The World of Pattern

The World of Pattern

Field Notes:  Kaffe Fassett

From time to time I pause in my hectic life to ponder my deep fascination with pattern. It is the common denominator in all of the various creative activities and projects, including quilting, that I am constantly revisiting.

I started knitting in the ’70s, and knitting became such an obsession that I stopped painting still lifes, which had been my main means of artistic expression till then. I published a knitting book several years later; I was surprised by how successful it was, and it led to me travelling the world giving lectures, workshops and media interviews. Next, I took up needlepoint — that resulted in my second book. I took up mosaics and did yet another book, this time with Candace Bahouth. After that, Liza Prior Lucy enticed me into patchwork, and the result has been several books, including one a year for Rowan, which produces a line of my fabric prints twice a year. I find such joy in exploring patterns in all the different textures, colors and scales of these media, and I take my inspiration from each of them in turn.

When I first took up knitting, the intense world of pattern around me leapt to life — everything I saw seemed to be a possible motif to help me organize the colors I was so passionate to use. I find the same happens with quilting. When I spot a set of neutral colors on a stone paving, somehow stripes don’t express the delightful impact of the gray cement setting off each subtle stone like a jewel. I developed an interest in recording the way colors are placed in repetition and proportion — in other words, the right layout and arrangement in a quilt has so much to do with whether a color will sing or appear ordinary.

I discovered the mother lode of pattern collections in the vast decorative arts galleries in London’s famous Victoria & Albert Museum. There, I saw how exciting and beautiful colors could become when they are organized into patterns and motifs in embroideries, carpets and intricate patchworks. Many years later, my fascination with these patterns inspired my fabric print collection for Rowan patchwork. As I design quilts, whether in florals or forms inspired by antique carpets, I constantly think back to the many hours I’ve spent wandering the decorative arts museums of the world.

Taking a motif through different media, like fabric, mosaic tile, knitting and paint, also fascinates me. One of the most popular fabrics I’ve designed (and it’s still in our collection) is Roman Glass. It was inspired by some fragments of ancient multicolor glass I saw in the Victoria & Albert museum. I first interpreted this motif in a knitted vest, then in a fabric print. Since then it has inspired Swedish coffee cups and — coming full circle — appeared on a glass plate.

Another of my obsessions is scale. For years, I made humansize knits and needlepoint cushions, so I’m excited by the world of quilting, where I can make 9-foot-long bed covers. The ability to play with size and scale on such a large “canvas” is inspiring.

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