Author: kettlewellcolours

Kettlewell Colours use seasonal and tonal colour palettes to create garments that are of an exceptional high quality using only the finest yarns. Have you discovered your colour?

Colour conversation with Kassia St Clair

Kassia St Clair is an author, design and culture writer based in London. Her first book, The Secret Lives of Colour, was Radio 4′s Book of the Week, and is being translated into eight other languages. She is a regular contributor to radio shows including NPR’s Marketplace and Radio 4.

Your book, The Secret Life of Colours, has just been published in the US, and you have a second one on the way. Can you tell us about them?

The Secret Lives of Colour was my first book, and no matter how much other kinds of writing you’ve done, there’s something very magical about publishing your first book. The essential idea is that it’s an exploration of 75 different dyes, hues and pigments. It’s pretty informal, I’ve treated each shade like a sort of character sketch, just to give the reader the most interesting (to me, anyway) facts.

The Golden Thread, my second book, is perhaps a little more ambitious. Again the idea is that it is a collection of essays — this time about fabrics — but they are rather longer than the ones in the colour book, and a bit more exploratory, taking the reader from the linen found in the tombs of ancient Egypt to the woolen sails on board Viking ships and even into outer space via the Apollo 11 spacesuits.

What is your earliest colour memory?

My mother was a florist, and I do have early memories of being allowed to make little posies at her shop with discarded blooms after school. I loved that.

Every colour tells a story in The Secret Life of Colours. Do you have any favourites?

Mummy brown is probably the most fun colour story to tell — it’s all about a pigmet made from, you guessed it, mummmified human remains — but perhaps not the most attractive colour. The colour story I reach for most often when trying to explain the book and persuade people of the magic of colour is the one behind ultramarine. This is the queen of blues: beloved by Renaissance artists, more expensive at times than gold, and transported all the way to Europe from a single mine in north-eastern Afghanistan.

What do you think it is about colour that captivates and excites people?

Colours can inspire strong emotions in people and they also go through trend cycles, so that some colours or combinations of colours feel fresh and exciting one year and dated the next. I also think that the fact that people have gone to such lengths to create colour is fascinating to people. It’s so easy now to get your hands on a rainbow of hues, whether that’s in interiors or in your clothes. That hasn’t always been the case and I think people like hearing about that.

How does colour make you feel?

Of course it depends on the colour and on the context. Sometimes it feels really energising to be surrounded by strong hues, but at other times you might crave something richer or more neutral. I would never want to live in an all-white space (or an-all black one for that matter), but that’s entirely personal.

How much has colour made its way into your wardrobe?

I’ve become a lot more conscious of this since writing the book. I think like a lot of people I have tended to buy more black clothes than I strictly need, but now that I spend more time talking about colour I try harder to buy other colours and to experiment more. (When I was on Saturday Live Aasmar Mir laughed at me for wearing a black polo neck!) Since I went freelance I wear a lot more denim than I used to, so that’s something.

For colour inspiration, visit @secretlivesofcolour on Instagram

You previously wrote a column for Elle Decoration about colour. What colours fill your own home?

We’ve just redecorated, and we went for dark forest greens, mid-century pinks and whites. I haven’t tired of it yet!

Is there any colour you particularly dislike?

Before I started writing it, I was very nervous about writing the brown chapter. I had preconceptions about the brown shades being boring, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mummy brown was a delight to write, so was taupe. Lots of people have asked me about khaki since the book has been published, and although it hasn’t received as much attention I really enjoyed learning about sepia, too.

Have your every had your colours analysed?

Never! I’m curious, but I have a natural inclination against rules, and what would happen if I was told that my favourites didn’t suit me at all?

Has your favourite colour changed as you’ve got older?

Yes. Over the years — like many women I think — I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with pink. I’m definitely embracing it at the moment.

You can visit Kassia’s website here and you can buy her book The Secret Lives of Colour here.

How to dress for your shape

Annabel from Country Wives, Melissa and Jo from House of Colour

It’s always fun getting together and discussing colour and clothes with Annabel Simons from the much-read blog, Country Wives. Over the years we’ve loved finding out her favourites from each new collection and discovering how she makes Kettlewell work with her existing wardrobe. As a Summer, with a penchant for pastels from duck egg through to pale lilac and pink, Annabel is a great advertisement for ditching the black after 50 and letting fresh colour into your wardrobe.

