Designers Diaries: 10 Questions with Anna Jeffreys

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

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t either drawing or making something. I first designed patterns for fabric as part of my A level submission and created a repeating design for screen print – a laborious process then, which involved having to make the frame, stretch and dry the gauze, onto which the design would be fixed using shellack. Printing was a messy process and the life of a screen was limited, but the results were thrilling.

Image above: Original hand-painted design for Leaf Flower Pink 

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

After my A levels which included the History of Medieval Architecture and practical Art, I opted for a new course being offered by Chelsea College of Art – ‘Interior and Environmental Design’ and spent the next 3 years at a drawing board. Mastering technical drawing has stood me in very good stead but applied pattern and colour were consistently things I wanted to learn more about and explore in greater detail. 

After Chelsea, with my portfolio under my arm, I did the rounds of a couple of well known architectural practices, and the handful of interior decorators, that were then already established. The phrase ‘interior architecture’ had not yet been coined, so the choice of direction was limited. 

As far as pattern, colour and weave were concerned, there were some outstanding ‘suppliers to the trade’ - Guy Evans who ran Tissunique, and various others that produced collections from old documents - Mrs Monro, Colefax & Fowler, George Spencer, Ramm Son & Crocker. Others too, made wallpapers, wonderful trimmings, and carpets to complement the lovely designs that were so popular at the time; these companies were collectively responsible for providing the building blocks for the industry that we all know today. Applications for trade accounts were rigorously controlled and jealously guarded. Decorex opened for the first time.

I was lucky enough to get a job with Jean Monro in Montpelier Street and was suddenly exposed to the delights of the Baker’s and Warner’s Design Archives, carpet weavers, specialist painters, wallpaper manufacturers, specialist trimmings makers, silk weavers, architectural component makers and manufacturers and a raft of many talented creatives. Osborne & Little, Designers Guild, and Terrance Conran had not long before opened, and their portfolios of designs were new and in contrast to the chintzes, printed French cottons, silk dupions, toiles and other staples that had been the interior decorators’ materials of choice. 

I worked ceaselessly as an independent interior designer until 2013.

Image above: Development sketches for Basil B Rose Flame

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

I find inspiration in almost everything and sometimes quite unexpectedly. Nature offers a limitless library of colour, shape and form, architecture tempers that with a discipline that can be as attractive. Colour can often be the catalyst for an idea.   

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

On a walk one summer, I came across a ruined wall with an ancient and long-forgotten gate, hanging from one remaining hinge. The design of the gate formed the main part of the pattern for my wallpaper design ‘Gate’.

Image above: Gate Wallpaper

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

I try to work from the memory of a shape or form that has inspired me, and through that process, an impression of an object or idea emerges. Sometimes I experiment and overlay two or more pattern ideas. Working in the negative, and alternatively the positive produces two very different results from the same original sketch. Any design needs to be formatted to a scale that suits the width of the cloth or substrate to be printed on, and that in itself can affect the final repeat and construction of the pattern design.

Image above: Development of Dublin Daisy

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

More usually I will sketch in pencil, and perhaps outline the images with ink, or I will paint over the pencil in inks or gouache. Pattern design can be a long and protracted process, particularly where pattern repeat options are involved, and the use of various digital programmes can ease the pain of rescaling patterns and altering colours, allowing the original artwork design to remain. Digital print is an amazing print technique/process and whilst not for the ‘print purists’ it produces fabulous and consistent results.  

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

In order to understand the complexities of applying pattern to textile, and the many and varied means that must be explored in that application, it is necessary to have a fascination for the process. Very few people have ever asked me about the process of creating and transferring a design onto textiles! I was once asked if I could reproduce my Alice design 10 times its actual size and I had to explain to the client that if I could comply, only part of the pattern would be visible on a single width of cloth and that my original drawing would be so enlarged as to completely lose its clarity and integrity. The client entirely failed to understand my explanation. Had I been asked to create a new image at that scale, there would have been no problem.  

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?

Glance out of any window, in any place, at any time of the year and the cacophony of colour and shapes should inspire anyone with confidence. There are rarely right or wrong choices - and rules were made to be broken! But if there is doubt, always offer up a sizeable piece of the paper or cloth in question, in relevant positions, and observe the way the patterns and colours work within the space, both in daylight and evening light. Or, contact an interior designer!

Image above: (Left) Laurel Overlay Pink Ochre Wallpaper, (Right) Helene Pink Green

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

My current favourite is Miss Molly 60s. In the late 60s (in my very early teens) I was lucky enough to own a pair of floral, bell-bottom hipsters (who remembers those?!) and every time I wore them, I felt confident and happy. From memory, I’ve used those same colours. This pattern is large, joyous, and generous in that it invites you to use almost any colour you favour alongside it, in any room and in any climate. 

Images above: (Left) Miss Molly 60s, (Right) Miss Molly Green Grape

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?

My personal ‘membership’ in the textile design industry began in real earnest about seven years ago. Having been an interior designer for some years previously, I was familiar with cloth of every variety, and the relevance of certain base cloths for different purposes. 

I print on 100% linen. Climate change and the knock-on effects of Covid have disrupted the production of textile manufacturing, and that includes linen. Bar a couple of very large mills in the UK, woven linen production on the British mainland has virtually ceased. Smaller UK based designer print companies are having to source premium quality linen further afield. The base cloth is acquired in advance, in quantities which benefit the price to the client. From the outset, my informed choice was to ‘print to order', thereby eliminating the need to overproduce and avoiding subsequent wastage, one of the many benefits of printing digitally. 

Nothing would please me more than to be able to buy linen made from flax grown in the British Isles and woven in Britain.