Kaffe Fassett

“There’s nothing shy about it,( klick to see the film) 

says Kaffe Fasset of his colourful textile designs. 

“Colour is my absolute passion – and that’s what I concentrate on.”

Internationally-renowned textile designer Kaffe Fasset was born in San Francisco in 1937 
and moved to England as a student. He instantly fell in love with the various hues of 
Scottish wools, and knitted his first sweater using 20 different shades of yarn. 
No one had seen anything like it, and since that first 
sweater his work has always been unapologetically bright.
"I like big scale florals and big geometrics; huge circles and stripes and zigzags. 
They are very playful, and very pronounced."
In 1988 Fasset became the first living textile designer to put on a one-man show at the 
Victoria and Albert Museum in London. During his career he has designed for Missoni,
Barbara Streisand, members the royal family, and magazines including Vogue.
Fasset has also put on several exhibitions across the world.
His success, he claims, is in the accessibility of his work. Unlike high brow art,
which can be alienating, his wool and cloth pieces are tangible, soft, warm and approachable.
“You made something that people could wear out into the world,
so that what you created was mixing with the tapestry of colour in the world.”
Fellow designer Brandon Mably has become an integral part of the Kaffe Fasset studio,
collaborating with Fasset on designs, books and exhibitions. The two designers tour the world
doing workshops and lectures. Their most recent work focuses on vibrant quilt design.

Kaffe Fassett
Kaffe Fassett was born in San Francisco in 1937. When he was 19, Kaffe won a scholarship to 
the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, but left after 3 months to paint in London. 
He settled in England in 1964.
 Kaffe ventured into the world of colourful yarn on a visit to a Scottish wool mill with fashion designer 
Bill Gibb. Inspired by the colours in the landscape, Kaffe was thrilled to find the same colours in yarns. 
He bought 20 colours of Shetland wool and some knitting needles, and on the train back to London 
a fellow passenger taught him how to knit. His first design appeared as a full page spread in 
Vogue Knitting magazine.
 Missoni and Bill Gibb commissioned Kaffe's early commercial collections, and his one-of-a-kind 
designs have been collected by Barbra Streisand, Lauren Bacall, John Schlesinger, Ali McGraw, 
Irene Worth, Shirley Maclaine, Helen Frankenthaler, Alan Bergman and H.RH Princess Michael of Kent.
 In 1985, Kaffe launched a needlepoint project on the TV programme 'Pebble Mill at One', inviting anyone 
across the country to needlepoint an image of their favourite thing, no bigger that 6 inches square. 
Over 2,600 entries were sent forming the Pebble Mill at One Heritage Tapestry which was on show at 
Chatsworth House until it moved to Harewood House. The same year, the British Crafts Council invited 
Kaffe to present a BBC daytime television series interviewing leading UK crafts people. Since then 
Kaffe has inspired thousands of traditional one-colour knitters to employ rich palettes of colour through 
his 6 part television series, 'Glorious Colour' for Channel 4. The series was aired in 1986, has been 
repeated 3 times and was released as a two-part video. It has been shown in various countries
including Japan and Canada.
In 1998, Kaffe released 'Kaffe's Colour Quest', a video looking at colour and design inspiration through 
his world-wide travels. In February 1999, Kaffe presented a 6 part series for Radio 4 called
 'A Stitch in Time'.
Kaffe has also been interviewed countless times on national television and radio programmes such as 
'Richard and Judy' for 'This Morning'; 'The Bazaar' TV series; 'Chelsea Flower Show Live'; 'Collectors Lot'; '
The Homes Show' and 'Through the Keyhole.' For radio: Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' and 'Desert Island 
Discs' with Sue Lawley.
 In 1988 Kaffe became the first living textile artists to have a one man show at the Victoria & Albert Museum. 
The exhibition attracted such crowds that the Museum doubled attendance figures during the run and has
 since visited Finland, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Canada, USA and Iceland 
(where 5% of the total population attended.) Recent exhibitions of textiles include the American Museum 
in Bath (UK), Sweden, Denmark, America and Japan. The Hankyu Department Store, Osaka, Japan invited 
Kaffe to create 3 room sets in their store, for a British fair, sponsored by the British Council. Over 30,000 
people visited the display in 6 days. In June 1998, Kaffe displayed his quilts from his 8th book, 'Patchwork'
 at the Japan World Quilt Fair in Tokyo.
 Kaffe's first needlepoint design was commissioned by Pamela Lady Harlech for Lord Harlech. Since then, 
commissions include; two 5-foot square needlepoint tapestry designs for the 1994 Marks & Spencer 
department stores Christmas packaging; tufted rug designs for Christopher Farr Hand Made Rugs;
 two 5-foot square needlepoint tapestries for the Sea Princess cruise liner; a needlepoint tapestry for an 
Elizabethan house in Yorkshire; a series of five tapestries and a tufted rug for The Edinburgh Tapestry 
Weaving Company; a 13' by 15' mosaic mural at the entrance to a theatre in Ojai, California; needlepoint 
arm chairs for clients around the world and an endless list of one-of-a-kind design garments.
 Since 1981, Kaffe has worked closely with Rowan Yarns in Yorkshire. Rowan Yarns insight into fashion 
and colour complement Kaffe's skill and together they have produced ambitious designer patterns to 
inspire hand knitters all over the world. He contributes to the bi-annual Rowan magazine, which is marketed 
 Since 1976 Kaffe has been the leading designer of needlepoint kits for Ehrman Tapestries of London, 
one of the most successful mail order needlepoint companies world-wide.
 The international charity Oxfam asked Kaffe to work with poverty-stricken weaving villages in India and 
Guatemala, to advise on designs that would be more marketable in the West. As a result, a range of 
colourful hand woven fabrics is being produced for use as shirt fabric, bed throws and patchwork fabric, 
available on an international basis through Rowan UK and Westminster Fibres, USA. Other charity work 
has also taken him to South Africa.
 A large part of Kaffe's output is now an expanding range of fabric prints for the patchwork market along 
with the Indian stripes fabric and shot cotton fabric range distributed world wide by Westminster Fibres, 
USA and Rowan, UK.
 Hilliers Garden Centres invited Kaffe to design their garden for the 1998 Chelsea Flower Show. The garden 
featured his mosaic columns, planters and a shell grotto and won a Gold Medal and was written up as 
'The trend-setting garden of the year's show'.
 Kaffe gives slide talks and workshops on colour in design which take him all over the world, allowing him 
to see how people use his fabrics and pick up inspiration.

