Thursday, April 06, 2006

Not your average sports coat

Corduroy is a divisive issue. I’m always surprised at how often it’s referred to perjoratively. But perhaps it’s not the fabric itself (which, after all, is just a fabric) but the kind of people who wear corduroy? Stereotypically cranky, old professors and snotty-nosed little boys come to mind. But blaming corduroy itself? This seems grossly unfair.

Miles Rohan, founder of the Corduroy Appreciation Club, is a champion of corduroy. The Club “…wishes to cultivate good fellowship through the advancement of greater awareness and understanding of corduroy through the dissemination of information about the fabric and related items.” Like many of my good blog post ideas, a preliminary web search on the topic reveals that the reason corduroy has been preoccupying me these past few months is this article in the New Yorker, which I read and promptly forgot, preferring to believe that I myself dreamed up a piece bringing together Wes Anderson and the development of the horizontal wale.

I do, however, have something to add in support of corduroy. I am a huge fan of printed corduroy. More specifically, vintage Clothkits printed corduroy, circa 1970-80.

Clothkits was an English clothing company that sold garment kits to home sewers. The pattern outlines were screen-printed onto the cloth and the garment pieces themselves were printed with elaborate, multi-coloured designs. The children’s kits often included a matching doll-sized outfit for Cloth Kitty, the Clothkits doll, in the surplus fabric around the main garment pieces. The company issued catalogs that featured models lazing about on haystacks or out tramping through the English countryside.

I pored over these catalogs as a child. My mother continued to order the kits after we moved back to Australia, until import taxes made them prohibitively expensive. In addition to the kits, Clothkits sold wonderfully coloured woolen tights and patterned knitwear. I’m convinced (without proof or justification) that both their garments and catalogs have been a heavy design influence on the Dutch company Oilily.

I recently asked my mother, who rarely throws anything away, if she still had her Clothkits catalogs, but, alas, I was only months too late. A few items still exist, including our Cloth Kitty dolls (both black and caucasian) and two printed corduroy pinafores (details above.) While in Sydney over the new year, I found this flowered corduroy at the Tessuti outlet, now earmarked for a skirt and some bag linings. And I’ve signed up for membership of the Corduroy Appreciation Club, and hope to meet up with this other tribe of mine somewhere, sometime soon, on the eleventh of the month.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh My!! I grew up wearing clothkits clothes and my dolls all had clothkits dresses, AND I had the clothkits satchel bag. It was such an english thing, and such a wonderful concept. It's such a pity they went out of business because I'd be buying their stuff now if I could. Their heavt duty canvases were really hard wearing as well.

I loved those catalogues...

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have very fond memories of Clothkits.

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm another huge clothkits fan, I found 3 of our cloth kitty dolls today but am still missing at least another 3 somewhere at my parents house. So sad they don't exist anymore they were such a fabulous concept.

2:16 AM  
Blogger sarah said...

hee hee what a wonderful article, my girlfriends and i have always laughed about our fascination for boys in corduroy and until recently my husband refused to wear corduroy anything for fear of creating a frenzy...

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my God! I had no idea so many other kids wore colthkits too! My sister and I used to get one summer dress, usually stripey jersey that (joy of joys you could wear immediatly) and one christmas dress that we would avidly watch our mum sewing. We too had cloth kitties and the satchel! If you are interestes there is an American catalogue called hana anderson that do stikingly similar stripey knit wear pj's and dresses!

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have found some of my unfinished Clothkits outfits for children now of college age. I also found an unused "Poppa Tool" kit and an unused bag of snap studs, for which I may or may not find a use. My daughter wore the knits which were so colorful, and I agree much like Oilily today (a shop she is invariably drawn to today wherever we pass one - due perhaps to this early imprinting). Another similarly-influenced (perhaps) US seller is Hanna Andersson. There is a common design thread with these and Marimekko and Ikea as well. It is populist but not humble. Celebratory.

3:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! You people make me feel VERY nostalgic. My kids
always wore Clothkits when we lived in London. Recently
I found some unmade Clothkitty's and am making them up for my grand daughter.
I decided to "google" clothkits and came upon your website. So sorry that they are not available any more as
they were so practical and easy to make. Our whole family had printed corduroy skirts and overalls!
Lets revive Clothkits...

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Liberty I like the way your mind is working...Seriously is there a market for reviving Clothkits? The children who wore it the first time around are now parents (like me) and the original parents are now indulgent grandparents. I'm in!

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another Clothkits fan here, I've still got my Cloth Kitty and Cloth Polly and have taken to buying more stuff off eBay.

2:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Clothkits, had a Cloth Kit & a Cloth Kitty, and I still have most of the clothing my mother made. Pity they don't exist, the cord dresses are not the same without the gorgeous tights :) I definately agree someone ought to revamp this company.

6:22 PM  

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