Q&A with Kaffe FassettHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 20 » Q&A with Kaffe Fassett
The renowned textile artist talks colour, fashion and the value of handmade
Knitters, quilters and fabricaholics were delighted this summer with a visit by revered fibre and textile artist Kaffe Fassett. The American-born Londoner has had his work exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, designed fabrics and knitwear for Rowan fabrics and yarns, and published over a dozen books on colour, knitting and quilts. These days he tours the world with his studio manager Brandon Madley, collecting inspiration, inspiring students in turn, and all the while producing some 30 quilts a year. Good caught up with him in the midst of a whirlwind visit to New Zealand:
You’ve just been teaching in Korea. What inspired you there?
Behind the modern buildings, you step off main streets and find wonderful wood, plaster and stone buildings, tile roofs, wonderful craft shops. I love the national costume and the wrapping cloths. They are subtle but detailed, like the Japanese. And the people really followed what we were doing, they are very joyful and sure and confident with their colour, lovely placement and humour.
You inspire people to be brave with colour and pattern in their needlepoint, quilting and knitting, but isn’t it about more than just decoration?
I love the idea of making things that are practical and useable – a great shirt or a cushion, made of something you can really use. As beautiful as quilts are, it’s not just about wall art. How wonderful to make a sock or a sweater that is as rich and beautiful as a painting. Brandon and I are the ‘colour guys’. We’re now doing lovely big knitted projects, throws and bed covers and blankets, big things that inspire people.
The past has a lot to teach us – things that were made personally for our use every day. The nicely carved wooden spoon can give you infinite pleasure. I don’t want to be mass-market or everywhere – cheap and stacked high and flooding the market. In Korea, the kitchen implements are exquisite and meals are a work of art. We have to value handmade, and that’s about educating and informing.
And more than beige or black?
Beige and taupe are a constant. There are ladies of a certain age who just want to look like toffee and fade into the woodwork. I like dark, burned colours sometimes. I’ve been working with the Liberty archives, with designs from the 1700s and 1800s – the richness of colour they used really caught my eye. I love watching fashion – I remember one woman in the 1970s when we were all hippies in paisley and she wore black – she was sensationally weird. Now you wonder who died. I think Paul Smith is an angel, one of the most creative guys in fashion, the eccentric English gentleman. And Tricia Guild, of course, I’ve designed lots of collections for her. One day I will do an article just about magenta pink. Colour is my medium, it’s all about manipulating colour, whether it’s needlepoint, knitting, quilting. It never gets dull. But you don’t have to be all Disney-on-acid, colour can be calm too. I’m always thrilled when people do the quiet English thing in my workshops, the greyish, sweet English palette – it’s so elegant.
What do you see in New Zealand design and landscape?
New Zealanders are quite free with their use of colour, they go for it with a gypsy alacrity. There’s a great influence of the orient here, like I had growing up. In summer, the lushness and beauty of the plants, the gorgeous gardens – eventually that will get into my work, you never know when it will catch fire into a design.