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming her down to our Somerset studio to do a vlog on a topic that lots of women will find invaluable: finding the right clothes for your individual body shape. As few of us are blessed with a supermodel physique, it can be a real challenge finding clothes that actually suit us and make us feel comfortable and confident, rather than self-conscious and exposed. But it’s not all about hiding what Mother Nature has given us – often it’s a case of showing off your assets, or at the very least working with them to best effect!

Thanks to our three lovely volunteer models – Louise, Annie and Teresa – we were able to demonstrate how wearing the right shapes and employing some clever dressing tricks can really make a difference to the way you look and feel. Watch the first of Annabel’s body image videos (with Louise) on the Country Wives website, followed by Annie and Teresa over the next couple of weeks.



Louise, 47, professional singer

Size: 14 and 5′ 9″

Season: Winter

Style: Dramatic Natural

The challenge: To find clothes with structure that don’t cling to Louise’s middle.

The solutions:

Lulu Layered Top in Pansy – Loose around the tummy with a fitted under layer to shape, lift and enhance.

Tasha Top in Neon Yellow with Long Cami in Nimbus and Florence Infinity Scarf in Navy – Skims rather than clings with its longer length and flattering curved hem.

3 Cotton Ribbed Jumper in Chinese Blue with Long Vest in White – Slim on the arms and a boxy fit to camouflage the tummy.

4 Long Rio Wrap in Cassis with Breton Stripe Top in Navy Stripe – Breton stripes distract the eye away from the middle while the long cardigan creates drama.

You can watch the first part of Annabel’s video featuring Louise here and then to make sure you catch all three of the Country Wives body image videos, sign up to their newsletter at


Annie, 68, semi-retired health professional

Season: Summer

Size: 14 and 5′ 1″

Style: Gamine

The challenge: To find clothes that don’t swamp Annie’s narrow shoulders and short stature, camouflage bigger hips and define the waist.

The solutions:

1 Alexa Jacket in Ink and Everyday Cotton V in Iced Hyacinth and a Florence Infinity Scarf in Amethyst – Wearing colour around the face forces the eye upwards.


Swing V Neck Top in Aqua Green and Cashmere Gauze Stole in Dutch Blue with Ponte Leggings in Sailor Blue – Fitted over the bust and waist then skimming over the hips creates a slimmer silhouette for pear shapes.

3 Faux Wrap 3/4 Sleeve in Rose Madder and Camisole in Soft White – Flattering side ruching defines the waistline.


Teresa, 50, quality controller at Kettlewell

Season: Spring

Size: 12 and 5′ 0″

Style: Natural Romantic

The challenge: To accentuate Teresa’s hourglass figure (GG cup), and find styles that work with her short frame.

The solutions: 


1 Ponte Peplum Top in Light Emerald – The peplum enhances the waistline, while front darts give shape to the bust. Soft scooped neckline adds length to torso.

2 Betty Cowl in Tropical Pink – Cowl neckline provides soft, visually minimising drapes.

3 Short Cascade Wrap in Periwinkle and Everyday Cotton V in Azure – Flattering V neckline + bright Spring colours = winning combination!


After a colour analysis to find your best colours, you can go on to learn how to identify styles that suit your body shape and your personal style. If you would like more information, you can find a colour stylist near you here.

To make sure you catch all three of the Country Wives body image videos, sign up to their newsletter at 


Colour conversation with Martha Roberts, award winning journalist

Award-winning journalist Martha Roberts writes a monthly column for Psychologies magazine about colour, inspired by the The Colour File blog and Instagram account she started last year. Here, she talks colour combinations, the ‘right colours’ and super-bright wardrobes.

When did your love affair with colour begin?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with colour. My earliest colour memory is my second birthday cake which was white with dark purple 1970s icing. I remember thinking it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen (and being very territorial about anyone else wanting any!). My mum said that from a very early age I’d be very specific about colour names: ‘What kind of blue is it? Sky blue? Royal blue? Maybe blue? [I was too little to say navy]’ The different shades and nuances of colour have always been important in my world. It’s as if no matter what has chopped and changed in my world, the thread running through has remained my love of colour. Colour is my constant.

What inspired you to start the Colour File blog and Instagram feed?

The Colour File came out of a mid-life conversation I had with Suzy Greaves, life coach and my editor at Psychologies magazine. She said it was important to connect with what I really ‘loved’ and I realized it was colour. I started to write the blog and I haven’t looked back. I use The Colour File as a place to wax lyrical about my love affair with colour, to investigate colour-related issues (such as statistics and studies) and to showcase my favourite colourful finds, whether through photographs I’ve snapped around the world or objects I’ve bought to place in my ‘shelfies’ (the inspiration for my book, Shelfie, which comes out in July 2018).

