Jasper Conran

Jasper Conran suffers from fashion’s most pleasurable form of schizophrenia. On a visit to the theatre, you can wear his designs in the auditorium and watch them on stage at the same time. But though the theatrical costumes have been drawn by the same hand, aesthetically they are 1,000,000 miles away from the simple black crepe you’re wearing. “Designing for the theatre or the ballet keeps me sane” he says. “I don’t have to worry about whether it’s commercial, or who is going to buy. It’s completely unrestricted.”

With numerous ballets and theatrical productions under his belt – David Bintley’s Edward II, staged by the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1997, numbered no further than 700 costumes – Conran still finds enough time to devote to fashion to generate a multi-million pound turnover for his company each year.

A precocious talent, Conran has been designing since 1978, when he showed his debut collection at the age of 19. “And I’ve never really got bored, because it’s like going on a constant voyage. Each season I visit Italy to look at the fabrics and they inspire me. I love cloth and I love women; putting them together is a privilege.”

Conran’s designs are enormously popular. The key to his enduring success is his respect for the woman he dresses in his trademark simple columns of crepe decorated with optical prints or contrasting bands of colour, or his deceptively simple jackets that fit sexily without restriction. “Your favourite dress should be like a friend you can rely on. A lot of designers spend their time dressing dolls, which I think is demeaning. Real fashion should be for real woman.”

Equally as important as the design it self, is the quality of the fabrics he uses. From the affordable J range (designed in association with Debenhams department store group since 1996) to the exclusive materials he develops in conjunction with the Italian mills for his mainline collection, the feeling of the body inside the garment is as important as the outward appearance. “It’s like a jacket in cashmere with a satin lining: the hand feels cashmere and the nipple feels the satin.”

After three decades, Conran’s collections are still greatly admired. Like his father, Terence, who revolutionised the British public’s taste in home furnishings and eating out, he is obsessed by the industry of which he is apart. “I love very simple things which will sell by the dozen, and really ornate theatrical pieces that are only for the brave. I am lucky enough to be able to do both.”

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Cross Stitch

Cross stitch is probably the oldest form of needlework, and appears in every society throughout the world. However, its history is often difficult to determine, particularly in folk traditions. One of the earliest books of cross stitch designs was published in 1728 in Augsburg by Martin Gottfried Crophius. These designs are mainly small motifs, like those found on samplers. In 19th century Britain, cross stitch was also known as sampler stitch and still to this day is most widely associated with samplers. In the 18th and 19th centuries, learning cross stitch was an indispensable part of a girl’s education, combining needlework tuition with lessons in spelling, arithmetic or geography. Typical works, of which very many survive, are stitched with alphabets, numerals and small motifs, which include peacocks, lions, coronets, dogs, flowers, birds, trees, strawberries and of course mottos and moralising versus warning of imminent death and encouraging the virtue of obedience. Castles and buildings were also used and occasionally these can be identified as schools or orphanages. Cross stitch was also found in multiplication tables and on maps, very popular between 1770 and 1820. Some of these were worked in minute black silk cross stitch on outline maps printed on white satin. Earlier samplers often include other stitches. However those of a later date are most usually worked entirely in cross stitch in red and green wools on a coarse mesh canvas. There has been a recent revival of interest in cross stitch samplers but, in contrast to earlier times, these are now made by adults, often using kits.

Cross stitch is common to many peasant cultures, where it is used to embroidered textiles from the home and often worked by girls preparing for their dower chests. Greek island embroidery combines cross stitch with other embroidery stitches including back, chain, ladder, herringbone and satin stitch is, as well as French knots. Monochrome work is almost always carried out by using thread in the Greek islands, except in Crete where dark blue and dark red threads are occasionally used. However the finest red embroidery is carried out to the north on the islands of Melos, Patmos and Naxos, where cross stitch in red often forms a solid filling for repeated flower or bird motifs that are outlined in green. The designs in Cretan embroideries often show an Italian influence. This is no surprise considering Crete was under Venetian jurisdiction from the early 13th century until 1669, when the Turks conquered it. In a Rhodes Cross stitch is worked in a thick, loosely twisted floss silk thread, giving a curly astrakhan surface on which it is quite difficult to detect individual stitches. The cross stitch is often worked randomly, and is used in conjunction with step stitch in a diagonal line with the direction of the stitch being either vertical or horizontal. Heavy linen is the normal ground fabric, and a light brick red thread is often used alternately with a green one.