1999 saw the release of two new books, Kaffe Fassett & Candace Bahouth 'Mosaics' and 'Welcome Home, 
Kaffe Fassett', part of Martingale USA publishers At Home series.
 In 1993 the UK based Northern Ballet Theatre asked Kaffe to design costumes and sets followed by 
The Royal Shakespeare Company commissioning Kaffe to co – design the set and costumes for 'As You 
Like It'. Kaffe reveled in the Elizabethan period and used knitting, needlepoint, rag rugging and patchwork 
in the costumes. It was directed by Gregory Doran and opened in 2000, one of the most exciting commissions
 Kaffe has received to date.
 Since the Millennium major exhibitions have included 'The Textile Tradition, Then and Now' (2001) and 
Quilt Bonanza (2003) both at The American Museum in Bath, plus shows at Stening Slott, in Sweden (2004) 
and Rohsska Museet, in Gothenburg (2004).
 2005 has seen a variety of exciting commissions, projects and publications. Exhibiting quilts at the Textile 
Museum of Canada, involvement at the Yokohama Patchwork Festival in Japan and Kaffe's contribution to 
two group shows, 'The Artist and Radio 4' at the Bankside Gallery and a painting exhibition at the Catto 
Gallery, London has seen the year end with a prestigious invitation to design and decorate the Victoria and 
Albert Museum Christmas tree in collaboration with Kaffe's latest book publication 'Kaffe Fassett's 
V&A Quilt's'.
 Kaffe's one man multimedia show in 2006 at the Prince Eugen's Waldemarsudde, Sweden was followed 
by an exhibition of Kaffe's quilts, knitting and needlepoint at the Modemuseum Hasselt, Belgium and 2007 
continues with Kaffe embarking on a workshop tour of Australia and New Zealand and the launch of his 
latest knit book 'Kaffe Knits Again' due to be published by Rowan in September.
 Kaffe's unique sense of colour and drive to create, combined with his desire to encourage others,
 has led to his reputation as a guru in the world of color and textiles.

Overgenomen uit Quiltmag.com
Cityscapes In The Sun 

Cityscapes In The Sun

Quilts inspired by colorful buildings & decorative tiles.

