A date for your diary: Propagansey 2016 will run from 10th to 18th September, 10 AM to 4PM at Old St Stephen’s Church, Robin Hood’s Bay. Propagansey is an annual exhibition of ganseys from various traditions throughout the British Isles and the Netherlands. Some have notes from the donors attached, explaining how or why they were made, giving the ganseys context and meaning beyond their beauty, utility or the skill required to make them. Deb Gillander, gansey collector and expert, shows items from her collection as well as others sourced locally. The jumpers ‘connect’ to the church, arranged over the backs of the pews, a perfect example of relating an exhibit to the space. The concept is brilliant, both supporting the garments and displaying them to full advantage, as well as evoking the sense of their former wearers seated in rows.
A new, online-only exhibition was launched earlier this year by The Centre for Knit & Crochet (CKC) in Wisconsin. Guest-curated by Dr Angharad Thomasand Beth Brown-Reinsel, “Sanquhar Gloves: A Living Scottish Tradition” defining the meaning of the term, and explores the history, patterns and construction of the gloves, both historical and contemporary.
In addition to a bibliography and reference materials, the exhibition boasts photographs of Sanquhar gloves in collections around the world. This digital exhibition is a wonderful example of how history can be made available to all through modern techology. Among their stated aims, CKC hope to create an entire virtual museum. “Sanquhar Gloves: A Living Scottish Tradition” is an excellent beginning.
The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, has opened major new exhibition on the art of knitting. ‘Breien!’ or ‘Knitting!’ celebrates knitting in all its forms. Historical and contemporary work are placed in ‘conversation’ with each other. Items of traditional dress, fishermen’s jumpers, twentieth century knitting patterns, finely-knitted eighteenth century mitts and later caps or the oldest knitting sheath, for example, can be seen alongside the knitwear of Starsky and Hutch and contributions from artists and designers including Zoรซ Landau Konson, Christien Meindertsma, and Bas Kosters. Sarah Lund’s jumper makes a notable appearance! The setting is fresh, modern and intentionally quirky, with pieces mounted on mannequins with animal heads; installations such as ‘City of Stitches’, by Isabel Berglund, which enfolds the visitor in a knitted structure; dioramas of historical and modern knitting; touch trail routes and other methods of display invite engagement with the exhibits at all levels of interest: this is a child-friendly exhibition. This short video offers a taste of the exhibition:
Knitting! opened in October and runs until 28 August 2016. For more information, visit the Fries Museum website.
The underlying theme of all the museum’s exhibitions is “รrรกรฐurโ or the “thread” connecting all textile techniques, past and present. Traditional knitting is featured, beyond the ubiquitous Lopapeysa or Icelandic jumper popular since the 1950s, including mitts, shawls and the patterned insoles used in traditional fish skin shoes.
The museum also has a space called “Halldรณrustofa” or Halldรณraยดs Room, devoted to the textile collections and work of Halldรณra Bjarnadรณttir, a twentieth-century champion of women’s rights, home crafts, textile education and traditional Icelandic textiles. See Gudrun Helgadottir’s 1991 paper, ‘Halldรณra Bjarnadรณttir And The Development of Textiles As A School Subject in Iceland’, from the Proceedings of the 3rd Nordic Research Conference in Slรถjd, Gรถteborg, Sweden.
Ella Gordon, a textile maker who also works at Jamieson & Smith and is a trustee of the Shetland Textile Museum, writes about her knitting, her collection of vintage knitwear and life on Shetland at her blog https://ellagordon.wordpress.com/.
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Among many events in tribute is ‘Fashion on the Ration : 1940s Street Style’, a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. Fashion on the Ration looks at ‘how fashion survived and even flourished’ in wartime Britain. "Displays of original clothes from the era, from military uniforms to functional fashion, reveal what life was really like on the home front in wartime Britain. This is a story not about the end of fashion but about creativity, innovation and coping in adversity, the impact of which can still be seen upon British style today."
