Saturday, 28 April 2007

Kaffee Fasset Chinese Rose Coat - 18 Years in the Making!

I began the coat (nicknamed my 'Technicolour Dream Coat' - but more formally it's a Kaffe Fassett Chinese Rose Coat)the year I moved to London (the first time). Even then I knew it wasn't something I would ever wear. But the colours, and the variety of yarns were amazing and I wanted to make it.

The pattern is in Kaffe Fassett at the V&A, published in 1988 and now out of print. The book contains the Chinese Rose pattern as a short jacket -- but I opted to make the variant he describes in the book. I figure - go big or go home. Or something.

The original yarn was bought at Liberty and John Lewis - and without a doubt represented the biggest investment in yarn I'd ever made for a single project. (That may still be true.)

The background is made up of everchanging stripes, mostly in deep greys, reds and purples. There are 7 flower colourways and the stems are made up of 3 green yarns used in 3 different combinations.

I made slow progress for the first 2 years. A project with 34 colours where the colours change every row - is not portable and not something that you can easily pick up to work on for a few minutes! Then I became a cat owner -- and discovered the cats loved the yarns and colours even more than I did!! Knitting while they attacked the yarn (or rested on the completed portion) was tricky. Progress for the next (16!) years was even slower - but every now and then I'd find an opportunity to work on it.

The coat was knit back and forth on circular needles in one piece. I started at the back, knit up, cast on additional stitches for the sleeves and then split the stitches working down each side of the front separately.

'Setting up' to knit - ie getting the right colours ready for the next row always took a few minutes as each individual row would require at least 3 different coloured yarns, and some as many as 7! And from one row to the next half to all of the colours would change. With all of that I'd say each row in the bottom half of the back took 30 minutes. The longer rows which included the sleeves probably took 45 minutes each. To put that in context I'd say that generally I'm a faster than average knitter.

It wasn't possible (at least for me) to memorise the pattern, and with the constantly changing colours I was constantly referring to the charts. Because of this I could really only work on it when I had some real time to devote to it -- it definitely wasn't a project I could pick up and put down on a whim!

BUT I always loved knitting on it and never found it a chore. With every single row the character of the coat changed, and each colour seemed to bring something new out in the others. So I always felt I was making progress - even if it was slow!

I ran out of quite a few colours - which was a bit worrying at first as (not surprisingly) some of the yarn had been discontinued in the meantime. Which meant finding alternates of similar weight and colour. Luckily the colour combining means that the differences are pretty hard to spot. In fact I've lost track of them and would be hard pressed to identify which is original yarn and which is 'substitute'.

I wove all ends in as I knit - which saved my sanity as I can't imagine what it would have been like to try and do it at the end. Another 18 years at least! Here's a photo of the wrong side for anyone interested in that sort of thing.

My tension was amazingly consistent over the 18 years - which I'm thankful for as I would have been very annoyed to finish it to discover one of the front sides longer than the back!

I think the flower pattern is amazing (Kaffe is a genius), and would encourage anyone feeling intimidated by his patterns to give it a go. I think these colours and pattern would look amazing as a blanket or throw.

I'm currently trying to figure out the best way to display the coat as it seems a shame to hide it away... All tips gratefully received.


Viknits said...

Wow Soo that's an amazing coat, it truly is a work of art. The colours are vibrant and really suit the pattern, I just think it's wonderful to look at!
I wonder if you could email a pic to Kaffe himself? That would be very interesting.
Thanks for posting all about it :D Vik

Cheryl said...

Wow - what an accomplishment! It's beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Evelyn said...

Unbelievable! You do need to display it on a wall or something. Like they do with kimonos. Congratulations on finishing it!

Lisa said...

Amazing coat! Wow. I think it's should be SO proud.

Tracy said...

Utterly breath taking. WOW

Agreed, it needs to be on display, and I too think hanging as they do with kimonos is the right way to go. A large dowel/rod from one cuff through the shoulders to the other cuff.

And again I say WOW!!!!

Valarie said...

AMAZING! I would love to see more pictures especially of the coat being worn. It is a gorgeous work of art. vk

amanda said...

Breathtakingly beautiful. You inspired me to buy the book and consider making the coat. Can I ask why you prefer to display rather than wear it? Is it uncomfortable or heavy? Wear it, I say! To the ballet, to a club, on a cold winter's day when others are bundled in ugly down and cloth coats.

LadybirdLinz (:i:) said...

I'd wear it! I don't care what people think or what is supposed to be fashionable...i'd be ' so what? I MADE THIS get over it ok!

I'm in total awe btw.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I got the V & A book but could only find the pattern for the jacket in it, not the coat. Can you let me know where you got the pattern for the full coat from please?

Many thanks,

Spinning Beauty said...

THAT is totally awesome! What an must be so thrilled to have completed such a masterpiece!

Anonymous said...

Wear it, wear it! And hang it on the wall between wearings! It's absolutely gorgeous! MJS

Suzy Crancer said...

you are so inspiring to me! wow.

Zaz said...

i knit a coat but much simpler than yours but still left it aside, thought i'd never wear it, too "showy".
then i took it on a travel with me and it seems to work. so nw whenever i make something that i cannot bring myself to wear i take it on a travel with me and i get lots of pictures of me in it and it is associated with a city. i made "roman holiday" that you can view on ravelry, it's bulky yarn.
i am guessing that if you blockstretched your hem, it would look "Now".
ps my ravelry name is Zaz

Dana said...

I think this is the most beautiful sweater ever. Wow is right. You are so talented and so is Mr. Kaffee Fassett. I've admired his designs since I was a young girl in the 80's. My mother was an avid knitter and brought home one of his knitting books. His patterns are so warm and opulent.

It is the kind of garment I might wear layered. So some subtle under-pinings like some black leggings and turtleneck with tall black boots with an over sized scarf to anchor it.

Or you could take it to a framer to place in a shadow box.

Wear it around the house as the most luxurious winter house coat.

Those are some of my ideas.


whimsymoon said...

All I can say is WOW! You are amazing! What a wonderful job. (I guess I had more to say than I thought!)

Anonymous said...

Have it framed!!! It is so beautiful and truely a work of art. As long as you have so much invested already-I would definately display this. Congradulations! Great job!!!

Anonymous said...

That is absolutely breathtaking! I applaud your persistence. It is a masterpiece to be sure! Display it proudly. Perhaps someone could fashion a wooden or wrought iron form to hang it on. I would want to see it all the way around.

Anonymous said...


I agree with so many of the above comments. I hope you took their advice and have been wearing the coat. It is absolutely fabulous.