The Significance of Textiles - A Personal Exploration by Fran White

By Fran White


Thoughts and feelings in relation to textiles- what it was that drew me to MATERIALS  - TEXTILES - CLOTHES - Was it the VISUAL IMPACT? The COLOUR? The CUT?  The STYLE? The Texture? The TACTILE QUALITY? 

What  stimuli caused the correct, comfortable, satisfying, inspirational connection?  A mixture of WEIGHT, STROKABILITY, PORTABILITY, (think of Linus, in the Peanut cartoon, and his blanket), even SMELL, SOUND  & possibly, taste could be included as they all stimulate memories, associations & discussions. 

So, my journey returns to a turquoise blue cot in a seaside hotel in Essex, I am  approximately 2 years old and definitely feel warm & comfortable, well-fed and, most importantly, have a woollen cellular  blanket nearby, similar to the enclosed blue one.  From this I deduce that TOUCH , TEXTURE, SMELL, ROUGHNESS or SMOOTHNESS are important factors in my first associations with textiles!   I am led on to a mole skin  fur coat I wore to parties, to the incredibly soft fur cuffs on  my mothers leopard skin coat that I used to nuzzle when on long car journeys , in the same way kittens snuffle around their mothers!  Years past and I arrive  in my late teens at the soft, supple  blouson seude jacket which had padded shoulders  and a clinched in waist with its own matching belt, I realise actually writing this down how significant this piece of clothing was, I used to wear it a lot, even on cold Norfolk winter days while watching a friend ride, it was totally inappropriate & I froze.  It isn't still with me as I fear it was stolen from my flat,  I believe this is true as I find it hard to imagine that I would ever have let it go. 

Funnily enough I think it had the same provenance as the enclosed bright red jacket, this came from my step-grandmother, called Opal.  Opal died in 1980 and she left wardrobes full of incredible clothes, she was well-known for her adherence to smart fashion and she owned many coutourier clothes, most of these are now in the Maidstone Museum and several (made by Digby Morton), are in the Dress Gallery at the V.& A.  I was lucky enough to be a similar size and therefore inherited many of these treasures.  I used to wear the red jacket, labelled Salon Moderne, Saks Fifth Avenue.  I don't remember her wearing it so it brings back no associations with its previous owner.  I liked it so much that when it started falling to bits I mended it with totally inappropriate  thick velvet as the colour matched so well, and later on, once I had started my LINEN HIRE  business and was buying stock at Country House sales, I had a copy made by a local dress maker in Monks Gate, using some old curtain fabric I had  bought at  South Lodge in Lower Beeding.  I think the copy is quite satisfactory as the material lends itself to the opulent feel of the original, however the swing of the pockets with the three stuffed rolls and the curve on the heavily darted sleeves don't quite match, also the buttons really finish off  the lavishness of  Opals jacket.

As a post script to the above I believe my love of fine fabrics comes also from my true maternal grandmother ,  Elizabeth Aileen, who died from diabeties when only 40 years old.  In 1929 she employed a 21 year old ladies maid, Kathleen, chosen because she was 'clean & fresh looking'.   As a result of the above exploration I telephoned Kathleen, who is now 86 and dredged her incredible memory for information of  Elizabeth Aileen.  The household was temporarily affected by the Wall Street crash  but that didn't stop Elizabeth buying a new evening dress every month for the first 13 months of Kathleen's employment. 

Kathleen remembers a yellow Schiaparelli dress, she also shopped at Norman Hartnell, Digby Morton and Hardy Amies, (Opal did too  as well as freqenting many French Coutouriers).   Needless to say Kathleen considered this true grandmother much smarter  than her successor, she called her 'immaculate' and reckoned she  chose beautiful materials.  Of course Kathleen was biased, and obviously very close to Elizabeth, she chose what clothes Elizabeth would wear each day, these were turned out twice a year and a lot were given to Kathleen as they were similar sizes.  Kathleen's job included making all Elizabeth's underwear including putting pleats into her camiknickers.  Kathleen is certain that Elizabeth would be horrified with the clothes of today, too casual and when I mentioned how useful denim was she replied 'too useful'.  It amused me to realise that Elizabeth couldn't sew, nor can my mother, so my creative abilities in that direction are possibly inherited from my paternal grandmother, from whom I have also inherited many wonderful items, a velvet backed, heavily  fringed,black/orange/crimson/gold woven shawl to name but one.

I realise that I suffer from a 'strong and often inexplicable affinity towards textiles'.  The outlet for this obsession is my business where I hire out fabrics, mostly tablecloths & napkins, to photographic stylists for use in advertising and editorial photography.  I am able to indulge my passion for different materials from all around the world as the photographs are used mainly to illustrate cookery books, which nowadays includes Indian, Chinese, Thai Mexican,  as well as British &  European.  I have resisted from choosing a piece from Linen Hire, and I have avoided even mentioning my huge collection of scarves!  The two jackets and blanket are in a basket I bought when I spent a weekend in Guatamala almost 20 years ago.  On a later trip to Peru I purchased a simple poncho from Pisac market and have often been amused when I see it on a cardboard pack containing Mexican food on sale at Tescos.

Finally I have added a white sheperdesses bonnet (which belonged to my husband's aunt who taught art in Brighton).  I have included this as it illustrates my love of simple materials, by this I mean the one colour for fabric & stitch.  In fact I think the shaping of this article is highly sophisticated and maybe its use was more complicated than a mere sheperdess, i.e. to be worn by unmarried daughters, or some such ruling!