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Meet the interviewer: Emma Sewell of Wallace Sewell

30 May 2015 by Roger Tredre

Emma Sewell works with Harriet Wallace-Jones in the London-based studio Wallace Sewell, designing fabrics for both fashion and interior accessories.

She also plays an important role interviewing and selecting designers for inclusion in Texprint. The interviews are held over three weeks in June with each day's interview panel comprising different industry experts who generously give their time to take part in this first, crucial stage of the Texprint selection process. Over 200 applicants are interviewed and judged on the standard of their creative work, their skills, their ability to communicate their concepts and interact with others, and their potential for making full use of the opportunities offered for an international audience.

Time to turn the tables, we thought – and interview her.

Wallace Sewell scarf designs

You were a Texprint designer yourself, weren’t you? Do share your memories.

On the day of my Texprint interview in 1990, I remember there was a security scare at the Albert Hall opposite the Royal College of Art and I had to persuade those in charge to let me slip into college to pick up my portfolio and then dash over to Wool House, in Carlton Gardens, for the interview.

Those of us selected then had the opportunity to exhibit our work at Interstoff [textiles trade show] in Germany. It was great meeting the other graduates in the group and exciting to be at a trade show, get a reaction to my work and sell some designs too.

Tell us about your involvement since then, especially with interviewing – what does it involve?

Several years after this, I was invited to help on the interview panels. At first it felt odd being on the other side of the table, but I remember how valuable the feedback given at my interview was – and am pleased at having the chance to hopefully return the favour. It's also great having the opportunity to hear graduates from a whole range of courses present and talk through their work. 

What are you looking for? What excites you during the selection process?

It is always a thrill seeing the table spread with a graduate's portfolio of work, interesting to hear the ideas behind their collection and what their ambitions are. Generally, I'm looking for an exciting and fresh selection that displays a breadth of investigation with an awareness of the work's context. 

What is your advice to anyone preparing for application to Texprint?

Applicants should bring a range of work, as it is good to get an understanding of their versatility as a designer. This could include a little bit of work from years 1 and/or 2 plus a few sketchbooks, as it is important to see the thought process behind the ideas. Practice presenting and talking through the portfolio of work. 

Tell us about Wallace Sewell.

Wallace Sewell was started in the early 1990s by myself and Harriet Wallace-Jones, after we both graduated from the RCA. The studio's motivation is to design fabrics that are created by hand but woven by machine. Exploring the discipline of weaving, from yarn combinations and woven structure to stripe variations and composition, bound together with a passion for colour.

We offer collections of scarves and throws which we wholesale worldwide, plus we create bespoke products for customers, such as the Tate Gallery, and undertake specialist projects, including designing seating fabrics for Transport for London. 

Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell

What are you and Harriet Wallace-Jones focusing on right now?

As well as designing our A/W scarf collection for 2016, we are currently working on new collections of upholstery fabrics for Designtex, a leading contract furnishing company in the USA, for whom we are guest designers. We are really enjoying this and other projects, which broaden the scope of our designing beyond our standard Wallace Sewell lines.

Wallace Sewell for Designtex

You are also doing a display at Texprint London – what's going to be in it?

A piece from our collaboration with AssemblyRoom furniture, upholstered in fabric from our first project for Designtex, plus a collection of throws, cushions and a few scarves from our current collections. And, maybe, a block covered in one of the moquettes we have designed for Transport for London.

Wallace Sewell fabric designs for Transport for London

Anything to add?

It is so pleasing that Texprint continues to grow from strength to strength, as it is a fantastic scheme that helps graduates with the first steps of their career and can provide them with a stepping stone into the world of work.

 

Meet the judges: Julie Hall, head of design, Bedeck

26 May 2015 by Roger Tredre

We talk to Texprint judge Julie Hall, head of design at Bedeck, which is also sponsoring a new award with Texprint.

Textiles for bedding and bathroom are at the core of Bedeck, a company based in Northern Ireland that has grown to establish a global reputation since Alexander Irwin started manufacturing linen handkerchiefs back in 1951.

Bedeck head of design Julie Hall’s huge experience in the textiles industry is being brought to Texprint this year when she joins the judging panel for our annual awards. She’s also judging a new award from Bedeck itself – the Bedeck Texprint Design Award for Bed & Bath.

