international pattern collaboration

It all began in an email with the subject line, ‘Hello from Tokyo’ I received in November 2017, letting me know how much my tea towels for David Mellor were admired in a Japanese design company. The email went on to ask if we could discuss a potential collaboration for a capsule fashion collection featuring a print designed by me. Firstly I was excited to think my patterns had made their way to Japan, but secondly, that sounded a great idea, tell me more! A few email exchanges later, and we agreed to meet the next time the company director of Stamps Inc. was in London so I could show him my portfolio to discuss the idea for the new pattern they would like to commission for their fashion collection.

The meeting with Shu and his colleague Yoko in a central London hotel was exciting; I showed my work and it was met with positive discussion. I was also reintroduced to the tea towels that had made it to Japan all the way from my studio, via a David Mellor Design shop! We sat at a large table and I showed them my portfolio, spreading the many sheets out covering the whole surface. Having shown all the other work and following some discussion in Japanese between colleagues, the director chose the very first page he had seen – the cover page! The choice was not what I was expecting but we shared and developed ideas for me to sample: colours, time-lines and garments. We then took some photographs to record the start of the project together, for when we would be able to share our story – and even asked the hotel doorman to take a pictures of the three of us with a London bus behind us.

The selected design was a graphite pattern of pencil scribbles of varying tones and rhythms, later to become the title of the collection: Scribble. There are lots of variables such as scale, rhythm, tone and  overall order in the pattern we had to make decisions before I set about creating the final artwork. I emailed across some small sketches to explain the repeat process for production to check we were understanding each other as we had to ensure we understood the terminology that each of us used in our different languages.

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I shared several images of new drawings to provide the variations / considerations over email before committing to the final design. The final fabrics were to be screen printed so I planned to draw out the whole design in full repeat by hand (approximately 60 x 90cm), scan it in and transfer it to Japan for screen print production. I started the large final drawing twice as I wasn’t happy with the first one. Initially the marks I drew appeared tense, but I also had to work out how to create the different qualities with the pencils across a vast piece of paper, and how not to smudge the areas I had drawn. I drew the design at 80% scale to make scanning it in possible, meaning I had to take in to account the slight increase in the size of the marks in the final result. I also had to ensure the top of the design matched the bottom, as the edges were to act as a cut-through for the screen printing process of repeating the pattern, fitting like a jigsaw, top to bottom. The design was edge to edge, left to right, fitting the width of the fabric so there was no horizontal pattern-repeat.

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The final artwork took almost ten hours to draw, and I did that mainly over two long evenings. I had it scanned in at a very high resolution, adapted the size of artwork to 100% and sent the digital file to Japan – with my fingers crossed that the printer could work their magic, including colour separating the graphite tones for the two screens each colourway would require!

There was a wholesale launch in Tokyo so I sent some of my original drawing samples over to feature as framed artwork in the exhibition and I was sent photographs of the lengths of fabric on show. Very exciting! Orders were placed and there was a good response. A further email request came from Japan, to meet again in London to see the fabric. Another exciting moment – also scary – what if I didn’t like the results!? In the stylish interior of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel lounge there was no need to worry. Great care had been taken to translate my drawing to screen printed cotton lawn fabric, in two colours – referencing the two colours of my David Mellor patterns Chelsea, in grey, and Pride in blue. The fabric felt beautiful and the printing fabulous. It was a special meeting.

I was able to see the marketing material including my name alongside Japanese text I couldn’t decipher, describing our meeting and the collaboration. I have had to be patient while the wholesale launch orders were being produced before we can promote the project I’ve had to keep under wraps for well over a year … until now!

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Shu and Yoko, learning about the company and their pride in who they work with including the products they develop. It has been a highly successful collaboration from my perspective in that we have discussed all the aspects of the process and trusted each other to do the best for it, each learning about the other and having good communication throughout. We have shared news of the differing seasons and national events over the course of the project, and they’ve watched via instagram as I’ve moved homes and jobs. I’ve loved having this connection with people in another corner of our world, created as a result of some tea towels I designed over five years ago!

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print pattern show up and down… at Tent London

After months of planning, designing, making, printing, promoting and talking about the show… the time finally came… TENT LONDON! With very heavy bags, a display diagram, carefully planned tool kits, shelves, fabrics rolled, and so much more we set off to Brick Lane, London to put the show up. Our lives with small children are full of logistics, and this day tested us! Trains, tardy paint, luggage & childcare kept us busy and in relay between London and Birmingham so the show could take shape. By the end of the first day the majority of display items were on the right walls, fixed securely, and I headed home to the midlands.

