[Exhibition report] Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood

Knitwear: From Chanel to Westwood Exhibition

KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition Image (c) Fashion and Textile Museum http://www.ftmlondon.org

A slightly usual post today, but I went to see this exhibition at the weekend, and my phone died while I was there, and I couldn’t provide minute by minute reports on Twitter or pictures on Instagram. So how about a blog post instead? Unfortunately, the exhibition closed on Sunday, so you won’t be able to visit, but I hope to inspire you to keep an eye on this amazing museum’s next events.

I am a big fan of fashion exhibitions, and I especially like going on my own, to be able to browse, read the cards and spend as much time as I would like on my favourite exhibits. So I spent Saturday (17th Jan 2015) afternoon in the small, but very interesting Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street. Only downside was that I had stopped in Goldhawk Rd. beforehand and was carrying some fabric that almost broke my back! But I really wanted to go, since it was the second to last day and didn’t want to miss it.

If you have never been, the museum can be found in London Bridge area of London, down Bermondsey Street, next door to some lovely cafes and artisan bakeries and even a gin makers. It’s about a 10-12 minutes walk from London Bridge Underground or National Rail station.

 Image by Stephen McKay via WikiMedia

The museum is quite small, but it has a gift shop  where you can buy interesting books and quirky jewellery, as well as and a very nice café, which specialises in some very lovely teas to quench your thirst after your visit.


Now on to the exhibition itself…

The exhibition was dedicated to the evolution of knitwear, from a material used strictly for undergarments and hosiery, to one of the most versatile fabrics in modern fashion, sometimes even verging on futuristic. Highlights include 1920s Chanel jersey, 1930s woollen swimwear, 1970s Bill Gibb and conceptual garments from 1980s and 90s designers Comme des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood and Julien MacDonald.

The majority of the pieces on display were part of the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield, on show for the first time. The exhibition was organised chronologically, with themed display units holding a lot of lovely vintage pieces from all decades. There was also a separate section for modern, innovative knitwear by Fashion Design graduates (including a piece by Julian Macdonald when he was a student at Brighton University), as well as examples of knitwear in fashion photography, from the Norman Parkinson collection.

Ground floor gallery of #KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition Image (c) Fashion and Textile Museum http://www.ftmlondon.org

A few interesting facts:

– all underwear was generically known as ‘hosiery’, because they were made of knits, same as the old fashioned stockings.

– in the 70s, there was a knitting and crochet revival amongst the general public, in response to the increasing fast-fashion, ‘wear and throw away’ and man-made fabrics fashions. Sounds familiar?

– Fairisle type of knitwear became popular when the Prince of Wales, Edward was gifted a jumper by the inhabitants of the island (part of the Shetlands). He was photographed playing golf, and it became extremely fashionable.

– Coco Chanel borrowed a cardigan from her friend, the Duke of Westminster, and adapted it for womenswear, creating the characteristic silhouette of the 20s, where the garment was only meant to touch the body at the shoulders line and the hips.

– Can you believe that the 20s knitwear was all made of wool?! It was preferred for the figure fitting, elastic properties, but not very fun when getting waterlogged.

Some of my favourites displays:

Cocktail Hour display #KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition Image (c) Fashion and Textile Museum http://www.ftmlondon.org

How amazing are those jumpers, not to mention the skirts…?

20s fashion crochet

Crochet your way in the #KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition Image (c) Fashion and Textile Museum http://www.ftmlondon.org

Les Sportives display #KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition Image (c) Fashion and Textile Museum http://www.ftmlondon.org

Chanel’s Influence display #KNITWEAR Chanel to Westwood exhibition Image (c) Fashion and Textile Museum http://www.ftmlondon.org

Have a look at more pictures from this and other exhibitions of the Fashion and Textile museum Pinterest board here.

Now go on and check out their up and coming exhibition, which opens on the 6th February. I might run into you there ;).

Museum details:

Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF
T: 020 7407 8664 | E: info@ftmlondon.org

Happy viewing!



  1. We and some friends went to see that exhibition before Christmas. We thought it was quite interesting to look at, but not particularly well curated. My take on is is here, if you’re interested: http://tinyurl.com/o7lqyof

    Thank you for the reminder to have a look to see what’s on at the museum at the moment.


    1. What a great post! So interesting to see it from a knitter perspective! As a sewer, I was looking at silhouettes and draping rather than knitting designs. What happened to that button in the end?


  2. I went to this the day before you. It was packed though! Did you get to take the pics yourself? I was itching to try and grab some but – in a change to the previous Bellville Sassoon Exhibition I saw there, this time it said no photography which was disappointing. I thought it was quite interesting but maybe a little less than I thought. Agree with you on that skirt and jumper on the sitting mannequin being divine!