Each year the dark of winter in England surrounds us as we get ready to photograph quilts for our next Rowan book. The desire for light and color to show off our patchwork is what drives us away from our studio in London to seek a southern climate. So it was off to Portugal.
I picked Portugal because it is home of one of the world’s great tile cultures. Colored buildings and decorative tiles always get me excited. We started in the northern town of Porto. I found the town a little run down and rainy but the gems of locations we discovered supported the title “Quilts In the Sun.” The colors of the tile that covered the buildings throughout the town are breathtaking. They brought to life the colors and tones in our quilts. The most spectacular was a large church in the center of the town completely smothered in a blue and white tile mural. It made for a spectacular wallpaper for the street.
We stayed in an old villa turned into a hotel that was completely tiled from inside out. We were able to show several of the quilts to advantage without leaving the hotel grounds. Some wonderfully colored and weathered old doors in the neighborhood offered us more luscious locations.
Two of the quilts were done mostly of handsome browns and warm grays, colors we have developed in our shot cotton solids range of fabrics. They mixed so well with the Portuguese love of terracotta pinks and old golds on their buildings. All these colors made the cityscapes a joy to behold. Add to that the soft Mediterranean light that helps these colors glow.
We then moved on to Lisbon, which is like a string of villages merged into a very civilized city filled with little parks, coffee houses, bookstores and uniquely personalized individual shops. Colorful laundry is festooned like bunting from many a window where people live above the shops. In fact, Lisbon has all the exciting things that make life human in a city. All of this housed in old buildings (in the heart of the town) covered in beautiful ceramic tiles and bold sculpted details like oversized heads and bowers of fruit and flowers. One of the things that charms me most is the pavement, which is often done in black and white stone mosaic.
I’m always stimulated to be in a place so full of creative energy. I especially enjoy being in a place so unashamedly in love with color. Most of the houses have bright orange terracotta roof tiles with every street containing at least one icy blue tile exterior—an unexpected but thrilling color note.
Knowing I’d find these blue tile panels throughout Portugal, I put blue and cool pastel in quite a few of my new quilts. What I love about the old tile houses is that when tiles need replacing they are often repaired with any old pattern tile householders can fine. It makes for a crazy patchwork that develops in odd colors that relate perfectly to my scrappy patchwork style.
All too soon I realized I must return from these sunny countries. But I left much more confident in my color passions.

The World of Pattern

The World of Pattern

Field Notes:  Kaffe Fassett
From time to time I pause in my hectic life to ponder my deep fascination with pattern. It is the common denominator in all of the various creative activities and projects, including quilting, that I am constantly revisiting.
I started knitting in the ’70s, and knitting became such an obsession that I stopped painting still lifes, which had been my main means of artistic expression till then. I published a knitting book several years later; I was surprised by how successful it was, and it led to me travelling the world giving lectures, workshops and media interviews. Next, I took up needlepoint — that resulted in my second book. I took up mosaics and did yet another book, this time with Candace Bahouth. After that, Liza Prior Lucy enticed me into patchwork, and the result has been several books, including one a year for Rowan, which produces a line of my fabric prints twice a year. I find such joy in exploring patterns in all the different textures, colors and scales of these media, and I take my inspiration from each of them in turn.
When I first took up knitting, the intense world of pattern around me leapt to life — everything I saw seemed to be a possible motif to help me organize the colors I was so passionate to use. I find the same happens with quilting. When I spot a set of neutral colors on a stone paving, somehow stripes don’t express the delightful impact of the gray cement setting off each subtle stone like a jewel. I developed an interest in recording the way colors are placed in repetition and proportion — in other words, the right layout and arrangement in a quilt has so much to do with whether a color will sing or appear ordinary.
I discovered the mother lode of pattern collections in the vastdecorative arts galleries in London’s famous Victoria & Albert Museum. There, I saw how exciting and beautiful colors could become when they are organized into patterns and motifs in embroideries, carpets and intricate patchworks. Many years later, my fascination with these patterns inspired my fabric print collection for Rowan patchwork. As I design quilts, whether in florals or forms inspired by antique carpets, I constantly think back to the many hours I’ve spent wandering the decorative arts museums of the world.
Taking a motif through different media, like fabric, mosaic tile, knitting and paint, also fascinates me. One of the most popular fabrics I’ve designed (and it’s still in our collection) is Roman Glass. It was inspired by some fragments of ancient multicolor glass I saw in the Victoria & Albert museum. I first interpreted this motif in a knitted vest, then in a fabric print. Since then it has inspired Swedish coffee cups and — coming full circle — appeared on a glass plate.
Another of my obsessions is scale. For years, I made humansize knits and needlepoint cushions, so I’m excited by the world of quilting, where I can make 9-foot-long bed covers. The ability to play with size and scale on such a large “canvas” is inspiring. 