The next day…. I set off again with ANOTHER heavy bag (these things don’t always get mentioned in trade show prep talks!) and completed the stand dressing, including the mood board for ‘construct’. It always takes longer than you think… I attached the vinyl, tidied up and left for a good nights sleep before the LONG first day of 10am – 11pm!

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The first day of a launch / show is always exiting and scary. Will people understand the new work, and will they like it? This particular morning was not helped by being stuck in a lift across town with my dear sister and only what sounded like a fax machine to talk to. Eventually after 20 minutes we were told the lift engineer couldn’t get the door open, “you are in a precarious position”!!! I’m not sure what customer care training he had received about talking to distressed people stuck in a lift. For anyone in this job, do not use the word ‘precarious’! We got out after nearly half an hour…

For the rest of the day I felt half an hour behind, but I launched my new collection with free limited edition screen prints which appeared to be gladly received by visitors. The collaboration with Formica Group was a really popular element to my new collection, and the mood board featuring my drawing tools as preliminary artwork inspired lots of really interesting conversations. Being a solo designer can be a very lonely, self-reflective existence so it’s great to get feedback from those you design the work for. Architects, interior designers, specifiers, stylists, press, retailers and many more visitors invested time to talk about all elements of my work, and for that I’m grateful. ‘Plot to Plate’ was launched in 2012 and has evolved over time to be a ready to buy interior and gift collection but ‘construct’ works differently. Only the cushions are available for immediate sale, and the rest is printed to order to allow for the distinctive element of the collection, the bespoke production. By working with Formica Group and Surface View my designs have been printed on a range of surfaces for the residential and contract markets.

When designing the stand I had to consider what I wanted to communicate and who I wanted to relate to. Over the years I’ve refined the ideas of what I want to do and the contexts in which I thrive creatively and this design show gave me the opportunity to put that understanding across. It was important to explain that I have lots of experience of creating bespoke pattern for clients and having just designed a new pattern for David Mellor celebrating the ‘Pride’ cutlery this was a great thing to show. It was really well received and orders have already been dispatched!

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It is very hard work minding a stand of your own, by yourself for several days. Every show I’ve done has been helped by the wonderful community of fellow stand holders nearby and this year at Tent London was no different. I met kind and sharing exhibitors I hope to stay in touch with, and I will certainly watch and support their practices on social media with interest. Thanks to you!

I’ve written this previously too, but as ever, I was visited by past students of mine from both my CSM teaching days as well as BCU Textile Design graduates, some visiting to inform their practices, others in their roles in industry. It makes me proud! I am also pretty good at spotting students and as long as they don’t just grab the postcards I support their efforts and questions as they are being proactive and engaging with the industry. London Design Festival offers something for any creative so it’s good to support the next generation.

Last year I made a dress using one of my new prints, and I did the same this year, much to the delight of the Tent London ladies! It was a great way to demonstrate the flexibility of my print designs, and a good way to make conversations; it became my uniform.

I also won a design competition for tote bags at the show to be printed with a ‘construct’ placement print, so some lucky people have a very limited edition screen printed bag!

The end of the show has mixed blessings. After a long few days and months of preparation it’s great to have achieved a strong show – many kind people commented on how good my stand looked, but it also means the adventure is over, and it’s sad taking the show down, packing it up and saying farewells. Even in a few days routines are created. We struggled back on the trains with what we measured later as being 59Kgs of exhibition and assorted support luggage between two of us, ready to follow up the contacts made…. and to sit down!

So what have I learned?

  • I learned that I really am making the work that I want to make, and did manage to communicate that with the right people.
  • I’m really proud of both collections, and am delighted at the reception that ‘construct’ received
  • and latch hook rug making! I learned how to make a rug and now know why they cost so much… but really enjoyed making it… with British wool!
  • I learned how important it is to take risks, to put work out there to be judged… to keep learning

Thanks to all those involved: family helpers, the Tent team, Formica Group, Surface View, fellow exhibitors and for everyone who came to visit.

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Launching the pattern collection: ‘construct’

I’ve always started designing by picking up some sort of drawing tool, and exploring ideas that will have been developing in my head for some time. Concepts of pattern and purpose as well as communicating an idea using pattern is what really inspires me, this is no different for ‘construct’. A stunning image of lace in a book I was looking at while researching for one of my textile lectures on historical design caught my eye and an idea joined with other ideas of print looking like weave, as many people commented that my Plot to Plate VVV design did (left hand side of first image), when I was at Tent London in 2014. The seeds were sown.

