‘Knitwear: from Chanel to Westwood’ at the FTM

Off to London

I first heard about the ‘Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood’ exhibition about a year ago and have been looking forward to it ever since then. So, a few weekends ago, armed with needles and yarn I took the train to London. The Fashion and Textile Museum is in Bermondsey just south of the river. Before I left home, I checked the tube route and came up with a plan of other things to see and do on this day out!

My first stop was the Tower of London. Here there is an outdoor art installation of ceramic poppies to commemorate the end of World War One. I have the feeling that everyone in Britain must have seen photos of these poppies, so was surprised that I could not see them on leaving the underground. In fact you have to be fairly close to the Tower to see them and it is an amazing sight.

Ceramic poppies by Paul Cummins at the Tower of London

The installation is called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. Red poppies are a symbol of Remembrance in the UK. The installation was unveiled on 5 August 2014, one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. Every day more are being added until 888 246 poppies, one for each British and Colonial fatality during the war, encircle the Tower of London. The poppies are for sale in order to raise money for six service charities.

Ceramic poppies by Paul Cummins at the Tower of London

I love how they rise out of the moat (or are they descending into it). They also flow over the entrance. The installation was created through a collaboration between ceramic artist Paul Cummins and theatre stage designer Tom Piper. Take a look at this video clip showing how the poppies are made at Paul Cummins Ceramics, based here in the East Midlands.

Also at the Tower were these majestic creatures …

Three lions made from wire mesh by Kendra Haste at the Tower of London

These life-sized lion sculptures were made by Kendra Haste using wire mesh. They are on guard by the ruins of the Lion Tower at the main entrance!

Knitwear: from Chanel to Westwood

After a short walk from the Tower of London, I arrived at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Time for a coffee in their great cafe, then off to see the exhibition. The photos I’m going to show you are from a mini-exhibition (‘Visionary Knitwear’, curated by Sandy Black) in the small room at the museum, where no-flash photography was allowed, so the images are not the best.

There are some stunning machine knitted dresses, including this long openwork dress from Mark Fast’s Spring / Summer 2010 collection. The dress is made from viscose and lycra with nylon feathered fringing.Mark Fast graduated from Central St Martins in 2006 with a BA (Hons) Fashion and in 2008 with an MA in Fashion.

Long openwork dress by Mark Fast

Here is a close-up of a the Utopia beaded dress by Julien MacDonald from his Autumn / Winter 2014 collection. It is made from a viscose and lurex yarn and beads. Julien MacDonald is an established designer who is known for his stunning knitwear.

Detail of Utopia beaded dress by Julien MacDonald

This close-up shows detail of a stitch transfer dress by Rory London who graduated in 2011 with a BA in Fashion Knitwear Design from Nottingham Trent University. This uses a machine knit technique called plating. Two yarns are knit at a time, but one shows on the knit side and the other on the purl side. This creates two colour ribs which are used to great effect here.

Detail of stitch transfer zip dress by Rory London, 2011, NTU

This is Rory’s final year collection on the catwalk at Nottingham Trent University. Rory won the “George Gold Award” at Graduate Fashion Week 2011 for this stunning collection.

Graduate collection by Rory London, 2011, NTU

I think there’s always room for some fun in knitwear, even if I wouldn’t wear it myself. This is ‘Mr Elephant’ hat and ‘Mr Lion’ gloves by Yang Du from her 2011 Autumn / Winter. Yang graduated from Central St Martins in 2008 with a BA (Hons) in Fashion Print 2008 and in 2010 with an MA Fashion Womenswear.

Mr Elephant hat and Mr Lion gloves, A/W 2011, Yang Du

The next photo shows detail of work by Amy Twigger Holroyd from Keep and Share. Amy is a designer, maker and researcher who explores the relationship between fashion, making, design and sustainability. Her sustainable fashion philosophy is based on longevity and versatility; I was lucky to hear her speak whilst I was working on my MA at Nottingham Trent University; she is a stimulating and inspiring speaker, so if you get the chance to hear her, grab it! This piece is called ‘St Michael 12-40’ and is an example of her stitch hacking. The ‘writing’ that you see was added by redoing the stitches; it shows the text from the garment label.