The exhibition shows how the British attempted to maintain standards of appearance, concentrating on "on what people wore, their sense of identity and how they coped with the demands and deprivations." People of all backgrounds explored new sources of materials, beauty products and styles of dress as first intermittent supply, then clothes-rationing, took effect. Winston Churchill opposed the very concept of rationing clothes when first introduced in 1941. But Oliver Lyttleton of the Board of Trade believed rationing would ensure fair distribution of clothing across all sections of society, preserve limited wool and cotton supplies and release thousands of workers in the clothes industry for war work. Initially the allowance was 66 coupons annually but as the war dragged on it was cut to 48 coupons in 1942, to 36 in 1943, and in 1945 to only 24. Putting this into context, in 1941 stockings were 2 coupons each, a dress or skirt was 7 coupons and a wool dress 11 coupons. A man’s shirt was 5 coupons, trousers were 8 and a jacket 13: a three-piece suit would have been 26 coupons altogether. Material and yarn were rationed too: a yard of wool 36″ wide was 3 coupons while knitting wool was 2 ounces a coupon. Sob! In 1941 the Utility Apparel Order was issued to standardise mass-produced clothing and fabric and minimise waste, even limiting the number of pleats on skirts, buttons on coats and the length of menโs socks. Adult clothing had 100% purchase tax added.
Facing such restrictions, the originality and invention of the response by British people, designers and manufacturers is extraordinary. “It would be an added calamity if war turned us into a nation of frights and slovens”, declared Vogue in 1939. Clothing was altered, mended and darned, often almost invisibly. Woollen jumpers were unravelled and re-knitted. We’ve all heard stories of unusual materials re-purposed for clothing and cosmetics, such as ‘liquid stockings’ and parachute silk. Some women without access to stockings or the charmingly-named ‘Helena Rubinstein’s Leg Stick’ really did resort to tea or even gravy browning. Shown for the first time is a set of Countess Mountbatten’s underwear. Made out of a silk map given by a boyfriend in the RAF, it is undecorated apart from the printing of the map and is actually rather beautiful. Other items on display are a woman’s suit made-over from a man’s, a child’s coat made from a blanket and a bracelet ingeniously created from components of crashed German aircraft.
Wedding dresses, with their increased yardage, presented a particular coupon-headache for brides who either could not or would not resort to black market goods. A bridesmaid’s dress made and worn by Janet Saunders in 1945 is indeed parachute silk. Evelyn Higginsonโs 1943 wedding dress of pre-war figured silk, originally sold for making petticoats, was eventually worn by 15 different brides. Out of her own pocket, Barbara Cartland (yes, that Barbara Cartland), bought wedding dresses. She established a pool of hundreds of wedding-gowns lent out to hundreds more women who otherwise could not have afforded one. The thrift born then of necessity has much to teach us now regarding sustainability.
‘Fashion on the Ration’ features other, unexpected innovations. Gas masks might be an ugly fact of war but they could be carried in the bottom of a specially-designed leather handbag. Selfridges sold luminous buttons and brooches to make the wearer safe when walking at night because civilian car accidents in 1941 had risen from by over 2500 year since 1938, due, it was then thought, to blackout. A one-piece siren suit is ‘just the thing to pull on in a hurry’ when dashing for the shelter during night-time raids: a ‘onesie’, Home-Front-style. Nella Last described hers as “the maddest, most amusing thing a sedate matron of 51 ever possessed!” Rayon ‘Utility’ dresses provide a burst of vivid colour and pattern. With materials at a premium, styles were pared-down but striking. Many of the garments look wearable now. Perhaps that is why fashion keeps returning to the 1940s as a source of inspiration?
Knitting seems under-represented, given its significance at the time, but this outstanding exhibition nevertheless illuminates a significant aspect of life in wartime Britain. It is the perfect lead-up to the Museum of London’s conference on post-war dress in September. ‘Fashion on the Ration : 1940s Street Style’ runs until Monday 31 August 2015 at the Imperial War Museum London branch in Lambeth Road. More info at the IWM website. Their Wartime Fashion section may also be of interest.
Pringle of Scotland marks its bicentenary this year with a new exhibition. “Fully Fashioned: The Pringle of Scotland Story” is at London’s Serpentine Gallery for a short preview coinciding with Pringle’s show during London Fashion week. Featuring surviving knitwear from Scottish museums, photographs and items from private collections and the firm’s archives, the exhibition traces the company’s history from its origins in 1815, when Robert Pringle began manufacturing hosiery and underwear in Hawick, to its current position as a international knitwear brand.
