Liberty in Fashion

This year Liberty of London turns 140 years old; favourite purveyor of fine fabrics, the decorative arts and department store-based fantasies. In October the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London opened their exhibition ‘Liberty in Fashion’ to mark the occasion and celebrate Liberty’s most visible contribution to British design.

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On a blustery, rainy Saturday morning in November (when I probably should have been squirreled away in a library doing MA course work) I trekked south of the river for a day of unashamed textile ‘geekery’. I was at the F & T museum with the express purpose of undertaking an introductory course in textile weaving with the added incentive of a quick look around the Liberty exhibit once I had proved my worth as a weaver.

Master Weaver Caron Penney and her unwavering patience and enthusiasm, took the class of a dozen with varying skill-levels during a seven-hour crash course in the techniques of tapestry weaving. I got carried away with pink, black, white and silver glitter threads and powered through a 4 x 3” patch (tapestry is not a race). In a testament to Caron’s own skills, we all got quite ambitious with our techniques and I would urge anyone curious to keep an eye out for the many classes she runs throughout the country.

Work in progress

Work in progress

The finished product

The finished product

On a textile induced high, fingers buzzing with a new skill (“I could make a rug if I wanted!”) I breezed through the ‘Liberty in Fashion’ exhibition before the museum closed. There are over 150 examples of textiles and garments spanning Liberty’s lifetime, from the heritage of late 19th century Aesthetic dress and 20th century Art Nouveau designs, through to collaborations with Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. The beauty of the exhibition, and it really is hard not to call it beautiful, is the drawing of a concurrent thread through a century of British Fashion. Pattern is king at Liberty, but the emphasis on fabric production lends accessibility to the garments. Liberty doesn’t draw a distinction between the high and low, and while Manolo Blahnik may be covering his iconic shoes in the Hesketh print this November, your Grandmother could be using that same fabric to make her handkerchiefs.

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‘Liberty in Fashion’ is open at the Fashion & Textile Museum until February 28, 2016.

Opening times and tickets available here: http://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/liberty-in-fashion/

Caron Penney has worked with artists like Tracey Emin, and now runs her own Tapestry studio called Weftfaced. Dates for her workshops can be found there: http://www.weftfaced.com