Detail of M&S cardigan stitch-hacked by Amy Twigger Holroyd

In the main exhibition area, all photography is forbidden. This is usually due to the issues that occur when the intellectual property rights owned by different people. Some may allow one thing, others something different and it all comes at a cost; it is simply more practical to ban visitors from taking photographs. However if you look on the FTM’s FaceBook page you will be able to see some of the delights officially.

It is wonderful to see knitwear highlighted in an exhibition, and done so well. The garments are grouped into themes, so there are outfits by Chanel and other outfits from the 1920’s. If you follow me on Pinterest, you will know I adore 1920’s clothes; they wouldn’t suit me at all, but I love them. I was amazed by how fine the 1920’s knitwear was – machine knitted in rayon (viscose).  I also loved the “Make Do and Mend” section showing garments made from oddments of yarn and most of them were quite wearable. The display of Fair Isle sleeveless tops was mesmerising. There were garments from all eras up to the present day. It was fun to revisit the 1980’s and see designer garments for real.

Cover of 'Vintage Fashion Knitwear' by Marnie Fogg

I thoroughly recommend visiting the ‘Knitwear: from Chanel to Westwood’ exhibition. It is on until 18 January 2015; you can find out more here. You can also buy the above book, which whilst not exactly an exhibition book, does show many of the items on display.

Knitting is Good for Your Health!

After the exhibition I popped along to I Knit London, one of London’s famous yarn shops. This is a small shop with a lot of yarn and yarn-related goodies, and on the day I visited it was full of people too. I think most were members of a regular knitting group, but some were there for the launch of ‘Knit for Health and Wellness – how to knit a flexible mind and more …’ by Betsan Corkhill who set up Stitchlinks. The main aim of Stitchlinks is to promote the use of therapeutic knitting and stitching. I was delighted to talk to Betsan about her research into the health benefits of knitting (of which I think most knitters are aware) and the science that underpins these benefits (new and exciting). We also chatted about the work that I do with Headway, the British charity that works with people with brain injuries. I’m hoping to use some ideas from Stitchlinks to develop my work with Headway.

Cover of 'Knit for Health & Wellness' by Betsan Corkhill

On the way home I was too excited to read the book properly, so I skimmed some of it. It occurred to me that I mainly knit whilst doing something else: talking to people at knitting groups, listening to the radio, watching television, even at the cinema (this was a knitting group outing). It is rare these days that I just sit and knit and let my mind wander. And as someone with fibromyalgia, I do need to relax more and pace myself. So, I now start most working day with an hour of quiet knitting. It’s work knitting, but I choose something that has reached an easy stage, i.e. no decisions to be made. I leave designing to later in the day. It means that large knitting projects progress steadily hopefully without a lengthly knitting session just before the deadline! Which helps me relax – a win, win strategy, if I can keep it up.

So Many Books

I love books, I love knitting and I love books about knitting (and other textile crafts). Last on my itinerary was a visit to Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. I usually go there when I visit London because they have a good selection of knitting and stitching books, and every other kind of book and a great cafe. And this visit was my first chance to see the new shop (take a look at this video clip to see how they moved all those books). The new shop is light and airy. I had a delicious soup, then browsed the books. I bought one, but that will remain a secret since it is a present for someone.

All in all, a fantastic and inspirational day out!

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2 Responses to ‘Knitwear: from Chanel to Westwood’ at the FTM

  1. Valerie Holden 1 August 2015 at 7:28 #

    Thank you for taking the trouble to write this. Although I missed the exhibition, I’m now aware of this fascinating museum and shall be jumping on a train soon!

    Val

    • Being Knitterly 5 August 2015 at 11:06 #

      Hi Valerie, The Fashion and Textile Museum is worth visiting; the exhibitions are really interesting and inspiring – and there is a great cafe! Just note, it is only open when there is an exhibition on.

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