Style Court

Nine Years of Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes


Take Some Liberty

 [Detail: Popplyland, Liberty & Co.'s printed cotton 1890-1907, from V & A Pattern: Liberty.]

In need of a textile fix? The upcoming season offers multiple opportunities for satisfaction. Among various textile exhibitions on the horizon, one that has occupied my mind of late is Liberty in FashionOpening October 9 at London's Fashion and Textile Museum, this show looks at myriad printed fabrics produced by the venerable department store over the last 140 years.

In conjunction with the fall exhibition, flower magazine offered me a chance to dive into Liberty's past, research the artists and designers who've had a relationship with Liberty, and discover why florals have long held such power for the London emporium. (Above is just a peek at some sample pages from the eight-page spread and, yes, that's Françoise Hardy, middle right, in 1970 wearing a YSL Liberty print midi.)

Liberty archivist Anna Buruma and textile designer/author Martin Wood kindly took time to shed some light on Liberty Art Fabrics and the textile design studio, so many thanks to both experts.  If you'd like to take a glance, the September-October issue hits newsstands this week. And over on Instagram, I'll be sharing more Liberty print history in the days ahead.


Summer Fare

Throughout the summer I'll continue using Instagram and Tumblr to share book and exhibition news, as well as textile finds. But I'm quickly popping in here to further spread the word about indigo expert Jenny Balfour Paul's new book, Deeper than Indigo. Her latest project is a bit of a departure from the previous tomes on the alluring blue dye in that this book is part biography and travelogue, centered around an intrepid Victorian adventurer, Thomas Machell. Be sure to check out the publisher's slideshow of Machell's colorfully illustrated journal pages -- his impressions of India and China -- which now belong to the British Library

[From Joss Graham: Narrow strip woven cotton, stitch resist indigo-dyed N'dop made in Cameroon, early-20th century.] 

The London launch of Deeper than Indigo will take place June 2 at Joss Graham Gallery, and throughout the month indigo textiles will be on view.

If you simply enjoy seeing color of any kind painstakingly applied to cloth, take a look at the V & A's new Yuzen video.


Connecting Threads (More Frida)

[Detail: Another look at the very recent collaboration between Madewell and JM Drygoods, this time with hand-embroidery by artisans from the San Vicente Coatlán community in Oaxaca.]

I'm a little envious of the Wellesley students in James Oles's Frida Kahlo seminar. After hearing him speak at the NYBG's symposium, Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera: Mexican Art in the 20th Century (the entire talk is up on the Garden's YouTube channel), I was left wanting to learn more.

[Frida Kahlo by Fritz Henle 1936]

His focus was Kahlo's cross-dressing but not the sort that initially comes to mind. While she did famously don menswear, what Dr. Oles zeroed in on was her cross-cultural cross-dressing. You know, the indigenous Tehuana garb among other things. And with sharp insights and dry humor, Oles makes the point that Kahlo certainly wasn't the first rather elite woman--or man--to take fashion inspiration from the working class. From huaraches to huipils, Oles explores a range of trad Mexican and Mexican-inspired clothes worn way, way back by non-local Cortes as well as more recently by contemporary women.


Channeling Frida

[Another nod to traditional Oaxacan craft: JM Drygoods collaborated with Madewell on this limited-edition chambray shirt hand-embroidered by a team of women in San Vicente Coatlán. Just my own pick inspired by the NYBG show.]

Mexican textiles, Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's artistic lair), and Kahlo's work: all three can be explored over the next six months in the NYBG show, Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.

[Catch the preview.] 

Obviously, given the venue, the show's connecting thread is Kahlo’s passion for nature but some of the special exhibition programs also speak specifically to her interest in craft. Textile Demonstrations: Female Artisans from Chipas and Oaxaca are scheduled to take place May 16–June 14 and September 11–October 12 from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. with women from Chiapas and Oaxaca on hand to share weaving and embroidery techniques. Event details here. And past Fridamania here.


Textile Scout: Yoruba Lace

[Mid-19th-century indigo cotton cloth with a panel of slit weaving known as Yoraba lace from Esther Fitzgerald. Details below.]

The pairing is genius. (As good as when salt and caramel first got together.)

[Airy and light. Hannah Henderson and kids via The Glow.]

[She wears it well, too: Aurora James in an ethereal top as seen in Vogue Paris]

[Earth-bound indigo mud cloth throw at General Store.]

Although the cotton cloth at top was made by Yoruba people well over a century ago, it combines two of fashion's current faves: lacy open-work material and earthy indigo. In his book, African Textiles, John Gillow explains that Yoruba "lace" is traditionally comprised of rows of holes along the length of a stripweave and it's a bit similar to a type of openwork sometimes called "Spanish lace." But he points out that structurally the two differ. Yoruba lace has supplementary yarns, which create the very alluring little holes, and are not actually part of the plain weave ground.


More from Ellisha

Back in January I mentioned the fluid good looks of painter-turned-textile-designer Ellisha Alexina's handprinted fabrics. The prints I focused on then drew much inspiration from Ottoman florals but today, in anticipation of Ellisha's debut at next month's ICCF, here's a glance at some of her languid stripes.

Well, one more stylized floral, too.

All of these happen to be in her indigo colorway,  on hemp linen, and they are created in her Easthampton, Massachusetts studio. Ellisha, who had the opportunity to study old textiles during her days at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, offers other whisper-soft colorways as well as custom options.

Connecting Threads

[Image courtesy Kufri Life]

Longing to be your own creative director and have a textile custom woven, handprinted or embroidered?