    1. Yes, definitely packed, even on the last day! No, I got the pics from their Pinterest board (I emailed them to ask permission). I could only take pics in the one room with the young designers, but didn’t end up using them in the post.
      I am not that much into knitting anyway, but because I’m such a geek, I loved the history part and how the techniques and yarns developed.

      I am going next Thursday (26th Feb) to see the Swedish fashion exhibition and talk, that should be very interesting.


      1. Oh, that was a good idea (Pinterest)! I saw quite a few people just snapping away on their phones but I always think if the place has stated no photography, then that should be respected – as inconvenient as that might be. There was a jumper upstairs that had little Airedale doggies on it and I was dying to take a pic of that as we’ve had two Airedales and I really wanted to show my husband the jumper but I had to settle with just telling him about it.

        I’m like you – more into fabric than knitting but I do love to wear knits, which is where the interest was sparked for me. And I did love that sparkly jumper with the ‘New Look’ style skirt – Love It! I was amazed at how busy it was. I went to the Bellville Sassoon one and I think I must have been really lucky with that as it wasn’t heaving which gave me lots of time to drool over the gorgeous dresses. (I’d left hubs in the café next door that day so that’s a good ‘man creche’ tip 😉 )

        I’ll look forward to seeing what you think about the current exhibition – I haven’t decided as to whether to go to that one yet so it will be interesting to see your take on it.

        Sorry the cupcake didn’t work out – it was a fabulous idea – and certainly 3D… I’d really, really struggle with the time constraints on any of those challenges too so I very much related to the issues that hindered you. I thought the harem pants/trousers were great!

        Look forward to the next post!

        🙂 Maxi


      2. Ha ha, man crèche, I love that phrase! I don’t even attempt to take my fiancé to such things, it would just annoy me…

        I am planning to do a post on it, so you’ll get all the gossip in an more polished way!

        Yes, I was so gutted for my little model, she was the only one without a costume :(. I haven’t got any kids in my life (and my niece declined the offer), otherwise I would have loved to give it another go. I didn’t expect to struggle with time so much, maybe because at home I can stay up late and stretch time if I really need to. I loved the harem trousers so much, I think it was the only item I really had fun making. Ironic, though I really would never wear anything like that :).


      3. Ah, what a shame. I don’t have any kids in my life either so I can’t even lend you one 😉 I’m sure if the opportunity arrives at some point, the finished costume will be amazing! I shouldn’t feel too bad – I don’t think Matt’s model was over impressed either – children can be harsh critics! Lol!

        Oh yes, a good man crèche is always a bonus! So long as he has a comfy seat, his tablet or something with him and preferably a supply of cake, then he’s pretty happy to wait. When I went up to see the incredible Wedding Dress exhibition at the V&A, it all timed out quite well as he went on elsewhere in London to test ride a bike and we just met back up later. Did you visit that exhibition? I’d love to go and see it again but I don’t think I can justify the cost. I did actually buy the book from that one, which I don’t usually, but they were so gorgeous, so I’ll content myself with that 🙂

        I’m amazed at the speed some people finish garments and think I must be super slow but I’m quite a ditz sometimes so I think I probably just like to check things a bit more as it’s more than likely I will sew something on back to front (pretty much guaranteed at least once a project!). Also, when you sew, unless you are clock watching, the time just flies by so you’re not really keeping track so to then be thrown into a situation where it’s all about time is just shoving you hard out of your comfort zone before you’ve even picked up a pin!

        I could definitely see you in a pair of those harem pants – super comfy with heels and a nice top, accessorised with a cocktail! …Or maybe that’s me! 😉

        I hope your sister is appreciative of your jumpers now you could do with them! Isn’t that typical? It’s always when you get rid of something you think, ooh I could just do with that now! As for the recommendations for woollens and knits – two places that I’ve bought various things from in the past that have been good quality are Croft Mill (www.croftmill.co.uk) and Ditto Fabrics (www.dittofabrics.co.uk). Both are places that get overstocks of fabric so the choice varies as different ones come and go but I’ve never been disappointed with quality from either of them when I’ve bought in the past. Both have online shops and I think you can arrange to go and visit the Mill if you’re in the Lancashire area. Ditto is also a bricks and mortar shop in the Lanes in Brighton – I don’t know where you’re based so that might all be irrelevant anyway.

        Hope that’s helpful! It’s been lovely to chat with you 😀


      4. Many thanks for the recommendation! I saw some really great stuff in both shops. To buy or not to buy… My stash is only 75m…. 🙂


      5. Glad the recommendations were of use! There are so many lovely fabrics out there it’s hard to keep the stash down isn’t it? I’m on a fabric moratorium at the moment in order to make some space 🙂


      6. Btw, any good tips for a shop/online shop with nice woollen knit fabrics? I’m using Ikea blankets at the moment, ha ha. I really want to make more jumpery things, as I’m not buying anything this year and I gave my sister most of my old ones (last winter was so mild here and she lives in Denmark, so I thought she might use them more).


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