement and lightness of the costumes is all important. For opera it’s more about the singer being able to breathe naturally.
“Obviously the way period costume used to be made, they were a lot heavier than they are now,” Fay explains. “Techniques and fabrics change over the years. Most ballet bodies have a small element of stretch in them even if it’s velvet. Things have evolved quite quickly in terms of what we can do to make the dancers more comfortable.” They can fake a heavy suit of armour or a bulky Tudor gown so it looks heavy. “With the older productions in the repertoire, if they can’t find those fabrics anymore, we can copy them.” The Opera House has “an amazing dye department where they do printing, hand-painting, everything you need to develop a fabric” and a digital printing machine that prints anything you want. “You just take a picture and you can recreate it on fabric, be it velvet, silk, cotton, chiffon.”
Six months before opening night, costume fittings start for the chorus and the corps de ballet. Principals’ fittings take place alongside rehearsals about six weeks before the first night. Once the costumes are made, they are then handed over to the ‘running’ team – who look after them for the duration of the shows, cleaning and preparing the costumes for each performance. The two big winter shows this year are The Nutcracker (with costumes designed by Julia Trevelyan Oman) and The Sleeping Beauty (with costumes inspired by Oliver Messel’s original designs). The cast for Sleeping Beauty is huge; most wear three different costumes on stage, plus ballets have different casts on different nights. “We’re talking about 400 costumes,” says Fay dryly.
Fay studied fashion design and period costume at the London College of Fashion, then did a one year tailoring course. She joined the ROH as “the most junior costumier” in 1977, and worked her way up to her current post (she was appointed in 2013.) “I’ve worked in most areas of the Costume department, so I know how fabrics work, how they should be cut, what will work best for the dancers and singers – as soon as I look at a costume I know how much it will cost.” Fay is the queen of historic period costume, but she and her team also get to work on radical new ballets4
HAND ME DOWN Friends of Handicraft combine Tradition and Innovation
Friends of Handicraft, or Handarbetets vänner in Swedish, is an extraordinary textile institution with a rich and colourful history, intimately intertwined with the women’s rights movement and the innovation of textile art in Sweden since the late nineteenth century.
Today, however, this combined textile studio and school is surprisingly little known among the general public. The historical building housing the institution is located in the beautiful Royal City Park Djurgården in Stockholm – the destination for Sunday walks and family picnics, and with popular neighbours like the Nordic Museum and Open Air museum Skansen – but until recently there were no signs whatsoever of the magic happening inside. Now, this is all about to change.
A couple of years ago former Swedish Fashion Council CEO Lotta Ahlvar was brought in with a brief to raise the profile and relevance of the institution in contemporary culture. One of her first measures was to reopen the ground floor gallery and to reintroduce a shop, offering textile materials – primarily for the students of Friends of Handicraft – but also literature, sewing kits and craft objects. The beautiful little gallery – with huge display windows facing the street – now lures in passers-by with a wide range of textile art related exhibitions, including anything from Friends of Handicraft exam students to Swedish and international textiles art luminaries.
“We are seeing a great resurgence of interest in textiles art today, for the first time since the hayday in the 70s,” Lotta Ahlvar says while showing me around the building. Apparently the somewhat odd height of the steps in the main staircase was once lowered to accommodate the floor-sweeping skirts of the ladies at the turn of the century. It is undeniably fascinating to imagine generation after generation of (mostly) women climbing these very stairs on their way either to the School of Friends of Handicraft or to the Studio.
Sophie Adlersparre, one of the three founding members of Friends of Handicraft in 1874, had a clear vision for the enterprise. In a time of rapid industrialisation and a blossoming national romantic movement, her aim was to establish an institution for the preservation of traditional peasant textile craft. An institution that would collect samples of folklore textiles and also make sure that the ageold knowledge survived by making it relevant for contemporary life. Tradition and innovation, a dual ambition, is very much still in evidence today.
Friends of Handicraft was also innovative in that it was the very first financial venture in Sweden to be run entirely by women. Sophie Adlersparre was an avid women's rights activist and as the founder of the women’s rights organisation Fredrika Bremerförbundet, as well as an editor of an influential woman’s magazine, she was an influential leader. At her side she had the artist and dress reform activist Hanna Winge, the first of many great artistic leaders that have pushed for creative and technical innovations while at the same time keeping traditions alive. During the golden years of Friends of Handicraft, in the mid twentieth century, the famous textile artist Edna Martin took the helm of the enterprise.
