The Colorful Craft of Kaffe Fassett
Kaffe (pronounced ‘kayf’) Fassett is a world-renowned and much-loved American textile designer and artist who started his long career in an unlikely place: on a train. On a visit to the wilds of Scotland, he was captivated by the palette of the landscape, and bought armfuls of Shetland wool in the colors he saw around him. On his way home, he asked a lady in his train carriage to teach him to knit, and not so very long later, his first knitwear designs had been commissioned by Vogue.
Kaffe grew up in California, at his parents’ family restaurant, Nepenthe. Set on a sunny peninsula above the Pacific Ocean, the building was designed by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright and became a popular haunt of the colorful, crazy and creative set of the 1950’s and 60’s; Kaffe was surrounded by painters, artists, sculptors, dancers, writers and film stars. A love of form and color bloomed, and the energy and exuberance of this rich childhood milieu found its way into his art.
At nineteen, he won a scholarship to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston but, inspired by his conversations with Christoper Isherwood, he left for London and set up home near Portobello Market at the height of the swinging sixties. Fassett had actually started out as a minimalist painter, a fact which shocks anyone familiar with his designs, but was so enamored of the colors of the market, particularly the fabrics, that he switched to working in needlepoint. Then came the visit to Scotland, the spreads in Vogue, and commissions from fashion houses, films stars and royalty.
In 1988 the V&A hosted an exhibition of Kaffe’s work, making him the first living textile artist to have a one-man show at the museum. He has written more than thirty books and hosted television and radio programmes for the BBC and Channel 4, including his own very popular series, ‘Glorious Colour’. He has also worked with Oxfam on a project that works with villages in Guatemala and India to produce fabric designs for sale in the west.
As well as knitting and needlepoint, Fassett works in mosaic, rugmaking and paint; but these days, he concentrates on patchwork. It appeals to his two great passions, pattern and color. He’s skilled in a variety of media, but Fassett is actually far less concerned with the technical aspects of making things – and would insist that he is technically mediocre in everything he does – than with the thrill to be had from solving the puzzle of organising colors into pleasing patterns.
He exhorts his fans to go crazy with pattern and color, to let loose and dare to experience them in unexpected and unconventional ways. He now devotes his life not just to the production of his own pieces, fabrics, books and designs, but to sharing his passions with as many people as possible by talking about his work all over the world. His love of color and pattern is infectious, and that’s why we are thrilled that Kaffe Fassett will be visiting our Amsterdam Treehouse to present his autobiography Dreaming in Color, on Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd.
To Fassett, quilting is a thrilling puzzle of pattern and shape. To most of the rest of us, it’s a dowdy sort of hobby, albeit with practical results, that’s been around for maybe a couple of hundred years. Read on to find out how the humble quilt has a history long as infinite spools of thread and as varied and colorful as patchwork itself.