The winner of the new award will enjoy up to six months’ work experience in the Bedeck Studio in Co. Down, Northern Ireland, as well as a cash prize of £1,000. A great opportunity to work with one of the most outstanding textile design teams around.

After collaborating with retail brands for over 20 years, Hall knows everything there is to know about designing, developing and sourcing bedlinens, towels, cushions and accessories.

Originally from Cookstown in Northern Ireland, Hall enjoyed spells at some impressive design schools: a BA in Printed and Woven Textiles from Belfast University; a Post Grad from Winchester School of Art, and an MA in Textiles and Fashion Design from Central Saint Martins, London.

She began her career as a freelance artist, drawing and painting artworks for the fashion industry, then worked at the Anthea Davies studio in Kensington while studying at Central Saint Martins. She returned to her roots in Northern Ireland in 1987 and joined Irish linen company Ewart Liddell, part of the Coats Viyella group, as design and development manager.

The move to Bedeck came in 1997. As design and product development manager, she established new product sourcing opportunities, including China and India. She became head of design in 2006 and has established a dynamic in-house creative studio, developing the in-house brands, Fable and Murmur.

The new Bedeck award is great news. How important is it for you to support the next generation of designers?

It has always been very important – and rewarding – for me to encourage new designers, as it is vital their talent is fostered and directed into the creative industry. Colleges do a wonderful job at preparing graduates for the world of work – and internships and graduate placements further the development process. It is also imperative that the best of our design talent is acknowledged by bodies such as Texprint.

What do you look for in great textile design?

I love to see wonderful drawing skills, beautiful mark making and a fabulous sense of colour and balance.

Why is the UK educational system so good at producing design talent?

I think students are encouraged to believe in their creativity, which in turn builds confidence in their ability. They are not afraid to push the boundaries and experiment. 

Can you explain the parameters of your job? 

Bedeck has the licence to design and produce bed and bath products for 17 brands. Among these are Sanderson, Designers Guild, Harlequin, the V&A, to name a few. I oversee the licensed brands and creatively direct the in-house brands.

What's a typical day like for you?

Every day is different, depending on where we are in the season. However, design meetings are scheduled for Monday mornings as this gets the week off to a flying start. The rest of the week I spend a considerable time with the design team going through ideas, concepts, sampling etc. We work closely with the marketing team ensuring we are on schedule to meet photography dates and product launch. I will also have supplier meetings and customer presentations. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

I am very privileged to be able to travel with my job and visit countries like India and the US. I also regularly visit galleries and exhibitions, a favourite being the V&A Cloth Workers as my passion is vintage and antique textiles. I love gardens, shops, markets, books, magazines, the internet. I suppose inspiration is everywhere!

Texprint alumna’s story: Laura Miles, WOVEN Studio

15 May 2015 by Cezary Koralewski

Laura Miles on her stand at Maison d'Exceptions, Première Vision February 2015

Texprint 1997 alumna Laura Miles founded WOVEN Studio at a time when the modern weaving industry appeared to offer few opportunities and few places to intern. After more than 15 years developing her own business, she’s built a formidable reputation.

Christopher Kane, Roksanda, Erdem and Michael van der Ham all have something in something – they have worked with a textile designer based in a small studio in Bethnal Green, east London.

It’s surprising how down-to-earth it is, despite tens of thousands of pounds worth of couture fabric swatches everywhere. “We work really hard,” says WOVEN Studio’s founder Laura Miles. “We can’t swan around in designer dresses. Actually, we just sold a fabric to Topshop – and we’re excited we can now buy something to simply wear.”

Shortly after Laura Miles graduated from Brighton University, she sold her final collection to Donna Karan and was selected by Texprint, showing at Première Vision in Paris. “Texprint puts you where people can see you, and that gives you a head start. It continues the momentum,” recalls Miles. She went on to sell designs to Italian mills, buy her own loom and open a studio.

Photos: WOVEN Studio

Miles found it tough at the beginning. “Big fashion companies were not really hiring many weavers. It was very easy for a printer or a knitter to find a job. Weavers were kind of forgotten about.”