Architectural Inspirations

Architectural Inspirations

Field Notes:  Kaffe Fassett
My assistant Brandon Mably and I went to Prague, the famous capital city of the Czech Republic, to teach a workshop at their first Patchwork Festival. It was a mind-blowing experience that got me thinking about old versus new, and the way limited resources sometimes lead to greater creativity and a heightened sense of beauty.
When I think of the inhabited places on this earth that move me the most — such as Africa, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico and India — I realize I am inspired by the unspoiled quality of the ancient buildings that are still in use. Wealthier nations have often knocked down their “dated” histories and relentlessly built the newest styles, but fortunately we can appreciate and learn from the style and beauty still in existence in less wealthy areas. In much the same way, we can see the beauty and pride of craftsmanship in an antique quilt pieced from leftover bits of sacks and clothing remnants.
Some say the center of Prague is like a museum, and I say, “What an amazing, wondrous museum.” Street after street was filled by stunningly decorated buildings and amazing squares. Those dramatically ornamented buildings were what charmed me the most in Prague — some of them suggested quilting and fabric patterns to me. Some buildings even looked like patchwork quilts — their fronts were covered with multicolor geometric shapes, and the slate roofs of the churches were also veritable patchworks themselves. Great carved doors often feature larger-than life figures, and three-dimensional stone draperies and painted surfaces abound, suggesting appliqué shapes and trapunto designs.
It was Easter when we were there and trees were covered in pastel eggs and ribbons that went so well with the pinks, soft greens and golds of the houses. Because there is such a brisk tourist trade many shops go 
all out with charming Old-World decorations. And our hotel, the Alchemist, had gilded brocade interiors and a dining room with an old French wallpaper mural like those I’ve admired in books about the history of wallpaper. The colors, ornate decorations and gold trim all coordinated and contrasted in ways that seemed to echo the reason for our visit to Prague.
Although we saw quilts from the rest of Europe and some American antiques, our biggest delight at the Patchwork Festival was the originality of the work produced by those who attended our workshop. Brandon and I were almost in tears at the end of the workshop. Since the usual patchwork fabrics are hard to come by in that part of the world, people used many unexpected sources of fabrics. Charity shop finds, vintage clothing and furnishing fabrics were interspersed with more common prints. Much like the grand old buildings, these quilts were very individual statements that really moved us.

Exploring Simple Designs

Exploring Simple Designs
Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett

Years ago when I was in the first flush of my love affair with quilting and exploring the variety of visual designs, I came across a quilt made of blocks shaped like the letter “H.” Roughly 12” square in size, these blocks of bold H shapes were made up in various shades of neutral tones. It was striking in a way that the tufted, raffia fabrics of African Kuba textiles are—packed with wonderful geometric forms.
Another similar design that caught my eye was a 19th century Caucasian Dragon Carpet. It featured S-shaped dragons boldly placed across the carpet, each one studded with smaller motifs. The idea of a large geometric layout that filled each block and that wasn’t immediately obvious to the viewer appealed to me. Burying the structure (in this case, a letter) in a pattern keeps the viewer studying the design until the brain can discern the layout.
Simple Block, Powerful Results
I took inspiration from the H-block quilt and the S-shaped dragon carpet to design my S-Block quilt. Each block contains a simple visual structure: the letter S, yet the repetition of the design pulls viewers in. By rotating the block in different directions, I further abstracted the image. What keeps one’s attention in this layout is the way a basic geometric block is placed in so many different directions. Plus, the patterned fabrics are so richly varied that there is much to study.
In patterns like these, color choices are key, as they allow the design to stand out or fade subtly into the background. The coloring of my S-Block quilt comes from my passion for Oriental art, where yellow often plays such a powerful role. When the Peking Opera visited London in the 1980s, I was blown away by an entire act that was played out in front of a huge yellow dragon tapestry. Each player on the stage wore large, ornate costumes in shades of yellow with highlights of lime green, lavender, pink, and pale turquoise. The result was breathtaking, and I have been playing with this saturated palette ever since in my knits, quilts, and fabric collections. Combining a yellow-based palette in this very simple-to-construct block was a joy. The way it looks draped on an autumn tree in an English country garden reveals the emotional impact that yellow has for me.

From Knit to Patchwork

From Knit to Patchwork
Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett
When I first started to knit back in the late 1960s, everything I saw suggested possible knitting motifs to me. Mosaics, decorated china, and paving stones all had me reaching for my graph paper and knitting needles.
But for me, the single richest vein came from books on antique patchwork. I’d pore over these designs, usually of the simplest groupings of squares, triangles, and rectangles that somehow captivated the viewer’s eye no matter how often they were studied. Checkerboards, tumbling blocks, and stars gave my knitting patterns powerful structures that filled the pages of my own books on knitting in color.
So when my contact at Rowan Yarns, Liza Lucy, suggested I design for patchwork, my initial resistance didn’t daunt her. She simply opened my knitting books and began to translate my motifs back to patchwork— where many of them had started. Soon we were collaborating on quilting books, such as Glorious Patchwork, Passionate Patchwork and the soon to be released Simple Shapes, Spectacular Quilts. We also work together on a yearly Rowan Quilt book to demonstrate how I use my latest fabric collections.
Since knitting is a craft I’ve developed more than any other, I can think out colors and motifs most efficiently by sitting down and knitting up my thoughts. It is little wonder then that many of the ideas I arrive at in patchwork started life as knit designs. One of the first was a spiky pattern of long triangles I called Pennants. Liza chose this first to show me how well it would sew up as a patchwork block, and it led to one of my favorite early quilts of the same name. My most successful transformation is a knit design called “Carpet,” inspired by a Kilim carpet—a woven Turkish rug—I bought in the early 1980s. I’ve used this design for years in many different colorways.
As you’re imagining your next project, consider other textile media for inspiration. The pattern in your favorite sweater or afghan may inspire a quilt design!

