Kaffe Fassett

Starting his career as a fine artist, Kaffe Fassett has dedicated the last 50 years of his life to his passion of knitting, needlework and patchwork. Famous for his use of vibrant colour, his latest book is a peek into Kaffe’s colourful world and where he gets his inspiration. Kaffe has also included quilt, knitting and needlepoint patterns, so you can recreate his stunning designs at home. We had the pleasure of having a chat with Kaffe this April to get to know a bit about the man behind the vibrant fabric and knitting patterns.

If you had to describe your latest book, ‘Kaffe Fassett In The Studio’, in 1 sentence, what would that be?

It’s a kaleidoscope of colour that is meant to turn the readers onto their own creativity.

You knit, quilt and do needlework, do you have a favourite?

Everything I do is a way of playing with colour and trying out different colour combinations, so knitting and needlepoint and patchwork are all the same to me. They are all just different ways…I suppose knitting is probably the easiest for me, it’s a more natural way of thinking about colour forms for me.

Have you got any favourite colours that you like to work with?

No! Goodness no! That’s like saying ‘have you got a favourite bit of air to breath?’. It’s my air, it’s oxygen.

Have you had any crafting disasters?

Oh sure. Very often I’ll try 10 different ways of approaching a pattern, I’ll try it in neutral colours, in high bright colours, in black and white and try it in all these different ways. So, I end up with a lot of things that I’m not too crazy about at the moment, but later when I look at them and I put all the different moods together then it creates something quite exciting.

That’s one of the things I try to tell my students – ‘don’t judge yourself too quickly’.

When I was a young artist, people would say to me, keep a sketchbook that’s hard bound, you keep putting things in there and you don’t like it because you’re close to it and it doesn’t look like that cat, or that apple that you were drawing. And then later when you go back to flick through it you will say ‘well that’s perfectly fine’. You see it without the subject and just as a work.

How did you learn to knit?

I learnt on a train. I went to Scotland with a fashion designer called Bill Gibb and we went into this place where he was buying woven fabric and I noticed that they had these knitting yarns which were these beautiful, natural colours of the landscape. So I bought 20 colours and just thought they were so gorgeous, how could I get someone to knit me something. And I thought, whoever she is, she’s too slow for me. I need somebody faster so I’m going to learn myself. So I asked a woman on the train ‘do you know how to knit?’ and she showed me how.

It took me 20 minutes to learn. When people say to me ‘I couldn’t possibly do what you do’, I say ‘have you got 20 minutes? I’ll show you’.

Are there any other crafts you would like to master?

I don’t do classical embroidery like beautiful Oriental or Turkish embroidery. And I love them, love them, love them. That’s not something I’ve really mastered.

There are many things.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on some knitted blankets, like tapestries. Swatches that I’ve created and sewing them all together. I’ve done 35 of them so far and I’ll probably be doing about 50 by the time I’ve finished. I’ve got boxes and boxes of old swatches I’ve done in the past. So putting these patterned swatches together in itself becomes like a tapestry. They’re so complex and since I’ve done all the work, they’re just sitting around so I might as well make them into something that people can put on their wall and look at.

When you’re knitting or sewing, do you have anything on in the background?

Radio 4 is my friend! I just love the plays, the interviews, the spoken word I find fascinating. Because you’re all foreign to me darlings. I’m American, so to come over here and hear all your different accents and pronunciations. The flavour of accents in this country is wonderful. I love flavour so to me you’re all different flavours.

When you’re not crafting, what do you do?

I try to keep my body moving, I love to get out and stretch my legs and go to the gym or do a pilates class. When we were in lockdown I was doing pilates classes over Zoom and that was great because it just moved all your parts and got you more mobile. One of the things about getting old is your balance starts to go so you’re a danger to yourself on a staircase. It’s really good to learn to keep your balance in check.

And then I love to go to the cinema and since we couldn’t I’ve been watching a lot of television here, streaming films and things. I find that a great art, to see how films are put together. And I love the costumes and sets – like the costumes in Bridgerton. The dresses those ladies were wearing were fabulous!

Where do you get your inspiration from for your designs?

Well anything that doesn’t move fast enough! I’m sitting in a café in the West End at the moment and there are these girls walking past in fabulous outfits, the ones that have a bit of panache wear a Chinese brocade coat or something. I can never get enough of watching people. And when you see a pattern, particularly if someone is over the top then you see what that looks like. A great, huge, bigger than life roses on an outfit walking by. It just gives you ideas. And keeps your inspiration fresh.

What other textile artists/fabric designers do you admire?

The ones that use colour and strong patterns. Dolce & Gabbana – the ads they are doing with the completely patterned backgrounds in bright circus colours and then these outfits that are stripes and checkerboards. They are over the top, strong and I love that!

What would you like people to take from your book?

To be experimental and bold. I didn’t tidy up for this book, stuff is all over the place. We live in a creative mess but it’s daring and you’re trying things out. You’re not being timid, choking to death from good taste. Let’s be a bit vulgar and try stuff out.

I’m hoping that people will say ‘wow! If he can play with colour that way, why can’t I?’

What advice would you give to someone who would like to start knitting or sewing?

Don’t be afraid to go to extremes. If you have an idea, make it as big as possible. You can always cut it down later, try to do something that’s really exaggerated. I think that’s a great way of finding what you really love.