You have a colour column in Psychologies magazine all about colour and how it makes us feel. Can you tell us more about it?

Each month I take a colour and investigate how it makes us think, act and feel and an expert in the field of colour helps me to set readers a ‘colour challenge’ to see if ringing the changes and mixing things up will impact their lives in any way. However, the thing I’ve discovered about colour in relation to psychology is that it isn’t always definitive and straightforward: one person’s ‘feeling blue’ blue can be another person’s ‘ultra-positive’ blue. It depends on the individual and is also subject to cultural influences (for example, white may be a colour of celebration in some countries but the colour of mourning in others). There are rules and findings to do with the psychology of colour when it comes to branding and marketing (red, for example, is often used by fast food restaurants to increase appetite) but for me the beauty of colour and psychology is that it is, in many ways, individual. This very much goes along with my personal colour philosophy: ‘rules’ are made to be broken and it’s all about how colour makes you feel.

How does colour make you feel?

Colour makes me feel energized, alive and full of purpose. Having said that, the ‘wrong’ colours can make me feel the opposite: enervated, melancholy and deflated. When I was a little girl I had auburn hair so my mum always put me in ‘autumn’ colours – chestnut, brown and beige with a bit of green thrown in (to go with my green eyes). How I longed to wear cerise, purple and yellow but it didn’t happen until I was old enough to make my own buying decisions! I have avoided those sludgy colours ever since because they sap my life force! Over the years the ‘wrong’ colours have actually made me cry and the right ones have had me dancing with joy. To (kind of) borrow the words of Bill Shankly: “Some people think colour is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Do you have a favourite colour fact or anecdote?

Oh my gosh, where do I start?! Doing The Colour File means I’m discovering colour facts all the time and also mining my own personal history for colour memories. I love how magenta and solferino got their names (they were named after Italian battles) and the fact that medical scrubs are teal-coloured because after focusing so intently on the red of blood when they are operating, looking at the blue/green helps surgeons to focus by refreshing their vision of red (red and blue/green are complementary colours), thereby reducing the risk of surgical errors. The world of colour is full of interesting, quirky and clever stories.

Are there any names that inspire you in the world of colour?

One of my biggest colour and style icons is Iris Apfel, an American stylist and style guru who is in her 90s and does exactly what she likes with colour. She mixes styles and colours with confidence and makes no excuses for it (she once said that ‘colour can raise the dead’). However, it’s often the use of colour by ordinary people or colour in ordinary and unexpected places that gets me most excited (like colours spray-painted on a pavement).

I have always secretly harboured a desire to have a job naming colours, whether it’s paint colours, nail polishes or fabrics. I often go into fabric departments and challenge myself to guess the name of the colour before turning the swatch over to see if I’ve got it right. I enjoy getting it right but I love getting it wrong, too, because that usually means I’ve discovered a new colour name. Honestly, I’m such a colour geek it’s untrue.

How does your home reflect your love of colour?

As you can imagine, my home is crammed full of colour, both in terms of the wall colours and the things I fill it with. I will generally buy things for their colour so over the years I have ended up with some strange things, like a picture of beetles that I got from Grand Central Station in New York four years ago because of the pastel-coloured inks it was drawn with and a vintage potty because I love the pink and black Art Deco-style colours together. I also buy books for their colours because they ‘go’ with shelfies that I’ve been planning (they end up being put in colour order on my shelves after that). I’m always mixing things up so it may be that if you come to my house it won’t look like how it did a few months before. It’s not about boredom as much as having this burning need to try new visual effects.

How bright is your wardrobe, and what shades do you gravitate towards?

My wardrobe is super-bright with so many colours in it. As well as the High Street, I often shop in charity shops so I end up buying items of clothing in colours that hadn’t necessarily crossed my mind before (the price point gives me permission to ‘get it wrong’) and that is definitely reflected in what you see when you open my wardrobe door! For example, I’ve got a shiny mint green Marni blouse and a block colour geometric top from the 1980s (I took out the shoulder pads because they were a tad too much…) sitting alongside electric blue palazzo pants from Zara and floral dresses from Warehouse. I also have a gazillion coats and scarves because I just can’t stop buying them. I honestly couldn’t say there are shades I gravitate towards because pretty much everything is on my radar. However, I tend to avoid grey because I’m not that keen and also I don’t think it does anything for me.

