Book Review: Dreaming in Colour by Kaffe Fassett

By Ann Packer

 Is there anything Kaffe Fassett hasn’t done? He first blasted onto the textile scene some 45 years ago in Vogue Knitting, with fair isle jerseys and coats the like of which we’d never seen. Then it was needlepoint, inspired by the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collections, followed by quilts, for which he not only designed wildly inspired patterned fabrics but also commissioned stripes woven on Indian village looms. He’s a dab hand at mosaic too – which, though not soft stuff, is another colour-rich assemblage following his “more is better” mantra.


The personable textile guru has visited New Zealand three times now, the first as a knitting lecturer some 20 years ago. He was here most recently in Upper Hutt in January 2011, with partner Brandon Mably, teaching quilters the art of colour mixing in his inimitable way. 

Kaffe (rhymes with “safe”) Fassett has authored a long string of books but the most eagerly-awaited is his autobiography Dreaming in Colour. Lavishly illustrated with everything from black-and-white family photos and his own sketches and paintings to spreads of book shoots with collaborators such as the extraordinary Steve Lovi – who died as the book was being finished – it’s a roll call of the rich, famous and wildly creative: all the big names in film, fashion, craft and design. Yet it’s also a great read – having finished it quite quickly I can’t wait to start over.

Born in 1937 to hippy parents at Big Sur on the California coast – the Fassett restaurant, Nepenthe, is still in the family – Kaffe grew up in a house that Orson Welles built for Rita Hayworth, and went to Krishnamurti’s school in Happy Valley. His parents threw parties for stars like Olivia De Havilland, and Steve McQueen, Ted Turner and Jane Fonda were regular diners. Born Frank, he took the name Kaffe from a children’s book because the Egyptian boy hero – a pharoah’s son, as it happened – looked exactly like him.

While these chapters will reward mainstream biography readers, it’s the chronicling of his years as a blossoming designer that textile lovers will especially relish.

 Dreaming in Colour is a technicolour “life and times” like no other, peopled with extraordinary characters and infused with the free spirit of the boy from the wild California coast who, as he writes in his intro, “strode into England and the world of design and made a place for himself. I never felt daunted by difficulties or blocked alleys. Somehow I knew the path I was on was right…”

 Dreaming in Colour, Kaffe Fassett (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

Available from Minerva, 237 Cuba St Wellington,, and most bookshops.

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