Thursday 20 October 2011

Meetings With Remarkable Women - Elizabeth Gibbons & Penpont Textile Fair 22-23 October 2011

To tell the truth, we are surrounded by remarkable people, and it is sad that sometimes we are too busy or too shy or too in awe to get to know them. At the Textile Society Fair in Chelsea, it was delightful to say hello to a number of women who are working with textiles, and to find out a little more about them. Elizabeth Gibbons is well known for her love of Antique Textiles and her well-edited collections. Her life in textiles began ordinarily enough with her obtaining a double degree in both Hand and Machine Printed Textiles. Then life started to get exciting. She ran away to Delhi, India and married a fellow student, an architect from the same college. While assisting in the selling of Indian textiles in a well-known craft store there she won an All India Competition organized by a famous Delhi cloth mill and was well rewarded. From Delhi, she moved with her husband when his firm relocated to Singapore. There Elizabeth started and built up a hand-block printing workshop with male Chinese labour (and also weaving on hand looms with Chinese women). All the fabrics were designed by Elizabeth and incorporated typical scenes from local life, e.g. rickshaws, painting batik cloths, Malay houses with curved roofs, and puppets, all cut in wooden blocks by trainees, and printed with very good, vibrant dyes from I.C.I. in England. These were made up into table linen or dresses, etc. according to individual customer's requests. Singapore was not the end of the journey for Elizabeth. Next, there was a move, again with her husband, to Kuala Lumpur (Malaya). Her flourishing business in Singapore was gifted to charity. In Kuala Lumpur, Elizabeth designed large dolls in Malay costume with Malay features (mainly for tourists) under the auspices of a famous gift shop, while running a small craft complex at home. Then returning home to the UK, Elizabeth made church vestments for the monks at Haverstock Hill and hats for John Lewis and Peter Jones. She had a studio at Barley Mow Workspace, Chiswick, where she made one-off items which were sold by Liberty's in London, Bloomingdales in New York, and some shops in Paris. (Barley Mow was an old and very smart factory space which was converted into studios for designers.) About this time, or soon after, Elizabeth was asked to take classes in Adult Education, teaching needlecrafts, collage, and crochet. She taught in Chelsea, Westminster, Fulham, South Kensington, Putney, and later at the Royal School of Needlework and the American College in London where she lectured in Textiles to students of 95 nationalities who were taking their B.A. and M.A. in Interior Design or Fashion Design. It was only after all this that she began her work with Antique Textiles. (One or two people predicted she would be a natural, especially as she had so many collections!). The rest, Elizabeth says, is history.
But it is important to mention that somewhere in the midst of her travels and work, Elizabeth raised 5 children. If you would like to meet Elizabeth, you can do so this coming weekend if you visit the 2 day Textile Fair at Penpont, a famous country house Near Brecon, in the Black Mountains, Wales. And you never know who else you might meet! Click here for more details of the fair.

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