The Studio of Friends of Handicraft is currently one of Europe’s few remaining studios for textile art and craft and the only one of its kind still in operation in the Nordic countries. The Studio employs six full-time weavers and needle workers (all women). The church and the military are the two main customers, keeping the studio busy with orders of ecclesiastical textiles and heraldic standards. When I visited, one of the master embroiderers was working on an impressive military standard. She told me that before it is ready and delivered, she will have spent about 1,500 hours working on it. On another stitching table a lavish gold needlework for the church is taking shape. One of the Studio’s claims to fame is, by the way, a beautiful 1911 standard for the international woman suffrage alliance, still in use today.
Public artworks and collaborations with artists have always been of great importance to the institution and continue to be. Famous Swedish artists like Carl Larsson, Anders Zorn and Bruno Liljefors, at the turn of the century, then Siri Derkert, Karl-Axel Pehrson and Olle Baertling in the twentieth century and, today, Karin Mamma Andersson and Andreas Eriksson have all had their works realised by the skilled craftsmen at Friends of Handicraft. Some of the most famous grand-scale public textile art works produced by the Studio can be found in the Stockholm City Hall, the Swedish Parliament and the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The School of Friends of Handicraft was established in 1881 as a weaving school and is today housed on the floor below the Studio, with classroom after classroom filled with wooden looms from the nineteenth century – still in use. Offering both full-time programs and short courses in advanced textile handicraft and textile art, the three-year full time program boasts forty-eight students per year, and it is growing increasingly popular. “We have seen a steady increase in applicants in recent years,” says Lotta. “And we have also been able to introduce a couple of new short courses this year, in shibori as well as silk shading and pearl embroidery.” A promising sign it would seem, of the imminent comeback for textile arts and crafts. ••• Susanna Strömquist www.hvtextil.se
Previous page left; Martin Roth, untitled persian rugs installation 2012 Previous page right; Liquid, Faig Ahmed, hand knotted carpet, 466 x 266cm 2014
Opposite; Rudolf Stingel Installation at Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2013
Following page left; Suzan Drummen, Lighten up Bagage Hal Loods 6, Installation 6 x 4 meter, 2007 Following page right; Jason Seife, Quiet Mouth, Loud Hands acrylic and ink on canvas 152 x 100cm 2016
and woven across the gallery space.The skeletal carpet has been eviscerated, and destruction forms an important aspect of Ahmed’s inspiration. In a 2014 interview, he said of his work that it, “has given the carpet either new life or a total death because the old meaning was destroyed completely; but at the same time it’s got a whole new meaning.” It is tempting to side with ‘total death’. To make one piece, Recycled, Ahmed sought out an old, rare Azerbaijani carpet. He turned it into a sculpture of the recycling symbol suspended above the remains of the ancient, beautiful carpet, in tatters on the floor beneath.
ltenburger, Courtesy the artist
The way Ahmed draws inspiration from carpets may seem simplistic. It is not innovative to take what is visually familiar and subvert it by reconfiguring it into a psychedelic, seemingly digitised warp. Yet his work reflects an unresolved tension of our age. Crafts such as weaving rely on a vocabulary of image and design which is prescribed by tradition. In the case of contemporary art, however, originality is paramount and subversion praised. Ahmed has described finding himself a ‘hostage to tradition’, a situation he answered with aesthetic violence. Whether ‘nothing perishes’ in Ahmed’s work, or if instead the death of tradition is the point, whether it represents destruction or deconstruction, carpets are the conceptual crux.
Decay, in an earthier way, is also the theme of the artist Martin Roth. He lays valuable carpets on the floor of an exhibition space, cultivating beneath them a grass lawn.The palimpsest effect is not unbeautiful, but each layer will eventually destroy the other. Ephemerality and transience are conveyed pretty poignantly, but once again it is difficult to shake the impression that the aesthetic achievement is rather pyrrhic. At best, Roth’s work embraces the process of inevitable decay in a sensitive and poetic way.At worst, it is a desolate gimmick.
Rudolf Stingel has also exploited the visual potential of textiles. His 2013 installation at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice covered the walls and floors of the building in Oriental carpet. Stingler’s installation is clever. It satisfies that key contemporary challenge: to alter the expected spatial relationship between artwork and viewer. Spreading over all interior surfaces, it produces an uncanny, enveloping, almost imprisoning aspect. Yet, similarly to Ahmed, Stingel’s work is not about the textile itself in a conventional way. Neither the deep red colour nor the stylised geometric designs and their probable origin are a real concern of the work. Stingel in fact hung his paintings on the carpeted walls, rendering the textiles a backdrop. Yet when oriental carpets were first brought to Venice, from the Byzantine and later the Ottoman Empire, they were not regarded academically. They were decorative objects of luxury. When used to effect in a palazzo the impact of such carpets perhaps remains the same, even in the hands of Stingel. 4
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