I love autumn, but it does take some getting used to. I have been in denial for a couple of weeks now, getting dressed in the morning for summer and then having to go back a few times and add layers. On Monday this week I had worn three different coats before breakfast (but largely because the weather couldn’t make up its mind either!) But summer – and therefore the long school holiday – is over and it is time to get back to work.
I largely gave up trying to juggle sewing and children relatively early on in the holidays – they’ll only have this one summer of being 11 and nine, so I decided to make the most of it. Sewing could be fitted in between… But I did have a burst of coin purse making (and they are now on the website) and I did go to the Kaffe Fassett quilt exhibition and talk, which was so inspiring my head almost burst.
The talk was in the hall at Lampeter University, my husband’s alma mater, and was entitled ‘Glorious Colour’. How could it have been called anything else?
The introduction was by Jen Jones, doyenne of the Welsh Quilt Centre, who said she was delighted to welcome Kaffe back for the second time this year. (Incidentally Kaffe rhymes with ‘safe’ not ‘taffy’ as I had previously thought!)
Jen said: “I love the fact that Kaffe says he listens to Glenn Miller because he says it energises and uplifts him and I know that you will be energised and uplifted by his talk.”
And so it proved. The audience sat rapt (in a polite, British sort of way) as Kaffe gave a brief outline of his life from childhood as a country boy in California and his parents’ restaurant – “I grew up hearing stories of theatre and art from all over the world” – to how he came to England.
He said: “It was wonderful and extraordinary to come to a place with history and stone walls. I found the English were very funny about America and I loved it.”
He discovered wool, a tapestry of colour, but despaired at the way in was worn in solid blocks (mostly beige). So he bought wool and knitting needles, asked a woman on a train to teach him to knit and made his first cardigan.
When it was finished (“being the shy and retiring person I am”) Kaffe took his cardigan into London Vogue who loved it, commissioned him to knit a Fair Isle waistcoat (he asked his cleaning lady to teach him how) and sent Missoni to his door.
Kaffe became a designer for Missoni, brought out his first book Glorious Knitting and eventually was persuaded to try patchwork. This led on to fabric design and he began producing designs featuring cabbages and blooms the size of your head “at a time when everyone was using teeny tiny florals”.
We were treated to a show of slides of quilts and fabric and their inspiration – pictures of Kaffe’s global travels, bright shots of doorways, patterns, Kaffe’s wonderful paintings, crazy colours, landscapes, buildings, crockery. Inspiration lies everywhere, Kaffe said, we just have to look.
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing!” he said, adding: “but I’m not always Walt Disney on acid.”
One tip I came back with was for the need to have a quilt design wall (usually some sort of flannel) in grey – “because white shines too much light into the eyes”.
He added: “Put very pedestrian strips together with grey and they become fascinating. A slightly off colour can dazzle if surrounded by a neutral like grey.”
There was so much to take away. Afterwards he politely signed my copy of his autobiography Dreaming in Colour and we left feeling as energised and uplifted as Jen Jones’ introduction had promised.