She produced swatches of her designs and made contact with whoever had shown interest in her early work. “It’s a bit weird because in the beginning you’re weaving on your own,” recalls Laura. She now employs and mentors a team of young textile designers working at her studio (including an intern from Texprint 2014). “Now I’m never on my own.”

Her work has chimed with the mood of the times in the high-end fashion market. “Developing the fabrics is such a big part of fashion now. Every big brand has their fabric development team. They don’t want the same materials as someone else,” says Miles, whose thorough technical grounding has given her confidence to make the most of the evolution of the market.

Important to her work has been a long-term collaboration with Vanners, a silk mill in Sudbury, Suffolk, with a 275-year-old tradition. Spending one day a week in Suffolk, Laura oversees production of her own designs – and thus Vanners, at core a heritage brand best known for traditional neckwear silk, now finds itself manufacturing textiles for fashion houses such as Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga.

Her ability to handle both design and sales is a great strength, Miles acknowledges. “Designers appreciate working with a salesperson who is technical as well.” The difficulties of her job are part of the appeal. “Designers always try something different. That’s the challenge of it. And that’s why people work in fashion.”

The development of Laura’s designs never really stops, undergoing many turning points. “The thing in designing a fabric is that you never know what it’s going to become,” says Miles, whose textiles have been used for dresses worn by the likes of Michelle Obama and actress Helena Bonham Carter.

She tells good stories, including how Michelle Obama’s Thakoon dress used the reverse of her fabric. “It’s often not what you think they’re going to do with it,” she notes, laughing.

Laura and her team have become used to dressing the stars. “It’s nice when you can show it to your mum – and your granddad actually knows who the person is.” Although her name is rarely mentioned the press, Laura knows that is part of the deal: “If you want to be famous, you don’t get into textile design.”

Constant development keeps her enthusiastic. “I like finding new techniques and yarns and making something that didn’t exist before. I think that if I retired, I’d like to be a textile artist.”

She is rightly proud to be producing high quality fabrics in England. “When we recently went to PV and showed our fabric collection to Chanel and Lanvin, they said we look like an Italian mill now. That was the biggest compliment. You wouldn’t have come to England before for [these kind of] fashion fabrics – it’s always been about Italy.”

She loves starting from basics. “The thing I like about weaving is making something from nothing. You design a fabric from scratch, then put every single thread in it,” she says. A true pioneer of modern British textiles.

Laura talking to students studying fashion journalism at London's Central Saint Martins

Internship: Cosmique Global, New Delhi

15 April 2015 by Roger Tredre

Texprint 2014 designer Monika Haeussler-Goeschl enjoyed a 10-week internship in New Delhi, India, with Cosmique Global. Here are the edited highlights from her diary:

Expect the unexpected! This thought sums up my experiences during a 10-week internship at Cosmique Global, New Delhi – an opportunity for which I am immensely grateful to the company.

Take the traffic in Delhi: expect cows or oxcarts in the streets; cars or trucks hurtling along the wrong lanes in the wrong direction; an elephant on the street in the dark – anything is possible. All new for a Western European on my first visit to India.

Hectic Delhi street scene

Cosmique Global was a great opportunity for an intern, not least because the company has so many craft techniques available under one roof: handknit and crochet, machine and hand embroidery, screen printing and hand printing, hand weaving, stitching. Even a small production area is in-house.

I shared an office with Saundarya and Kanika, two interns from Delhi who are just about to finish their last year at college (a year of interning). They welcomed me with open arms and minds and I gained two good friends. And the contact with Sandeep Manaktala, the boss, was excellent throughout the internship.

Monika with her boss Sandeep Manaktala

Week 1: Arrival at New Delhi. Warm welcome from my hosts, a couple in their sixties, who are very caring. I have a room with bathroom in their flat. First impression: it’s very cold in Delhi in January!

Everyday I am picked up by driver for the office and he also takes me back in the evening. A warm welcome at the office. I need a couple of tours around the building to remember where all the different workshops are.

My hosts show me around the area and help me with buying a phone card, showing me the way to the metro station, and so on. The area is very local, no tourists or supermarkets, just small local shops and markets. Only Indians apart from me. I also have a lesson in Hindi every evening – two new words a day. A fantastic chance to get to know a foreign culture.

Week 2: Things speed up in the office. New ideas are needed and there is time pressure to make them within two weeks.

