The theme at the Endsleigh Salon book group a few weeks ago fell right in step with my reading plans.
I'll confess it doesn't always happen like this. Sometimes I am very lastminute.com and trying to make something I have read fit the theme at 5pm that afternoon, but on this occasion, with the theme of 'Colour' beckoning, there was no way I could let the side down.
I had read in preparation Dreaming in Colour by Kaffe Fassett, a sumptuous autobiography by the man who I now realise we owe a huge debt of gratitude in this country at least, for bringing his sunny Californian outlook to bear on our very English reserve where colour is concerned.
For anyone within reach of the showground at Shepton Mallet this coming Saturday (December 1st) Kaffe Fassett will be talking about the book and signing copies at the West Country Quilt Show.
Born in 1937 in San Francisco and named at that time Frank, Kaffe's parents bought a log cabin and twelve acres of land on the Pacific coast from Orson Welles. At Big Sur in California the family built the famous Nepenthe Restaurant which opened in 1949 and quickly became a mecca for the Hollywood set. These were interesting times, a post-war world rebuilding its confidence in preparation for the new and the different that would surely evenutally come. Kaffe's ongoing education and artistic talent was nurtured at the Happy Valley School, one of whose founders was Aldous Huxley. The atmosphere was predictably enlightened and unconventional, and I think for that we must be grateful too because personally I think it needed an unconventional and enlightened man to do what Kaffe did next.
Travelling to England in 1964 Kaffe immediately felt a sense of 'belonging'. for which we must also feel blessed, because he stayed and then casting his eye over our decorative traditions here in the U.K. Kaffe saw room for 'improvement'. He doesn't say that... but I do because surely there was, and looking at his prodigious design work since it is clear that he has been able to create a fusion of our English heritage of fussy delicate florals with something much more expansive and colourful.
It was on a trip back from Scotland with designer Bill Gibb in 1968, and with a bag full of wool in those glorious colours that we all love under his arm, that Kaffe did that fateful life-changing thing and asked someone on the train to teach him to knit.
Now I am thinking back and I suspect that 99% of the world would have looked askance at the sight of a man knitting on a train in 1968. I am not even sure the percentage would be that much lower nowadays even though it is now an accepted thing...men knit and are allowed to.
In fact I seriously think the Inverness to London line should be dedicated to Kaffe.
Doesn't the Kaffe Fassett Line sound so much more enticing than the East Coast Line??
Kaffe rapidly graduated to Fair Isle and the technique of weaving many colours across a row of knitting... so let's cheer the sub-editor in the Vogue office who explained and demonstrated the intricacies of all that to him, because what followed was surely the equivalent of painting with wool for a man with a unique and instinctive eye for colour and an inner sixth sense of what works.
It would be twenty-five years before the knitting revival could truly be said to have happened and along the way came those business partnerships and collaborations for Kaffe that those of us who follow these things slavishly will know well... Hugh Ehrman for the needlepoint and tapestries, Rowan Wools and more recently...and another huge cheer for Liza Prior-Lucy who persuaded Kaffe in the direction of fabrics and quilting.
My recollections of Kaffe's designs in the 1980s are of a riot of colour and original design in an otherwise slightly muted world. That may not be the same memory for everyone but we were still stuck with beige and brown curtains, carpets and walls as I recall, and colour was never going to infiltrate to the extent it has without the impetus of bold and different influences. Kaffe Fassett was most certainly at the forefront, making domestic arts fashionable again and wrestling them from the clutches of hidebound tradition.
This is a real treat of a book, lovely to have and hold and read, awash with colour, a fitting acompaniment to a fascinating life, and finally here is a wonderful anecdote about the famous Kaffe Rooster needlepoint, one of the first that the Tinker did (and yes, of course he finished it) when he took up needlepoint years ago...
' When it came time to launch Glorious Needlepoint, I was invited onto Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4, so I rushed around the studio to find a small item from the book to show the host, Jenni Murray as she was interviewing me. I settled on my needlepoint Rooster Teapot Cozy and plunked it on the chair beside me in the studio as I waited to be interviewed. As Jennie started to introduce me to the listeners, I suddenly heard her purr in her silky English voice, 'And today we have with us Kaffe Fassett and his lovely cock." ...'
So come on then...who like me started a Kaffe jumper or needlepoint and never finished it??
Because they are quite an enticing challenge and so I was bound to be a victim wasn't I.
My Kaffe-fessions to follow.