Well, how do we feel about him? A knitter, embroiderer, patchwork maker, teacher and writer. Famous in the UK, travelled here from California. For many years such craft workers have been predominantly women, (though, small nudge of pride, my father was an embroiderer). Yet Kaffe Fassett is a man who managed to get knitting taken seriously, from a hobby or ‘pastime,’ (that word gives me the horrors) to a craft worthy of a show in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He was an outsider who transformed a whole world.
I’ve been thinking about how Kaffe Fassett not only transformed my knitting, but also my garden perceptions. He made me see the beauty of the British countryside and gardens in winter. I queued up for one of his lectures and came away enlightened.
Kaffe told us how he came here, from California, and became enamoured of our winter colours: the browns, greens, greys, beiges and pale yellows which play with each other in our countryside. A good word for it, enlightened – ‘archaic: shed light on’ – because sunlight also adds magic to these colours. He used the colours in his jumpers. And I have never since stopped appreciating our subtle, drab and beautiful winter colours.
The inevitable tradition in the UK media in winter is socking it to us with ‘winter gardens’ full of garish cornus stems. I can love these colours too and I celebrate them in my garden in summer but I’m into subtlety right now: it’s my season for it. I think it’s a time for something sombre and subtle.
Learning to See
Kaffe is brilliant at helping us to see. I can’t quote him on winter colours, as that was in a lecture, but here he is on bricks. He initially saw London’s brickwork as ‘a dismal non colour, especially drab and sad in the grey light’, then he took a closer look:
‘It was as if I was seeing it for the first time! There was an intense world of colour waiting to be perceived. Grape purples, flame blues, rusts, plums and endless shades of ochre and camel…” (from Kaffe Fassett at the V&A)
Well, for this reminder to really look we must applaud and appreciate this man, who muscled into our world and helped us suddenly feel pride in our crafts and then also opened my garden eyes.
Has your garden world ever been illuminated and enhanced by an outsider (of any gender)? Does it take an outsider to wake us out of horticultural torpor?
After a rainstorm in the winter when the temperature rises just a smidge, our browns and greys and tawny-reds and shock-greens of the mosses and stream grasses are absolute magic. I look forward to spring just as much as the next gardener, but the winter season can certainly enchant without the aid of cornus. I ADORE my wedge of deep straw miscanthus that greets me each morning as I go down to the chicken coop and hate to cut it back in the early spring – it’s almost time! -MW
We’ve just cut the miscanthus and yes, it’s always a sad loss.
I know Kaffe Fassett as a quilter and designer of extremely colorful fabric. I’ll have to look into his gardening.
Here on the west edge of the Great Plains winter is all tawny golden brown grasses except where someone has planted evergreen windbreaks or you get into the foothills and the forest and rocks. And then it snows. But my favorite winter color in southeast Wyoming is our frequent bright blue sky–goes very well with brown, green and white.
He doesn’t garden, as far as I’m aware.
Canadian winters offer crystal blue skies, deep blue shadows on glistening snow, crisp black tree branches and dramatic sunsets. IN the fall, when my children were young and thought all the browns were boring, they did learn to count the shades of browns and greys and were subsequently surprised at the numbers. Great lessons for painters. thank you for your “rant” and reminding me of Kaffe Fassett.. CV lush-gardens.com
I love that idea – counting the browns and greys. And this piece took me on a real nostalgia trip!
Winter is my favorite month, except when it isn’t. The contour of the earth is visible; views are deeper; trees are exposed. The miniature is accessible with entire universes contained in the stub of a tree, or patch of moss. I love the detail. I love the colors and tones. A feast for the eye. You have offered a feast of image and thought. Thank you. I try to deny how much of an Anglophile I am, but I’m easily swayed.
Glad to have offered a feast! Xxx
“Kaffe told us how he came here, from California, and became enamoured of our winter colours: the browns, greens, greys, beiges and pale yellows which play with each other in our countryside.”
The above quote is actually somewhat amusing to me because when I interviewed Kaffe back in the late fall of 1996 for the March 1997 issue of The Stitchery magazine, he said that folks weren’t putting enough color in their lives, especially their interior design. Promoting a new needlepoint book — “Glorious Interiors”– , he told me then he “still finds the world curiously beige. There is still too much good taste, when you could have more fun with color.”
