Tuesday, 28 August 2012

I'm talkin' about (before) the revolution

According to the word on the street, there is a revolution afoot. Aided by social media sites, guerrila tactics (yarn bombing) and organised metropolitan gatherings, the twenty-first century knitting revolution continues advancing to the rhythm of clicking sticks winding through fancy new cashmere/alpaca/bamboo/kitten blended yarn. The Guardian foretold the rise of the knitter nearly a decade ago whilst other newspapers are picking up the point as the trend begins to enter the mainstream.

As more and more people take up sticks and wool, we thought we would cast our minds back to a time before knitting podcasts and quirky yet extremely popular instruction books for making a woolly Royal family. We have selected a few items from MoDA's collection that show other sides of knitting, before it became a contemporary fashionable phenomena.

Knitting for All Illustrated: practical knitted garments for all the family: making, renovating and repairing, Margaret Murray & Jane Foster, Odhams Press Limited, 1941 (BADDA3267, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

During the First and Second World Wars, knitting was a practical expression of support from the Home Front for troops abroad. Consider this poster from the Imperial War Museum -‘Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now’, or this photograph of a family gathered at a hearth whilst the mother ‘Jill knits a scarf for her solider uncle.’ Wool companies released books for those wishing to contribute socks and balcalavas to the war effort.

Knitted Comforts for Our Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen in "Greenock" Service Wools, published by Fleming, Reid and Co. Ltd., Scotland for Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores, 1945. (BADDA4134, MoDA)

During the past century, knitting was as much about domestic economy as recreation. Here is an example of a 1960s book of family knitting patterns by Keynote, offering a cost-effective means of kitting out mum, dad and the kids. Note the little boy in blue: a decade later and the style of wrapping every inch of your baby in homemade knits continued, as illustrated by the 1975 Sunbeam pattern for a Cosy Pram Set.

Knitting for the Family, Keynote, ca.1960 and Cosy Pram Set knitting pattern, Sunbeam, 1975 (BADDA4816 and BADDA4808, MoDA)

Last winter the fashion magazine Elle clocked the rise of ‘the statement sweater’and Grazia noted a growing obsession with novelty jumpers sparking bespoke knit sites such as Where's Me Jumper. MoDA certainly have a lot of sweater patterns which would fall into this category (such as this fine example of a Space Invaders sweater), but they were by no means the cutting edge of fashion in their day. It was garments like this from Woolworth’s Knitting Magazine which stood out: ‘A Poncho-skirt – the newest idea from America – for the Groovy.’

'Mexican double', Woolworth's Knitting Magazine, page 3, Woolworth's PLC, 1970 (BADDA3515, MoDA)

Whilst there is a growing community of male knitters online, generally speaking knitting has been a consistently female dominated art and industry. Books, magazines and patterns in MoDA’s collection reflect this point. In ‘The Art of Needlecraft’, RK and MIR Polkinghorne describe knitting as ‘a delightful occupation for spare time and for long winter evenings... It is said that those who can knit or crochet are never lonely or discontented, and perhaps this is true.’ I would hazard a guess that this statement is as true for Polkinghorne's audience of 1935 as the male and female knitting revolutionaries of 2012.

You can browse other homecraft items in MoDA's collection here.

Monday, 20 August 2012

I-spy international Silver Studio textiles

Most of the items belonging to the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture are part of the Silver Studio Collection. The Silver Studio was a design studio which operated between 1880 and the early 1960s, designing textiles and wallpapers for manufacturers and retailers around the world. These were mass-produced products, so you might think that many examples of the Silver Studio’s work would have survived. In fact, the reverse is true – Silver Studio designs must have graced the walls, curtains and furnishings of many millions of homes over the years, but they have rarely survived for posterity. They would have been worn out and replaced as home-owners redecorated. So the evidence for these designs exists in the Studio records, but rarely in the form of items that were used in real homes.

For this reason, it's particularly exciting when we find wallpapers or textiles designed by the Silver Studio that have survived in other museum collections.  One of our favourite objects is a great Art Nouveau curtain which we were able to purchase a few years ago with help from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.  After we featured it on this blog a few months ago we were contacted by the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles, who have a piece of the same material.   It's great to be able to share information with them about this textile, and to see how the internet can help researchers to 'join up the dots' between collections on opposite sides of the world.

Silver Studio textile, 1897, from the collections of the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles
(Gift of the Textile Group of Los Angeles, 2007.916.1)
The design for this textile was created by the Silver Studio in 1896 and sold to Cumbrian manufacturer Stead McAlpin in 1897. This company printed fabrics on behalf of numerous retailers, including for example, Liberty of London. The pattern of highly stylised poppy sprays is typical of popular British Art Nouveau designs of the late nineteenth century. Though Silver Studio records aren't conclusive, the pattern was possibly designed by Harry Napper for the Silver Studio. 

Silver Studio textile from the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (ST4298)
MoDA's example has a decorative bobble fringe, a legacy of its use as a room divider.

Thousands of yards of this cloth were undoubtedly sold to homes around the country and even the world. The piece we have at MoDA was used as a ‘portiere’ or door curtain, possibly used to divide the front and back sections of a drawing room. It is double sided (so it could be viewed from either side of the door opening), and edged with decorative bobble fringing. 

