If you’ve read True Up or my old craft blog Dioramarama for any amount of time, you probably know that midcentury textile designer Tammis Keefe holds a very special place in my heart (here’s a link to all my posts tagged with her name).
Handkerchiefs were Keefe’s speciality but she was a surface designer in the larger sense, also designing scarves, tea towels, napkins, placemats, tablecloths, furnishing fabrics, wallpaper, playing cards, and more. She had a great creative imagination and eye for color, and no matter what she drew, it always had a touch of whimsy and sweetness. She was incredibly prolific and her textiles are highly collectible today, though her name is not as well known as contemporaries like Vera Neumann. She also worked under the pen name Peg Thomas.
Her life was somewhat of a mystery, but once you’re drawn into her world you want to know all you can. The author of this tribute website went so far as to pen a detailed genealogy.
I have to admit I was kind of nervous when I heard a market or two ago that Michael Miller was seeking to reproduce some of Keefe’s designs. As a fan of a somewhat obscure artist you want things to be done as true to the originals as possible. I needn’t have worried because the folks at Michael Miller fell in love with Tammis and clearly feel the same way and approached this project with a huge amount of respect for her legacy. The spirit of the drawings is 100% there, just translated into repeat designs. They preserved the original colorways, included her signature, and even printed their first cotton-linen blends since the tea towels were originally printed on linen. They turned up a photo of her, and lots of interesting information that was new to me, like the fact that she lived with advertising maven and author Jane Trahey, who wrote the book On Women & Power. Kathy Miller speculated that the character Peggy Olson in Mad Men was at least partially inspired by Trahey’s story. Keefe also worked for Dorothy Wright Liebes, known as “the mother of modern weaving.”
So Michael Miller unveiled the first (and hopefully not last) Tammis Keefe Tribute collections at this Market, and it is by far the most exciting collection this year for me personally. The first image in this post is one of the quilting cotton prints. Below, MM’s “shrine” to Tammis, including the original hankies, napkins, and tea towels. Sorry, but my photos of it didn’t turn out that well!
And below are more quilting cotton prints. The dogs and cats each come in a red/gray/tan and pink/black/gray colorway.
(that shadow is probably me diving in to hug this fabric)
More quilting cottons:
This cats and birds (and chickens!) print is on a cotton-linen blend:
And below, a few Christmas prints. The reindeer are cotton and the Christmas trees and angels are printed on cotton-linen as panels, so you can have your very own Tammis Keefe tea towel without having to troll eBay!
The Tammis Keefe Tribute collection will be in stores very soon. Please, for me?!?, buy tons of it and make it a huge success so that they do more. I think the owls, alligators, and birds/cages prints would make great retro dresses, you know, the kind with the big full skirts that require like 8 yards of fabric. Ahem. And can you imagine what a hit you’d be at holiday parties in a dress made out of the “santa whipping cowering, besweatered reindeer” print?
Keefe died of cancer at the age of 46, so Michael Miller is donating all royalties for this line in her name to help fund cancer research. Even more reason to stock up!