Spring 2018
Welcome to my Newsletter

A vintage Vogue cover, April 1949, sets the scene for a diverse mix of textile themes in this Spring Newsletter; from the art of Balenciaga to a flutter of stitched feathers, glimpses into a sketchbook and a peek at a stitch samples. Embroidery embraces an eclectic mix of inspirations for springtime stitching.

The free spirit of this Vogue cover illustration reflects an optimistic note as fashion enters a liberated era after the Second World War. An artwork without a signature, possibly drawn by Count Rene Bouet-Wilaumez, whose Paris fashion sketches are inside the covers, modestly signed: R.B.W.! It was the world of Cristobal Balenciaga, seen in the recent exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, that drew me into the pages of 1940s and 1950s Vogue magazines (Read ‘Bedazzled by Balenciaga’).

Embellishment techniques have always enjoyed a playful relationship with the milliner’s craft. The hats of the 1940s were inventive, daring and fun with their trimmings, despite material restrictions and rationing. Dipping into fashion archives inspires new twists and turns for the embroiderer’s art, fresh thoughts for a new creation. (See ‘All a Flutter’)

In my studio, stitch samples juxtapose with sketches; drawings and doodles are a stepping stone: visualising tentative designs before committing to an embroidery project. ‘Sketchbook Studies’ selects a few sketches from past portfolios to explore the journey from sketch to stitch.

Embroidery dances into the 1920s Jazz Age with a bijoux bag that I designed for ‘Stitch’ magazine (February/March issue). Read about the inspirations behind the step-by-step project in my latest blog Stitchstudio and see ‘Inspired by The Great Gatsby’ in this Newsletter.

Finally, in late April, I am looking forward to opening the doors of my studio and archive collection to a small tour party led by Susan Khalje, from America. Read more about Susan’s tours and her visit to my studio in ‘An Embroiderer’s Art – Studio Tour’.

Although no exhibitions this year, still busy working on my book! I look forward to meeting visitors and showing my work at lectures in Shropshire and Hampshire.

All a Flutter

The fancy millinery of the Victorians and Edwardians caught my eye last year, while styling an exhibition for my local museum in Charlbury.

Fascinated by the wild and wonderful textures of flora and feathers that adorned the 19th century hats, I began exploring a few stitch samples (see photos). More recently, I was drawn to the quirky feathered hats of the 1940s decade (see fashion photo, Vogue 1945); referencing and reinventing past fashions can toss ideas for embellishment into new directions.

The embroidery project is still a ‘work in progress’ and evolving; inspiration for techniques looks to birdlife, branches and woodland textures. Stitch is conjuring three-dimensional structures using wire, to be manipulated into an artistic textile of some description!

This new piece will make an appearance in my next book.

Bedazzled by Balenciaga

‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ – V & A Museum, London

The iconic fashion photographs of Irving Penn first introduced me to Cristobel Balenciaga’s fashion masterpieces. Penn’s images for Vogue captured the drama, chic styling and amazing fashion shapes of the early 1950s: ‘trapeze coats’, ‘cocoon coats’, ‘balloon dresses’, ‘mantle coats’, ‘sinuous tunic dresses’………..and later ’sac dresses’, ‘bee-hive coats’ etc. Cecil Beaton called him ‘a Spanish genius’ and said ‘Balenciaga uses fabrics like a sculptor working in marble’ (see Beaton’s 1953 sketch of C.B.)

The V&A’s exhibition highlighted the secrets of this enigmatic couturier’s world, his ingenuity with pattern cutting and use of fabulous silks, such as ‘gazar’ or ‘taffeta as thin as burnt paper’. An extra dimension was seeing the ghostly X-rays of the internal construction of the clothes, always fascinating to probe into the hidden intricacies of couture clothes.

My embroiderer’s eye was naturally drawn to the unusual textures and embellishment Balenciaga used, unlike Elsa Schiaparelli s theatrical fashion embroidery, his was more measured but still inventive. The Spanish influence of flamenco and costume often inspired embroidery details on his fashions, e.g. the early 1938 silk-thread floral bolero, embroidered in Albert Lesage’s Paris atelier (photo). The 1960s embroideries for Balenciaga, created by Francois Lesage are stunning, embroidery is invigorated with a lavish mix of materials: feathers, furs, shells, wool, crystal, and plastic. In 1961, Cristobel Balenciaga announced ‘the official arrival of plastic embroidery in Paris’ (see photo: rhodoid feathers, sequins.1967)

A flutter of feathers drew my gaze towards the exhibition’s millinery display; Balenciaga’s hats are equally eye catching. Apart from feathered creations, I was entranced by a petite headpiece covered in finely crafted, three dimensional straw flowers and leaves. But a fragile sketch of millinery designs, of 1947/48, stays in my memory, the designer, Wladzio d’Attainville who died young in 1949, was the partner of Cristobel Balenciaga and his witty hats enlivened the couture collections.

Finally, browsing another vintage Vogue, November 1948, I spot a famous sketch by Eric: a Balenciaga black evening gown, the swept black taffeta accented by a silk toque with wide feathered wings (see image). Perhaps the amusing artistry of Wladzio d’Attainville!

Sketchbook Studies

Sketching is my stepping stone into stitch. Recording and observing is an intrinsic facet of research; some sketchbooks highlight memories of museum visits, I think of my first trip to New York in 1982, sketching Schiaparelli jackets in a study-room at the Metropolitan Museum - that experience inspired a collection of embellished boleros.