Rachel Harris, Social Media Manager, takes up the story on behalf of the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles:

The sample in the FIDM Museum was donated in 2007 by the Textile Group of Los Angeles.  At around that time, we were developing an exhibition exploring design reactions to late nineteenth century industrialization.  We knew that the relationship between fashion and interior design would be a highlight of the exhibition. After many months of research and planning, Aesthetes, Bohemians & Craftsmen: Artistic Dress, 1880s–1920s opened in May 2008. Featuring fashion, textiles and furniture, this exhibition charted the course of the late nineteenth  century design rebellion protesting the ubiquity, uniformity and poor quality of mass-produced goods. Beginning with the Aesthetic Movement of the 1880s, the exhibition explored how artistic dress styles moved from the fringes to the center, becoming mainstream dress by the 1920s.

Throughout the exhibition, garments were paired with furniture and other decorative elements of the same period. 

FIDM Museum’s Silver Studio textile as installed during the Aesthetes, Bohemians & Craftsmen exhibit.

The Silver Studio textile pictured here was grouped with an unusual embroidered silk gown from around 1905, and a mahogany and leather side chair. The sinuous Silver Studio textile was included as a demonstration of how artistic design principles were adopted by large-scale manufacturers and retailers. Because interiors are altered less-frequently than clothing styles, a late nineteenth century interior textile could easily have been the backdrop for an early twentieth century dress.

It’s great to be able to find out about a Silver Studio textile in another museum collection, and it’s an example of how putting collections online can help museums to share knowledge across huge distances.   Many thanks to Rachel Harris and her colleagues at the FIDM Museum for their collaboration in writing this post.  

If you know of any Silver Studio textiles in other collections we'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Happy Birthday Walter Crane

The English artist and illustrator Walter Crane was born on this day in 1845. The second child of a Liverpudlian portrait painter, Crane is today recognised as one of the most significant Victorian children's illustrators, alongside Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway.

One of the best examples MoDA holds of Crane's illustrations is a later publication titled, 'A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden'. The colour processes for this book involved printing in relief, possibly from wood. The cut-off forms in the designs suggest the influence of Japanese woodcuts: a method of printing that greatly interested Crane. You can look at a full copy of the book here.

A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden by Walter Crane, 1899 [BADDA3036, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture]

From the 1870s and following his success in book illustration, Crane began to design wallpaper. In an interview in Studio, Vol.4 1894, he reflects on his progression to this medium: "My nursery papers grew out of my nursery books; from the nursery paper to those for general use was but a step, and one that followed naturally enough... I own there is not necessarily much in common between books and walls in the abstract (except when walls were people's picture-books), but in my case the connection is obvious; for you see, if I had not first been a book-decorator, I might never have been a designer of wallpapers."

'Sleeping Beauty'. wallpaper designed by Walter Crane and manufactured by Jeffrey & Co., 1879 [SW2090, MoDA] 

Whilst MoDA' Silver Studio Collection contains fine examples of Crane's work, we also hold other ephemeral items of a more personal nature. Arthur and Isabella Silver counted Walter and Mary Crane amongst their circle of friends. The Crane's home was a short distance from the Silver's residence at 84 Brook Green Road in West London and their children were friends. The Cranes appear in the Silver's family albums and we hold letters and correspondence between the two families.

One unusual item in the collection is a picture postcard of Mr and Mrs Crane on a camel inscribed with a note from Mrs Crane to Mrs Silver inviting her to visit: ' Mistress Crane / bids you welcome to Old House / 13 Holland Street W / June 30 / 9.30-1.00 / RSVP.'

A picture postcard of Mr and Mrs Crane on a camel with a note on the verso to Mrs Silver [SE521, MoDA]

At the sudden death of Arthur Silver in 1896, Crane sent a condolence letter. He remembered Arthur thus: 'He was an able and graceful designer and an amiable character...his peacock cretonne in the Arts and Crafts is particularly charming'. Walter himself died in 1915, three months after his wife Mary was tragically killed in a train accident.

Letter from Walter Crane to M Webb on the death of Arthur Silver, 1896 [SE522, MoDA]
MoDA is proud to be one of several museums who can showcase the work of this important artist through our collection (Also check out the V&A's collection online and the Whitworth Gallery's online catalogue). Today seems a worthy one on which to remember the fine work of a great man. Happy Birthday Walter Crane.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Raymond Honeyman: artist at work

It's always exciting to see the many different ways in which creative people use MoDA's collections for inspiration.  One of these is tapestry designer Raymond Honeyman, who designs needlepoint tapestry kits for Ehrman.

Raymond came into the study room a year or so ago, and looked at a number of designs from the Silver Studio collection.  He created three designs for tapestry kits, inspired by the flowing lines and curves of some of the Silver Studio's designs from the 1890s.

'Buttercups' by Raymond Honeyman
Raymond's is a painstaking task - he paints every stitch individually, and each design consists of over 50,000 stitches.  I must say, both Raymond and the people who buy and make these kits have much more patience than I do!  

'Poppies' by Raymond Honeyman

a completed cushion cover featuring  the 'Poppies'
design by Raymond Honeyman

However, the results are worth it.  Raymond's designs are translated into kits which include all the different coloured threads; and as you can see the finished products are stunning.  

An exhibition of Raymond's work, A Passion for Painting Pattern,  was shown at MoDA in 2010.  You can watch Raymond talking about his work here: