28 July 2013

Pocket Picasso - more Tammis Keefe

Handkerchiefs designed by Tammis Keefe.

After a flutter of photography by me, and several hours of patient website editing by my DH, we've added more than seventy recently-acquired handkerchiefs to the more than four hundred already on view at www.tammiskeefe.com, our website featuring the artist, Tammis Keefe (1913 - 1960.) 

Article by NEA journalist Gaile [sic] Dugas, 1956.

Tammis Keefe employed New York fashion publicist Rea Lubar (1920 - 2004) to promote her work, and Ms. Lubar created and sent press releases to such outlets such as the National Editorial Association (now the National Newspaper Association), an organization which provided features for community newspapers. NEA writers prepared articles such as the one in the above image, which would be published in multiple community newspapers in the US and Canada.

Text of the article:

Open up your handbag right now and take out your handkerchief.  If it's a print linen, the chances are very good that is bears the signature "Tammis Keefe" in one corner. 

For what bone is to china, Tammis Keefe is to handkerchiefs.  She's been at handkerchief design only nine years, but those years have seen a revolution in handkerchief styles.

From bunches of roses (or violets) coyly tied with ribbon, we've graduated to subtle (or bold) color and striking design.  All in good taste.

Women collect her handkerchiefs, which probably accounts for a high percentage of their phenomenal sales.  For one can, after all, blow one's nose on a paper tissue. But it isn't half so much fun as a satisfying honk into a Tammis Keefe design.
From the drawing board of her East 61st Street studio, Tammis Keefe readily admits that the role of the handkerchief has shifted in the last few years.

"More and more, they're becoming fashion accessories," she explains. "Women like to use them as a flash of color in a belt, at the neck of a shirt or tied through French cuffs in place of link."

In designing, she has many things to consider. The special holidays: Christmas, birthdays, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and such things as bon voyage and get-well-quick.

She does about 50 handkerchiefs designs a year.  Then, she must consider color.  Not only must it be in good taste and original in use, it must also follow the current fashion trends.

"I can't use a lot of brown if everything's pink," she says.  "Then, too, I must watch seasonal color.  The handkerchiefs I've just completed for spring are creamy, pastel and delicate. For fall, I use color boldly, vividly."

American good taste, she thinks, is at the highest level ever. It's been improving steadily in the last decade.  Never before were there so many things in such good design for so little money.

"When I first started designing, it was because I was literally driven to it," she says.  "My mother loved pretty handkerchiefs and I found it nearly impossible to get her something really lovely at the price I could pay. That was how I started."

Tammis Keefe now also designs glasses. shower curtains, drapery and upholstery fabrics, table linens  and towels, dress fabrics and scarves.

Practically everything finds its way to a Tammis Keefe handkerchief sooner or later: watches, antiques, hitching posts and weather vanes, Persian people and animals, Christmas angels and ornaments. But no more nosegays and ribbons. 
Keefe's point about American taste is more than just a note of patriotism. After the war, the European fashion industry, led by Paris, sought to resume exports of its products to the American market. At the same time leaders in American retailing, such as Dorothy Shaver, president of Lord & Taylor, strove to promote American design and production. 

Also interesting is Keefe's ability to "cross over" from fashion accessories into home furnishings. Although this is now common - think Ralph Lauren for the home, not to mention Calvin Klein - I think this was unusual for the late 1950's.  The research continues...

04 July 2013

Harisho Studio - sekka shibori

Sekka shibori fabrics.

Sekka kimono.

As part of a textile study tour, our group visited a true rara avis of Japan - the last remaining studio producing traditional sekka-style shibori fabric. 

First, have you ever made paper snowflakes?  The process involves folding paper, snipping into the folds, and then carefully opening up the paper to reveal a lacey and almost magically symmetrical snowflake. My children and I used to decorate our dining room windows with these every winter.

The paper snowflake process is a very basic cousin of the process that the artists of the Harisho studio in Arimatsu use to create beautifully patterned cloth in the sekka pattern.  The Japanese word sekka is translated as snowflake or "folded flower." Narrow lengths of cotton are folded, clamped and dyed in a very deliberate manner to produce one of the traditional patterns developed over generations.

Left: rolls of cloth. right top, bottom: street, storefront of studio.

Precision-folding yards of fabric.

Stack of folded fabric grows ever higher.

It takes 12 yards or more of the traditional 15-inch wide fabric to make a lightweight summer kimono.  First, the length of fabric is folded, along its length, accordion-style - if you made paper fans in kindergarten, you've done this part. Then the folded fabric is further manipulated into triangular folds, with the help of an iron, as seen in the image above. The craftsman, or craftswoman,  also uses a spray bottle of water, as damp fabric is easier to manipulate.

Compressing the folded cloth using  a special vise.

The triangular stack of fabric is then squeezed using clamps in a vise. In the image above a kimono forms a sheer curtain behind the craftsman, whom I assume is the studio owner, but I'm not sure about this.

Folded and clamped cloth.

The end result is a bundle of folded fabric, each edge and face precise and crisp, clamped between two triangles of wood. The blue on the wood is the stain from previous dye baths.

Another view of folded fabric.
In the image above gives another look at the folded fabric. (The blue and white textiles behind were patterned using other techniques.) Once clamped the fabric will be dyed. There are many options for the dyer - including, for example, immersing the entire bundle in one color, or, alternatively, dipping each point  in a separate color, resulting in a polychrome effect.  Also, the folds can be varied, to obtain different "snowflake" patterns.  Traditionally, the background is left white.

Rolls of sekka cloth.

Bolts of ikat fabric mixed in with sekka shibori.

After viewing the work in progress at the studio store, we walked to the factory location, where the dyeing is done and where, I gathered, there used to be larger-scale production of sekka and mame shibori  (mame shibori merits its own blog post in the future.) There was also a display area with current and historical sekka samples. At one time Harisho was exporting shibori cloth to Africa and we saw some samples from that era, in colorways tailored to the African market.

Samples of sekka shibori for African retail.

To the rear in the image above we see traditional blue and white sekka shibori, with samples for the African market displayed horizontally, and a piece of blue and white mame shibori draped in front.

Polychrome effects - colorful snowflakes.

Factory dyeing area.

Top, cloth drying. Bottom, left: vintage packaging, right: dye vats.

During the Arimatsu Shibori Festival (future post, I promise) rolls of sekka are for sale. However, placemats and napkins can be purchased from http://shop.yoshikowada.com/boutique. The current colorways on offer are limited to blue-and-white and pink-and-white. The pink-and-white would be fun for outdoor entertaining.

Placemats and napkins to order; image courtesy Yoshiko Wada.

Historically, nappery associated with eating is where it all began in Arimatsu, and its sister village Narumi, as the inns along the 17-century road called the Tokkaido needed bulk supplies of washable towels and napkins and other items for guests making their way to Edo, as Tokyo was known then. So, everything old is indeed new again.