Good Omens

Good Omens
Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett

Isn’t it amazing how a seemingly random creative inspiration can foreshadow events to come?
My first brush with patchwork, which occurred while I was primarily painting for a living, came back full circle to lure me into the quilting world several years later. Many years ago, I was hired to paint a mural in a newly decorated dining room and bathroom. It was a joy to walk to work through my developing neighborhood every day. I particularly enjoyed passing a small antique shop with a stunning window display. An old patchwork quilt comprised of simple squares hung down, serving as a backdrop. Its jade, turquoise, soft dusty pink and cream palette was echoed by an arrangement of vintage kitchen utensils and containers of the same colors in the foreground. 
I was so impressed that I passed a note under the door saying, “Whoever put this window together is a born painter; I’d love to do a still life of everything here. If interested, call me.” The very next night a lovely English voice on the phone said, “What a wizard idea! Come to dinner.” After our meal, she handed me a box containing everything I had seen in the window. The trusting gesture spurred me to paint my best in record time. Two weeks later I had a large still life to show, and a newfound appreciation for squares and the designs they make.

Painted Inspiration Reappears

Jumping forward a few years, my yarn representative and friend Liza Lucy tried to convince me to expand beyond the needlework world into patchwork. I resisted, saying how much I had on my plate with knitting, needlepoint and painting. One day, a stranger offered Liza one of my paintings. Upon hearing it contained a patchwork quilt, she bought it on the spot, seeing it as a clear omen that we would work together.
The painting hangs in her living room and has inspired many patchwork versions of that arrangement of squares that caught my eye so long ago. Liza noticed that the painting shows a very fanciful interpretation of the quilt’s sixteen-patch design. As I write this I’m just finishing a book on the basic geometry of quilts, which opens with a chapter on squares. Even after writing fourteen books on patchwork, I still find the squares that started it endlessly captivating. Never underestimate where you might find inspiration for a quilt design, much like I did in that antique shop window.

An Upscale Quilt

An Upscale Quilt
Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett
Having made a name of sorts in many different mediums, I’m often asked by audience members around the world what I’d like to try next. “Scale” is always my answer: I envision covering a large building in tiles, mosaic, or fabric.
Last November I found myself in Friesland, Holland, at a launching ceremony of what must rank among the world’s biggest patchwork quilts. This project was initiated by Henk and Marja Schenk, owners of the Quilt Kabinet fabric shop outside the charming old city of Leeuwarden. Marja had the inspired idea to create a four-story-tall patchwork to cover the front of a handsome 450-year-old leaning tower. My assistant Brandon and I were invited to attend the launch, teach workshops, and give lectures to celebrate a comprehensive exhibition of quilting at the Fries Museum (www.friesmuseum.nl).

A Vision Unveiled

A crowd gathered on the damp grey morning to watch the mammoth quilt (made by 350 sewers) unroll and glide gently up the tower, lifted by a giant crane.
I’d heard about the project for over a year and envisioned a communal project that made up in spirit what it would surely lack in taste and style.
Imagine my profound delight as a very handsome, very together arrangement of squares appeared in a palette that toned beautifully with the old brickwork of the tower. Then it really hit me. Not only was it made entirely of my fabrics, but also was the layout of my first quilt, Rosy. Suddenly it was the most spectacular celebration of all the years I’ve been designing patchwork and fabrics. Tears sprang to my eyes and I hugged the women who inspired and brought about this wondrous happening to encourage sewers throughout the world. My dream of scale was before my eyes.

Inspired by French & English Chintz

Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett
My first motivation to design fabrics for patchwork arose from my delight in an antique quilt I saw in Wales featuring big roses on home furnishing fabrics. I started noticing how fond the British were of using floral chintz prints in their charming country houses. The unapologetic floweriness appealed to me, and some 20 years later, when I started designing quilts, I longed to capture that look.

