What is your earliest memory of design? When did you first know that you wanted to become a fabric/wallpaper designer?
I grew up in a very creative household with relatives as composers, artists and film makers. My mother started out as a clothes designer, becoming a professional painter in her forties. The very essence of my childhood was centred around making, creating and understanding. Once that kind of fire is lit, it seems to have a life of its own.
From an early age I had a keen eye for interiors and was actively encouraged by my parents to develop this interest. I think I had always wanted to design textiles but was equally fascinated with stop-film animation which I was deeply involved in from the age of nine – and is still a key part of my life. What I realised I also loved about textiles was the community that surrounds it, the people you meet, the projects, the research and learning.
Can you tell us about your journey to become a fabric designer? Did this start from prior experience as an Interior Designer?
After studying woven textile design and art history at Winchester School of Art, I moved to London and worked for several fabric houses, archives and design departments for textile houses but began to realise I needed to get back to my research roots. The opportunity came when I joined as the archivist at the Warner Textile Archive and grew their commercial arm over ten years then, after a sudden life-changing car accident, I was offered the opportunity to co-found the School of Textiles with textile historian, Mary Schoeser. It was during this time of reflection that I realised I needed to make some even greater changes and that it was the right time to launch Teyssier. I had such a wide breadth of experience by then that it seemed the next logical creative step to make.
Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What would you say are the main influences on your work? Where is the most surprising place that you’ve found inspiration for your designs?
When you are constantly thinking about design and colours, I don’t know if anywhere is surprising exactly. I am always jotting ideas down and taking photos of colour combinations. The other day I was looking at how the Venetian blinds had got caught up in the Velux window and had a sudden great idea for a design. If you are absorbed with what you do then everything is a potential source of inspiration.
I’ve been collecting antique and vintage fabrics and paper designs for over 30 years and use my archive within my teaching and study sessions, as well as design inspiration for my own fabric range. This includes examples such as a woven Coptic insertion from around the 6th century, a Spitalfields dress silk from 1760, Florentine 17th century silk velvets, printed Turkey red cottons from the 1860s and London Underground seat upholstery from the 1930s. I’m inspired by colour, scale and imagery as much as the production process itself and have collected hundreds of textile examples just for their production methods alone. As a designer it is incredibly important to understand how to make your product, as how else can you make the best design?
As co-founder of the School of Textiles and having worked as a textile archivist, I always live with one head in the Teyssier design world and one head in my research. I absolutely love to share knowledge and learn, so running study workshops and lecturing is a joy to me. I have had the privilege of speaking and running events for heritage institutions such as the V&A, Dress & Textiles Specialists, National Trust and the historic buildings network ICON.
If I had to choose what the main influence on my work is, I would say it's the ability to research historic design and to understand the production of textiles. Part of the enjoyment of designing, for me, is to find out the history of motifs, colours and yarns and discover how they have travelled globally over the centuries. This way I feel I am adding another page to the story of textile design.
What’s your creative process? Take us through the development of a design from idea conception to the final product.
I like to have about 15 or 20 design ideas on the go at once. At my studio I have a large pin board that covers one wall and have all my latest ideas pinned to it so I can look at them over weeks and months, refining and swapping them about. Over time I select the top four designs and begin working on them. First, I look at the design motif and scale, sketching on large pieces of lining paper or photocopying to test scale options. Once I have the scale and motif right, I pin them up on another large pin board and leave them there for a few weeks or so, walking past each day and seeing if anything needs changing. During this process I also think about how to produce the design and consider which production techniques would be best. As I have previously worked within the interiors industry in both the design and the production side, part of my design process is to decide on the best production techniques, yarns and finish. I have boxes of threads, colour charts and fabric samples that I use to help me refine the colourways for each design. At this point I then speak to the mill with whom I am going to produce the fabric and numerous and lengthy discussions ensue, regarding weight, handle, texture, calendering etc… Once I am happy that we have looked at as many areas as possible, I will then proceed with ordering either sample trials or a colour blanket. From here I can work on tweaking the weave structure, add another textured screen if the design is being printed, amend the colours etc. Sometimes I just need time to consider why a design isn’t quite working and so one design could take 18 months to come to fruition and other could be achieved in as little as four.
What types of materials and production processes do you prefer to use and why?
During the process of designing I am already trying to understand what the best material and production process would be for that particular fabric as this greatly influences how the design is created. An example would be that if I know a particular design would suit a heavier woven production with a firmer drier finish to the cloth, then I would automatically start to look at weaving the design with a higher flax content and maybe add a wool or viscose to keep the handle dry but a little softer. I cannot design a fabric without working out all these thoughts and questions along the way. The two go hand-in-hand for me as a designer. I am trained as a weaver so I always love understanding more about woven fabric construction, but I equally love the challenge of preparing a design for printing raises. My preference is always for natural fibres such as linens, wools and silks but I am always excited by the surprises yarns and fabrics create during development which often take you on unexpected paths of creativity. One of the greatest challenges has been with my new Performance range of fabrics. It took two years of experimenting to create the final luxurious and soft handle I had been looking for.
What is something that most people don’t understand or appreciate about textile design that you wish they did?
Designing textiles is not just about a good motif, pattern repeat or set of colours. A good textile designer also understands production and processes, which you can see in the very best. Marion Dorn, Terrance Conran, Marianne Straub, Tibor Reich and Sarah Campbell are examples of designers that have greatly influenced my approach to design and manufacture. Being able to create a great textile is as much about understanding the production opportunities – and restrictions – as about the visual pattern itself. Interpreting a design from a flat painted piece of paper to a stunning textile is a great skill and is an often overlooked, but essential part of the process.
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?
My first thought would be – wrong choice for whom? If you love it and it works for you then why worry about what anyone else thinks? Henri Rousseau was greatly mocked for his use of colour with once critic saying that he must paint ‘..with a blindfold over his eyes.’ I wonder what would have happened if Rousseau had listened to these critics instead of following his own intuition? Colour and pattern is not something to be afraid of, but rather embraced. Everyone’s taste evolves over greater exposure, so I always encourage people to look at examples of what they like as well as what they don’t like and try to understand why. I have given many lectures on textile history over the years and the more I research the more it confirms that design (in any form) is all about personal expression. Enjoy the space you live in.
Is there a particular design in your collection that’s your favourite and if so, why?
I would have to say Hawkeswood (available in Original, Madder & Moss) as it is not only my best-selling design, it is also the first design I visualised when creating my first range. When I initially showed the fabric trials to a few select people the response was very mixed – but I knew I had to remain true to my original vision. It is also the most complicated design I have made to date and required 26 different screen separations to produce. It has become so popular and is now an iconic design for Teyssier.
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?
There have been great improvements, more recently, towards a greater environmental consciousness within our industry and with more flexible production and lower print-runs, smaller businesses are now able to make better and more sustainable decisions.
Some of the very early digital fabric print trials were worked on by Eddie Squires in the late 1980s and it is wonderful to see how far this medium has evolved and the reduced impact it has on the environment compared to most screen-print methods. I would like our industry to help push this even further, demanding even better quality and better environmental standards.
Teyssier is still a young business but we have been working towards better environmental decisions and continue to do so in 2021. As part of our on-going commitment we have added solar panels to our studio, planted over 150 trees in East Anglia and donate a percentage of our annual profits to charity. The many small daily decisions we make can have a big impact and you can read more about our environmental commitments on our website.