Wednesday 12 November 2014
We had already visited the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey Street, Southwark back in May, for their lovely exhibition 'Artist Textiles – Picasso to Warhol' and we do not normally expect to visit places twice, life being short and museums many. But following our brief flurry of publicity, a few weeks back, we got a kind invitation to have one of their guided tours. And Sue G, an occasional member of the project team, pointed out that I, as someone who knits, should not miss the knitwear exhibition. She was right!
I need to begin with a gripe, however: we were clearly told that no photography was allowed, and so we took no photographs: but throughout the tour, other people were taking pictures, both with phone and camera, and were not being stopped or even told off! So this brief account is unillustrated, but if you click here and then on the picture, you will get a range of photos as good as anything Linda could do.
Our guide explained that knitwear used to be for undergarments, though there was avery pretty red and black knitted underskirt that was eminently wearable in any circumstances. But the start of the twentieth century, with women extending their spheres of activity and removing their corsets, moved knitwear to the outside. Chanel was designing and selling knitwear before the First World War.
The exhibition moves through the 1920s and 30s, showing how knit and crochet work well with the 'flapper' fashions of the day, and also included swimwear. We three remembered that knitted, sagging woollen cossies were still around in the 1950s, when we all longed for the ruched, rayon type instead.
Machine knitting was shown along side hand knitted items of the Shetland/Fair Isle type. We saw high fashion items, Schiaparelli with the signature zip fasteners, as well as more Chanel. And then it was on to the 1940s, clothes rationing and Make do and Mend. Clearly multicoloured garments were a fashionable way to use scraps of wool, and sitting in air raid shelters provided time to knit and be creative. There was a brief mention of the fact that some men, particularly sailors and POWs, also knitted.
Next there was a case of the Lana Turner type of 'sweater girl' garment, and on upstairs to where fashion really started to take advantange of the flexibility of knitting (including items made from jersey, which is of course knitted, but is mainly sewn to make clothes).
Kafe Fassett led us to Quant, Westwood and Rhodes, with clothes that were more cat walk than shopping trip, and some extraordinary designs by modern students, with perspex, tin foil and many beads sewn on.
All the way through, the walls were embellished with Vogue covers, knitting patterns and other delights to keep us happy as we moved from case to case.
It was all eye catching and amazing. I suppose the problem is that the world really has moved on: buildings, whether public or private, are mostly kept too hot for woollen garments; and once you go out of doors, you need something windproof and waterproof. Perhaps when the fuel runs out we shall all snuggle back into warm and beautiful knitwear. But even if we don't, this is a lovely exhibition.