Friday, 10 May 2013

Kaffe Fassett: Once more - with feeling

It's not that I'm obsessed with Kaffe Fassett  you understand, but a couple of long-standing friends wanted to visit the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum and so I went along too (which also involved the eating of lots of cake in the adjacent cafe). And like all the best exhibitions, a second visit revealed new delights. Not least the "feeling wall" - a section of bright pink painted board upon which was pinned a riot of fabric swatches.

Alongside was a notice saying "Please touch", but when I reached out to do so my friends were horrified. "Look at the notice," they hissed. We are so conditioned not to touch that even a sign inviting us to do so is misread and cannot override our conditioning in How to Behave in a Gallery.

But there's a fundamental tension here. Fabrics are made to be touched. It's one of their charms. Clothes and quilts by their nature enfold, comfort and warm. And the urge to feel them between our fingers is almost irresistible. "Preventing people from touching things at an embroidery exhibition is always a nightmare," wrote a reviewer in Embroidery magazine back in 1977. (And yes, I've done it too, and been told off, as if my hands have no connection to my brain.) Bed quilts don't belong on walls. But if we didn't put them there who would see them?

A further thought: "Why don't you do a wall like that?" asked my friends, to which my kneejerk reaction was "Oh if only I had the time." But on further consideration I think that even given the time I wouldn't want one. I love the element of surprise when I go through my shelves and boxes of fabrics. "I'd forgotten about this one", "Oh wow, I haven't used that one for years", "Fantastic, that's just what I need", or even "Haven't I thrown that away yet, it's hideous". Take away the unexpected and some of the joy drains away.

Talking of the unexpected, Kaffe Fassett himself was there leading a workshop in an upstairs room. With a pop-up fabric shop for one day only selling his designs. Can there be four words in the English language more resonant than "pop-up fabric shop"? I think not.

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