I am asked to translate my designs into a bigger scale. I  develop some pieces by stitching or weaving into existing surfaces, while my colleagues work on macramé and weaving projects.

A project idea has been put forward for me, developing knitted wall art pieces with abstract patterns. Sonali, the head of the design department, is very good at recognising what each designer is good at and dividing up projects according to individual talents.

Think Out of the Box - a good mantra for my busy internship!

Week 3A week busy with work. The deadline for the Ambiente fair in Germany is next Monday. Everything needs to be finished, mounted, labelled, packed.

I develop seven knitted wall art pictures with abstract motifs. Plus several other pieces in different techniques like macramé and netting. I have absolute freedom to develop my ideas, but they need to fit into the concept and the style, the abilities of the workers, and the pricing model.

I am absolutely amazed by the skills of many of the workers, especially the embroiderers. They can do anything on their machines. A lot is done just by eye, no embroidery computer programmes, everything manual. They are all hard-working people, but always friendly and helpful.

On Saturday it is election day and everything is closed. I decide to visit Lodhi Gardens with its beautiful monuments. Moving around the city by metro is easy but sometimes very crowded.

Working with the knitting ladies

Week 4A stressful start to the week. Finishing touches, labelling, photography and packing of the collection for Ambiente.

Shortly after the Frankfurt fair there is an important fair in Noida, close to Delhi. More work is needed for this fair, at which Cosmique Global will have one showrooms and one temporary stand.

On Friday and Saturday me and another intern have to set up the showroom for the fair. It requires a lot of work, extending into Sunday, but we get the job done!

Week 5: The weather has changed, suddenly it’s hot.The pace of work is frentic, and we work late into the evening to ensure everything is completed.

On Saturday I visit the Noida fair – IHGF, the Indian Handicrafts & Gifts Fair. As a foreigner with a business card, I have free entry and a buyer’s pass, so I can visit all the stalls and showrooms. The fair is very big, impossible to see it in one day. I spend some hours strolling along and then help in the showroom. Several big buyers are there and it takes a long time to finalise their choice.

I also visit the stall of the second part of the CG family business, making handbags. It is run by one of Sandeep’s younger brothers.

Week 6A calmer week, things settle to normal. Some buyers are interested in a few of my wall art pieces, so I continue with it. I love to use unusual materials and use everything that I can find in the countless sacks full of material.Some buyers are expected to come for a visit this week, so it’s not great when I develop a cold. I spend three days (including the weekend) at home and in bed: a low point of the trip.

Women in their colourful saris at The Red Fort, Delhi

Week 7: The cold is still there when I start to work again on Monday. But after a weekend in bed I just need to get up and do something else. Everybody in design is working for an important buyer who is expected. So I start some cushions with tape ideas.

This week includes Holi, the festival of colours, a public holiday. On Thursday afternoon CG has a small Holi party with some colour spread on each other’s faces, food and sweets. On the day itself I am advised to stay at home because the colour often comes in water balls – and it hurts and you get coloured all over!

Week 8: I work on some new surface ideas that could be used for lamps, place mats or fabric wall covering. CG needs new products apart from cushions and throws. I am planning what can be done in the remaining time. I try to use the resources and skills they have and explore different ways of using them. For example, a different use of embroidery, chunky knitting, new crochet patterns.

Busy working on new ideas

Week 9I start the week with ideas for lampshades in different materials. I also try working with the embroidery machines and stitching machine. Everybody is astonished because here a designer does not do this.

Dyeing is done on many streets. You just prepare the fabric with instructions and a colour swatch and then a worker goes there and orders it. A couple of hours later you have it back.

Working with the stitching tailors

Week 10: I spend my last week developing some new knitting and crochet ideas for cushions and throws. I teach the hand knitting women new patterns and techniques and they enjoy learning something new.

On one of the last evenings Sonali goes shopping with me and I receive two Indian outfits and a kurta as a present. It is a generous gift which I appreciate very much. I wear one of the outfits on my last day in the office.

In the end I find it hard to say good-bye to the people. I will miss them: my fantastic intern colleagues, my hosts, Sandeep, and all the friendly colleagues at the office .

You need to be able to work very independently to make the most of an experience here. It’s a great opportunity that everything is under one roof. It’s also great to try everything and experiment freely.

