There are a wealth of fabrics available to the consumer today, from the specialist hand printed textile to the mass produced factory printed textile.
Styles and designs often go 'in' and 'out' of fashion all the time
This months editor's letter in Elle Decoration covers this theme:
"How can one thing, or look, be defined as 'good' or 'in' and another therefore be deemed 'bad' or 'out'?"How much of the style and design that is around us in magazines and retailers is really our choice? Are we guided in our decisions, or just dictated to?
Environmental and economic concerns have brought back the 'make do and mend' philosophy, as well as ethical concerns: consumers questioning the where, the how and the who by.
Mark Thomas examines the ethical and environmental issues of the garment trade in The People's Manifesto. He questions how to tackle the consumer, who ultimately wants a 'reasonably priced' (cheap) item, with their expectations of buying from ethically sound manufacturers. Mark states:
"You can't pay a quid for a three-piece suit and expect to find a Fairtrade logo on it"Consumers are becoming affected by not only the choice of designs that are available in the market place; but also by the type of company that is offering those designs. Is the company ethically and environmentally sound?
My first introduction to being aware of a furnishing fabric was a pair of curtains.
The curtains followed us from house to house, they were old fashioned, dark coloured, "why couldn't we just throw them out and buy some new one's?" I constantly asked.
I was told that they were very good quality, and that they would be staying - unlike me if I continued to moan.
The curtains are alive and well today, they are a beautiful pair of William Morris fabric curtains, and I'm glad my mother didn't listen to me.
This is the fabric design that my mother chose to make her curtains from:
|William Morris design 1883|
They were a pair of full length curtains made with a width and a half of fabric in each curtain.
My mother made them herself with a run and fell seam. The pattern was perfectly matched.
She bought the largest amount of fabric that she could afford at the time - from Birkenhead market in the 1960's, sadly she never lined them so there is a little sun damage.
William Morris (1834 - 1896)
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful"William Morris was a leading member of "The Arts and Crafts Movement" (c. 1860 to 1910), this movement began as a direct reaction to the Industrial Revolution.
Its members feared that the current period of industrialisation would mean a lowering of standards in the production of goods. Traditional skills and crafts would be lost to the mechanised process.
Hand crafted objects were deemed to be of superior workmanship than those made by machine.
Rural craftsmen were said to have a better lifestyle to those who worked in mills and factories in the towns and cities.
The members of the Arts and Crafts movement formed themselves into crafts guilds. The guilds were based on medieval principles, they were there to ensure and encourage high standards of design and to provide a supportive working environment.
William Morris was an artist, designer, printer, typographer, bookbinder, craftsman, poet, writer and champion of socialist ideals.
In 1862, he created his first wallpaper designs, these were produced in 1864, for the company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co.
|William Morris "Daisy"|
|William Morris "Trellis"|
|William Morris "Fruit"|
Morris also went on to learn, and to reinstate: indigo dyeing; using vegetable dyes, instead of chemical dyes, in the production of his printed textile designs.
By the 1880's Morris was an internationally renowned and commercially successful designer and manufacturer.
William Morris died in 1896.
The Arts and Crafts Movement eventually failed.
Their ideal, to produce affordable, quality, hand-crafted designs for the masses, was unachievable. The high costs of production meant that the designs that were produced could only be purchased by the wealthy.
The work of William Morris, however, lives on.
In 1940, Arthur Sanderson & Sons bought the company "Morris & Co Artworkers Ltd.
The purchase included all printing blocks, showroom wallpaper and fabric samples, stocks and stand books.
In 1965, Morris & Co wallpapers and fabrics were re-launched by Sanderson.
Just in time for my mother to create her wonderful curtains.
In 1985, the brands "Sanderson" and "Morris & Co" were marketed under their separate identities.
The designs are traditional and still manufactured in the United Kingdom.
The fabrics used are cotton and Linen.
The prices not only reflect the quality of the manufacturing process, but also that as a consumer you are buying a design that is timeless - one that you won't get bored of in a year.
Timorous Beasties: founded in Glasgow in 1990 by Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons.
This company specialises in printed fabrics and wallpapers, although they also work with graphics, furniture, ceramics, glass etc.
They are known for textiles that, like William Morris' work, are printed with insects, plants, birds and animals, but these images are unusual, wondrous, contemporary, and as far from the traditional as you can get.
Featured below are some of Timorous Beasties designs:
Glasgow Toile: printed linen union
On first look this fabric resembles a traditional 'Toile de Jouy', but this is a design that has been brought up-to-date.
A closer inspection of the fabric reveals images depicting the under-belly of urban social realism, these are shown against the back drop of familiar, landmark buildings.
|Timorous Beasties "Glasgow Toile"|
|Timorous Beasties "Birds n Bees"|
|Timorous Beasties "Devil Damask"|
They offer a bespoke service that extends from custom colours to original artwork.