A Perfect Partnership

One contemporary designer’s work in particular, Philip Jacobs, had always caught my eye. A well-known designer in the United Kingdom, Philip produces designs for furnishings, wallpaper, and quilting fabric both in the UK and the United States. I learned he lived in a country farmhouse and had a huge barn full of collected documents—scraps of wallpaper and fragments of printed fabrics—of vintage French and English prints for inspiration.
One day I paid him a visit. As we dined on a picnic lunch in Philip’s studio, I looked around. The space housed a surprising assortment of Tibetan art and huge dinosaur bones, two of this amazing artist’s passions. What a contrast from the beautiful English chintzes he designs! Colorful Buddhas and religious Tibetan paintings decorated the walls, and the floors were strewn with dinosaur vertebrae and foot bones. Philip combs the British beaches for bones and London salerooms for the Tibetan art. Huge Oriental bowls are bursting with rolls of his printed textiles to add to the exotic mix.
During that visit, I commissioned Philip to do a fabric collection for Westminster Fibers. After choosing from many possible documents and adjusting them to create floral motifs that suited our patchwork needs, I was delighted to hear he wasn’t that interested in defining colorways for his patterns. I chose colors for his designs that coordinated with my collections so that our fabrics could be used together easily.
As our collections grow year by year, I am delighted to see the patchwork shops and their customers enthusiastically agreeing with my decision to add Philip’s designs. His big florals mix well with my contemporary ones and bring that old world flair and panache to our fabric palette.

Kaffe Fassett

Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett
I came into quilting in awe of the splendid play of geometry that old quilts revealed. The dazzling array of patterned cloth in individual color palettes quite took my breath away. I saw these scrappy statements as tapestries or paintings, so the last thing that concerned me was how carefully or otherwise they were sewn together.
Imagine my shock when I would see professional quilt makers hold a quilt I admired—a glorious arrangement of colored cloth—close to their keen eyes to judge the evenness of the stitches. Once they ascertained whether those were neat enough to pass their exacting standards they would walk away satisfied, or more often than not disappointed at the low level of craftsmanship. Standing back to see the whole effect didn’t seem of importance to them.

Technique vs. Spontaneous Beauty

Coming from the world of art, technique is very low on my list of concerns in a work. The all-over color composition is highest. If that is life enhancing, I am very forgiving of the methods employed to produce that image.
I flipped out when I encountered my first Gee’s Bend exhibit at the Museum of Art in Houston. Here were quilts made by the humblest families in America, out of work clothes, curtains, and cheap scraps of home furnishing fabrics, and sewn together with apparent abandon. This spontaneous use of traditional patchwork blocks gave such a vital life to the form that it attracted the greatest artists of our day to become enthusiastic about the Gee’s Bend world.
Now, I don’t want to offend the preachers of high standards in quilt construction. The craft world needs those of us who make quilts to strive to be as good as we can in order to communicate to others our passions in life. Making a great quilt is just another way to tell the universe how ecstatic we are about the beauty of life.
Primitive running stitches add a sense of rigor
On my own hand-sewn quilts I often use primitive running stitches for quilting, adding what I see as vigor to the piece. The fact that my knit designs are beautifully knitted for me with all the ends tucked in neatly really thrills me. After all, if we pour our souls into a great complex work we want it to hold together for people to enjoy in the future.
Actually learning good techniques can also be a stimulus to creative ideas. There is great comfort in doing a neat row of stitches. I often find my most contented moments are stitching down bindings on finished quilts. I only get worried when this neatness becomes the most important aspect of a work, to the exclusion of all possible spontaneous beauty.

Kaffe Fassett

Discover the Moods & Mysteries of Pastels in Patchwork

Field Notes:  Kaffe Fassett
When I sit down to paint my textile designs, I start to dream about the sort of quilts I’d create and match colours to the mood. Since I love passionate reds, I usually start with that end of the spectrum then move on to deep, luminous blues and purples. From there I shift to browns, ambers, ochres I admire in marquetry and antique wood tones. After I cover these staples of my palette, my mind gravitates to the soft pastel world of the antique embroideries, Chinapots, patchworks and beaded bags I buy for inspiration to paint in my still lifes. Frosted, faded pinks, lavenders, blues, and mint greens give me a thrill every time I see them combined. I make a palette of those tones in big blousy florals, small geometrics, and polka dots. By painting out six colourways for each of the fabrics I design, I offer patchworkers a virtual paint box of colours to work with. How fulfilling it is to see my dream palette come to life, and then to piece these designs together to create a quilt like this Sweet Sixteen Patches pattern for QUILT magazine.

Floral Inspiration

I found inspiration for Sweet Sixteen Patches in a book of old chintz quilts. My favorites were those quilts that used one large-scale print as a base to
float sixteen patches on. For my quilt design I wanted to sew something very basic, leaving the colour and scale of each pattern to reveal its own mood and mystery. I chose large-scale florals as my ground squares; and sixteen patches made up of my polka dots, a new button print, and classic guinea flower and paperweight prints in contrasting pastels. For the border I chose a traditional print in mint and pink reminiscent of French hotel wallpaper or a book cover, one of my favourites from my new collection. I often revisit this pa
stel territory to paint still lifes. My dream setting for Sweet Sixteen Patches would be an old-fashioned room with soft wallpaper, porcelains of flowery pastels, and perhaps an embroidered silk shawl over a couch!