Other distinctive forms of peasant embroidery using cross stitch come from southern and central Sweden. The town of Skane, in south-west Sweden, has long produced interesting embroidery and weaving. A large majority of the items made in the 18th and early 19th centuries illustrated Bible stories and included naïvely drawn figures such as Adam and Eve. These were worked in multiple colours in blocks of chain stitch, cross stitch and seeding on a linen and wool ground. Other popular motifs include Angels, lions, stars, flowers, plants, tulips and acorns. Individual motives were often worked in square compartments as borders for household linen. In central Sweden, in the region of Svealand, there are several forms of cross stitch embroidery. Delsbo work is distinctive because of its use of star and heart motifs worked in blue and red or white linen. It is usually used to decorate tablecloths, cushion covers and small items such as collars and cuffs. Jarvso work uses similar motifs but these are worked in rose coloured threads on a white or natural linen, often with additional small tassles of thread.

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The importance of clothing

The way you dress, gives people an immediate impression of who you are. Survey’s have proved that well-dressed people are thought to be more qualified, more intelligent and more likeable than those who are not. Your appearance can also be the expression of a specific image you want to convey. The right clothes can project an artistic, provocative, authoritative, or demure image; the wrong clothes may indicate neglect, carelessness, or an unawareness of what is appropriate for a certain location, for example you would not wear a printed t shirt to court. Look through your wardrobe and decide whether or not your clothes reflect the image you want to project. Do they suit your way of life? Do they bring out your most flattering self? If the answer is no, don’t panic! You needn’t change your entire wardrobe. Careful planning can result in a wardrobe full of clothes that are functional, versatile and lasting, without resulting in an empty purse. The first and easiest method to create a wardrobe that is both effective and efficient, is to choose three colours that go together well. Choose a three colour combination and select individual articles of clothing in these colours only. Of course, if you prefer, add a fourth colour that goes well with the rest. However it is not practical to have more than four colours in your wardrobe unless many items are in the neutral shades. Another way to build an effective wardrobe is to start with a neutral colour, then add two or three other colours that work well together. For example, taupe works well with purple or black; grey with burgundy and navy. Wardrobe consultants choose one medium-to-dark colour and use this for the nucleus or core of a client’s wardrobe in items like coats, jackets and trousers. These clothes are more versatile in solid colours rather than prints. Other shades, accent colours, are added to smaller items such as sweaters, blouses and scarves. The next step is coordinating separates. Treat each article of clothing as a separate unit. When you buy a suit, consider it as two separate pieces of clothing, a skirt and jacket, each of which can be worn with other items. Therefore the jacket can serve as a blazer worn with your other skirts and trousers or over a dress. Choose simple, classic styles with a minimum of detail, as they can be easily interchanged with your other separates. The third step to a successful wardrobe is choosing clothes for their versatility. By clothing that can be worn for several occasions. For example, a shirt waist dress combined with a blazer can be worn during the day. For evening, try the same dress without the blazer, open the neck to reveal a lacy camisole top and wear high-heeled shoes and dressy jewellery. A suit is very dependable, as it can be worn for many occasions. Light coloured suits require a darker blouse for business wear; a light coloured blouse looks elegant. The dark suit (navy or black) looks more serious and authoritative than a light one, and is more flexible, as it can be worn for both day and evening. For work, choose a classic white shirt; for evening or theatre, a silk shirt, pearl necklaces and other dressy jewellery.

