Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up – Exhibition Visit

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Frida Kahlo in blue satin blouse, 1939, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

The exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up is currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and we recently took the chance to visit. This unique show gives a detailed overview of Kahlo’s life: her family and heritage; her politics; her relationship with mural painter Diego Rivera; the near-fatal accident that caused her a lifetime of pain; and most importantly, how she constructed her image and the way in which she lived her life.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Kahlo’s home in Mexico, La Casa Azul (The Blue House).

Upon Kahlo’s death in 1954, her husband Rivera locked up her most valuable possessions in the bathroom of the Casa Azul (The Blue House, their home in Mexico) and instructed that it not be opened until 15 years after her death. In 2004 this bathroom was opened, and the contents of the room went on display at the Casa Azul as a museum dedicated to her life. These objects are what now fill the exhibition space at the V&A, carefully shipped thousands of miles to be shown outside of Mexico for the first time.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Frida Kahlo and Family, 1926, photograph by Guillermo Kahlo.
Kahlo challenges gender stereotypes by wearing a suit.

The exhibition begins with old photographs of Kahlo and her family, some of which are adorned with Kahlo’s handwritten notes. Some simply label family members, whereas others are more personal: for example, on the back of Kahlo’s Communion photo she has scrawled “¡IDIOTA!” as she renounced Catholicism later in life.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Pre-columbian jade beads, possibly assembled by Frida Kahlo. Museo Frida Kahlo.

The show continues through a series of rooms to Kahlo’s accessories: heavy jade necklaces; crescent earrings featuring paired birds, which are traditional of Mexican jewellery; and hand-woven ‘Rebozo’ shawls and ‘Morrale’ sack bags. These items highlight Kahlo’s pride in her Mexican heritage.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Revlon nail varnishes, compact and lipstick in Kahlo’s favourite shade, ‘Everything’s Rosy’.

We then move on to Kahlo’s possessions, perhaps one of the most personal parts of the exhibition. Intimate items are on display such as used lipsticks and empty medicine bottles accompanied by letters to and from her various doctors.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo. Museo Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo’s suffering due to childhood polio and a car accident at the age of 18 lies at the foundation of some of these objects. For most of her life she wore uncomfortable corsets to help support her back and alleviate pain, some of which were made of plaster and decorated with painting as Kahlo used them like a canvas.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Left: Cotton Huipil with chain stitch embroidery, cotton skirt with printed floral motifs.
Right: Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec Huipil and plain floor-length skirt.

Finally, the main feature of the exhibition is a stunning display case of Kahlo’s clothing. Kahlo is renowned for her combinations of indigenous garments from different regions of Mexico, and she was photographed in such outfits many times. To see them up close in real life is breathtaking.

Detailed embroidery is present in most of the outfits, from complexly shaded flowers and birds to cross stitch to traditional Chinese embroidery (due to Kahlo’s fascination with Chinatown when she moved to the USA with Rivera). The exhibition gives details of her most striking outfits, describing how she was followed by children when in the USA, who asked “Where is the circus?”.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1943. Oil on Canvas, 81.5 x 63cm.

There are some of Kahlo’s paintings – mainly self portraits as she used herself as a subject when painting from her bed – but the exhibition mainly focuses on Kahlo’s items and how she presented the complex layers of her identity within her life. It states that her wardrobe was not staged: she dressed up even when she wasn’t expecting visitors, and even when she was in bed rest.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Frida Kahlo on the Bench, 1939. © Nickolas Murray Photo Archives.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up is a bewitching and intimate exhibition. The items on display are fascinating, and through them the personal details of how Kahlo naturally lived an artistic life – despite her misfortunes and pain – are revealed. A must-see for anyone interested in textiles, and anyone interested in Frida Kahlo’s complex and inspiring life.

Purchase tickets at the V&A website here.

Written by Laura Hill

Hawthorne & Heaney for Liberty of London Event

Hawthorne & Heaney for Liberty of London Event London Hand Embroidery

Hawthorne & Heaney have been back to our favourite, Liberty of London for the launch of their new range of prints ‘Garden of Beauty’. As usual we were offering our classic monogram onto their beautiful silk scarves, a selection of which can be seen below.

Hawthorne & Heaney for Liberty of London Event London Hand Embroidery

There are a range if sizes, style and colours for the customers to choose from for their personalised monograms.

Hawthorne & Heaney for Liberty of London Event London Hand Embroidery

Hawthorne & Heaney for Liberty of London Event London Hand EmbroideryHere’s a little example of our large script onto the 70’s inspired orange print.

Hawthorne & Heaney for Liberty of London Event London Hand Embroidery

Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam

With London Fashion Week well and truely underway, we thought we would share with you a little piece of Hawthorne & Heaney embroidery that made its way onto the catwalk. We worked with the Brighton based designer Ong Oaj Pairam on his AW2016 collection to produce a heavily encrusted, lace and crystal bodice.

Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam London Hand Embroidery

It was a pretty quick turn around so we used all the tools at our disposal when we were developing the techniqies. The collection has a dark fairytale/ Victorian lost love theme which we worked into the designs. Using our CAD embroidery machine we developed lace like flower and leaf designs to build up a heavy base and compliment the sheen of the duchess satin on which they would be placed.

Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam London Hand EmbroideryAlong side this we experiemented with a variety of different sequin techniques for creating floral effects

Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam London Hand Embroidery

Once this was all decided on then all there was left to do was to get stitching

Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam London Hand Embroidery Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam London Hand Embroidery

We were really pleased with the effect, it felt very heavy to hold but wonderfully textured. When teamed with the jaquard trousers and sheer shirt from the rest of Pairam’s collection it really comes to life.

Hawthorne & Heaney for Ong Oaj Pairam London Hand Embroidery

We hope you enjoy looking at this piece as much as we enjoyed working on it. Check in again with us to see what else we have been working on recently…

If you would like to see more from Ong Oaj Pairam, please visit his website