Sitting in the Sun with Kaffe Fassett's "Quilts in the Sun", a review
I bought Kaffe Fassett's book Quilts in the Sun not because I thought for one moment that I would actually manage to make a quilt, but because I wanted a souvenir from an exhibition held in our nearest city, Bath, in the South West of England.
On the bookstand that accompanied the Blue and White exhibition at the Victoria Gallery, where Fassett was displaying some of his work, was Quilts in the Sun. Even among Fassett's other colorful books, Quilts in the Sun stood out with its sunlit cover. A flick through hinted that this book was going to live up to that cover, and the book came home and sat on a shelf.
One summer weekend when my husband was away working, without the distraction of wanting to be involved in whatever he was doing, or planning to do, or persuading him to join me in how I fancied spending a weekend day, our underused balcony, catching the late morning sun, beckoned.
Of all the glossy books in our living room, bought because they're irresistible, but tragically under-read, Quilts in the Sun just had to be the one. It wasn't just the title. It's because there's something about materials, and handicrafts, that I find incredibly attractive, and restorative. It was a way to make the absolute most of a quiet few hours. Of course, lurking underneath was the thought that if you're going to sit and read a craft book, you should be ready to consider making something. Since realising that I am largely a starter, and not a finisher in such projects, my confidence in even starting things has been damaged. It's not a great feeling. On a less sunny, less relaxed day, this under-current might have put me off picking up the book. But I wasn't worrying about that now. Cup of tea, pair of shorts, sun top, sorted.
And then this happened (Fig 1).
And then this. (Fig 2)
Followed by this. (Fig 3 and 4)
I was just blown away by these photographs. The book features twenty different quilts, photographed in exquisitely complementary architectural locations. These settings are all in Portugal, and in particular the cities of Lisbon, and Porto. Santa Catarina Castle provides several backdrops. The sun is there in abundance in these photos, lighting up the colorful architecture as well as the quilts themselves.
After Fassett's sumptuous introduction, giving the backstory of his inspirations and collaborations, we launch into the free-for-all of color, pattern and shape that is the quilts, in the sun, on location. There's a main photo for each one, and then more detailed, closer ones, showcasing the fabrics that have gone into the patchworks.
Twenty quilts presented in this way might seem like they could be over quickly, but they invite you to linger. Nowhere have I seen a picture celebrate blue more than in the photo of Blue Portugal. (Although Kaffe's portrait here is a pretty close second!). Or the color lilac glow more than in the picture of Jane's Diamonds Pastel. The illustrations of Framed Jar (above) and Sunny Frames (below) are here to speak for themselves, without such irresistible hyperbole!
Many of the fabrics and quilts are designed by Fassett himself, but he is not above showcasing others' work, or using their fabric designs in his own quilts. He clearly takes joy in their creativity too. The book is in essence a collaboration between Fassett, textile designers including the gloriously floral Philip Jacobs, quilt designers Liza Prior Lucy and others, and location photographer Debbie Patterson. But it's Fassett who brings them together in his exquisite and ambitious "styling" of the photo shoots.
Mid-book there's an evocative profile of one of the designers whose fabrics we see - Amy Butler - illustrated by pictures of the recesses of her studio, and colorfully furnished home, in the hills of Ohio. It's the most text-dense part of the book and an interesting read.
The fabrics themselves are combined to enormous vibrancy, even where they are earthy toned, like the riches of Earthy Frames. A picture of this quilt forms the front cover to the currently available version of the book. Side by side, the fabrics that Fassett creates and chooses are dynamite. You can almost imagine him in his studio, not just visualising another incredibly vibrant fabric, but how much more vibrant it will be pitched against another one from his actual or imagined repertoire.
It was also intriguing to see how different the same fabric designs looked in their alternative color schemes. They all had their strengths, but the ambience they brought varied greatly. Kaffe Fassett's Lotus Leaf appears in Sunny Frames, in "Jade" and "Yellow", in Earthy Frames in "Umber", and elsewhere in "Green", "Red", and "Blue".
The last of the larger sections of the book lays out further, flat-facing, rather than draped, photos of the quilts, so that you can see the design straight on. Beside them are the make-up charts and instructions. I even had a read through many of the instructions, without pressure, because I had become genuinely interested in knowing the minutiae of how the quilts were created. Then some tips, keys, biographies and stockists complete the book.
I learnt something the weekend I explored this book. Even if it's not what Fassett intended, I learnt that I love fabrics, I love threads, I love colors, I love juxtapositions of colors, and I can completely revel in the possibilities of such things, and make it a complete experience.
I came to terms with the fact that I'm not a great craft-project finisher, but it was liberating to realise that this doesn't have to stop me from enjoying the art that goes into them. In the same way, that just because I can lose myself in an oil painting pictured in some of my other books, I don't need to complete the experience by taking up brushes myself.
So far was my interest piqued, that I even started looking up the fabrics online. If, like me, you worry that if you bought these they would go to waste, then please just see these fabric links as illustrations. I have to admit, I'd still like to buy them just to touch them, and see them up close, but maybe that is somewhat eccentric. If you are a successful quilter, then hats-off to your patience, staying power, and creativity. Although I'm not the one for the task, these beautiful and long-lasting quilts do need bringing to life.