Sketching is my stepping stone into stitch. Recording and observing is an intrinsic facet of research; some sketchbooks highlight memories of museum visits, I think of my first trip to New York in 1982, sketching Schiaparelli jackets in a study-room at the Metropolitan Museum - that experience inspired a collection of embellished boleros.

Drawing flora and foliage go in tandem with my embroidery work, spending a few days on one large study can enrich ideas for stitch. Nature is translated with a free mixed media approach, using background washes with pencil, watercolour crayons and pastel. The ‘Poppy & Fennel’ sketch illustrated (2005) is once again inspiring machine-embroidery; the quick fleeting marks describe the botanical structure in a bold, free style.

Fashion drawing is another stage of interpreting design thoughts, of releasing the imagination into the playground of ideas! I have portfolios of these sketches going back to the late 70s, as my embroidery has always enjoyed a close relationship with fashion and design for accessories. Illustrated here, is one example of machine lace suggesting a design for an evening top (2013), a pencil and crayon sketch brushed with a metallic sheen.

In my study, vintage fashion illustrations decorate the walls and early Vogue magazines are a wonderful resource for seeing the fashion drawings of Benito, Eric, Bouche, John Ward and so many more. William Packer’s book: Fashion Drawing in Vogue, Thames & Hudson 1983, is an inspiring tribute to these star artists who worked for Vogue.

Inspired by ‘The Great Gatsby’

An evening bag inspired by the Jazz Age era and the famous novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald can be found in the pages of the February/March issue of ‘Stitch’ magazine.

The step-by-step project guides readers through some of my favourite techniques: quilting, rouleaux, ruched silk organza flowers; the techniques can be adapted for different colourways.

The gentle colour palette chosen here reflects the pale, fragile roses in Daisy’s summer garden, and the party fashions worn at Jay Gatsby’s lavish party.

Read more about the inspirations on my blog Stitchstudio.

More details on the embellishment processes can be found in Embroidered Originals. See ‘Special Book Offer’.

An Embroiderer’s Art – Studio Tour

In late April the doors of my Oxfordshire studio will be open to welcome a small tour party of fashion and textile students, led by Susan Khalje from America. I shall be delving into my archives, displaying a collection of embroidered clothes, accessories and original design drawings for the occasion; plus sharing my passion for creative stitch through demonstrations of machine-embroidery.

Susan Khalje organises an annual Paris tour, giving students a fascinating insight into the couture life of this famous city of fashion. Highlights of last tour included visits to the Legeron atelier, creators for the haute couture shows of Dior & Chanel; visits to museums; specialist classes with couture experts e.g. the famous Madame Pico who did amazing pleating for the House of Gres. Think I will book myself on a future Paris tour with Susan!

A similar tour is taking place here during April/May 2018: visits to London couturiers; Savile row tailors; Hand & Lock and The Royal School of Needlework; corsetry insights with expert Alison Smith; exhibitions: ‘Diana, her fashion story’ at Kensington Palace ,not forgetting tea at Claridges, what treats! I am thrilled to be part of this special tour and plan to conjure up a few more embroideries before that visit!

For details of the future Paris tours: ‘Special Book Offer’

Note: I plan to offer a couple of ‘Open Studio’ days in early summer 2019; I shall post the information later in the year.

Vintage Favourites

A vintage thread trails through this Spring Newsletter, beginning with Vogue April 1949, then the world of Balenciaga. Instead of an antique textile to illustrate this text, I shall end where I began with a favourite Vogue from my collection of 1940s magazines.

I purchased the collection in 2010 from a lady whose husband had also been a fashion illustrator for magazines in the mid -20th c. When I first laid eyes on these gems of social history, I felt a tingle of excitement; browsing them again I am still astonished how this magazine was published during the wartime years.

Despite paper shortage, rationing, the closure of the Paris office during the war years, the July 1941 issue of Vogue with its lyrical cover drawn by Benito* was published, from offices at 1, New Bond Street, London. Inside the magazine the editorial advice is for ‘alteration schemes and turning a rag bag into clever accessories’; clothes, as food was rationed; in 1941 the hat was exempt from ration coupons, perhaps inspiring a wave of light-hearted creations to lift the wartime spirit.

Images in the magazine by Norman Parkinson and Cecil Beaton reflect the changing role for women during wartime; couture clothes were exchanged for boiler suits and dungarees for the women working in aircraft factories or on the land.

(Dior ‘s latest collection for Spring/Summer 2018 features khaki boiler suits!).

The closing pages of this Vogue show imaginative accessory patterns and sewing ideas.

I might even make a ‘gay cockade’ to pin on my beret or a ‘buccaneer hat’ for summer; seventy seven years on, these vintage sewing ideas are still on trend!

With spring in the air, I cannot resist another fashion page from a later Vogue, 1951, showing blossoms adorning petite hats, they remind me of the silk organza corsages I create.

• Edouard-Garcia Benito (1891- 1981) was one of the celebrated illustrators at Vogue magazine from the 1920s into the late 1940s. An original illustration by Benito sold at Christies, New York in 2011 for $6,250.

Note: I plan to offer a couple of ‘Open Studio’ days in early summer 2019; I shall post the information later in the year.

Last Word!

I look forward to meeting some of you when I give lectures in Shropshire and Hampshire this summer. Get in touch if you would like more details of locations and dates.

© 2018 Sue Rangeley. All Rights Reserved.