The company was a leading proponent of knitwear’s move into fashionable outerwear and in the twentieth century became known for luxury knitting, particularly sportswear emblazoned with the distinctive Pringle Argyle pattern, as popularised by Edward, Prince of Wales. Included in the exhibition are items from the twentieth century as well as early Pringle knitted underwear and more recent pieces, such as a handknit with 3D print elements from the Autumn/Winter 2014 campaign.
The Michael Clark Dance Company has collaborated with Pringle to produce Knitwear | Movement, three short films ‘animating’ this history, while Alfred Watson was commissioned for their 200th anniversary marketing campaign, combining Pringle designs with the Scottish landscape. The films and photographs are also shown in the exhibition.
Following the preview in London, “Fully Fashioned: The Pringle of Scotland Story” will subsequently tour the US and Asia, before heading back over the border to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where it opens to the public from Friday April 10 to Sunday August 16 2015.
Top image credit:ย Amy Barton
According to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, one unnamed journalist said “knitwear has become interesting”. This is hardly news to students of knitting history. Knitting constantly evolves, develops and surprises.
The thoughtful, intelligent selection on display in the mezzanine gallery at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey is proof, if proofย were needed, that knitting is not only relevant now but at the forefront of design and technological development. ‘Visionary Knitwear โ new directions’ is guest-curated by our very own Sandy Black, Chair of the Knitting History Forumย and Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology of the London College of Fashion.ย ‘Visionary Knitwear’ย showcases contemporary knitting design at its best: innovative, bold, sophisticated and subversive.
Exploring the work both of established designers and recent graduates, all of whom have studied in the UK, the exhibit also highlights the influence of UK design education on knitwear in the global fashion industry. Of the designers featured, Juliana Sissons gave a presentation at the Knitting History Forum Conference in 2011, while Amy Twigger Holroyd will be speaking at the 2015 KHF Conference this November. Head of the Fashion and Textile Museum, Celia Joicey said, “The Museum is privileged to be working with the globally respected academic and designer Sandy Black to highlight the most exciting aesthetic and technical developments. Her expertise and keen eye provide a snapshot of why contemporary knitwear is so exciting.”
“knitwear has become interesting”
‘Visionary Knitwear โ new directions’ complements the museum’s main exhibition, ‘Knitwear Chanel to Westwood‘ and ends similarly on 18 January 2015. Don’t miss it.
The exhibition ‘KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood’ is now at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. Curated by Mark and Cleo Butterfield, this exhibition views twentieth century knitting through the lens of their personal collection. The exhibits are nearly all drawn from their archive and cover everyday handknits to high fashion, including early swimwear, 1960s crochet, punk, WWII, folk designs, Pop Art novelty knits, 1980s clubwear and couture. A separate, complementary display of 21st century knitwear, ‘Visionary Knitwear โ new directions’, is being staged in the mezzanine gallery.
Open from now until 18 January 2015, tickets can booked in advance or purchased at the door. More information available on the F&TM Facebook page or their website http://ftmlondon.org/
Kaffe Fassett celebrates 50 years of art and design with “KAFFE 2014 โ The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett” at the American Museum in Britain, the decorative arts museum in Bath. This exhibition showcases the work of the artist and designer best known for his use of colour. Exhibits include a variety of textiles, including quilts, needlepoint and beadwork as well as knitting, in addition to visual artworks by Fassett.
The exhibition runs until 2 November 2014. More information, including a video and preview, is available from the museum website http://americanmuseum.org/about-the-museum/current-exhibitions/kaffe-2014-the-colourful-world-of-kaffe-fassett/
There’s still time to catch the exhibition ‘Knitting 1914-2014’.
Celebrating knitting in the 100 years since the First World War, the exhibition features historical items from the Knitting Reference Library and Knitting Collections held by the University of Southampton Library, together with new work by knitwear students at Winchester School of Art.
Two co-ordinating study days will be held on 2-3 April, the first at the Highfield Campus, the second in the Gallery at Winchester School of Art. Speakers include Jonathan Faiers, Gill Clarke, Victoria Walters, Alex Pengelly, Martin Polley, Tom Van Deijnen, Linda Newington and many others. Download a programme here http://www.southampton.ac.uk/intheloop/documents/knitting1914-2014finalstudydaysprog4march2014.pdf
‘Knitting 1914-2014’ runs until 4 April 2014 in the Special Collections Gallery at the Hartley Library on the Highfield Campus, University of Southampton http://www.southampton.ac.uk/intheloop/