Photo credit: @aluncallenderphoto
What is your earliest memory of design? When did you first know that you wanted to become a fabric designer?
As a child, it was fashion that drew me in. A lasting memory from home that I remember is of my mother drawing a simple wedding dress on a scrap of paper. I can still picture the little flowers she drew on it in pencil – I tried to copy it many times. There was also an antique trunk at home that I was never allowed to go into but it had her tapestries in there and I remember the bundles of threads and colourful piles of work. I'd sneak a look and run my fingers over the wonderful textures. I didn't understand what they were but I was always interested . . . When I launched our award-winning Tapestry collection at Decorex in 2019, I used the same trunk on our stand.
When I first read about St Martins at age 11, I knew I wanted to go to art school, but it wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I understood how all of my interests could come together in a career in textiles. Textiles is an area that allows me to be fluid as it is very creative but can be applied across many areas – fabric, homeware, accessories and fashion.
Image above: Blinds in Fastnet Stripe Rose
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a fabric designer? Did this start from prior experience as an Interior Designer?
I didn't have a straight forward path! I started my degree at St.Martins in Fine Art but then left and worked in the fashion industry as a model agent for IMG and then as a fashion stylist's assistant on a glossy magazine before returning to finish my degree at Kingston Art School. During this time, I worked part-time for a bag designer who exhibited at trade shows so I also got an understanding of marketing and selling. The years working in the industry were so eye-opening and varied. I'm very grateful that I had them to inform my work and they gave me a good work ethic too. I was leaning towards installation style pieces when I applied to the Royal College of Art to study Textiles. I enjoyed creating environments and spaces but I had also developed a love for product as well as styling, photography and brand building, so I specialised in Mixed Media Textiles, which was a broad course that looked at elements of weave, print and knit and allowed me to work with different departments including Architecture, Fashion and Ceramics. It was the most amazing time and a complete turning point in my life.
My love for woven fabric, however, was cemented in Milan, where I went after graduating from the RCA to work as a print designer. I was working in the archives a lot amongst vintage Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fendi etc. and it was a simple black woven Dior scarf that stole my heart; this sowed the seed of my passion of working with woven fabric. I also learnt that whilst design was important to me, I was also very interested in the whole process. Working on the factory floor in Como, I enjoyed all of the elements involved in production such as the cutting of fabric and the importance of details and presentation which I learnt from wrapping hundreds of Louis Vuitton scarves. Experiencing all of the stages of the production process fuelled a desire to return home to my family and see if I could try to create a business specialising in English woven fabric.
Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What would you say are the main influences on your work?
All over, nowhere, anywhere! My life has changed a lot since having children and I think the designs and products have developed with it. I am influenced by our surroundings, my Irish heritage, my children, my wild old days and a newfound gentle pace of village life. But if you're open to it, I think inspiration really can come from anywhere: a landscape, a friendship, a memory. They all carry valuable things that I suppose I want to capture and keep, and I try to do this with woven fabric.
Where is the most surprising place that you’ve found inspiration for your designs?
Our eldest daughter grew some cress at nursery in a plastic pot with her face taped on it, and when it grew, the cress looked like it was growing out of her head. She was delighted with it so we pressed some. It was really quite beautiful and so one of our patterns Little Cress, was born...
What’s your creative process? Take us through the development of a design from idea conception to the final product.
I like creating a story and tying everything in together. It usually starts with remembering a holiday or a moment in time and taking elements to slowly build a collection of designs based on memories of colours and textures. Things will then get whittled down and then everything signed off ahead of the fabric being woven in Lancashire. After this, the fabric then goes on to Yorkshire to be washed and finished and returned to our HQ in Nottingham where it is turned into product or sent out as fabric by the metre.
What types of materials and production processes do you prefer to use and why?
I have a love of natural materials, whether it be in fabric or wood. I am drawn to imperfections and I have always enjoyed the traditional techniques such as jacquard weaving and dolly washing. These techniques create real character and breathe life and warmth into the fabric.
What is something that most people don’t understand or appreciate about textile design that you wish they did?
That the finishing process – washing, drying, rolling etc – is incredibly important.
Image above: Tori Murphy fabrics. Photo credit: @aluncallenderphoto
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?
Oh I'd say go for it. If you like it, I don't think it can be wrong – wrong for who? Your home is for you. It's an extension of your personality so be confident in your decisions.
Is there a particular design in your collection that’s your favourite and if so, why?
I'm forever grateful for my first two designs Chevy & Elca that launched the business nearly nine years ago. They were simple drawings that really were the starting point of everything. There have been many since, but Seedling, Bloom and Scallop Stripe are all linked to my children and will remain favourites.
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?
It is wonderful to see more textile manufacturing and manufacturing in general coming back to the UK. I think despite the challenges of the last year, it has never been a better time for UK manufacturing.