DESIGNER DIARIES | 10 Questions with Caroline Inchyra

For this Designer Diaries interview we spoke with Caroline Inchyra, Founder & Designer of Inchyra 

What is your earliest memory of design? When did you first know that you wanted to become a fabric designer?

I didn’t plan to become a designer – I fell into it later in life. I think for every designer that plans towards it there is another who happens upon it by chance.  Having said that I come from a long line of creatives: from the wood engraver Orlando Jewitt in the 19th century through to my mother, a talented painter and glass engraver, via theatre designers, photographers and artists. My grandmother was wonderfully creative and an abiding memory of my childhood is the studio in her garden where she worked on everything from beautifully painted china to watercolours of flowers and animals. I can smell her studio even now – it’s amazing how smells stay with you.

Image above: Dianthus Old Blue (left) & Hattingley Indigo on Ivory (right)

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a fabric designer? Did this start from prior experience as an Interior Designer?

It was completely by chance. I’ve always collected antique and vintage fabrics and over the years often decorated rooms around one of these finds. The problem of course with decorating with old fabrics is that they are beautiful but they don’t always have much wear left in them. We moved our family to Scotland in 2003 and I later met Angus Nicholl who ran the last major linen mill in Scotland. I happened to mention that I had always wanted to try and make ‘old’ fabrics and Angus sent me off down a rabbit hole of fabric production – particularly finishing. I spent a year, maybe more, working with specialist finishers to find a way to replicate the look and feel of old linens. There is something incredibly special to me about the way that the colour of these fabrics seems to be pushed into the weave and then there’s the look and the feel of the linen – it’s soft and almost fluffy with use. After endless rounds of trial and error we developed a finish that I think replicates the look and the handle very successfully. My first fabrics were reproductions of antique designs – I think bringing back designs that would otherwise be lost is a really important part of what many designers do and I love the process of seeing them come alive again. Since then I have moved on to what I would describe as editing – taking a motif, a pattern, something existing and working with it to create a new design.  I think that what I am good at is seeing possibilities – in scale, paring something back, colouring. And ultimately what any designer is creating is their individual aesthetic.

Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What would you say are the main influences on your work?

Finding inspiration is extraordinary and a really wonderful experience. My mother in law was an antiques dealer for years and my first design, Framboise, was inspired by a 19th century linen that she sourced in France. But I think every designer will tell you that we spend our lives with an inbuilt antenna on alert for pattern and colour and the possibilities they bring. Why is it that you can search through piles and piles of old documents and then suddenly you spot ‘the one’?  After my first fabric launch, at Decorex in 2012, I started to become more confident and taught myself in a very basic way to develop my own designs – I’m sure some people would be horrified to know how I design but it works for me. I like to think of it as resourceful! I use PhotoShop and ordinary desk top publishing software to create designs and they are then worked up into printable artwork for me. I think it illustrates that there’s no right or wrong way to do this.

Image above: Trifolium and Balazuc linens

Where is the most surprising place that you’ve found inspiration for your designs?

It’s probably my Trifolium Collection, which launched in Autumn 2018. It is based on simple motifs from 18th century French china. I love it when I see something I have created applied in a way that is entirely outside its original sphere. There are now lampshades in Trifolium linen throughout a really modern hotel in Illinois.

What’s your creative process? Take us through the development of a design from idea conception to the final product.

It varies hugely. If it’s an old fabric that I want to bring back to life then the first stage is that I run high resolution scans, which are then worked up into printable repeats and then we run first strike-offs. A strike-off is a small test print. This is where things are very hit or miss. Sometimes a design will print perfectly the first time, but with others I will tweak both the pattern and the colours endlessly to get it absolutely right. My new collection, Sutton, which is about to launch, was like this – I can’t think how many strike-offs we ran until I was happy with it.  One of the things I love to do is play with variations on a design – with Sutton I have run the same design in four different ways – a vibrant Bold version, an Aged version, which is much more subtle, a version on an unbleached linen, which is more rustic and, finally, an antiqued blue version. And sometimes I like to play with scale – Beauclerc Stripe, one of my most popular prints, is like this where we offer a Wide and Narrow stripe, which can be used together really effectively – maybe Wide on curtains and Narrow for upholstery for example.  Across the collection I always try to cover all bases for clients so there are what I call Hero prints, likely to be a main fabric, alongside smaller co-ordinating prints and then also beautiful woven Scottish wools.

Image above: Cushions in Inchyra fabrics including Trifolium, Balazuc Morocco and Framboise

What types of materials and production processes do you prefer to use and why?

I started out using screen printing but switched to digital a couple of years ago.  Digital is very much more environmentally friendly and that is important to me – simply in footprint it’s immediately apparent that digital is better for the planet – if you’ve ever seen a screen printing bed you will know it requires a huge building just to house it, it then uses masses of water in the production process and requires quite big minimum run of a design and therefore storage. With digital we can print as little as a meter at a time. The downside I suppose is that we can’t fulfil orders from stock but I think most people are happy to wait once they realise the reasons.  And, from a slightly selfish point of view, reduced warehousing means that I am still able to run the business from the basement of our house – and that’s something I’m very keen to continue, if only for the commute!  In terms of materials – I only work with pure linens and wools so that I know that every meter of fabric we send out is entirely biodegradable.  It makes the linens in particular harder to work with but I think that’s a price worth paying. 

What is something that most people don’t understand or appreciate about textile design that you wish they did?

The time involved. I’m always amazed how the months disappear when I’m working on a collection. Like many creative processes you just can’t rush it – it comes together in its own time. Thankfully the pressure to release collections at a certain time of the year does seem to be diminishing – and I think this is even more the case now due to the pandemic but that works for me.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to experiment with adding more colour and pattern to their interiors with fabric/wallpaper but is scared of making the wrong choice?

Just go for it! If it feels right to you it probably is. It’s a wonderful time in interiors at the moment when pretty much anything goes with an eclectic mixing of patterns and colours. If you get it wrong in one room you can be pretty certain it will work well in another room – and sometimes the mistakes create the best results.

Image above: (Right) Cushions from top: Ronda Pyrus GreenDianthus DamsonTorchon Stripe MouseHattingley Coral. (Left) Fabrics featured left to right: Hattingley Indigo on IvoryDianthus DamsonRonda BlushRonda Pyrus Green

Is there a particular design in your collection that’s your favourite and if so, why?

I suspect that every designer will tell you that what they are currently working on is their favourite – I’m very excited about my new Sutton Collection.  But probably I would have to say Framboise – it was my first print and everything led from it in terms of aesthetic and colour palette. It’s wonderful that so many of my designs are as popular now as they were when they were launched. I’m always grateful that interiors are not like fashion and once a design is launched it has a long life. I must also give the Balazuc Collection a mention as that was really when things took off for me after it launched in 2017.

How has the fabric and textile industry evolved since you became a part of it and what do you see and hope for the future of it?

I think this has to be the move towards digital printing. It’s huge in terms of the options that it opens up for designers to experiment. And it has significantly lowered the barrier to entry to the industry and that’s resulted in the most exciting proliferation of designers.  My hope for the future is that this continues and that the industry continues to move towards more environmentally friendly production models.

Click to see Caroline Inchyra's Designer Profile and explore the Inchyra fabric collection