Last great colourful buy?

I was in New York recently and I bought a pair of bright yellow Zadig & Voltaire trainers with a white and gold flash along the side – they are delicious! Since buying a yellow cardigan by Danish designer Sibin Linnebjerg a couple of months ago, I’ve been wearing so much yellow and loving the way it makes me feel: full of the joys. I had a friend who jokingly used to say that ‘Only Doris Day can wear yellow’ but I have decided that she’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

Tricky question, we know, but if you had to pinpoint a favourite shade, what would it be?

Now that IS a tricky question! I’m often asked what my favourite colour is and although my four-year-old self would have said purple, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s combinations of colours that do it for me: pink and green; pink, green and yellow; pink, green, purple and yellow. I have favourite shades of different colours – cerulean blue, spring green, millennial pink, bright yellow – but it’s definitely combinations of colours that make me happiest.



You can read Martha’s blog here and find her on Instagram here.  

All images by Martha Roberts.

Iris Apfel’s book can be found on Amazon.

Psychologies magazine is here.


What the team are wearing

 A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my favourite picks from the S/S18 collection – the Eveline blouse, which I practically live in at the moment, topping the list, closely followed by the Watermelon Breton Stripe Top and the Milan Knit Crew in Apple. For this week’s post I thought I’d hand the baton over to the team and find out what they are loving from the new range – the tops and tees, dresses and jackets that they’ll be slotting into their summer wardrobes for work and weekend.


Shop Keira’s choices : Gigi TopAlexa Jacket, Starlight Necklace and the Kiss Loafers

Shop Sarah’s choices: Eveline Blouse, Imogen TopMetallic Print Scarf and the Ponte Leggings

Shop Hannah’s choices: Everyday Cotton TeeBreton Stripe TopSuede Shoulder Bag

Shop Diane’s choices: Swing V Neck TopFlorence Infinity ScarfCotton Rib Jumper


Shop Zoe’s choices: Ponte Peplum TopCotton Shirt DressBreton Stripe Top

Shop Claire’s choices: Eveline BlouseMetallic Print ScarfCotton Shirt Dress


Bestsellers from our new SS18 collection

Tracey from the Naughty Forty Diaries blog wearing a Floral Wrap Dress

Notwithstanding all this topsy-turvy weather we’ve been having recently (here in the West Country it’s been like London buses: you wait years for snow and then two Siberian cold snaps come along at once), the start of the new season has been abuzz with activity. As well as a factory visit to Portugal and a High Summer photo shoot in London (where, of course, it snowed again!), our designer Sarah and I have been busy sample shopping, seeking out inspiration and choosing new colours for our SS19 collection. We’ve also been busy working with journalists and bloggers, making sure the SS18 collection is firmly on their radar and able to see for themselves the range of styles and colours on offer. And the reception, I have to say, has been really positive.

My favourite thing once the catalogues have been mailed is to check up on the new best-sellers – you could say it verges on the obsessive. I love to know what you are all ordering from the book and reading your feedback, as this is how we are able to improve each season (being a perfectionist my work is never done). So while last season it was all about the faux-suede Alexa jacket and Keira dress, this season it looks as though we have a number of runaway favourites – pieces that you have been busy slotting into your new-season wardrobe.


In the hot seat

For some people, finding out their seasonal palette comes as a huge revelation (I’m thinking here of my friend Lucy, who was as surprised as I was when she found out she was a Winter and not a Summer like her mum). For others, who might have had an inkling and have been wearing a certain palette for years, it comes more as a confirmation of what they already suspected, rather than a lightbulb moment, with a few happy surprises along the way.

This was the case the other week when the wardrobe consultant and stylist Natasha Musson came to Kettlewell HQ to have her colours done. Natasha runs the Secret Stylist from her Somerset home and has been pointing her clients in our direction for years, as well as owning a fair few pieces of her own. With her jet black hair, pale colouring – and penchant for high-contrast black, white, fuchsia and cobalt blue – we had a good idea that Natasha was a Dramatic Gamine Winter. But it wasn’t until our colour consultant Jo (author of the weekly Kettlewell blog) was able to see the drapes against her skin and discern what worked and what didn’t that were we actually able to say for definite she was a Jewel Winter.