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I’ve never hidden my loathing for faux surface / material effect pattern such as printed wood effect flooring. Why do we have to lie, why can’t there be another stunning and suitable design alternative?! With this is mind I’ve played with the idea of taking textiles as a starting point for this collection with the intention of subversively adding textile-derived pattern to other surfaces but in an evocative statement rather than a digital print of textiles. This is not a collection that copies textiles, rather that textiles suggests a way to draw; provides a set of rules to begin playing with. The title ‘construct’ is a reference to constructed textiles such as weave, knit and lace but also refers to the putting together of a new way of thinking about pattern for surface, building a collection that has been designed to cross material specifications and provide bespoke solutions.

Having been working on my Plot to Plate collection and related prints for the last five years it was a big challenge to start from scratch and move away from the safety of a kitchen garden, but I was also excited about the challenge. I’d been working on some other pattern commissions and revisited drawing processes that had got me thinking. I didn’t rush to get somewhere; I designated studio days to play with thread, ink and paper. I created a sketchbook of so many ideas and directions but eventually I began to formalise ideas and work out which direction felt right for the collection. Some of the other directions have already been moved on to commercial projects, and the others I’ll revisit over the years as and when.

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I usually sample patterns in black and white so I’m not swayed by colour rather than the success of the pattern. Having said that I was really adamant that blue was going to feature. Right from the beginning I was thinking of the strong Mediterranean blue of Greek churches, and the Blue Nude series by Matisse. Strong colour has been making a presence in interiors for a while, influenced by key exhibitions and trends. I knew I wanted to stay well away from Memphis colour palette and the reworking of 1980s colours. Sonia Delaunay has also inspired many designers and retailers thanks to the striking show at Tate Modern. I’m aware of trends, I have to be as an academic who teaches textile design, but I’ve never been inspired to follow them. I have my own creative path I’m on and I also would like my patterns to exist well beyond a season or two. Having said that one has to be aware of what drives buyers in retail to spend their money and for some it is likely to be informed by trends.

As those of you who have read more than this post might know, I like cutlery, and I can’t help laugh that the drawing tool that I’ve come to love is a sort of handmade fork! I’ve made many for this collection and they are so simple and inexpensive but all made by me to create exactly the right sized marks and the right sort of line. I’ve definitely got better at them. Weeks of testing many design structures and resulting rhythms left me with pages of patterns and the need to edit. Further weeks and I decided to test some screen printing on to fabric. Although I knew this collection was going to explore alternative surfaces I wanted it to work on fabric too. The weave of some of the fabrics was too dominant, and the scale of some of the patterns was less successful. Really valuable sampling!

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I’d contacted and discussed collaborations with choice companies relating to my ambitions for the collection and it was very exciting to sample on a range of substrates. I really wanted to embrace the ‘bespoke’ capacity that several manufacturers in Britain offer as a way to provide interior designers and architects for example, a choice for their clients. Choosing from off-the-shelf surfaces is not always exciting – there are exceptions! I wanted this to be a collection of pattern in anticipation of the product. Ten years ago I was a winner in the Formica ‘design a laminate’ competition and it felt good to be in discussions with a company with such a strong heritage for pattern. Surface View also demonstrate a contemporary approach to wallcoverings and surface pattern, enabling me to discuss my intentions for the collection and the concept of bespoke production and it being met by expertise and clarity. Having carried out several public art commissions over the years I’ve become used to discussing colour systems and file types, tweaking of production elements to manage the different industry requirements. It’s good to have that experience behind me.

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So here I am as Tent London is underway and I am extremely proud of the patterns that have made it to the final collection. There are repeat designs, small and larger scaled rhythms and placement patterns featured across the collection including a particular Tent London tote bag competition…. There are hand printed cushions ready for shop shelves or customers’ sofas and contemporary bespoke pattern for those wanting a graphic pattern rather than printed granite in their lives. The patterns can be licensed and collaborations can be discussed. Alongside all of this in order to fully convey the concept of the collection I’ve learned the skill of latch-hook rug making and committed many hours to mastering the skill of constructing pattern in yarn – not natural for me as a printer! I’ve sampled laser cutting and etching to varying degrees of success, I’ve made a dress for the show featuring ‘flow’ AND I’ve screen printed two limited editions of prints for launch day.

I’m interested to find out how it is received after so many solo months of nurturing, worrying and wondering. It’s time to let the pattern do the communicating…. do let me know what you think!

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