evolution in practice

I’m thinking about different aspects of marketing and promoting businesses in textiles for a lecture tomorrow and I came across this image which got me thinking about how my practice has evolved and my priorities have changed since I took this picture only a few years ago. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to shape and alter the practice I have, to take on projects that suit me at the time. Hooray for portfolio careers! Right, what’s next?…




telling stories

Each project I create is part of a longer narrative of my practice and as I look back over the years it is easy for me to see common aspects and joined up thinking spanning those projects. As I teach this year’s final year students on the BA programme I lead I am reminded of my own journey starting out in design, and the questioning I did to work out what sort of work I wanted to be represented by in my step beyond graduation. The challenge of the Final Major Project!

I understand the battle and pressure to work out your own style, the look or handwriting to be yourself, but funnily enough I don’t think that is the thing that holds my practice together anymore – you may disagree, and I’d be interested to know! What has become the common thread holding so many of my projects together has been the story, the narrative within each project. I could never have imagined this all those years ago, even though I was making books! I’ve made many artists books that contain single narratives, but I’ve also worked on large-scale projects that involve public toilet doors that act as pages of the book with a story across them. This is also true for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where my designs are laid out in gravel across three huge roof-scapes. I’ve also been challenging how to place pattern within single designs, such as in my Plot to Plate tea towel design, telling the tale of growing, cooking and eating food. I’ve made series of prints, and a set of posters, all held together by a narrative. The more I look the more examples I can see.

If only the graduate me back then could have told me that the key aspects of my practice would work themselves out I would have worried less, but then again, it is the search for these answers that take you on the creative journey in the first place. Some people like to know what they are going to design, design it, then be pleased it looks as they planned. As for me, I like learning as I go, push myself that little bit more, find a bit of creative strength to step out of my comfort zone, and then be pleased I got somewhere I didn’t know existed. The creative process is a difficult thing to explain, but it’s all the more interesting for being that way.


Top left: artists book in collaboration with Wes White for Sherborne House, Dorset, 2004

Bottom left: visualisation for the roof-scape at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Birmingham, 2009

Right: Plot to Plate tea towels, 2014

my motifs in design

I consider everyday design to be important in shaping our lives for the better or worse, and that includes cutlery design. For regular followers of this blog you will know I like cutlery. My special relation with cutlery started as a child, I collect forks, particularly disposable ones and now as an educator I use cutlery to teach design thinking despite my subject being textile design. I’ve also designed several pattern designs using motifs of cutlery including a collaboration with David Mellor Design.

The first time I made a formal design using cutlery I won a prize! I entered Formica’s Design-a-laminate competition in 2005 and won the Retro category for producing “a skillful houndstooth pattern using knives and forks, a reference to Formica’s conventional use if Fifties’ diners and kitchens”, (Blueprint magazine, April 2005). (top left pattern – made by a rubber stamp – see my instagram feed)


Many years later, in 2012, I launched a new variation of this pattern on gift and home-ware products including a tea towel, and moved the dogtooth check pattern on by incorporating a visual narrative into the design. At the bottom of the graphic I had garden tools such as spades and a rake, then in the middle I incorporated kitchen utensils such as whisks, wooden spoons and fish slice, before topping the design with cutlery – therefore illustrating the journey of plot to plate, (garden, kitchen, dining) using the tools that we use. This has been really well received and I sell through my website and have shown the design at several trade shows and exhibitions. Subsequently I updated the colours to Brassica green and Brassica purple in 2014.

Continuing my design journey of cutlery I approached Corin Mellor to suggest we collaborate on a design to celebrate his Chelsea cutlery in 2013, inspired by the production method of making cutlery and the beautiful shapes of the salad servers. Following the success of this I was asked to create a second design in 2015 inspired by his father’s winning cutlery design ‘Pride’. Both designs of tea towels sell incredibly well both online and their three shops and I’m delighted with the responses I receive – from as far away as Japan!

So why do I remind you of when I designed these patterns…?

