A Knitter’s Day Trip: The Power of Pattern
Something about creating fabric—be it knitting or needlepoint—was far too motivating for me to abandon and return exclusively to easel painting. I could express all my passion for color and form in these soft human textures and longed to create bigger and better examples.
When I visited Kaffe Fassett The Power of Pattern at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh my first thought on leaving the exhibition was “color is joy.” Kaffe inspires us to embrace color as an expression of our own personalities. Whether we’re knitting, stitching, or choosing a scarf to wear, Kaffe believes that color is “spiritual” in its influence on us.
Kaffe and his collective call themselves “missionaries for color” providing encouragement for us to play with color in whatever art form we love best. As Kaffe says in the introduction to his book Glorious Inspiration, even though he designs fabric, kits, and patterns for makers “this should not stop you from creating your own interpretations. Every one of us has the ability to create personal warmhearted decoration if we can only relax and let our confidence grow . . . people are filled with creative ideas that can be wonderfully and personally expressed. All they need is to be encouraged.”
Thirty years since the publication of Glorious Inspiration, Kaffe’s mantras are unchanged:
“Embrace creativity fearlessly.”
“Good designing follows no rules; remaining open to the unexpected is paramount.”
“Take courage and use the amazing outpouring of decorative art the world is constantly producing to create your own textiles specifically for your heart’s desire.”
In The Power of Pattern, Kaffe takes the collective idea to the next level by offering dozens of examples of how stitchers have employed his fabrics and daring color sense in their own quilts, needlepoint, and clothing. The whole exhibition is an extravaganza of color and pattern which the Kaffe Fassett Collective call “ A Carnival of Collaborations.” Some of the contributors are world famous and well known Kaffe collaborators like Liza Prior Lucy and other makers are included because of their explosive color sense.
I was excited to see which quilts held people’s attention the longest.
design, piecing, and quilting by Susan Carlson (2005)
Susan Carlson’s quilt called “Tickled Pink” embodies everything Kaffe loves about textile-making—history, improvisation, and unexpected choices. The rhinoceros, named Albie, is modeled on an engraving by Albrecht Durer. Who says a monochromatic fifteenth century image can’t be reimagined in wild pink? And Durer had never actually seen a rhinoceros when he imagined the animal for his engraving, he invented one from a description he read!
Conjuring a rhinoceros from a description sounds just like something Kaffe would love. Susan reimagined Durer’s ink and paper rhinoceros in fabric and thread to the delight of every museum-goer.
“Levitate” by Danny Amazonas also created a commotion. People stood around his quilt discussing his layering technique and his 3-D color theory which made all of us feel like we were at the same time inside the quilt and that the planets were ready to fly out into the room around us.
design, piecing, and quilting by Danny Amazonas (2018)
Detail from the Bordered Diamonds Quilt. Designed by Kaffe Fassett, Pieced by Lucy Prior Lucy, Quilted by Judy Irish (2009) and featured in Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts
I was especially wowed by “Bordered Diamonds,” one of Kaffe’s own quilts. Kaffe writes, “I noticed a photo of the back of a paper-pieced diamond patchwork in a textile magazine. The colored paper shapes, surrounded by fabric borders, covering the front of each diamond, inspired me to take all my newest big florals and edge them in small textured print in contrasting palettes.”
This is the thing we love about Kaffe. He can be inspired by the back of things. He advocates a way of seeing which observes small and ostensibly insignificant things and he harvests these tiny details for big ideas.
Civil War Bride, Designer Corliss Searcey, Maker Patty Harants, Quilter Judy Stone (2019)
My personal favorite among the many quilts was “Civil War Bride” by Patty Harants. Civil War quilts typically have a muted quality—many of them have naturally faded with exposure to light and with use. Patty, who is well acquainted with historic homes and historic fabrics, uses Kaffe’s fabric to reimagine the traditional appliqué picture quilt.
I wanted to join her radiant bride and walk amongst the Dr. Seuss flowers, ride the showy ponies, and listen for the hoots of the storybook owls. What a dreamscape.
handwoven in wool by Dovecot Studios based on an original painting by Kaffe Fassett (1992–1993)
Along with the many sparkling quilts, this exhibition includes two giant Kaffe ginger jar tapestries made by Dovecot Studios based on Kaffe’s original paintings; a laundry line of fabulous shirts worn by Kaffe and by Brandon Mably; dresses and coats made by Karen Miller Winton, Philip Jacobs and Dora Mollov; and a heart-stopping display of Kaffe Fassett Studios needlepoint cushions.
Even the floors and walls are covered in Kaffe patterns down to an exceptional digitally printed blow-up of one of Kaffe’s favorite rugs (see the gallery above).
Detail from Roseville Album quilt designed and made by Kim McLean, quilted by Kay Fernihough (2009)
In Kaffe’s world, squirrels can be purple, rhinoceroses can be hot pink, Italian paperweights can become leaves, and a cabbage rose can become a planet. Kaffe Fassett The Power of Pattern shows us that nothing is off limits, everything is possible, and it only takes us to make the first stitch, the first mark, or the first snip to spin our own vibrant world into motion.
Jeni Hankins. External Link. Opens in new window. is an American performing artist, writer, and maker living in London and Lancashire. You can find Jeni performing with her hand-cranked sewing machine. External Link. Opens in new window. or traveling to some local museum to see what kind of knitting or patchwork waits in an old glass case.
Kaffe Fassett The Power of Pattern is at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh through July 8, 2023.