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Organizing embroidery designs

Colour, line and texture

What ever subject you choose to observe, examine all the subtleties of its colours and textures, its structure and the lines that give its definition. The understanding of these core elements will help you build the confidence needed to develop your embroidery design ideas.

The same colour can appear in many guises – it might be dark or light, or in a myriad of subtle shades. We all experience colour in different ways and it can evoke particular feelings and emotions. For instance, ice blue might suggest cold and red, passion.

The main lines and shape outline of a composition will contribute to its success or failure. They can give a sense of movement, balance and stability. In your own designs, try to avoid lines that confuse or lead the eye away from the composition.

Embroidery is a great chance to experiment with texture. Contrast different textures, from smooth to knobbly, in order to make them work to the best effect.

Organising your ideas

This is a crucial part of the process that should not be overlooked. You need a method of keeping a record of visual ideas and notes to yourself, as well as somewhere to keep printed materials and other sources of inspiration you have found. Keeping everything well organised will help you to develop your observational skills, find your ideas easily later and provide the best record from which to start work on designing.

A simple notebook or sketch book is ideal for keeping everything together, but you could use plastic files of cuttings or put together an artistically arranged portfolio. Choose the system that suits you and the nature of your source material best, so that everything is meaningful as well as accessible.

Collecting ideas

You may want to sketch straight from your source of inspiration, but do not feel that you have to or that it needs to be a very accomplished attempt. There are other ways to gather ideas together. The notebook is very personal so there is no need to feel embarrassed by its contents. As it progresses, it will become a colourful diary full of ideas and samples to give you some source material.

You may want to include postcards, either inspirational or factual, in your book – for example, of favourite paintings or sculptures. Pages torn from magazines can also be an inspiration, particularly as a reference for the way colours are used together. Scraps of paper of different types of tissue, gift wrap or handmade, will suggest colours and textures. Paste layers of tissue paper onto your book to build up the intensity of tones and colours. Try pressing flowers and leaves. Your own photographs are also an excellent means of recording your impressions.

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Qype: The Picturedrome in Northampton

NorthamptonEating & DrinkingPubs & BarsPubs

If you like live music and comedy then this is the place to go. Don’t leave it too late to arrive or you might not get in.

Check out my review of The Picturedrome – I am mikelowbridge – on Qype

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Selecting the best colour clothing

Three natural colours are the best guides for choosing the colours of your clothes and cosmetics. They are hair colour, complexion and colour and eye colour. Of these, the first, the original natural colour of the hair, is the most important.

Hair colours falls into three general groups – brunette, the most common, blonde and redhead. To find the colours of clothes, cosmetics and accessories which suit you best, you should refer to the hair colour group to which you belong.

If you are not quite sure about the colour of your complexion, examine your  forearm. Turn your hand palm up and see whether the delicate skin between your wrist and elbow shows a pink, rose, olive, white, beige or a brown tint. Compare this part of your arm to a friends arm, with a different colouring and you should see the difference between one type of complexion and another.


Woman with a medium-to-dark brown and black hair are included in this group. Brunette hair is associated with complexions that range from white – beige, beige with a hint of pink, golden beige and light or dark olive, to black. Eye colour is usually brown or hazel, speckled tones of grey or green, grey or deep blue.

There are two exceptions to this group. The first is the woman whose hair colour was originally blonde (until she was about 15 years old) but has darkened with age and is now medium–brown. She has a reddish complexion and belongs to the pale blonde group. In this case eye colour is usually green, hazel, blue, blue green, or dark brown.

The other exception is the brunette who has definite auburn or red highlights in her hair and has a reddish or copper complexion. She belongs in the redhead group. Her eyes are usually green, hazel or golden brown.

Although dark-skinned brunettes can wear essentially the same colours, there are exceptions, and so we have included them in a separate category. Here we discuss those women with dark brown, brown-black or black hair; skin colour which ranges from light brown to mahogany to black; and hazel, grey, grey-green, dark brown or black eyes.


