Friday, 14 May 2010


Before I start I apologise, this is going to be a long post with a lot of images, but I've been caught by a bug, I'm in seventh heaven and totally inspired. Thanks to a very interesting talk on Sousanis, given by Olivia Dell in her lovely little shop in Nailsworth. Of course this is part of the Stroud Textile Festival and ties in with a lovely exhibition on at Newark Park. However I wouldn't have gone to the talk if it wasn't for hubby's aunt who invited me to join her. I'm always keen to find out more so I happily went along.

We sat around on straw stools, drinking Melissa tea and eating Bakalva and Turkish Delight as Olivia told us how she came to have such an amzaing collection before she started pulling the sousanis off the shelf, like a wily purveyor of Eastern goods (I'll give you special price!), flinging them in the air by the corners and letting the cloth fall to the floor for us to admire and scrutinise.
The word sousani comes from the Persian for needle and these amazing embroidered materials would originally have been wedding canopies, bedspreads, table cloths or prayer mats. Something to brighten up their homes amidst the colourless landscape in which they lived

The women of the family would painstakingly embroider the design, which would have been drawn by the 'wise woman' of the village. Members of the family would then be given a strip of the fabric and work it independently, perhaps taking it away from the village during the summer months, only to return with a finished piece to be added to the others. As a result the colours and patterns do not match perfectly, but this is embraced rather than posing as a problem and, I think, adds to the personal nature and provenance of each piece. Looking in detail at this work, and think about how much time it would take to do, made me realise my incompetencies - lack of skill and patience to say the least!

Then we digressed to Matisse, as some of the motifs were familiar to those found in his work. While I did go to the Matisse exhibition I don't remember much about it so now I really want to read the enormous Hilary Spurling Biography I've had for years (and it's only volume 1). Where I'm I meant to find the time to do that?

But for me the most eye catching element of the sousani was the backs! I've found a new passion I think and I'm going to have to have words with Sarah to see if I can persuade her to do a new collection just for me. The wonderful Russian cotton fabrics are beautiful. The lightness of the fabric, the lovely designs and the wonderful colours, I'm just so happy. So happy that I've had to order this amazing book . I just hope it comes quickly!

The better examples of the fabrics were actually in Olivia's supply of 'coats'. The outside would be richly coloured velvets or brightly coloured ikat silks. Inside the random use of colour and pattern is brilliant. Some times there are three or four different fabrics used for the inside of one coat, but your eye doesn't even notice it at first. And it really doesn't seem to matter whether they clash or tone with the outside.

I don't really know the history of these fabrics, I think they were made especially for the East Asian market but my google -ing has proved futile so far and I'm going to have to wait until my new book comes before I fully understand.

Meanwhile I shall just have to lust after these images. I was sorely tempted to by an Ottoman coat, I need something to replace my grubby terry-towelling dressing gown but couldn't quite justify spending £175 no matter how beautiful the Russian fabric inside is.

This red tulip design was gorgeous (Sarah take note), and it had deep purple version of the same design on other parts of the coat

And this butterfly/flower design is so pretty and the coat so lovely you could wear it either way round. The combination of the silk ikat and light Russian cotton made it incredibly comfortable and easy to wear. I flounced around in front of the mirror for quite a bit until baby screeched because she'd dropped her book and brought me back to reality.

I would just like to thank Olivia who very kindly let me photograph to my hearts content this morning.


  1. What a lovely post... I have met Olivia in her shop, and oh,my, what a treasure trove! She explained the history of the oya scarves there and I wanted each and every one........

  2. Wonderful post - I'm inspired myself after that. Thank you for sharing!

  3. beautiful.... but not as beautiful as my box of delights that arrived from you!
    i cannot bear to remove any of it from the delicious stripey box - i just keep losing myself amongst its contents :)
    i cannot thank you enough - i adore it all and feel incredibly lucky x
    i now of course NEED to buy some of your fabric :)
    happy weekend to you all... sunshine :)
    t x

  4. Just absolutely beautiful - thanks for sharing this.