Alec Walker was a painter and son of a Yorkshire Textile Mill owner. Teaming up with Kathleen Earle, his wife, and Tom Heron, Patrick Heron’s father, he began Crysede, hand block printing studio producing high end fabrics and fashion.
The Crysede archive is held across three Cornish musuems, Truro, St Ives and Penlee. I booked through the curator at Penlee to see the part of the collection they hold. Penlee have a number of fabric swatch books, dye colour swatches (believed to be disperse dyes) and a number of items of clothing and soft furnishings made from these beautiful hand printed fabrics.
The fabric swatch books are a real gem. The bright colours are not quite what you expect when imagining fabrics from the 1920s and 30s. The designs are fanciful and feature brush strokes almost like water colours and the motifs feature sailing ships, fish, tin mine towers and other fanciful things you find amongst the Cornish landscape. There is very little detail in the swatch books, pencil notes next the swatches give indications of the colours needed ‘4W indigo, 1W Mimosa, 1W Congo, Std Parrot, 2W Petunia’ but the designs are not named. There are some neon very contemporary ‘imprime chaine’ woven pieces which were fashionable at the time and the colourways feature fluorescent pinks, pale blues with purple and sunshine yellows. A huge disparity from the glum, drab, pastel and earth tones I perhaps have associated with this era of design.
The colour palettes and the names they use conjure up further glamorous and bohemian lifestyles. ‘Picasso’, ‘Tango’, ‘Puce’, ‘Electric’, ‘Gorse’, ‘New Flame’, ‘Congo’ and ‘Prune’ stand out. The palettes are on backgrounds of dark blue, red and beige. The beige blocks of colour show red, yellow and blue primaries in rectangular shades. The red and dark blue palettes are circles of equal size and organised by hue and lightness. They are very beautiful and offer an insight into the process behind the artistic designs.
The final part of the archive, which I was allowed to photograph from photos on their database, hence the blury photographs, are the products. Long, dreamy dresses from the high fashion collections Crysede produced, followed by more matronly outfits, made specifically for Tom Heron’s wife and then, and these were the most lovely in some ways, various household items which were rumoured to have been made up from fabric pinched by the workers who printed it, turned into tea cosies, men’s shirts and curtains. The digital archive also featured larger fabric swatches where you could see some of the designs in repeat. Afterwards I was allowed to see some of the objects in the flesh where they were pulled out of their wrappers from a large storage vault and wafted in front of me. I would truly love to own a Crysede dress, but I think printing my own will be the only way I ever shall.