Saturday, 29 August 2009

Play and Display

Before you ask - no, this isn't a junk shop. It's my bedroom.


You see, it's not enough for me to simply appreciate strange and wonderful objects. Or to photograph them. Or to blog about them. The fact is - I really like buying them too, so I seem to accumulate an enormous amounts of peculiar things, that have no practical function whatsoever.

What's my excuse? That they'll make a lovely display.

There's nothing we at The Curious Eye like more than a good display. We can spend hours tweaking and fiddling. Juxtaposing and experimenting. Should the wooden toy go two inches to the right? Should the bud vase move forward a little? Getting it right is like a visual game of Sudoku - everything has to add up just right.

This particular display - consisting of Dutch glove moulds, a 19th century French mannequin, some American railroad lamps  and an old theatre spotlight, has just had a new addition. Fifteen postcards from the ever reliable Norman at the Dalston Waste.  As far as I can tell, these cards were given away with "Sluis" birdseed as a promotional tool in the 1960's. The artist is identified only by the mysterious initials 'RS'. 


They're not quite Charley Harper, or Audubon - but there's a simplicity and lightness of touch to them that I find very pleasing. I'm happy to let them perch in my room for a while and add a little inspiration.


Monday, 24 August 2009

40's Denim - Unparalleled Style

What better way to start the week than with some really outstanding vintage gear?


This amazing '40s jacket comes from one of my all-time favorite vintage clothing dealers, Ragtop. I've been waiting for months to do a long in-depth feature on their goods. But I couldn't resist showing this star item as a little sneak preview. 

There's nothing conventional about this bit of workwear. It has pleating that falls from the yoke (something you would now more normally find in women's clothing), the collar is asymmetric, and the placement of the pocket is strange, to say the least. Despite (or perhaps, because of) this, it's a truly special piece - and the fact that it has no label or markings makes it all the more interesting.  


We may not know where it comes from, but there's no doubt that the original owner, in whatever small town in America he lived in, had a heck of a lot of style.

Ragtop can be found at Spitalfields Antique Market on Thursdays and Broadway Market on Saturdays

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Work In Progress


Here are some of my ladies, I have just spent three days with them in a village about 4 hrs north of Ahmedabad. This piece of fabric is going to become a quilt ! It is covered with examples of their traditional stitches. They are very pleased because they say it shows all their traditional skills, and hopefully if we manage to get orders for their work it will bring them some much needed cash.

The design was inspired by the work of Kocuben, (you can see her at the end of this video) when I first came here back in March, I asked her to show me all the different stitches she knew how to do. When they I showed the small sample to a friend back home she commented that it was a design in itself. Hence upon my return a few weeks ago we set about producing this design. We will make placemats, napkins, cushion covers and this quilt the embroidery for which will take 6 or so women a week to embroider, it will then lined and stitched all through with running stitches! Products available early next year. Watch this space !

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Illustrated book of the week - The Motor Manual


While we're on the topic of transportation. Perhaps some of the magnificent creatures in the last post were modelled on the principles of this weeks illustrated book. 'The Motor Manual'. Published just after the Second World War, this 'practical handbook for the motorist' provides us with some gorgeous vintage visuals.


I particularly like the way that these mechanical pictures act as 'anatomical drawings' of 1940's cars. Most of it looks pretty familiar, but if you're wondering what the 'strangler' is, we now call it the 'choke' - a still violent, but slightly less vivid description.


I find the technical illustrations strangely inspring. But better yet are some of the ads that run through the manual.



Who knew that dip-sticks could look so good?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Celebrated Double Ikat Weavers of Patan


The fabric you are about to see took three and a half years to make, and so the creators tell me it will never be done again. If these men lived in Japan they would surely be declared living national treasures. They are certainly well honoured here in India and internationally.

Their workshop is on the pilgrimage route of any self respecting textile enthusiast, and as the visitors book proves they have regularly and enthusiastically welcomed guests from all over the world since the 1940’s.

I was greeted by the youngest member of the family who gave me a very comprehensive explanation of their work in excellent English. Their family has been weaving in the same spot since the 12th century, when legend says that King Kumarpal invited 700 families of Patola weavers to settle in Patan.

Today they are the last family in the area to weave using this age old technique. Every aspect of the cloth is created in their studio, from the point when the un-spun silk arrives from China, to the finished woven cloth. The dying process takes the longest. Both the warp and weft threads are tie-dyed,  in many cases several times - each time moving the ties to create the often complex motif. 

With each woven fabric (which are generally wedding saris) taking 4 to 6 months to make, there is no question of buying off the peg! If you would like to order now you will have to wait around 6 years.




The two Salvis (weavers) working together weave about 8 to 9 inches a day



A warp in preparation ties attached ready for its first dye bath, underneath on the stool is the pattern they are following for this particular cloth.



The dye area, only natural dyes have been used here for the last 30 years.


An ancient incredibly detailed patola (as these ikats are called) preserved behind glass.