The company has been awarded 'Best luxury Design Talent' (Walpole 2010 awards in London). This was in recognition of the quality of their product, their innovations and designs.
Angie Lewin: is a member of The Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, The Society of Wood Engravers and The Art Workers Guild.
She is also one of the founders of St Jude's a company whose workshop is based in North Norfolk.
St Jude's works with an eclectic range of artists producing a wide range of printed designs.
The fabrics are screen-printed in short runs within the United kingdom.
Angie Lewin was described by The Sunday Times as:
"...one of Britains leading printmakers."She is inspired by the clifftops and saltmarshes of the North Norfolk coast and the Scottish Highlands.
Angie captures the beauty of insignificant plants, such as weeds, dandelions and seedheads, the ones that are in our everyday natural environment. She says:
"Their structure is as interesting as that of exotic specimens in a botanic garden."Some of Angie Lewin's fabric designs:
Dandelion Two: printed heavy weight cotton
|Angie Lewin "Dandelion Two"|
|Angie Lewin "Dandelion One"|
|Angie Lewin "Hedgerow"|
|Angie Lewin "Seedheads"|
Angie is inspired by the work of Eric Ravilious (1903 - 1942), Graham Suthland (1903 - 1980), Edward Bawden (1903 - 1989), Peggy Angus (1904 - 1993) and Enid Marx (1902 - 1908).
Using traditional techniques, with a meticulous eye for detail she creates beautiful designs.
The designs are based on nature, but have a contemporary look, and a colour palette of the past.
The small print runs and the hands-on approach to her work ensure a unique and long lasting design.
Marimekko: began in 1951. The founders were Viljo and Armi Ratia
Marimekko is a Finnish textile and clothing company renowned for its original prints and colours.
Their designs are:
- Timeless: the designs and products will withstand time, they are classic and beautiful. You will want to keep hold of them for years.
- Quality: Marimekko make practical and lasting products. They are durable - this is a key indicator of a product with an ecological quality.
- Appropriate: Good design is beautiful, also practical and functional
Once the manufacturing process was upgraded, production was able to increase.
The printing factory is still based in Helsinki, Marimekko have continued to invest in new printing technologies which has allowed their production to continue to grow significantly over the last decade.
Owning their own printing factory has meant that their designers can work hand-in-hand with skilled technicians, overseeing the quality of the product and design during manufacture.
Marimekko respects ethical and environmental issues:
Any company who subcontracts to Marimekko are required to conform to a Code of Conduct - this is based on the ethical rules of the ILO (International Labour Organisation), and the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative).
Subcontractors are issued with a list of chemicals which may not be used to manufacture their products.
Cotton is used for the printed fabrics that Marimekko produces.
As a company concerned with both ethics and the environment, they have had to examine the impact of cotton production.
They have weighed up the plusses and minuses of using cotton:
- feels comfortable against the skin.
- it is a renewable fibre.
- it breaks down at the end of its life cycle faster than synthetic fibres.
- cultivation requires a lot of water and often also pesticides.
- tracing origin is difficult. Raw cotton fibres from different countries can be blended together by wholesalers before it is spun into yarn.
For now they use certified (organic cotton, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), and ordinary cotton.
They also use other natural fibres: linen, wool and also recycled materials.
They are commited to increase the proportion of products made from ecologically sustainable materials.
Some of their wonderful designs:
"Unikko": Cotton. Marimekko's iconic pattern. Designed in 1964 by Maija Isolda
|Unikko 1964 by Maija Isolda|
|Siirtolapuutarha 2009 by Maija Louekari|
|Lumimarja Sateen by Erja Hirvi|
|Hetkia / Moments by Maija Louekari|
In order to reduce waste Marimekko gather the fabric remnants that the cutting machine has left behind, these 'scraps' are rescued and given a new life.
They become beautiful purses, or as Marimekko describe them:
"Cheerful little holders that have delighted the world over for nearly half a century."This is one that was made using the Mini-Unikko fabric:
Marimekko is a company based on traditional design ethics: attention to detail, classic designs and quality workmanship.
It is also a company that has kept these ideals whilst continuing to grow.
Cath Kidston: is known as a British fashion designer, business woman and author. She opened her first shop in London in 1993.
Her company, Cath Kidston Ltd, sells home furnishings and related goods.
She is well known for her nostalgic floral patterns.
Her designs and products are always both practical and quirky.
"We work hard to ensure our products are pretty, practical and affordable"This was said in response to the success her brand has had during the economic downturn in Britain.
