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Meet the alumna: Eleanor Pritchard, textile designer

05 July 2016 by Aya Noël

Designer Eleanor Pritchard is known for her clean, geometrical designs and has collaborated with companies ranging from Margaret Howell to Monocle. For Texprint 2016 in London, she has created the alumna display. Aya Noël reports.

Eleanor Pritchard didn’t decide to become a textiles designer until she was 27, but as soon as she did her career hit fast forward. After an accelerated BA at Chelsea College of Art, she was selected by Texprint in 2001, and soon afterwards was approached by Christian Lacroix to design textiles for the couture show. Although she had always wanted to set up her own studio, this assignment dramatically sped up her plans. “It definitely accelerated the process,” Eleanor explains. “I knew this is it - I have to do it now.”

Quails Egg blanket.  Photo: Kangan Arora

With the help of the Craft Council she bought her first loom and started working at her parents’ house in Worcestershire. She laughs as she remembers how it began. Today she has a studio at the Cockpit Studios in Deptford, south-east London, and a small team to help her with production and distribution. “It’s a bit more routine now,” she admits modestly. “Part of what I really enjoy is thinking about how we present everything: the labels, the website… things I didn’t always think about before.”

The company started out with blankets, which are still the core of the business. “I love working on a bigger scale, and the tactility of it.” She expanded the collection to include cushions and more recently added an upholstery rangeand she will soon introduce rugs as well. Additionally, Pritchard does collaborations with other companies to produce furniture and other textiles. “I love the bespoke projects; they’re important to me creatively. They’re not a big part financially, but I like the dialogue.”

Eleanor Pritchard with Assemblyroom, Otley seat + Sourgough blanket.  Photo: Elliott Denny

Eleanor Pritchard finds the inspiration for her designs in industrial and urban architecture. She is attracted to geometric patterns and repetition. “It can be really random,” she says as she points at a passing overground train through the window that brightens her studio. The grey wagons and their vivid orange doors could be the beginning of a whole new collection. “A couple of months ago, we went on the cable car over the river. I looked down and saw a parking lot full of fluorescent concrete-mixing lorries. I have amazing pictures.” Another pattern was inspired by the work of Vladimir Shukhov, a Soviet architect in the 1920s. This mix of architecture and repetition leads to abstract and minimal patterns, with a refined sense of colour.

To achieve the sophisticated outcome for which she is renowned can be a matter of trial and error. Sometimes she gets it right immediately, but often she’ll be experimenting on the loom for hours. “The difference between what’s right and what’s not can be tiny. One more thread can make something that doesn’t feel right perfect,” she says.

She loves the technical aspects of her work, enjoying the challenge of the restrictions associated with industrial production. “There is a problem solving side to it that I love, it’s quite mathematical.”

All the designs are woven and produced in the UK, an achievement of which Pritchard is justly proud. The UK has a fine manufacturing tradition, and she wants to play a part in preserving it. “The whole Industrial Revolution started with the textile industry. It’s sad how much of that tradition has been lost here.” There’s a practical benefit to producing locally as well: “Details are really important to me and I would be very nervous about having to communicate with the other end of the world.”

 

Quality control and supporting craftsmanship are key to her business philosophy. Fortunately, her clients are thinking that way too. She notes that the consumer has become more conscious about the provenance of products. They often ask where her textiles are made or where the yarn comes from. “I think the food industry has played a big part in this, they’ve made people more aware of issues of provenance.”

She adds: “I’m not a 100% sustainable, but I feel strongly about making something that lasts. I don’t want people to get tired of my designs after a year, I want it to be part of their houses for years.”

For the Texprint 2016 display, Pritchard is showing the Long Eaton bench – a collaboration with Assemblyroom that will be launched at Decorex, alongside a selection of blankets, cushions and fabrics.

2016 Texprint London display, featuring the Long Eaton bench, a collaboration with Assemblyroom

Pritchard has been a long-term contributor to Texprint over the years, regularly sitting on the panel that selects new designers for Texprint. When going through the portfolios, she looks for strong ideas: “The ideas are more precious than the finished product. The ideas are what sustain a whole career.”

Drawings are really important to her as well, since they show how a designer processes what he or she sees. Above all, a portfolio has to prove the versatility of the designer. Texprint attracts a broad audience and a good designer needs to adapt to different styles. “It’s a fine balance between having a signature and showing diversity.”

Pritchard loves discovering new talent. It’s a great way to see what’s out there, and to stay focused. “It keeps me on my toes, knowing that there’s really good work coming up behind me.” The whole industry benefits from young talent, which is why she regrets the introduction of higher fees in art colleges: “Risk taking will really suffer, and risk taking is what makes good work.”

After all, where would the industry be without support for younger designers? “I owe parts of my career to organisations like Texprint and the Craft Council. It feels natural to support emerging designers in return.”

www.eleanorpritchard.com

Aerial upholstery collection


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