In fact, throughout the whole interview he talked about how folks need to be bolder in their interior color palettes. He picked the design featured in that issue — “Bowl of Pansies” — because “[p]ansies have the boldest markings and the richest palette.” He talked about subtle gradations of color at only one point during my interview: when discussing the design of his now famous needlepoint cabbage pillow, which he took on for the simple challenge of rendering “the vegetable’s shading and monochromatic tones” into as much detail as possible.
Honestly, given his insistence on color, color and more color during our interview, it’s heartening to see his current appreciation for the possibilities inherent a more muted palette, such as a winter countryside. A current example is one of his needlepoint kits, “Fantin Latour Roses,” which, outside of one dark red-ish rose, is a bouquet composed of graduations of creams and old rose pinks set against a background of browns, olives, and tans. It definitely wouldn’t have showed up anywhere in his work back then.
P.S. Here’s the link to the needlepoint kit mentioned:
The lecture I refer to was many many years ago, so not a new development, and you have to grant his admiration of London bricks! He was also quite right about interiors – and indeed a general fear of colour. I get depressed (or did, pre covid) seeing the drab colours of the clothes so many people choose to wear. I don’t think a love of subtlety or, in this case, the colours of winter, is a contradiction, just a part of the wealth and joy of the world. Winter is winter and summer a different thing entirely, with its own pleasures. I think Kaffe was truly an eye opener….
I know Kaffe Fasset from his quilting books that I sometimes check out from the library. I remember falling head over heels for his book “Quilts in Provence.” The colors transported me.
You also make me realize that my wardrobe is basically a winter landscape — lots of gray, beige, and black. Hm.
Your wardrobe clearly has merit. But what happened to those other colours? Xx
Actually I did love his description of London bricks! Especially when the first color he mentions is “grape purples”, not something expected like the later mentioned “rusts.”
And, like you I get depressed about drab clothing colors, which over the years has been compounded by working in a major metropolitan city where the standard-issue uniform is dark gray and navy suits for both men and women. It’s probably why a few years ago I appropriated my younger son’s red(!!) LL Bean parka to my use. In fact, my most favorite winter coat was a long dress coat in heavy royal blue wool that never failed to cheer me up even on the most dreary, cold, wet and slushy mornings on downtown streets — and trust me, my East Coast city’s streets during winters like the current one can be pretty soul-crushing to traverse.
Oh, and many thanks for allowing me the chance to revisit one of my old articles!
It is a pleasure, Joan – some great memories.
As with all things the less you have to work with the more you inevitably squeeze out of what you have. This is the biggest challenge for any designer in any field. One day a lab somewhere will unveil the red Snowdrop as a cure to winter sobriety. When that day comes – say no.
I would, Tristan, I would!
I love your question! I will never forget a high school art teacher who completely changed my mind about November. I told her I thought it was such an ugly month, with all of the beauty of Fall gone, and Winter not yet here. She said mildly, Oh, I don’t know. I like November. All the leaves are gone and you can see the branches of the trees, and I love the colors of wheat and gray that seem to dominate. Right then and there, I learned to love November.
She was right – and what a gift.
I am going to remember Kaffe Fassett’s name. Fascinating. I have not one spatial bone in my body and even less color sense. (Is that possible?) I have relied, been inspired, and shamelessly cribbed from countless, brilliant gardeners and artists.
He is definitely an inspiring man. Xx
My garden is going into its sixteenth spring and reaching the beginning of maturity. This pandemic winter was the first winter I looked at it with delight and appreciated its beauty. Age – including mine – or semi lockdown?
Well, the lockdowns have changed many people’s perspectives. And age surely gives the possibility of increasing our wisdom and ability to appreciate quiet reflection and observation. But the garden did have to be doing its bit for you!
Thank you for introducing me to Kaffe Fassett. Interesting background and I love looking at his use of color in everything he produces. It seems he now has a floribunda rose named after him.
I didn’t know about the rose, but I must check that out – I’d like to see if I think the colour is appropriate!
As a quilter I have purchased Kaffe Fassett fabrics to add a pop of colour and they are beautiful! As a gardener I can see how Kaffee could get his inspiration from nature. You can see the rose that was name for him here: http://www.kaffefassett.com/gallery/kaffe-fassett-rose/
Those are great pictures – I like the rose, but there’s also such a good one of Kaffe. Thank you!