Velona Needlecraft

Kaffe Fassett visits
Velona Needlecraft

Reprint from the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Edition
Saturday, December 30, 1995, Home Design Section

Colorful Yarns


Kaffe Fassett is unrivaled in unraveling the secrets of knitting, needlepoint, rag rugs, wallpaper and fabrics.

Freeing knitting from its basically monochromatic palette in the 1960s, San Francisco-born Fassett created sweaters, tapestries and pillows that threw color around like paint on an Abstract Impressionist painting. His revolutionary approach makes sense when you consider that Fassett started out as a painter.

"I was painting while paintings when I was working as a fine artist. Color developed and became very juicy to me through my work with yarn," Fassett said during a recent interview at Velona Needlecraft in Anaheim Hills.

"Yarn has another dimension, a sensuality. I liked combining beautiful Shetland tweeds and coming up with the feeling of landscape. And I felt it was a much more accurate representation of the landscape than the paintings because of the texture and the color."

It is difficult to imagine Fassett ever painting anything all white, because his works explode with color, and the rooms in his new book, Glorious Interiors (Little Brown and Co., $35), seem to combine every hue in nature.

Fassett credits his interest in bright colors and patterns with his visits to London's Victoria and Albert Museum in the 1960s, which, in turn, led to his making London his permanent home.

"I never graduated from my first knitting class, which took 20 minutes on a train," he explained. "All I do is knit one row, purl one row. But I've learned to play with color. I started by buying a simple pattern for a cardigan, but then I applied 20 colors to it."

It was that talent for "playing with color and pattern" that set Fassett's designs apart from others and that gave him an international reputation.

"Everything I do is about patterns, mixing them, breaking them down, putting them together in a fresh way. The only difference is the texture. It doesn't matter whether I'm doing mosaics, draperies, sweaters, tapestries or, my latest interest, patchwork quilts. They're all the same idea," he said.

Fassett often seems to break with convention in his use of color and design.

"The way I break rules is by not getting too educated. I just plunge in. I learn just enough, but not so much that I get burdened with how everyone else does it. I never could have arrived at my kind of knitting if I had known the rules, because one rule is that you never start a yarn in the middle of a row. I have lots of patterns with colors starting in the middle of the row," he said.

More influenced by Chinese, African and Scandinavian cultures than by particular artists, Fassett finds design inspiration everywhere. "I'm influenced by painters who know how to use color, either in a free, wild way or in a restrained, elegant one," he said. "But the decorative arts influenced me more than actual artists."

In Glorious Interiors, a picture of a "shell room" illustrates his talent for mixing colors and patterns. The colors are predominately muted beiges, golds, browns, blues and whites, but there are shell paintings, tapestries, needlepoint chair covers, pillows, draperies and actual shells.

The room, although not for everyone, is eccentric and fun. It's not to be taken seriously, and that is one thing Fassett insists upon.

"I delight in something that is done for the pure hell of it, something that doesn't come from the great theories of the Bauhaus. Something like that really bores me to tears," he said. "I like folk art where the colors and patterns just dance. It's art that's done for the love of it."

Fassett said that home design should emulate folk art by being an artistic expression of the individuals living in the house and showing their joy in their environment.

"It's better to mix things you like than to just stick to one period. It doesn't matter whether it's expensive or inexpensive. Here in America we have a cross-cultural mix thatŐs exciting," he said. "Europeans are much more uptight about having interiors just one period, like French Provincial."

Fassett's seven books are beautifully photographed, but they are also practical; instructions are included. To help create a facsimile of the "shell room," for example, Fassett has included patterns for a shell cushion and a shell rag rug.

In other parts of the book, there are tips for many design projects, including making a collage screen.

"Anybody can make a collage screen. You just get some glue and a cheap old screen and go out and collect wonderful things. Then you start looking at the world in a different way," he said. "Maybe you'll collect all faces or all flowers or all fruits or all leaves. Then don't stop there. Go out and do a whole room."

Besides the patterns in his books, there are kits available for making sweaters, tapestries and cushions at needlecraft stores such as Velona or through the mail. These include the yarns, which are so important to his designs.

An advantage to his designs is that they are more than just beautiful. "You can crunch them up, rub them next to your face, throw them across the couch or on the floor. You can't do that to a painting," he said.

In the 1990s, Fassett sees a resurgence of interest in home crafts.

"Of course, where I go I meet knitters all the time, knitters who are really yarn junkies. Both men and women knit because it's so relaxing and it's portable. You can pick up your knitting anywhere you are," he said. "I can't think of too many things you do that can give you so much satisfaction while you work with color and texture."

Fassett's philosophy about design is for each individual to unlock his or her creativity.

"When people come to my workshops, I tell them I don't care if they glue the yarn together. It's not about technique; it's about finding your voice in color, finding out how luscious you can be with color combinations."

One aspect of Glorious Interiors that Fassett thinks is important is the recycling idea. "It's good to go to garage sales, flea markets and buy inexpensive stuff. That way you can rediscover some poor little object that can look very sad in the wrong company but very smart in the right one.

"When I started to do Glorious Interiors, I was thinking about the colors and the patterns of Watts Towers and the architecture of Gaudi in Barcelona, but in my travels I've seen an amazing collection of little restaurants, tearooms, beauty salons and people's personal homes that are just as crazy as I am," he said.

"We all love an inventive, delicious mixture of colors and textures looking good together. Rooms that dance with pattern and vibrate with color have all the magic of something out of The Wizard of Oz."

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