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Kaffe Fassett, a Lifetime of Dreaming in Color

July 9, 2013 | Claire | Comments (1)

 Kaffe"When shops would call me every weird version of 'Kaffe' except how it is really pronounced, she would say 'Look, you have a 'safe asset' with Kaffe Fassett'.  Some people called me Mr. Asset after that.  But the funniest thing was people thinking the new knit designer everyone was talking about was named Gloria Snits."

 For about twelve years, in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was a dedicated knitter.  My first effort was an Icelandic sweater in cream, pink and burgundy;  pretty, but not very adventurous.  I continued making nice but not particularly exciting sweaters until 1985, when Kaffe Fassett published his first book, Glorious Knitting.  It's not an exaggeration to say that Glorious Knitting completely changed the way I approached my craft.  And I wasn't alone!  Kaffe showed us all how to approach colour and design in a way that was fresh, lively,  bohemian, and felt very free and vibrant. Unlike the prescriptive knitting patterns I was used to, Kaffe encouraged his readers to use his patterns as inspiration for their own colour combinations.  It was like the psychadelic 1960s had hit knitting design for a second time, but with a super-charged  level of sophistication. 


Kaffe's first book, which I read over and over again...

Glorious Knitting changed Kaffe's life as well.  He went on to pen more volumes on knitting, and later, on needlepoint, quilting, and mosaic work, all featuring the dramatic colour combining for which he has such an impeccable eye.  He has run a successful design studio for many years, and in between all this busy creativity he has designed fabric, painted wonderful murals, portraits and still lifes, created costumes and backdrops for the ballet and for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and been featured in a blockbuster show at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It's no surprise to learn that Kaffe's life has been somewhat unconventional. He grew up as part of an artistic and intellectual family who ran a hip restaurant called Nepenthe in Big Sur, California.    He spent two of his high school years at Happy Valley school, which was founded by Krishnamurti and Aldous Huxley and which Kaffe describes as "small, creative, funky and free!".  From there he spent time in New York and later moved to England, which became home base.  In his memoir, Dreaming in Color, he tells (and shows!) us all about the personalities he has met on his artistic path, his transition from making a living as a painter to becoming a passionate craftsperson, and the many cultural influences that have expanded  his vision.  His memoir is conversational and fun, but as always with Kaffe, it's very, very beautiful. 

The Toronto Public Library has a substantial collection of Kaffe Fassett's books.  After reading Dreaming in Color, you'll probably want to check out some of his other inspiring work.  Here's a sampling of what's available:

  Glorious-needlpoint     Glorious-interiors     Kaffe_knits_again     Quilts_en_provence  Welcome-home     Shots-and-stripes     Glorious-patchwork