Kaffe Fassett

Oriental Carpets & Exotic Textiles Inspire Patchwork Designs

Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett
Lately, I’ve written about how quilts influenced the geometry and color of my knitwear designs. Now, I’d like to pay homage to another powerful source of ideas for fabric designs, the world of Oriental carpets.
Carpets have always been part of my life since I was a small boy. My mother used exotic textiles to give a room warmth and color. When I first 
moved to London in 1964, I saw how a friend draped his small apartment with gorgeous Oriental rugs and embroideries. The overlapping richness gave everyone who visited a pleasant rush. The maroons, reds and ochres of those weaves were already appealing but their motifs came to fascinate me even more. I used to visit and sketch regularly the largescale Orientals at the Victoria and Albert Museum to use in knitting designs. When I was setting up my London house I got to know all the less expensive rug dealers in the flea markets and collected quite a few good, if worn, carpets to create a cozy colorful home.

Stylized Flowers and Circles

The entire collection of designs for my newest patchwork fabrics was inspired by carpets. When I cut up prints for patchwork they are often more effective if I style them in a similar way. The flat primitive rendition of flowers I found in Middle Eastern carpets is just the ticket when it comes to playing with segments of pattern cut and reassembled.
One example is “Persian Vase,” a small scale, dot-like fabric with a fountain of tiny circular blooms cascading from long stems in a small vase. “Suzani” is another: rows of bold circles, medium in scale, with different centers on each one. “Sprays,” probably the most directly influenced by carpet designs, shows big circular blooms on staggered stems. I love playing with different scales of circles in my quilts and this new collection will be a rich addition to my other round motif fabrics.

Kaffe Fassett

In Praise of Mothers

Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett

To the women who inspired us, and taught us to sew

I’ve always felt proud of my mother for her vision. When my family moved to Big Sur in northern California in the 1940s she created an amazing restaurant and shop in Bobcat Country, up a single winding road with no electricity. Recently, I experienced the shock of seeing my mother, Lolly, through the eyes of my niece, Nani Steele, with the publication of a memoir of the family business.
I was raised in the country and it fell to my mother to inspire us, her five children, to use our time well. When not cutting wood, filling kerosene lampsand scraping candle wax from most surfaces, we were encouraged to paint, to make things like puppets, or knit, or sew clothes. I didn’t actually get into knitting then, but it fascinated me that a long piece of yarn could be made into so many useful shapes. Mom knitted huge ponchos when they were fashionable the first time, in the 1970s. Seeing my mother as a young woman in Nani’s My Nepenthe (Andrews McMeel Publishing), how she took in and inspired many lost souls in her lifetime brought me to tears. She organized big sewing rooms, tapping the creativity of others to make things for our family shop.

Inspired to Sew

I see the ways she inspired me as well. In the early 90s I was on television and I asked the viewers to send me little needlepoint pictures for a large needlepoint piece I was making about Britain called “Count Your Blessings,” launched on the BBC television. One woman sent a picture of her Gran with an inscription: “To my grandmother who taught me to sew.” Seeing those words stitched in letters alongside an image of a little woman in a coat and handbag really moved me. With so many of you working mothers in this generation, I do hope you find time to teach basic sewing skills to your kids. I can think of no more useful thing to do for somebody than to offer them the tools and skills that could unlock their creativity and make them happy to be in their own company.
As I sit reading about my own childhood and my amazing mother I’m reminded of all she accomplished. I’m thankful for the way she got me to read, to appreciate art and beauty around me, and to use my hands. I feel a big wave of gratitude to my niece for honoring my mother and our family legacy in such a gorgeously illustrated book.

Kaffe Fassett

Geometry in Patchwork

Traditional quilts still turn the world on its ear!

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London recently launched an eagerly anticipated quilt show (Quilts: 1700-2010) including pieces from their famous archives, treasures we’ve seen in books and on postcards for years. Many of these quilts were originally exhibited in the 1960s and 70s. In 1964, shortly after I moved to Great Britain, the early quilts spoke to me long before I got the buzz about this world of patterned geometry and had a go at it myself. As a struggling painter, along with the decorative weaving from Norway and silk embroideries from Japan, the combination of colors and the sensuality of the fibers in these classic quilts made a deep impression on me. Always, the basic and visual poetry of the early patchworkers’ creations held and continues to hold my attention.
Most of the new wave of “art quilts,” with stories and graphic pictures fail to hold my interest. Lately, many quilt makers paint with dyes on cloth and quilt it all over, essentially creating mixed-media works that are gaining much applause, fascination, and big prizes at quilt shows. I see their allure but I can’t help feeling they are a separate form. I question bringing the art of drawing and painting to the wonderful world of geometry. In my opinion, that’s like adding a film, projected on a screen, to a great stage play with live actors. Both mediums have their place, both move us, but why combine them? Fine art and quilts do different tasks brilliantly. For me, the world of traditional quilts has proved to be such a vital form that it should be preserved by new makers to serve those coming along, generation after generation. I can still be stopped in my tracks by a particularly innovative arrangement of colors set in classic squares, triangles, diamonds, and more. Looking at these classic quilts I’m like a child at a magic show. At 72 I still can’t work out their tricks; the magic in their making still gives me deep shivers of delight each time I see them turning the world on its ear.

