Quite Contrary

Chelsea, 1966: 

I was just leaving school when Kaffe Fassett and Bill Gibb set up shop in the King’s Road, designing clothes based on what young women like me with no money were wearing. On the train back from Aberdeen after visiting Bill’s parents Kaffe saw a woman knitting and asked her to show him how. After that, he was off. Never use 2 colours when 29 will do. And if you’re stuck, add another colour. I’ve been known to call him evil. All my attempts to knit one of his designs have ended in disaster.

Plymouth, 2006: 

I only went to the conference to please Jane who’d organised it. She gave me a ticket as a thank you for baby-sitting her Gran in the run-up. To be honest an afternoon with Gran was more my cup of tea. You could knit properly, let the still-only-slightly-confused conversation float past. But Jane’s brother, the grandson, was coming for the weekend and I wasn’t needed.

I collected my goody-bag from reception then perched on a stool to choose my workshops. Kaffe’s was already full, which was fine by me. But then Jane had a major panic about the conference dinner and asked me to stand in for her at Kaffe’s workshop while she sorted it out. I must say meeting him was quite a thrill. The floppy dark fringe was now short and grey but his hands were never still as he talked about his latest show, Quilt Mania.

I stumbled a bit introducing him but no-one noticed, they just wanted to hear from Kaffe. They’d all brought an object to inspire a piece of knitting. I didn’t have one of course but Kaffe handed me a Midwinter saucer, a gorgeous pattern called Quite Contrary: pink, grey, black and turquoise stars on a cream background. 

He had just the right colours in his vast stash, but people needed more help than Kaffe could manage on his own and I had to pitch in too. No time for designing. At the end of the workshop I was about to toss the yarns back when Kaffe swooped them into a clear plastic bag with a zip lock. 

At the dinner Jane and Kaffe sat far away on the high table like mediæval monarchs. I got rather drunk and went to bed early.

The next day he didn’t appear. I knew he was leaving at 2 to catch a train. At 1.45 his partner appeared in the lobby with matching sets of needlepoint luggage piled on a trolley. At 1.57 he began to tap one pointed purple leather shoe on the tiled floor. I barely felt the brush on my arm as Kaffe raced past, his famous leather satchel flapping open. A flurry of lifted suitcases and they were gone.

The spectacle case had been left next to my coffee cup with one of his business cards inside: Quite Contrary, Kaffe Fassett, April 2006.*

by Susanna Reece

* N.B. This is a work of fiction. It’s possible that the designer-maker of this purse is the author and not Kaffe Fassett!


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