My Life in Textiles - four decades of classic knitwear design

My Life in Textiles exhibition catalogue : front cover

Pattern, colour and texture are key to Sasha Kagan's creative process and her exhibition ‘My Life in Textiles’ reflects the importance of these elements in her work over the last four decades. Although Sasha trained as a painter and printmaker, she was immersed in the needle arts from an early age, as both her mother and grandmother were enthusiastic and proficient knitters and needlewomen.

When she moved to Wales from London in 1972, Sasha further developed her interest in knitted textiles by setting up her designer led hand-knit business. This began in 1974 with four outworkers and ten years later she had 130 knitters and orders coming in worldwide. The commitment and enthusiasm Sasha has for her craft make it possible for her to run a successful national and international business while raising a family and maintaining a rural lifestyle.

Since then, she has continued to be extremely busy and has created two collections a year, exhibited widely, had regular international lecture tours, been a contributor to many craft magazines, made kits to enthuse knitters and authored six books with her seventh due to be published in Spring 2011.

Mounting this exhibit is part of Sasha's ongoing mission to “elevate knitting to a much higher status and encourage the next generation”. The exhibition is based around six of her main recurring pattern themes – Geometrics, Witty and Whimsicals, Folkloric, Florals, Leaves and the new range of abstract designs based on close up studies of lichens, slate and stone. Sasha's garment designs are knitted in classic shapes that can easily be adapted at different times in new yarns and colour ways to fit fashion trends.

Inspiration is never far away. Sasha's studio is in the heart of Mid Wales and if the views from her studio should fail to inspire, she has thirteen acres of land to explore and reflect the changes of the seasons.

Jill Piercy – Exhibition Curator

My Life in Textiles - geometric 1 geometric

Originally inspired to take up knitting by her love of Fairisle sweaters from the 1940s, the rich, intricately-patterned cardigans and slipovers crafted by her mother an aunt gave Sasha the ides of designing her own geometric knits. These began as small squares, triangles, spots and zig-zags, and went on to explore the three-dimensional shapes that had been a recurring theme in her art school days.

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This section illustrates Sasha's underlying interest in craft-based folk design and traditional peasant costume. Embroidered and smocked blouses from Bulgaria, Russian kerchiefs, shawls and Matryoshka dolls, woven ribbons from Eastern Europe amd French provincial cotton fabrics have inspired her to create her own interpretation of this perennial theme. Tiny all-over repeating motifs, borders that lead into geometric scatterings of flowers, Paisley swirls and floral fantasies are offered knitted-up in classic shapes for today's folk heroine.

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My Life in Textiles - florals 1 florals

From the early days of Rose, Daisy, Iris and Marigold in the Sasha Kagan Sweater Book (1984), flowers have played a major role in Sasha's design repertoire. Originally aligned in ribbon formations and accented with bands of mohair knitted in the ‘Fairisle’ technique, the motifs were later set free and developed into floating bouquets and all-over prints as she developed her ‘Woven Intarsia’ hand-knitting technique. A keen gardener, Sasha never fails to be inspired by the beauty of both wild and cultivated flowers. Crochet is often employed to give a delicate finish to these totally feminine pieces.

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My Life in Textiles - leaves 1 leaves

With William Morris as her all-time hero, in terms of ideals, life-style and fabric design, Sasha enjoys playing with the elegance of leaf patterns and never tires of reflecting the seasonal rhythms of nature by taking her inspiration from the countryside. Borders with more intense patterning frame the multi-directional leaf prints defining the space and accentuating these flowing designs. Stripes, textures and bi-colour ribs are employed to emphasise the tactile qualities of tree bark and leaf shapes. Buttons made from wood and nuts often complete the composition.

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My Life in Textiles - abstract 1 abstract

Taking inspiration from her painting and print-making days, Sasha has begun to take a retrospective look at abstract patterns as a source of ideas. Surrounded as she is by the natural forms made by lichen, fungus, slate, protruding rocks and crystals, she is looking at the underlying geometry inherent in nature's patterning. The designs are interlocking, the repeats large and the opportunity for the shapes to relate on multiple levels is facilitated by use of ‘individual intarsia’ hand-knitting techniques.

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My Life in Textiles - witty and whimsical 1 witty and whimsical

The needle arts of embroidery and cross-stitch were a formative influence on Sasha's textile upbringing, hours spent counting threads, splitting embroidery skeins, ironing-on transfers and stitching fabric are reflected in the naïve quality of this design section. Light-hearted animal motifs dance across the space, twisting this way and that in a cheerful frenzy; quirky imagery, bright colours, striped borders and bold graphics make these designs ideal for young and old alike, appealing to the child in all of us.

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