With my pattern designs of cutlery out in the public domain since 2005 I received a message from someone I know telling me they had seen my cutlery design on a surface I hadn’t applied it to…., was it new?… alarm bells! I haven’t designed this product! The feeling of being cheated, of being violated, ripped through me leaving anger and frustration at the lack of other people’s respect to a fellow designer – that’s putting it mildly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for being told, it just took my day in a different direction from my plans. My afternoon was spent searching online to find examples of this product, and there it was… I am offended!

I could take to social media and rant, name and shame and get it off my chest – that’s one way but I’m in a difficult position if I can’t prove someone has copied my work. If I’m not careful I can find myself being accused of slander – hence I’m not telling you the product the design is applied to, but you can see my designs here which gives a clue. You can do your own searches and draw your own conclusions, but please understand why I’m not making wild and angry claims. In the world of design law this is something of a challenge to prove, and having already gone through this with a dear design friend, know it’s a nightmare that is part and parcel of our design careers. The thing is we need to promote our work and get it seen by people. I can’t have a design career while hiding everything.

The internet enables us to share our design stories but also leaves a trail – and at this time I’m grateful my designs are well documented. I pride myself on originality, and for creating high quality designs. The pattern that I believe is too close to mine for comfort lacks any sort of rigour, consideration and refinement compared to mine. If I was going to copy I’d at least make mine better than the original! Why record a cover-version that doesn’t compete with the quality of the first song?

It is always a worry that someone looks at your work and thinks they can ‘take inspiration’ from it. I’m not saying I should be the only textile designer using cutlery as motifs – no way! Both as a designer and academic I take the issue of imitation very seriously, stressing the importance of originality to my undergraduate students to a point they  clearly know my thoughts on intellectual property. If anything, I drive a very wide path clear of anything that can be seen as similar, knowing how damaging it can be to a designer of being accused of copying… there are enough case studies out there! My reputation matters to me.

How can imitation be flattery, as we are told in primary school, if it makes me feel so angry and violated? I’m having to think about what to do next, and also I am rather in need of some time away from a very busy last few months… but I shall seek advice and work out what to do next.

Season’s greetings, and thanks for reading… I’ll let you know next time I design a cutlery pattern! If in doubt, ask…



Pattern appreciation at the Whitworth

The Barbara Brown exhibition at the Whitworth in Manchester is really worth catching, especially if you like patterns.
The layout of the gallery enables an overview; the broad visual statement of the textiles designed by Barbara Brown during the 1960s and 1970s, to be seen straight away and makes for a striking sight. Large-scale pattern in different colour-ways jostle for attention and yet the small gatherings of textile designs within the gallery also create more local dialogue for consideration. The repeats are large, not in the Marimekko sense but larger than we often see, taking the full width of the fabric to do the talking. Seeing the textile lengths on exhibition really shows off the bold rhythms of each pattern.


The designs on show demonstrate a variety of motif units across the fabric, some halved, some quartered, others full width. The corner of the gallery most impressive in my opinion was the monochrome series that really pushed her design prowess forward. Although strong graphic statements, these are far from flat patterns. The curves in Ikebana (below left) and Automation (below, third from right), both from 1970, differ in how they control and divide the space, toying with depth and dimensions. There is a sense of sci-fi and computer generated environments across this mono-chrome series. Escher should also get a mention as the optical illusions on the architectural scale appear to pay homage to him too.


I have my favourites, but I really want to highlight the breadth of pattern compositions here. The design statements include many geometrics with cubes, columns and dots. There are stripes, spots, architectural themes and florals. I see more than a hint of Op Art, Psychedelia and modernism across the printed fabrics, some more than others, but the designs appear experts at communicating the populist aesthetic of those years.


As a teaching aid for textile design, this exhibition does rather well. Design students can understand the potential to grow large repeats rather than stop at small ‘plonk – plonk’ designs we see far too much of – maybe a result of designing on computer screens. Designers need to understand that even domestic interiors can cope with so much more than a motif 10cm in diameter. Brown’s shapes are also not always contained by outlines, and this presents bold, solid shapes that hold their own. Colour statements include monochrome and full-on colour including oranges and blues. There is a sense of the colour palette dating the patterns but the combinations communicate bravery. The monochrome designs have a very formal spirit, and although different in style do remind me of some of the black and white, large classical columns Timney Fowler print designs of the 1980s.


