Lucy Ross

Bernat Klein’s Belarusian Master Tailor - Aleksander Pietrykiewicz

Lucy Ross is the granddaughter of Aleksander Pietrykiewicz. Here she writes a personal and moving account of her grandfather's life, and his work with Bernat Klein.

When I first learned about Bernat Klein and his connection to my family, my mum was gravely ill. Anxious to make plans for her possessions before her death, she was worried about what would happen to what she described as ‘very important fabric’, which had belonged to her father, my grandpa, Aleksander Pietrykiewicz.

Until that moment I had no idea about that part of our family history and our close link with Bernat Klein.

Bernat Klein woven textile

My family connection with Bernat Klein started after the Second World War, when things were pretty tough for those who came to Britain. Signs above shops and bars would sometimes stipulate ‘No Poles’, so to fit in and find a job, my grandpa changed his name from Pietrykiewicz to Paterson.

Despite the heroic effort of Eastern Europeans during the war, going back home wasn’t an option, as his tiny Belarusian village had been completely obliterated, along with his entire family.

As a master tailor, my grandfather was a highly skilled craftsman who, according to my mother, seemed to be able to work magic when it came to tailoring and dressmaking.

And it turned out that someone who did give him a chance to work, was Bernat Klein.

Bernat Klein woven textile

I remember my granny always being superbly dressed in exquisite two-piece suits, made from fabric that had a familiarity for reasons I didn’t know back then. I now know that this was Bernat Klein's iconic fabric. I wish could have explored her wardrobe with the knowledge I have now, as I would have seen her clothes with a fresh new appreciation.

Even from such a young age, I recognised my grandpa as the kindest, gentlest and most humble adult I knew, and saw the beauty and warmth in his personality and spirit.

Aleksander Pietrykiewicz passport photo

All these experiences and memories have motivated me to make a personal connection to Bernat Klein. My tastes in abstract design, fashion, colour, pattern - even architecture and interior design - are reflected in Bernat Klein's work, which continues to fascinate me. His iconic checked, tweed and boucle fabric worn by my mum, that I might once have overlooked, has taken on so much more meaning.

Bernat Klein woven textiles

When I look at Bernat Klein's fabric today, I can imagine my grandfather sitting at his Singer sewing machine, working it into a beautiful suit or skirt.

Looking through old documents, I have learned that after working for Bernat Klein, he went on to volunteer at Perth Prison to teach inmates how to sew and make clothes, so that they would find jobs after prison. Discovering this only recently, I wonder if this was due to his own experiences of feeling imprisoned by the Russians during the Second World War.

When I was four he died in a tragic fishing accident. His death was dramatic, making it onto the 6 o’clock news, as he had slipped in the River Tay in Perthshire, drowning at aged only 63.

This is not what I want to remember about my grandpa though, especially now I know what he achieved in his life.

Bernat Klein woven textile

I want to remember him as the master tailor, a person with incredible talent who worked for someone who, I now view as one of my own favourite designers. I’d like to thank Bernat Klein for giving my grandpa the chance to succeed, not just because he was an immigrant, but as someone Bernat considered able to offer his talents to the world, as he did.

Lucy Ross is a senior content designer and editor, as well as a musician, writer and producer of music. She currently lives in Edinburgh, where she grew up but has also lived in Japan and London.

Photography by Callum Rice.