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The Hendrix Experience – When Wallace Sewell became Fabric Detectives

Dec 7

Wallace and Sewell are renowned for their individual and innovative designs. When they were approached by the curators of the Handel and Hendrix in London museum to create the bedspread of the 1960s star Jimi Hendrix they had little more than photographs and memories to go by. Here is the story of a very special commission...

In July 1968 guitar legend Jimi Hendrix moved into the upstairs flat at 23 Brook Street in London’s Mayfair. He shared the small, one-bedroom abode with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. Together, they transformed the tiny place into a cosy, bohemian space where the rock star could pick out his famous riffs.

Jimi’s innate sense of style was always apparent in the clothes he wore – when he wrapped a scarf around his head the trend soon caught on. And, when it came to furnishing his first real home, Jimi and Kathy let their love of beautiful textiles and fabrics show. They surrounded themselves with rugs and hangings they discovered in the markets at Portobello and Chelsea. The bed, cushions and curtains were picked up on trips to John Lewis. The Victorian shawl that festooned the ceiling above the bed was another lucky find...

Jimi lived in the flat until early 1969. In the brief time that Jimi lived there the living/bedroom was a meeting place for friends and musicians. He wrote music there and gave interviews. One afternoon, the photographer Barrie Wentzell managed to capture Jimi as he relaxed in his home. The series of black and white photographs show Jimi cross-legged on his bed surrounded by his fabric finds. Thanks to Jimi’s army training, the bedspread upon which he sits is perfectly straight and the bed neatly made. And, it is because of these photographs and the memories of Kathy Etchingham that Hendrix’s flat has been re-created for us all to visit today.

After years of meticulous research and careful reproduction, Hendrix’s flat was opened again in February 2016. The only original pieces in the flat are a mirror and a selection of Jimi’s LPs. Everything else had to be painstakingly sourced, copied or re-created. “When Handel and Hendrix in London commissioned us to do the bedspread we were really interested,” says Emma Sewell, co-founder and director of Wallace Sewell. “This was no ordinary project, it was like textile detective work.”

“The curators were looking for a design studio with the expertise and insight into fabric and textiles to reproduce the bedspread,” explains Emma. “This was certainly an interesting project as there wasn’t much to go on other than the stack of faded photographs. Luckily, Harriet and I like to think around a problem. We started by studying Barrie’s photographs closely to work out the design of the bedspread. Unfortunately, the photos had faded so we had to attempt to match up the colours of the throw by looking at skin tones of the subjects and the colours of objects we knew in the picture (oranges and other fruit in a bowl etc.). Next, we thought about the fashions and hues of textiles at the tail end of the 1960s. Ethnic prints and fabrics were very popular and psychedelic colours as well as ‘purple haze’ were all the rage. Together with our own understanding of the weaving and dyeing process we were able to recreate the design and colour palette for the the bedspread.”

The curators at Hendrix’s flat were delighted with Wallace Sewell’s initial design and a limited number of the bedspreads were made at a mill in Yorkshire that specialises in short lengths. The brightest and best was used to make the bed in the main bedroom and a few bedspreads are available in the museum shop. Nobody can say for sure the exact colour and design of the original bedspread but Wallace Sewell have certainly re-created something beautiful and worthy of adorning the room where the superstar once strummed ‘All Along the Watchtower’.

Meanwhile, Harriet and Emma enjoyed being textile detectives and look forward to more exciting projects in the future.