From way, way back as a child I loved fabrics. My mother’s wooden chest in the hallway provided hours of fun for me exploring the Colefax and Fowler, Laura Ashley, Cole &Son and Liberty prints, feeling their textures, weight and mesmerised by the pattern repeats and complex layers of colours. My mother rarely sewed but she collected remnants, an obsession that once she passed in 2018, left me with over a week of sorting and packing her wonderful collection, housed by then, in two huge floor to ceiling cupboards, into boxes to travel to my home in France. My close friend helped, invaluable during this stressful time, to heave the weighty boxes down the stairs and into his van and kindly transport them to Creuse where my husband was holding the fort. I was away almost a year nursing my mother who had cancer. It was difficult. The fabrics so long hidden in the dark, would, like their new owner, be released into the light.
**Scroll for the rest of the post and lots and lots of colourful fabrics that I designed.**
My dream of going to art college never manifested and I struggled with art and disappointment over this for years but I never lost my love of fabrics. In the 80’s with DIY interior design at its height, Changing Rooms and Jocasta Innes painting everything, I scoured London for secret sales, tip-offs of end of line stocks and bought fabrics at knock-down prices. Jane Churchill fabrics at £1.00 a metre..who wouldn’t get excited about that!
I wrote in previous posts about my attempts to get an interior design job..successful in most cases but sadly newly married, with an unenthusiastic husband (you need a proper job attitude) and money limits, regrettably I didn’t take up. But in the process I learned, I studied, took classes in design, draughting at The London Design School, Rhodec and Jackie Horseford let me work at The Curtain Exchange in Abbey Road every Saturday.
I loved working there. Rooms enshrined in hundreds of curtains, mostly floor to ceiling, with some at 14 feet in length. As you progressed deep into the bowels of the shop, the fabrics became weighter, the textures heaver, the weaves more complex from the surface printed cottons at the front of shop. Antique curtains languished at the back, rather expensive and sun damaged, waiting for an inspired buyer to give them a new lease of life. Chateau finds, French tassels and wooden curtain poles as thick as your arm mingled with the old timer fabrics, brass hooks, tie-backs and curtain clips..it was heaven landed in Abbey Road to me. I also took turns at working at the Wandsworth Bridge Road shop too, with a very merry, eccentric group of ladies who nurtured my fabric education, even though with my East London background, I felt like a fish out of water.
Now after a career in tax, I would have no problems selling curtains and talking the designer talk, but back then I was a shy, quivering wreck when a customer sought advice. I did sell and had great feedback but after each sale I would scuttle into the basement, my heart pounding and feeling faint. Selling would be a hard fought war for me and only now at middle age do I feel absolutely comfortable with the process. Moving from the idea of making money to actually realising its about worth and enjoyment to the customer, was a game changer, and even now I often sell to customers with little profit or even losses if money is tight and their enthusiasm is obvious, because actually customers feedback, social promotion and recommendation are everything as good as profitable sales…as seen on Etsy, many charge too high and give up, as profit driven. A business is a slow burn often, and an accumulation of consistent creative output, customer service and gratitude. Long term, yes you need a profit, but it can be obtained in so many ways.
Fast forward and a move to France in 2019, I dabbled with ideas, illustration, sewing, floundering mostly as I still felt it was all about fine art, was still unhappy I had no subject that thrilled me to paint and continued to read avidly about art and follow other artists who had strong techniques, uniqueness and huge faith in their skill. Then covid hit…lockdowns. I was honestly scared and my health issues also put vaccinations on hold till more data was available. I holed up with my poultry and doodled. I painted Heff my huge, cuddly pekin duck and then my cous-nous Doobie and Onion. I liked the outcome. I then painted Pipi my guinea and tentatively showed on Facebook. Boom!! Suddenly there were over 400 likes and I am so grateful, requests for these funny little guineas on fabric, prints and mugs.
With a short window of a month, I bought a sublimation machine, loaded phoshop and bought many books on pattern design, fabrics and illustration. I contacted the most well known print on demand companies and asked for their colour matrix prints, ICC codes to match my printer and pc to their colour output and crammed this new world into my brain. I watched designers at Liberty’s in London, I read about Alexander McQueens journey through the drudge of apprenticeship through to the highs of creative genius..output with flare, shock and technique. The foibles of Dots Per Inch DPI, suddenly made sense and I scoured the brocantes for scraps of fabrics, long forgotten and often picked up for centimes, to begin collections.
I realized that collections were a good methodology, like fashion designers create, as they focus your creativity for a longer period than one item, and there has to be a collective continuity too. Its pushes you to be consistent and look at designs together…do they look cohesive, actually improve each other as a grouping, can that collection be extended to other products? I had by now worked on my Pipi Pintade, Naughty Goose and my Busy Country Bee collections for printing on mugs, stoneware and enamel, opened my shop in Shopify after finding PayPal too costly for payments and Etsy for now too time consuming te loading products, but wanted to still look at fabrics.
With a huge outpouring and years of frustration I think, thrown into the mix, I took illustrations, floral photos I had archived and all the fabric scraps I had and evening after evening, often combining with my whimsical illustrations, produced over eighty designs in various collections. Based on what I felt would be manageable re designing and promoting, I kept the collections into clear design styles based around what I loved to create….Country Styles with florals, Arts n Craft inspired with stylized foliage, Pastoral featuring my poultry, Land and Sea for when I see textures and interesting natural materials, Retro and Vintage for my 1930’s to 1970’s collections of toys and fabrics, Whimsical for my illustrations of Pipi, sea creatures and bees and other collections like Nursery for seaside, funfair and circus inspired ideas.
It’s been fun naming the fabrics too. I never realized just how complex it can be trying to explain in a couple of words what a fabric inspires to be, to sound interesting, friendly or be purely descriptive. I have a few books, reference guides to flowers, nature, colour etc and will delve into these. Like paint companies, it’s an art in itself, but I think so far I am doing OK with this….as long as I stop saying ‘daisy’ too much!
I now feel absolutely confident talking fabrics, designing patterns, accommodating customers bespoke ideas and the technical side of optimising print runs, how weave affects colour and how fabrics change rooms. At last all my interior design aspirations could have a feasible outlet in fabric design and going forward, be used to create home decor, whimsical toys and decorate my own home. A long journey, but I am here and extremely happy. I still have a lot to do re promotions, coming up to speed with my sewing skills and I am even working on needlepoint ideas too, but mostly I am glad the oak chest of fabric, that I loved to dig and delve about in as a child, has finally bore fruit. The chest is waiting to be moved into my new studio and will hold my samples, but sadly I have no daughter to ask me what is in that chest, nor a family to follow my career, but luckily I have new friends I have made from designing these fabrics and I know this new career will perhaps lead to other relationships to treasure in time. The fabric journey has begun.