One of my earliest and most important influences is textile artist Kaffe Fassett, who is often fittingly described as a ‘brilliant colourist’. I became aware of Kaffe in the 1980s, around the time I was becoming tired of stitching printed tapestries available commercially; the ones that conjure up images of the types of tapestries your grandmother used to create, or the ubiquitous muted European landscape scenes. At the time, this was pretty much all that were available for the needlepoint stitcher, yet I yearned for something more vibrant and exciting to create, pieces I would want to frame, keep and hang.
Enter the American-born, British-based designer, Kaffe Fassett (above). Image: www.makeitcoats.com
Kaffe Fassett has published a number of books on textile design, needlepoint, knitting and tapestry. One book, in particular, inspired me, aptly named “Glorious Inspiration”, published in 1991. In this book, Kaffe brought together a collection of subjects from the natural world depicted in a range of media, including ceramics, painting, mosaics, drawings, textiles and graphic design. In his book, Kaffe convincingly demonstrated that there are potential sources ideas needlepoint tapestry in everything we see. He demonstrated how to inspire motifs and colour combinations, and translate these stunningly into needlepoint design. Importantly, he celebrated the use of bold colour.
The introduction of this book began:
‘At last I am able to bring you at the book I have looked for all my designing life.
‘Every one of us has the ability to create personal and warm-hearted decoration if only we can relax and let our confidence grow.’
I heeded Kaffe’s advice and started experimenting with bold colour to create my own designs. It was at this time I was drawn to the colour and beauty of the natural world of fruit, foliage and flora. Kaffe highlighted the striking beauty and diversity of foliage, and the range of colours and shades found in single flower buds and petals. He drew his inspiration for floral design from mosaic tiles, old tapestries, lithographs, and nineteenth century porcelain dishes.
Images: Glorious Inspiration. Kaffe Fassett’s needlepoint source book. 1991. Random House Australia.
Nothing was impossible to stitch, according to Kaffe, as long as the subject matter spoke to you, and you were prepared to try new things. From this point on, I went around looking at everything as a potential tapestry. I saw beauty in the natural world of fruit, flowers and foliage and I was prepared to try new things.
I started to work with sources images of flowers, fruit and foliage. Many of my floral tapestries came about from this time, including those containing single flower blooms, succulents, fruit and flower beds. I really enjoyed playing with colour, light and shade in these early works of mine. Kaffe even inspired me to stitch a still life of vegetables in a basket, including cabbages, onions and leeks; subjects that may not naturally come to mind as those you’d consider attractive enough to hang on your wall. But I certainly did, and my vegetable still life needlepoint tapestry (top left, below) was one of my earliest sales.
Since reading this book––and others––by Kaffe Fasset, as well as looking at his travel videos and attending his public seminars (I even met him once in Sydney!), I wanted to be the sort of bold artist he inspired.
I’d like to conclude with something else Kaffe Fasset wrote in his introduction to his book Glorious Inspiration:
‘My primary wish is for you to simply luxuriate in the beauty of subjects gathered here––to be stimulated by the amazing outpouring of decorative art the world is constantly producing, then to take courage and use the many sources to create and use the many sources to create your own textiles specifically for your heart’s desire.’
Thank you, Kaffe. Since discovering your work I certainly have been luxuriating in the beauty of the natural and decorative world and will continue to do so.
You can see more of my floral tapestries here, many of which were inspired by the philosophy of Kaffe Fassett.