I've spent the afternoon at one of the last talks in the programme of this years Stroud Textile Festival in the company of Deirdre McSharry. The title "Sailing to Byzantium" tempted me with its eastern promise and hint of glorious colour and exoticism. Whilst I wouldn't really say that it was quite the concentration of rich pattern and opulence I had in mind, it was nevertheless interesting and it's led me off on a trail of discovery I wouldn't necessarily have followed.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wasn't someone I'd heard of, though what I have read of her since I arrived home tempts me to find out more. In particular, I'll get hold of a copy of her "Turkish Embassy Letters" which seem fascinating, if not quite a holiday paperback! Another woman who I had certainly heard of but knew little about is Lady Ottoline Morrell. We heard of how D McS is researching the life of Lady Ottoline through her wardrobe, which has been left to the Bath Fashion Museum
I'd like to read more of this lady and her life. Surrounded by members of the Bloomsbury group, days in her London salon and at Garsington Manor can have been anything but dull. We were told of her influence by the Ballet Russes and a spray of Amber and Musk conveyed the audience into that world - how powerful the sense of smell is! Sadly, the visual images were restricted to this picture of costumes for Firebird, but our imagination was prompted by the idea that Lady Ottoline had a box of rather special clothes for visitors. Anyone turning up in normal, everyday attire could transform themselves into a rather more exotic creature for the duration of their stay. Now that sounds like fun!
Next up was Denise Poiret, wife of the fashion designer Paul Poiret whose liberation from wearing a corset allowed her to wear all kinds of wonderful shapes, including the "lampshade tunic". Isn't this a great photograph of her?
By now, D McS was winding up her talk - even though there was half an hour to go! We were introduced to Lesley Blanch and her "Anti-beige" crusade; another fascinating woman who wrote "The Wilder Shores of Love" about four nineteenth-century women who gravitated eastwards in a time when such travel was a particularly daring thing to do. (Another one for my Amazon wishlist) And then, to finish, Marina Warner was mentioned, someone who I didn't really associate with the eastern influence at all, but reading her biography, I see that she has connections with Cairo and is working on a novel set in Egypt.
And that was that. No-one asked a question, sadly. It's wrong to say I felt a little shortchanged, for as you can tell, there was enough "meat" in the talk to last me quite a while. But I would have loved more colour, the tales of these people to be more richly embroidered with detail, perhaps more illustration. The pictures I've included here are more or less the same ones used in the talk - mostly from wikipedia - and though there were a couple of others shown, (a particularly lovely painting called "Lady drinking coffee" by an unknown artist, showing her wearing an amazing turban. I also loved the wonderful painting of Denise Poiret wearing her lampshade tunic, which I haven't found online either) there was not a great deal of visual interest during the talk.
D McS had however, brought along a fine Ikat coat with a strikingly lovely lining which she told us about when her talk had ended. Whilst there was a scrum to take a closer look at it, she mentioned an article in this month's "World of Interiors" magazine with some details of these coats in an extract from a new book and CD "Russian Textiles: Printed Cloth from the Bazaars of Central Asia" (the Amazon list gets longer). And, yes, I stopped in Waitrose on the way home to get a copy of the magazine - not one I normally even pick up and browse through - and found it a rich source of all kinds of interesting stuff. I must keep an eye on that one in future.
So, it seems as though the ticket for the talk was money well spent...even if it does look like it's going to cost me a little bit more yet.