The blonde group is subdivided into two categories – pale blondes and golden blondes. Pale blonde hair colour can range from platinum and light blonde to a brownish blonde. The pale blonde has ash tones in her hair, her complexion is usually pale or translucent and her eyes are light-blue, light grey or blue-green. The golden blonde group ranges from light golden to strawberry blonde; and no ash tones are visible in the hair. The golden blonde’s complexion is peach or ivory and she has a tendency to blush easily. Eye colour is either crystal blue, blue with brown flecks, blue-green or golden-brown.


The third hair colour group consists of women with light red or dark auburn and  brown hair with definite red or auburn tones. The complexion is usually fair or reddish, and eye colour may be turquoise, green, blue, brown or hazel.

The bright primary colours — blue, red and yellow – are the pure colours from which all other colours derive. They can make us feel vivacious and exciting. With equal amounts of blue and red are mixed together, a secondary colour, violet is created; mixing blue and yellow creates green; mixing yellow and red produces orange. This mixing creates complimentary colours. So yellow and violet are complimentary colours, as are green and red, and blue and orange. Complimentary colours provide the greatest contrasts; when worn together they seem to bring out the best in each other.

The other colours are made up of equal parts of primary and its closest secondary. Any adjacent colours such as yellow and light green, match in a subtle but pleasing way.

When we refer to cool colours, we mean those colours with blue tones in them like blue-red, blue-green, fuchsia, magenta and purple. Warm colours are colours with yellow or gold tones in them – yellow-orange, orange, or yellow-red, example. We also referred to monochromatic colours schemes. These are combinations in which light or dark shades of the same colour are used, for instance in the blue family, shades from pale aqua to dark blue-green.

The neutrals include black, white, off-white, most of the browns from beige to dark brown through camel and to nutmeg, and greys from pale solver to charcoal.

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Inspiration for embroidery designs

There the process of designing your own pieces of embroidery may start with deciding on a particular project you want to make, such as a panel, a bag or an item of clothing, or grow out of a design idea from something you have seen that was inspirational. The thing is that it is a glorious adventure that will bring you hours of pleasure and a sense of achievement, not something to worry about or feel daunted by. Get excited by the sources of inspiration around you and with a bit of practice you will be developing design ideas that will please you. The world is overflowing with an infinite number of exciting images that provide sources of inspiration for every embroiderers needs.

Good design is difficult to define and is ultimately a matter of personal taste. However it is generally recognised that the components of colour, line and texture and the way they are used in a composition play an important role in the overall success of a completed piece of embroidery. Remember no design can be intrinsically wrong – it may be unusual and maybe next time you would do it differently, but if you like it, it has a value and the characteristics of its style make it unique to your work. Even if you don’t like it, it still has a value, as part of the learning process, and will contribute to the success of the next piece of embroidery you do.

The idea of actively looking for inspiration can seem rather intimidating, but be satisfied with keeping it on a simple and enjoyable level. Remember that no one ever starts out as a great artist or designer. Everything and anything can be a source of inspiration for embroidery, from products on the supermarket shelves to the flowers and insects in the hedgerow. The sheer wealth of choice may be the main problem you encounter.

Inspiration does not come out of thin air. The essence is to observe closely, this will help you to focus on your subject, understand how it is constructed and see all the possibilities. Through this type of observation you will begin to understand the form and structure of the subject: for instance, how petals are attached to a stem or how the branches of a tree curl toward the sky. This appreciation of your source of inspiration will help you to record your impressions more clearly and will eventually show through in your finished embroidery design.

However endless the inspiration drawn from nature, make sure you also think about man-made structures. Buildings and skylines offer a geometric treat to the eye, whereas individual artefacts, jewellery and textiles provide more random patterns. Keep an eye out for any interesting exhibitions and take the time to rediscover your local museums.

Man-made objects are all around us and demonstrate how others have interpreted original source material. For example a comparison of how the same type of flower is treated by the Dutch masters or in pop art will help you develop your design skills.

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