Altogether, it has been a very special experience. I have loved the insights into another culture and I am grateful for the opportunity I have had and the people I have met. Thank you Cosmique Global and Texprint.

Texprint alumna’s story: Egle Vaituleviciute, WLE London

31 March 2015 by Roger Tredre

Egle Vaituleviciute, from Lithuania, was a Texprint knit designer in 2011. Here, she tells us what happened next and how she loves developing her own kind of knitted-weave products.

 

Tell us about your new project.

I am in the process of launching my label WLE London (which stands for, With Love Egle). I find myself working as a designer/ artist, product developer, maker, pattern cutter, marketing person, sales person, and all that there is to be in business. 

I’m based at Cockpit Art Studios in London, working mostly with wool yarns. The aim is to create a new kind of luxury lifestyle knitwear – and pieces for the home too. We’re going to be stocked by Wolf & Badger in London, so that should provide a good foundation.

I do feel like an innovator, creating something that hasn't been done in such a way: knitted-weave. I am mixing disciplines and creating new looks to the highest standards of craftsmanship with sustainable elements to it. Made to size, using natural wool only sponsored by LineaPiu yarns, a company I met at Shanghai Spinexpo back in 2011.

I absolutely love what I do: it doesn't feel like a job. It flows naturally. I sometimes catch myself on the bus to the factory wondering how I am not scared. Most of what I do has never been thought about, but I suppose it has to be an inner energy more then anything. Texprint was my starting point – an eye-opener as to how many people are interested in what we do, in textiles.

 

How did Texprint help your career? And tell us about what you’re up to now.

Texprint was a great chance to meet lots of people from the industry. It was a big opportunity to show my work and be remembered. Texprint is so recognised for its great design and quality supporters and promoters. And having their logo on my website really adds a big weight to my work.

I’m also aware of doing the best to represent Texprint. It gives recognition and reassurance. It’s very important as a start-up business to have a track of history in industry.

Explain how things progressed for you after the Texprint experience.

After Texprint, I still maintained a lot of my contacts. And I was offered an Erasmus exchange straight after Texprint, which took me to India.

Two months in I received an email from one of the contacts I had made through Texprint at Shanghai Spinexpo, offering me an opportunity to work for a design house as a knitwear designer in Hong Kong. 

It was a great experience again, but I didn't felt that was my thing. Maybe because it wasn't my country, but I certainly knew that I needed to do something more then that, so after some time I moved back home. 

How did you become interested in knit and design?

I grew up in Lithuania, with textiles in the house, with my mom, my mom’s sisters and my grandmothers working as tailors. Now I feel I am following in my grandmother’s footsteps. She was a menswear outerwear tailor and I love outerwear and heavy textiles. 

Knit interested me only after I came to the UK and started studying at Chelsea College of Art & Design [since renamed Chelsea College of Arts]. It only happened because I borrowed a knitting machine from a friend and wanted to learn how to use it, ending up doing experience with designer Julia Pines. She said “You’re a natural”. Knit reminds me of painting at school. I paint a lot, so I can do that with knit at the same time. That’s fascinating. 

 

Tell us about your time at Chelsea.

It was the Chelsea BA textile design course. It was very good, with great college facilities and amazing staff – such a great experience. I loved studying. I remember coming in at 8am and being kicked out at 8pm by Security locking up. Again, it was such a good introduction to the industry as well as a great location – Pimlico, with Christopher Bailey’s Burberry just down the road! I still keep in touch with Chelsea in updates, projects and collaborations. The Erasmus trip to India changed my life – so inspirational.

Has your style changed since your graduation collection?

No, it hasn’t changed but it has improved! I have had time to explore and experiment, to find my way and what works or does not work for particular products. But I am still going strong, developing what I have been doing. 

Besides your design work, what else are you interested in? 

I live and breathe textiles, the lifestyle, the daily, weekly routine all the time. But riding a bike clears my head. I like live music, exhibitions and art in general. I love architecture, cities and healthy food. I love sharing my knowledge with others, and want one day to have a teaching part-time job next to what I do best. Or share it in someway. 

