The details in the fabric*

This is a decorated piece of discarded chewing gum on the Millennium Bridge in central London; it's about 2cm by 2cm and most people walking over the bridge would just glimpse something colourful out of the corner of their eye and carry on walking, admiring the stunning views of the Shard, St Paul's and the river. But I was curious enough to squat down, take a photo, and look at it more closely (causing a little bit of a pedestrian traffic jam – sorry, folks).

It turns out that there are hundreds of these tiny works of art on the bridge. Once your eye tunes into them you realise they are all over the walkway. Aren't they lovely?

They are made by Ben Wilson, popularly known as Chewing Gum Man; you can find out more about his tiny works of art here.

I was on my way to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey – a lesser well known gem of a museum, about five minutes' walk from Borough Market, that is well worth a visit if you've not been before. Their current exhibition is Liberty In Fashion, and I was so excited to be going. I have loved Liberty designs since I was a teenager, when I used to buy quarter metres of Ianthe Art Nouveau tana lawn in the red colourway (no longer made it seems), to embellish my denim jackets and jeans. This is still my most favourite Liberty print – in any colour – and I still think it goes beautifully with denim.

The exhibition had dresses, jackets, stoles, scarves, skirts and blouses from the last 140 years – all made from Liberty fabrics, and many of them made by Liberty too. My favourites were the ones from the turn of the 20th Century and the 1930s because the garment construction was as exquisite as the fabrics.

I love the tiny floral prints, and the beautiful smocking, piping and gathering details that make the dresses so glorious.

Tiny things, made with care and attention to detail; I think they're just as enchanting when they're made from old chewing gum as they are when made from silk or lawn.

*I lifted the title of this blog post from the Jason Mraz song of the same name – thank you, Jason Mraz! It's one of my favourite songs – and not just because it has the word 'fabric' in the title.

 

An autumnal surge in creativity

I was at work on the night the clocks went back – this is my favourite time of year, but an extra long weekend nightshift with an ICU full to capacity and several sick patients elsewhere in the hospital waiting to come in was not the best way to celebrate it. I appreciate my days off all the more now that the unit is busy with the illnesses that come with cooler weather, and there is less daylight. I have a new desire to make the most of every minute.

The other development that has come with a change in the seasons is a desire for more making. My knitting (which always languishes during the summer) has sped up. I've bought some new patterns and some new fabric. I'm debating which hats I want to knit for when winter arrives. I've got measurements to sew my littlest nieces some new skirts, and I'm writing crafty to-do lists.

 

Here's what's energising me at the moment:

  • Johanna Basford's new colouring book. I'm still in the middle of the Enchanted Forest, but looking forward to losing myself in the ocean very much. I may need to treat myself to some new colouring pencils in blue shades.
  • I've never successfully knitted a cowl. All the ones I've made previously have been too short, too prone to rolling up, and just not cosy enough. I am rummaging for a new pattern.
  • I've bought some lightweight denim (£11 a metre from Cloth House) to make the City Stroll Wrap Skirt. I don't think the pattern cover photo is particularly enticing, but the versions I've seen people making on Flickr and Instagram have looked lovely. Plus I wear denim skirts constantly during winter, and fancy a new one in a different style.
  • At Cloth House I also bought some Indian handwoven cotton (inspired by the two visits I've made to the V&A's Fabric of India exhibition) to make a top, tunic, or dress. I am now in the middle of some very pleasant dithering over which pattern to use.
  • Socks! I've got three different pairs on the go, and am thinking I really need to learn the magic loop method so that I can knit two together.
  • These wartime knitting patterns from the V&A. A knitted turban is bizarrely appealing!

 

What are you making at the moment? Do you have any cowl patterns that you would recommend? Do you share my love for denim skirts?

 

Indian fabrics

This morning I trekked right across London to the V and A, to see their new exhibition The Fabric of India. I knew I would enjoy it, because it's the V and A, and it's fabric, so what's not to like?…but goodness me, I was just blown away.

 

The exhibition is vast – it took me nearly two hours to go round. There was so much wonderful fabric, plus plenty of information on every single exhibit. I thought I already knew a fair bit about both the history and the textile industry of India, but I still had much to learn. The exhibition covers dying, weaving, design, pattern, embroidery, printing, stitching, beading, clothing, quilting, fashion, and so many other things.

 

Many of the fabrics were first shown at The Great Exhibition in 1851, but although they are now more than 164 years old they look as vibrant and delicious as if they had been made last week. There were a good number of fabrics even older than that too, including an enormous floor cloth from the 1650s printed with bright red poppies which had me standing open mouthed in front of it for ages, almost unable to believe what I was seeing.

 

My favourite part of the exhibition was the Royal room, with examples of the most luxurious clothing woven from gold and silver thread that I've ever seen. The clothing was all several hundred years' old but it gleamed and sparkled as if it had been made yesterday. One piece of lace fabric, made to edge a woman's sari, was embroidered with hundreds of tiny metallic green beetle wing cases that looked for all the world like exquisite gems.

 

I loved the ikat fabrics, the kantha stitching, the indigo, the padded jackets, the tiny floral chintz muslins, the elephant appliqué, the gold thread, the shawls, the khadi…there was so much to take in, and reflect on, that I know I'll need to go back to see it all again.

 

Have you been? Would you like to go? Which Indian textiles are your favourites?

 

Reflections on ageing at the National Portrait Gallery

It's an uninspiring and rainy Bank Holiday Monday today, and both Graham and I have rather persistent and unforgiving hangovers following a lovely day yesterday entertaining friends, followed by a night out at the local drag cabaret. We still woke up early though – we always do – so I persuaded Graham to come on a jaunt to the National Portrait Gallery before the crowds got too overwhelming.

 

I wanted to see this year's BP Portrait Award before it closes on the 20th September. I love this exhibition, and go every year without fail. It is an outing that's so much better to do with a friend than on your own, because the portraits always prompt discussion and comment. What I particularly loved this year was the number of fascinating and thought-provoking portraits of elderly people. This one of two older men sitting in the kitchen at the end of a party, discussing German history, made me smile and reminded me of my great day with friends yesterday.

After we'd finished at the NPG, we headed towards Soho where we went our separate ways for an hour. Graham went to a few drum shops and I prowled around a couple of fabric shops. We met up again in Liberty where I squished some nice wool and had a productive discussion with the sales assistant about different types of knicker elastic.

On the way back downstairs this unassuming war memorial halfway up the staircase made me stop and think. Sixteen young people who worked at Liberty were killed during World War Two – an enormous number I think from the employees of just one shop. They didn't live long enough to become the elderly people with so much experience in their faces, whose portraits I had so admired earlier in the day at the NPG.