Artist Textiles Exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum

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At the end of last year Channel 4 showed a short fly-on-the-wall documentary series about Liberty – the high end luxury store established in the West End of London since 1875. The series gave an insight to its staff and preparations for Christmas. For me, the most interesting part by far was how the in-house design team (see a short clip) create the beautiful printed cottons and silks that Liberty is  famous for. Did you know that every employee at Liberty gets to have a print named after them? What a perk! *swoon* I’d love to have a print named after me.

Watching the programme I realised I hadn’t much thought about where print designs come from – be it florals, animals, fruit or geometric shapes and the colour combinations. Whether bought in an expensive shop like Liberty or the local market, the print design started off as an idea drawn by someone, somewhere. That’s obvious isn’t it? But not the first thing that comes to mind when fabric shopping.

I was again reminded of this when visiting the Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol Exhibition yesterday after my pattern cutting class (expect an update on this next week) which has just opened at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. The exhibition looks at the work of 20th Century artists (futurist, constructivist, pop, cubism, surrealism to a name a few tribes)  translated to fabric for garment making and centred on the post-war womens wear (mens clothing featured very little, 2-3 ties – I guess men didn’t wear ‘colour’ back then). with background jazz and swing music to match.

Post WWII, the British economy was in a poor state and trade needed reviving. The government supported the Cotton Board to increase exports of textiles. To help with this manufacturers commissioned artists like Henry Moore to create designs for printed fabrics. In France the same was done with Henri Matisse and the surrealist artist Salvador Dali did likewise for the New York based textile company Wesley Simpson. There are examples of their work and others such as the dress above (poorly captured by my camera phone, sorry).

Also on display are prints by well known artists Andy Warhol, Raoul Dufy, Pablo Picasso and fashion designer Zhandra Rhondes.

There is also a exhibition of the journey from an idea to printed fabric or greeting card by British textile designer Sarah Campbell. See how once briefed e.g. by Marks & Spencer, Sarah develops her ideas from drawings to test prints on fabric to the eventual final product sold in shops. This is one of her designs:

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Is it worth a visit? I think so. I would have liked more detail, more history but perhaps that’s stepping into the V&A Museum’s terriority. It was good time thinking less about my sewing to do list and taking a different view of the fabric I stash and sew.

The Artist Textiles Exhibition is on until 17 May 2014.

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