WLE.fashion@hotmail.com

Photos by Romain Forquy http://romainforquy.com/

In conversation with Professor Jane Rapley OBE

21 March 2015 by Roger Tredre

We talk to Jane Rapley OBE, Honorary Trustee of the Texprint Council, about her love of textiles and long-time association with Texprint.

Senior figures in the world of academia sometimes come across as self-important and lacking in a sense of humour. Not so Jane Rapley, who retired in 2012 as head of Central Saint Martins. In an hour of conversation over a coffee, she is a whirlwind of humour, gossip and general chit-chat.

Retired? Well, not exactly. She’s just returned from another trip to Asia, lending her wisdom and years of experience to Hong Kong-based educationalists. And now she’s delighted to cap a decades-long association with Texprint by becoming an Honorary Trustee.

Her memories stretch back to the early 1970s, when a friend exhibited at Texprint and she recalls one graduate – possibly John Miles (later head of fashion & textiles at the Royal College of Art) – showing a collection inspired by Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney. One suspects the legal team at Disney would not be amused if the collection was recreated today.

Her association with textiles dates back to the very beginning of her career as merchandising manager at menswear company Sabre International Textiles, managing the knitwear range. Her links with education were very early too, prompted by Sabre owner Louis Van Praagh, a fervent supporter of education, who encouraged her to teach on the side. “Through him, I got involved with the Council for National Academic Awards at the tender age of 26. And I was a governor of Plymouth College of Art at the age of 28 – mainly because we had a factory there.” 

Although she’s best known for her career at Central Saint Martins, Jane has taught and lectured more widely, including Middlesex, Preston, Brighton, Kingston, Trent and Lancashire Polys in the 1970s, followed by the Royal College of Art and Central School of Art & Design in the 1980s, all this while running a business or two (including her own, Burrows & Hare).

Circa 1978, Jane teaching in the textile studio at the Central

By 1987, she was head of textiles at Central. Within six weeks, the department was restructured and the merger between Central and Saint Martins was announced. She taught textiles for only two years before becoming dean of CSM’s fashion & textiles school, but her affection for it has remained constant. “When I was a student I loved doing print and by chance I took to knit. I think I partly liked the fact that the people [in textiles] are so nice! They tended to have more diverse backgrounds than fashion.”

She enjoys the annual Texprint show in London. “It’s always a pleasure to look at young designers’ work. I have always loved colour. I used to love choosing the colour range when I worked in industry; it was great fun choosing all the names.”

Jane Shepherdson, Terence Conran, Barbara Kennington and Jane Rapley OBE at the Coutts Texprint dinner 2012

Choosing the colours for the fashion school of the new Central Saint Martins back in 1990 was a delicate business, she recalls. “Bobby Hillson [CSM head of MA fashion] was desperately looking for navy blue paint for the cupboards. We found something that was not quite navy blue but just about ok. So we went away for the summer holiday and while we were away the London Institute chose its corporate colour – grey. Of course when we came back the cupboards were all painted grey. I still remember the look of horror on Bobby’s face. ‘My dears!’ she said. ‘That grey is so last year!’ ”

The central role of textiles in design should be better acknowledged, she argues. “It’s such a pivotal area of education. When I was teaching textiles – a setup I inherited – it was very open, the students could try everything. They often went into printmaking but it could be ceramics or packaging. Their careers needed to be diverse, starting perhaps in fashion but moving into interiors for example. The deployment of technology was very exciting for designers – it’s fascinating how you can take traditional textiles into new worlds such as architecture or medicine.”

Sir John Tusa and Professor Jane Rapley OBE, when Head of College at CSM. (photo credit: Paul Cochrane)

Where does she stand on the digital-versus-handcrafted debate? “I don’t think it’s a versus. Really good interesting creative people will use them all as tools, whether they use handcrafted with technological materials or traditional materials in a different technology process.”

Textile designers need to be better appreciated, she says. “The problem with textiles is that textile designers largely do not hit the public consciousness. They are designers for other designers… The only time they surface is when they go into fashion, such as Alice Temperley or Zandra Rhodes.”

The result is that many young people don’t recognise that textiles offers a really interesting career. “So many teenagers say they want to be fashion designers. People ring me up saying, my daughter wants to be a fashion designer. They don’t realise the potential of a career in textiles.”

Jane with Texprint colleagues at a Texprint Council meeting 2014

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