Category Archives: Out and about

Rowan Day Out at the FTM


Liberty in Fashion. Photo: Daniel Lewis


Zandra reviewing some of the Free Spirit fabrics she designs for Rowan

It’s time for another day out with Rowan. Last time we went to the Clothworkers’ Centre in Kensington. This time we’re going to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey to see the new Liberty in Fashion exhibition. The exhibition celebrates the 140th anniversary of the iconic design store. This is the first major retrospective of the 21st century on the pioneering retailer and design studio Liberty. At the cutting edge of design and the decorative arts since 1875, Liberty is celebrated throughout the world both as a department store and for its distinctive textile prints.


Hat and scarf combos never look this good when I wear them. Photo: Daniel Lewis


Intarsia design by Dee Hardwicke

We’ll also be meeting and hearing from the indominatable Zandra Rhodes, designer extraordinaire and founder of the museum. Her studio is next door so she won’t have far to come.
Coming all the way from Herefordshire is artist Dee Hardwicke who will be giving us a workshop on designing an intarsia pattern with Rowan Tweed (all materials included of course). After all that inspiration there has to be an outlet (and some knitting). I can’t wait, which is okay as it’s on November 24, so really soon.

Read my article in Rowan Magazine 58
Book a place on trip here Rowan website

Hepworth at the Mall


Hepworth’s studio at No 7


Stephenson at No 8

mallstudiosI enjoyed seeing the Hepworth Exhibition at Tate Britain last weekend and was interested to see photographs of the studio where she lived and worked in Hampstead. I’m happily staying in Parkhill Road a stone’s throw from Hepworth’s studio and lived next-door at No 8 the Mall Studios for a year.
At the bottom of our garden in Parkhill Road is an old gate that would have opened onto a terrace of Victorian artist’s studios. Hidden away in down a shady alley, the Mall Studios were purpose-built by Thomas Batterbury in
Cecilstephenson1872 with high ceilings, skylights and huge sash windows to let in as much light as possible. At No 8, No 8, Mall Studios was home to Walter Sickert (1860–1942) and the lease was taken on by John Cecil Stephenson (1889–1965) and then lived in by another painter. Up some steep stairs was a balcony with racks for storing stretchers and canvases – it still smells of turpentine.
 Barbara Hepworth lived at No 7, Mall Studios, 1932 with her first husband John Skeaping and then with Ben Nicholson. Hepworth had triplets while living there though managed to continue to produce some work. The studios are quite small for a couple working at home with 4 children, though Hepworth shows great pragmatism in her letters that show she rented two other studios in the same row, one for Nicolson and another for the children and nanny.Biog-3 Photographs show her working in a low extension in the garden with a corrugated-iron roof, which is no longer there. Other neighbours on the Mall were sculptor James Oakley (1878–1959) at No 5 and writer and art critic Herbert Read at No 3.

Just around the corner were Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Agatha Christie, László Moholy-Nagy and Jack Pritchard in Wells 6955777935_9c4a2af3e3_bCoates’ Isokon Lawn Road Flats (1933). Alexander Calder and Naum Gabo, CRW Nevinson, Roland Penrose and Paul Nash were locals too. Hepworth’s cousin Jack Hepworth (1911-2003) lived at 22 Parkhill Road, exhibiting under the name Arthur Jackson. When Piet Mondrian left France, their artist friends found him a space to live and work in 60 Parkhill Road backing onto the Mall. Henry Moore also lived at 11a Parkhill Road and took over the No 7 when Hepworth and Nicolson left London for St Ives.

In 1940 the Mall Studios suffered bomb damage (you can see the location on Bomb Sight ).

IMG_4622Thank you for coming on our first Rowan Day Out to the Clothworkers’ Centre and the Spring K&S Show. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as me. Aside from the fascinating things that we saw it was a pleasure to meet two groups of such interesting people.

There were Rowan readers from the US and Ireland, from Newcastle and North London. Among them was a paper conservator, Rowan Designer Sarah Hatton, Knitting Magazine’s IMG_4615Deputy Editor and a lady whose grandmother had been a milliner for the Queen Mother. We saw a fabulous Norman Hartnell dress that had been worn by the present Queen too.

Suzanne Smith, Manager of the Clothworkers’, showed us some of the amazing textiles that the V&A store there. Alongside some astonishing knitting we saw ball gowns and hats, sample books and carpets. You can search the V&A archive online to see images of some of the things we examined.

Apologies to those who were hoping to meet Mary Schoeser, curator of the new Fashion and Textile Museum exhibition showcasing Marian Claydon’s fashion from the 1970s. She had been stuck in traffic and missed meeting you all. I caught up with her later and she told me all about the clamp-resist technique used to make the distinctive patterns on her garments. You can see the actual clamps at the exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in September or look at her fabulous book, Textiles.

We’re hoping to plan more Rowan Days Out, so if you have an idea of somewhere you think other knitters would like to go then let us know.


Clothworkers’ Centre Tour

5:NailsA few years ago when visiting the V&A I noticed that the textile archive was no longer there. The great wooden frames with pull-out drawers and panels containing embroidery samplers, lace and knitting samples had been there as long as I can remember, a familiar touchstone. It was reassuring to see one of the same wooden cabinets – looking rather diminutive in the cavernous space of the Clothworkers’ Centre at Blythe House. One of the original nine historic units has been restored to beyond its former glory. As is often the case the rosy-hued past was not always so glorious. With funding from Coats plc the frame units have been updated with acid-free backing and conservation grade perspex where artefacts were previously15:archive drawer nailed unceremoniously onto wooden boards contributing to the untimely decay of their contents. As a cautionary tale for all nay-sayers Susanne keeps the nails in a jar.

Since writing an article for Rowan Magazine 57 about the Clothworkers’ Centre I’ve been asked to guide a tour. We’ll be going on 5 and 6 March to the Clothworkers in the morning, then on to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Olympia with VIP tickets. The Fashion and Textiles Museum have an exhibition on there as well as all the usual shopping opportunities.

Cost for the day is £80 and if you would like to come with us contact to book a place

Tour of The Clothworkers’ Centre for Textile and Fashion Study and Conservation and visit to K&S show Olympia 
 5 and 6 March 2015


Moving the stacks takes two


Ancient shoes being prepared for a V&A exhibition


Experiments in mending by one of the curators


Agave silk

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Agave plant outside MarrakechIMG_3920Deutsch-Ostafrika, Sisalfabrik

On a recent trip to Marrakech we went out towards the Atlas Mountains and came across this cactus-like plant. It looks a bit like an aloe, but apparently its an agave plant.   Each leaf contains long fibres that are used to make a local silk. Breaking down the fibre, retting or decortication, is probably done in the countryside by machines as in this image of processing sisal from Tanzania from 1906 and 1918.

In the souks in the heart of the medina, piles of this spun yarn are dyed and hung up in the sun to dry on long poles that reach across the streets below. The salesman was confused about someone wanting to buy the yarn rather than one of the woven scarves on sale. I’m sure I paid over the odds, but we did have a tour of the dyers’ quarter. Back home the task is to untangle the huge slippery skein. I can’t wait to knit some swatches and I’ll post them here when they’re done.