Barbara Brown was working in a very different time, and artwork was not created in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Hand drawing full-scale repeats gives you a very different relationship with pattern compositions. Some designs appear not to show signs of drawing, but others do, almost standing out for doing so – particularly Sweet Briar, 1959 (above left).

The exhibition was dominated by the printed fabric lengths but a couple of later knitted pieces offered an insight in to the designer’s creative career progression, and reminded me of the direction Lucienne Day took with her silk mosaics, making a clear distinction away from the commercial print designs. The juxtaposition of some small ceramic pieces next to fabric lengths offered an interesting pause for thought too. Would you have matching china and curtains? Maybe not, but the patterns held their own at both scales and on the different surfaces.


This is one of those examples of why you need to see exhibitions in the flesh, and not rely on the computer or phone screen to do the job. Seeing Barbara Browns patterns are eye-catching on a small screen, but they are far more impressive in this setting.

The exhibition is on show until January 2018 (and they always have several interesting things on at the same time – and I can recommend the cafe!) NOW EXTENDED UNTIL MARCH 2018


Plot to Plate season

Apparently it’s National Allotment Week, but having an allotment is an all year round commitment. It is however this time of year when the winter trips to dig the heavy clay soil ready for the Easter planting pays off, and all the trips returning home with only muddy boots to show are forgotten.

We are having to visit the plot at least twice a week to stay on track with harvesting. The currants and gooseberries are picked, eaten or frozen. Strawberries are only a memory along with Wimbledon, but potatoes continue to be dug. We’ve had too many courgettes for what feels like months, but probably only weeks, we’re coming to the end of French beans, but have the runner beans in full flow.  Raspberries have given us the summer stint, and now, along with the blackberries show us signs we are in late summer, heading for Autumn. I’ve already cooked too batches of blackberry jam, and cream teas are regular occurrences at home!


It’s not all going smoothly! We are having no luck with getting parsnips growing; I fear winter roasts without them! The brassicas are being harvested by slugs and butternut squash had better get a move on if they are to deliver ahead of the frosts. Domination of certain weeds make it difficult but I’m determined not to be beaten – we garden organically but there are times I dream of chemicals! We’ve also realised that although growing purple potatoes (Blue Danube) is rather novel, it’s very odd eating purple mash potato and we are not so sure we like it.


Five years ago I launched my Plot to Plate collection which is a celebration of home-grown food. It is a collection that shares my interests of gardening and pattern design, with products on interior and gift products. Limited edition prints initially investigated the motifs used in the repeat designs. You can read more about the Plot to Plate collection development here.

Having an allotment is a great way of being in touch with the seasons and being in tune with nature. I once heard the chap on the next plot to ours exasperated as weeds covered his once tidy plot that he had left alone for a few weeks. He said he was not going to be bossed about by nature… he quit within the season! I sometimes feel that it’s an extra burden in my busy schedule, but once I’m there, digging or harvesting, those thoughts are put aside. The community of the allotment holders is also great. Today I was discussing our successes and failures, and soon the offer of spare brassicas was made and sweetcorn varieties were being recommended. I’ve written before about the good feeling of sharing allotment produce excess before.


My Plot to Plate collection has grown since 2012, far beyond my original intentions, but I’m really pleased with the evolution. I’ve made drawings of many kitchen gardens over the years – National Trust’s Upton House & Gardens remains one of my favourites, along with Hanbury Hall. My tea towels that celebrate the journey from plot to plate with drawings of the tools involved has inspired lots of my design work since then too, so they make me proud.

So here we are celebrating the allotment, but it won’t be just for this week, it’s a collaboration with nature after all and I’m in for the long haul… happy harvesting!




contexts build connections

Over the last twenty years the contexts for which I have made work has varied considerably. The intimate space of a page in a book, a sequence of doors in public conveniences, a gallery wall, patterns made in gravel on three large roof-scapes of a hospital or the humble tea towel; they all require different considerations. The client, the audience, the buyer and the customer, each has different agendas, budget requirements, aesthetics and expectations – I enjoy each challenge and added dimension that brings. The opportunity to consider my practice in these differing environments creates a chance to reflect and develop a greater understanding of possibility and relationship with the context of known work while developing an understanding of those different people and their agenda and perspectives.