Her designs are easily recognised they have that "Cath Kidston look" , the designs are as well known to the consumer now as Laura Ashley's designs were throughout the 1970's.
Some of the Cath Kidston designs:
Bath Flowers: printed cotton
|Cath Kidston: Bath Flowers|
|Cath Kidston: Rose Bunch|
|Cath Kidston: Rose White|
|Cath Kidston: Mini Strawberry Print|
Cath Kidston and the environment: a collaboration between Cath Kidston and Tesco, led to the production of a reusable and sought after shopping bag.
The shopping bags were made from recycled plastic bottles.
About six million plastic bottles were used to make the bags - the end product saved the bottles from landfill.
Money was raised from the sale of the bags for Marie Curie Cancer Care.
The bag designs (Left: multi floral fashion print. Right: classic blue spot print)
|Cath Kidston bags for Tesco|
The consumer was able to buy a designer bag for 3.50(GBP), support a charity and save the environment by reducing landfill.
An extra bonus was owning a well designed, hardwearing bag that you would be proud to be seen out with time and time again.
Orla Kiely: has been described by The Guardian as "the Queen of Prints".
The Orla Kiely label began in 1993 after she graduated from The Royal College of Art.
She is renowned for her instantly recognisable designs, they are stylised graphic prints and patterns using everyday motifs, they have a retro feel to them.
She has gained a loyal following due to the attention to detail and carefully chosen fabrics.
The Orla Kiely design business is based in South London, there, Orla works with a small team of people to come up with anything from the initial concepts to creating the finished products
Some of the iconic Orla Kiely prints:
|Multi-stem design by Orla Kiely|
|Striped petal design by Orla Kiely|
|Acorn design by Orla Kiely|
|Flower abacus design by Orla Kiely|
Like Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely went on to collaborate with Tesco to produce a range of exclusive designer, re-usable shopping bags, effectively 'A Bag for Life'
This bag features the design: Scribble Pear; the fabric is natural jute and cotton.
|Orla's Scribble Pear shopping bag|
- CLIC Sargent a children's cancer charity
- the Royal College of Art - funding bursaries for textile students
In July 2011, Orla Kiely was presented with an Honourary OBE, this was in recognition of her contribution to British business and the UK fashion industry.
Orla Kiely's company has generated significant funds for the following charities:
- Maggie's Cancer Care Centres
- Target Breast Cancer
- The bursaries for textile students at the RCA (Royal College of Art)
Clements Ribeiro: Husband and wife team Suzanne Clements and Ignacio Ribeiro graduated from central Saint Martin's College in 1991. They are currently based in London.
Clements Ribeiro have just designed a limited edition print for a range of clothing for John Lewis.
Their print for John Lewis: Indian style prints on silk mixed with handpainted black lace print:
|Limited edition print for John Lewis|
Ptolemy Mann: graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1997.
A recurring theme in Ptolemy Mann's work has been IKAT, a dye technique.
*IKAT: a dye technique used to pattern textiles, it uses a resist dye process on either the warp, or the weft fibres. The threads are dyed prior to weaving the cloth.
She has captured a contemporary look from a very traditional textile technique.
Some of her designs have been inspired by colour theory, akin to the Bauhaus school, where colours vibrate and appear three dimensional.
Ptolemy Mann's limited edition cushion for John Lewis: Chroma Cushion, Multi.
|Chroma Cushion by Ptolemy Mann|
Looking at current textile designers does not tell the whole story of what styles and designs are available to the consumer.
Computers enable us to search for a particular print or design, sites are set up to resell 'vintage' or 'out of print' textile designs.
What was once old fashioned, could now have come back into fashion with a 'timeless appeal'.
Many of the designs feature the theme of nostalgia, this seems to have stemmed from the downturn in the economic climate, Steve Sharp, marketing director of Marks & Spencer,
"Nostalgia always becomes more important when times are tough."Responsibility of the designer is as important as their prints.
This style has definitely resulted from the times we are living in.
If the product is tainted by negative stories in the press of the production process: the age, the conditions, the salary that is associated with their company; then sales will be affected.
Conversely, reading the lengths that some producers and designers go to, to ensure the product is lovingly made, will make me choose their brand over another.
I have enjoyed looking at all the work I have featured.
If I had to choose one piece above all the others?
I would choose Timorous Beasties Devil Damask, the design is clever, fun, it has a sense of humour.
But, for a piece that I would covet, and pass down to my daughter, and she to her daughter (not yet!) would be anything made with the Unikko design from Marimekko.
I love the colours - the sheer scale of the pattern. A small purse would make me happy too.
Twentieth Century Textiles by Francesca Galloway
Collection of the Morris Society: Rodgers Catalogue
Angie Lewin: Plants and Places
Pattern by Orla Kiely