[Phoenix cotton]

Texas-based Kufri Life Fabrics offers all of the above. Founded by Mili Suleman, the company specializes in ikats and handwovens but works with artisans versed in a variety of old school Indian techniques encompassing beadwork and kantha.

[Jaali cotton]

Alternatively, if you need instant gratification, the fabric studio offers a ready-to-buy collection featuring contemporary takes on classic designs.

[Sanjana Grey, handwoven cotton stripe]

Fabric is available by the yard but in Mili's online store you'll find already-made pillows and table linens. Explore the full range here. And while we're talking about heritage-driven textiles, continue keeping tabs on the V & A's preparations for their highly anticipated show, The Fabric of India, here.


[Detail: 19th-century Lakai suzani from Rippon-Boswell's Vok sale.]

[Details: 19th-century Lakai suzani on deep blue ground, also from Vok Collection.] 

It's festival season, but it's also auction season.

If you've been following my textile news coverage on Instagram and Tumblr during the past month, you may have noticed quite a few suzanis coming up for sale. (Coincidentally, these antique embroideries often have a psychedelic vibe that happens to mesh well with the festival aesthetic.) One of the best performing suzanis to date is an 18th-century Uzbek piece distinguished by massive meandering vines and a palette of ochre, pink and orange with soft blues and greens.

[Details: 18th-century Uzbek suzani from Rippon-Boswell's Vok Collection sale.]
As reported by Daniel Shaffer for Hali, this embroidery just sold for more than double the auction estimate. Full story here.

A more modestly priced find is Merchant & Mills' Shallot.

Gauzy and light, with a hand-blocked motif in deep blue over an off-white criss-crossing background, it's one of many Rajasthani cottons offered by the British fabric purveyor.


Still on the Borderline

[Image @Francesca Galloway]

For now the best places to find my textile finds and news are still here and here, but I'm popping in to share this stunner from Francesca Galloway: a 17th-century painted and dyed Northern Indian cotton cloth with intricately designed borders. (I do have that weakness for borders, you know.)

See Chintz in Progress here.


The Finds

[1920s Indian embroidery at Joss Graham, a 2015 LARTA exhibitor.] 
Just a reminder that when I'm not here, you can find noteworthy textiles here and here. But more importantly, the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair (LARTA) is once again going to offer an online peek at the exhibitors' wares. The Fair goes live at 6 p.m. on April 16th, if you want to mark your calendar.  


Lighten Up

[Via Tumblr]

Just to offer a palette cleanser (alternate spelling intentional) after the decadence of the previous post, here's a reminder of Whistler's other passion -- white. I first posted the video link over the holidays so it easily could've been overlooked but the clip is fascinating and worth a watch.

Filthy Lucre

[Darren Waterston, Filthy Lucre, 2013–14. Oil, acrylic, and gold leaf on wood, aluminum, fiberglass, and ceramic, with audio and lighting components. Approximately 146 x 366 x 238 inches. Courtesy the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York. Installation view, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA. Photo: Amber Gray.]
Speaking of ruins, Darren Waterston’s installation Filthy Lucre, the focal point of MASS MoCA's Uncertain Beauty, remains on view there for just four more weeks but will be reappear in May at the Freer-Sackler galleries in D.C.  Part homage and part parody, Waterston’s piece -- actually a complete interior -- deals with James McNeill Whistler's infamous 19th-century Peacock Room, which as we've covered in past posts, has been permanently displayed at Freer-Sackler since the 1920s. In the galleries, Waterston's work will be shown as Peacock Room REMIX, and visitors will be able to see the original room and the alternate reality in juxtaposition with one another.

[Darren Waterston, Filthy Lucre, 2013–14.  Photo: John Tsantes.]

With melting blue-green paint, gilded-but-crumbling architecture, details including 250 hand-painted pots, scattered ceramic shards, and new interpretations of Whistler's own paintings, Waterston acknowledges the opulent beauty of the Victorian dining room, however in his reimagined space things have spiraled out of control. So it's a comment on the tumultuous history of the Peacock Room but it's also about decadence in general. More here.

There's also an accompanying catalogue.


Garden Delights

[Photo my own]

I'd read that carnations used to have scent -- a very good scent, in fact -- but until the other day when I came across an exotic-looking bunch, I had never experienced this for myself.

The flowers I found were spicy but not cloying and made me wonder, in general, what gardens smelled like centuries ago. 

Wild and semi-wild gardens are what I personally gravitate to, but there is a charmingly structured and recently restored Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle famous for its use of scent.  The castle itself has essentially remained in a state of wonderfully romantic ruin since the 17th century. Before then, though, in 1563, Elizabeth I gave the place to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (aka the Joseph Fiennes character in the visually stunning 1998 movie, Elizabeth). Although not addressed in the film, the castle and surrounding gardens seem to have ultimately been a significant part of their relationship. 

You can get a good overview of the grounds, including the Aviary, here, but this BBC program also includes an up close glimpse of the garden that will make you wish Cate Blanchett could've visited it in the 90s movie. If the time frame of the plot had been a bit different, that is. Apparently more than half a dozen historic castles were used throughout filming, but oh what the production team could have also done with Kenilworth...   


Mood Indigo

[Japanese, 794 - 1185. Collection of the Freer-Sackler.] 

If you look closely at this late-12th-century indigo-dyed paper, you can make out fine ruled lines.

It's a sutra, or Buddhist text, related to the bodhisattva Fugen, but at first glance I was just attracted to the delicate metallic lines on the deepest blue ground and couldn't help imagining how cool it would've been back in elementary school to have silver pencils and spiral notebooks filled with sheets of indigo.

Find more on this Heian period piece, here, along with similar indigo-dyed pages.