While shades of blush pink, moss green and pale yellow were instantly draining against her skin, punchy Winter hues from charcoal and indigo to electric blue, fuchsia, carmine, dark emerald and navy looked amazing. Iced lavender also looked fantastic on Natasha (giving her instant permission to go out and buy that M&S coat she had spotted in the same shade!).

Natasha’s surprise revelation of the morning? That navy, which she had always avoided in the past for fear of looking too ‘grown-up’, was actually rather amazing – chic, sophisticated and great teamed with the crisp ice whites in her palette.

“In the past year or two I have been more conscious of the colours I’ve been putting together but having my colours done professionally has been good for understanding what really suits me,” Natasha told us at the end. “I’ve always worn black in the past and steered clear of navy but now I can see how good it looks on, I’ll definitely be investing in a navy blazer and mixing it up with bold colours.”

That’s the beauty of a colour analysis. There’s always some lovely colour surprises waiting round the corner.

If you would like to have your colours analysed, click here to find a trained colour consultant near you .

Colour Conversation with Dr Kate Strasdin, fashion historian

From the ‘purple rash’ that swept the nation in the 1860s to the exquisite tailored dresses of Queen Alexandra, fashion historian and author Dr Kate Strasdin shares her passion for the colourful periods of the past.

 Tell us about your career. What inspired you to become a fashion historian?

I had always loved history as a child and from a really early age I started to collect the series of cards on British Costume that used to feature in boxes of Brooke Bond tea! I had the whole set and was utterly intrigued by the shapes and silhouettes of previous generations. I started to volunteer with a collection of historic dress when I was 19 but had no real idea of how to turn it into a career so I studied history at university. The interest in dress history never left me so I took up some postgraduate studies that eventually led to teaching and writing. It really is my dream job….

What is the significance of colour in the history of fashion?

Colour has always been enormously significant in the history of dress. Sometimes it has been about power – the wearing of Tyrian purple in the Roman period, for example, was a show of status limited to only a very few. Sometimes it is about new technologies pushing forwards the possibilities of certain colours on cloth, often it is an expression of emotion so the wearing of black as a signifier of mourning sends a non-verbal message about your place in life. Colour is a very personal way to convey something of the self.

Has there been a standout period when women’s fashion was particularly colourful?

During the 1850s and 1860s, the invention of aniline dyes meant that for the first time a synthetic dye was able to reproduce a stable purple colour that did not run or fade. This meant that the brightest hues were available and for a while bright mauve dresses were incredibly fashionable. The (largely male) press was alarmed at the vibrancy of this shade, they were suspicious of its brightness and reported about the ‘purple rash’ sweeping the nation. If you look at surviving garments from this period you can see just how very bright they were.

Do you have a favourite colourful outfit from the archives?

© Victoria and Albert Museum London

There is an amazing magenta dress at the V&A that fits the aniline dye profile and is eye wateringly colourful. It completely dispels the idea that Victorian women lived in sepia tones and led black and white lives. It was a vibrant period of colour – in fact this is exactly what collections of historic dress and textiles achieve so well – they literally colour in the lives of the past by presenting us with the garments our ancestors wore. My current research project is a mid-19th century dress diary belonging to a woman in Lancashire and it is full of the most vibrant swatches of fabric that related to her daily life so the period is populated with colourful women!

Who would you say was the best-dressed woman in history?

Well I am a little bit biased here as I spent almost ten years researching the surviving garments and life in dress of Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII and Queen Victoria’s daughter in law. She was the style icon of the second half of the 19th century and was enormously popular. She did not have a public voice but used dress very successfully as a tool, both to present and disguise aspects of her public and private life. She was responsible for the popularization of tailored garments for women that has arguably become a mainstay of contemporary working wardrobes.Who, in your opinion, wears colour well today?

I love Tilda Swinton’s style and the way that she wears colour. Her bold and often androgynous style is really refreshing, I think, in a world of red carpet clones. She tends to wear a lot of strong shapes and block colours which I find particularly appealing.

The Kettlewell Tilda Swinton Pinterest board

And finally, do you have a favourite colour?

Whilst I absolutely love the colour and pattern of historic garments, I am in fact a bit of a neutrals girl at heart. I realized not long ago that I had a tendency to veer towards a grey jumper when shopping so I have tried to vary things a bit but I am definitely drawn towards sharp shapes and muted tones. I am a huge fan of the movement of American sportswear designers of the 1930s and 1940s – women like Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin and Vera Maxwell – all of whom played with amazing designs but clean colours. Something to aspire to in my own wardrobe……