800 year old vegetable dye 'the design laid down in patola may be torn but it shall never fade'

for more information

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Dalston Mill - A Local Event for Local People

The Joys of a British Summer

Computers are wonderful things. They let us discover global events and trends at the touch of a button. They allow us to communicate with each other in faster and more efficient ways. Best of all, they let strange and esoteric people publish pages and pages of photos and text on the oddest topics. There's no doubt that the digital revolution is becoming the greatest social change that we will experience in our lifetimes.

Of course, as with all good things, there's a darker side. Our ability to connect so easily with each other through a computer screen can be isolating. It becomes more convenient to text or email than actually meet or use the telephone. Facebook can provide you with thousands of 'friends' that you will never speak to or sit down with, and instead of specifically letting your friends know where you are, or how you are feeling, you can use 'twitter' to broadcast it to the entire world. Virtual reality might be filled with mails and friends and tweets and twitters, but on a human level it can be a very lonely place. 

Equally, the vast amount of instant information available to us can have a negative effect. When millions of people around the world can access every piece of news from any corner of the planet simultaneously, what happens? Celebrity becomes all the more powerful. Commerce has no regional barriers. Our highly globalised world becomes even more homogeneous. 

However, as a certain Mr Einstein once said 'Every action must have a equal and opposite reaction". This huge shift in society is provoking a new trend - in an enormous response to the power of the internet, people are becoming more and more interested in the simple pleasures of local community life.

Two recent events on the streets of Dalston have illustrated this perfectly. Firstly, our street took part in the national 'Big Lunch' event, which encouraged neighborhoods throughout the country to throw street parties and get to know one another.

British people (and Londoners in particular), do not generally socialise with their neighbours. Neighbours are the people that you nod stiffly to in the street and never make eye contact with. It's a national tradition. So for streets throughout the country to be filled with neighbours actually chatting with each other, and sharing food and drink - well, it was somewhat revolutionary. Perhaps a little awkward at first (because, lets face it, these are people who we have been politely ignoring for many years), but altogether a heart warming and pleasant experience.


Hot on the heels of this celebration, and just down the road, was the installation of the Dalston Mill. the Mill was a temporary art project, that took over a disused railway line and turned it into a hub for local events. A small corn field was installed (providing a very interesting contrast with the urban surroundings), a working mill was built and a bakery allowed the bread to be baked on site. It was all very English, and quirky and 'Hackney' in spirit.


Local businesses took part in a scheme to allow the bread to be used as currency, and workshops and performances were held promoting local talent. When we visited, the whole place was buzzing with people joyously learning how to decorate cakes.



Not only was this a celebration of Dalston's native culture, it looked good too. EXYZT, the experimental architectural collective who had created the site, did a great job of integrating both rustic and industrial elements into the scheme.


The internet may put the world at our doorsteps, but, paradoxically it's also allowing us to rediscover what is just beyond our front doors. With events celebrating local life, it's great to discover the delights of keeping things close to home .

Tuesday, 11 August 2009



Yes I’m back in India ! I have been here only 2 nights and coming back to the place I’m staying last night stumbled across this street, about 100m from my place of rest. This street is known locally as Hollywood, I imagine for it’s kitsch explosion of excessive theatrical creativity.


Apparently this community of artisans in the 70’s and 80’s sculpted a very popular kind of totem that many people used as grave stones (if I understood correctly) When this particular form of sculpture became unfashionable, local artists taught them to make molds and sculpt plaster of Paris. From then on they began to mold and sculpt exclusively models of Ganesh. Luckily we are just coming up to the festival of Ganesh in about 2 weeks . At which point these finely spray painted gods will be purchased transported by pilgrims to the sea and rivers and promptly thrown in.





When I asked what they did the rest of the year, I was told that although they are very skilled and talented they are also very lazy and spend the rest of the year begging.



There is one cautionary footnote to this exuberant expression of artfulness. The vast numbers of these gaudy idols that are thrown into the sea and river all at the same time exfoliating their toxic spray paint and creating a considerable amount of pollution . So great is the problem that some enterprising artisans in Bombay have begun to present eco version painted with non polluting paints


Thursday, 6 August 2009

Katherine May - Crazy Quilts


We have been wanting to feature Katherine May's work for a little while now - ever since we saw it in conjunction with the wallpapers of our friend Clara Vuletich in Clapham. We were thrilled to finally meet her last week, and get our hands on some of these images.

Katherine is a textile artist, specialising in quilts. It's certainly true that quilting (along with other traditional crafts) is experiencing an upsurge in interest at the moment. It fulfills many of the current obsessions of the design industry - that hunger for pieces that are unique, personal, and filled with history. It also feeds into the desire for re-using and 'up-cycling' old materials - the way that being both eco-friendly and thrifty can lead to beautiful new design.

Katherine's quilts meet all these criteria. But they aren't just beautiful and right on - they're clever too. A quilt made entirely out of old Action Man outfits or Barbie clothes? Just brilliant. With ideas like these Ms May is definitely one to watch.


See more of Katherine's work at