A Stripe for Every Season

Stitch your next quilt with a pattern of striking stripes. 

When I was 18 I used to buy my clothes regularly at charity shops. I found a handsome bottle green and maroon stripe shirt that I felt suited me well. My mother agreed, saying, “I like men in striped shirts.” It stuck with me as I went on in life and I was always on the lookout for bold stripes in my shirts.
When I took up patchwork, my first fabrics were stripes hand woven in India and I’ve gone on to design painted stripes that I love playing with as much as any motif I’ve ever tried. I’m getting so pro-stripe I see them everywhere. I love to color bold stripes on streets and airports. Black and yellow, red and white; any contrasting colors get my attention.
For my next fabric collection I’ve done a series of bold stripes that can be cut up to produce several
possibilities from just one yard. My mind goes crazy thinking of all the uses for it. Diagonal cutting to create chevrons, layers of different color stripes in 2-inch strips, or just using a length as a border running through the various color combinations on the print. For my next Rowan book I’ve used a new stripe called Serape, inspired by the Mexican woven ponchos I grew up with in California. I’ve designed two exciting quilts using this serape stripe in its various colorways.

Seeing Stripes Everywhere

Now, I’m so into this pattern that I see plowed fields, corrugated metal stripes cladding, and even rows of containers in a train depot as stripes. Then there are vegetable gardens with neat rows of onions or lettuce and for a more visual drama, the tulip fields of Holland with their vast acres of flowers in columns of brilliant tones.
As I travel the world I love to see various cultures that have had an equal passion for stripes. I’ve found them in Japan, Africa, the classic folk costumes of Scandinavian countries, and finally the wonderful red/white and blue/white classical French linens. One of the most fabulous uses of stripes I’ve encountered was a blue and cream tent as a Swedish summerhouse made of tin, shaped to look like draped fabric. Even the English supply a gorgeous range of stripes on their deck chairs in London’s parks.

The Mystery of a Muted Palette

Everything old is new again.

Years ago, when my hair was just getting a few silvery streaks, fashion went into a grey phase so the grey jacket and shirts I wore made my look all of a piece. Living in England I’d come to terms with all things grey. The stone walls, morning mists and concrete of new buildings going up at a rate of knots conjured up a grey world getting greyer.
I began to knit more and more garments in neutral tones with small dabs of color and include grey colorways with my jewel reds and blues of my early patchwork designs. Unfortunately, my first fans were more attracted to my bright palette and couldn’t relate to me as a neutral boy, and these fabrics sold poorly.
Still, I find myself more and more drawn to a subtle, you might say English, palette, and once again am giving grey a go. And taste among quilters may have changed with the times. My latest collection of prints for the Kaffe Collective includes many driftwood tones by designer Brandon Mably, and I, myself, have colored several of Phillip Jacobs’s prints in soft greys. I love the effect of these new prints. In my recent book, “Simple Shapes, Spectacular Quilts” (STC 2010), I did a patchwork inspired by the marble floor of St. Marks Cathedral in Venice, Italy, using a similar muted palette. The fabric choices needed to have a soft contrast,
so the quilt is a mix of darks with rich medium tones and lights with a slight warming effect on the cool silveriness. This collection of neutral hues looked sharp when photographed on a gothic monument in a London cemetery.
If you look at the history of home décor you’ll find grey firmly rooted there. Think of the old Victorian wallpapers, large landscapes done in many shades of grey. What a mysterious air they lent to a room, and still do!
I can’t help noticing that fashion has, once again, entered a neutral greyish phase, with young trendsetters wearing what might have been thought of as old fogey, nonthreatening
neutrals. Let’s see if the quilt world follows suit to find beauty in subtlety.
New fabrics from the Kaffe Collective I include hues of driftwoods and greys. Shown from left: Scallops, Lacy, and Begonia Columns by Philip Jacobs (colored by Kaffe) and Shingles by Brandon Mably.
In “Metallic Frames,” Kaffe frames these grey and driftwood palette prints with muted shot cottons to create a subtly colored yet beautifully modern quilt.
Ahead of his time: One of Kaffe’s early knit designs, done in neutrals with small hints of color, hints at the current trend of subtle palettes.


Kaffe Fassett on You Tube.



Blue snowballs

Hot diamonds


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