More recently I’ve been working on design projects away from gallery walls, but I was delighted to be asked to be involved with Ambiguous Implements, a touring show featuring 17 practitioners across a wide range of creative disciplines, exploring domestic and familiar objects in alternative ways.

The contact came from a journal my ‘construct’ design work was reviewed in called Feast. I had been pleased with the care Laura Mansfield and the team had taken with understanding my work for the article in Feast, and for this new invitation I was delighted to include both some original drawings from my ‘Construct’ project, as well as metres of Construct: twist, in a bespoke colourway, as the nod to domestic interiors for the gallery settings. I was also asked if they could use my words, spoken casually during a conversation over the phone, but seemingly capturing the essence of the exhibition.

“a familiar object provides an unfamiliar forum for thinking” — Kate Farley

It’s funny how little conversations, and apparent one-off opportunities build networks to develop, support and enable both parties in different ways. I’ve been grateful to Laura and her team to be so considerate and inclusive, and to allow my work to sit in a very different context, thereby enabling me to consider the work further, evolving and existing in new ways. The other practitioners make very different work but the conceptual connections and mutual respect for others practices can also grow further understanding beyond the single opportunity. I’m pleased to be involved, for the development of my practice and the context of ‘construct’.



Ambiguous Implements has been curated by Laura Mansfield in collaboration with Rachael Colley and Nuala Clooney. Funded by Arts Council England, supported by Dust and Simon Taylor Designs.”  https://ambiguous-show.tumblr.com/about

Ambiguous Implements is at The Bl_nk Space Gallery, Roco Cooperative Sheffield  until Saturday 15th July opening Tuesday to Saturday 11am- 6pm. Other venues

“Bringing together 17 practitioners from the fields of design, jewellery, ceramics, metalwork and sculpture Ambiguous Implements presents a collection of contemporary works that playfully reconsider the familiar objects of our day to day domestic life. Re-thinking the tools we use for eating, grooming, cooking and cleaning, the exhibiting artists have employed and subverted traditional craft techniques, reframed existing tools in new sculptural assemblages, or given seemingly banal objects new functions and effects. The collection of works present a twist on the familiar, bringing new perspectives to bare on the objects that populate contemporary domestic life.

Rob Anderson, Aimee Bollu, Caroline Broadhead, David Clarke, Nuala Clooney, Rachael Colley, Rosie Deegan, Kate Farley, Daniel Fogarty, Kate Haywood, Jasleen Kaur, Julie Mellor, Maria Militsi, Rebecca Ounstead, Matt Rowe, Jonathan Trayte and Abbie Williams each present new and existing works.”

text from https://ambiguous-show.tumblr.com/about



I’ve always enjoyed working with colour; choosing combinations, mixing inks and matching colour. I am interested in how we relate colour to brands, how colour suggests quality, market levels, football teams, trends, and this week in particular political parties. Sometimes people say they do not really like colour – but what they often really mean is that they don’t like strong and vibrant colours, but in my mind bright colours are no more important than the whites on white; equally powerful if used well, just not so extrovert.


I like seeing the way an inky grey sky makes fields of corn glow golden, and how the crepuscular blue sings out before the night sky takes over. Relationships that colours have can bring connotations, evoke distant memories and create moods. I remember a bag of hand-me-down clothes was excitedly torn open by my twin sister and I, hoping for fabulous new items to wear – in the eighties, when what was actually presented was everything brown and purple – from the previous decade. So disappointing!

Getting the right colour isn’t about a broad brush of red, it’s about seeing the nuances. You’ve only got to see a sale-rail to see the buyer got the shade of mustard a bit too green, or the pink too candy, and not blush. Any colour can vary hugely, our personal perception of colour not only is affected by the technicalities of sight, but also our own relationships with colour, built on past experiences. It took me a while to wear navy, having had to endure it for school for several years.

A friend described my ‘black’ screen prints for the Barbican, and I had to explain it was actually dark grey – it makes a considerable difference to the final result, but if both examples are not shown side by side most people would be none the wiser that the designer made a conscious decision to make a grey look not quite a black.

So here’s some yellow, photographed in Norfolk a few weeks ago. Enjoy, what ever it means to you!