Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Paint and paper to print: Turning designs into textiles

The original painted design, centre right, and the fabric made up from it by Spoonflower

A knock on the door. A courier hands over a package. From America. Full of fabrics.

But it's a fraught and busy day and so I put the parcel on the hall floor where I step over it as I go out, then when I come home again, and throughout the day and into the evening, until its significance has grown out of proportion to its contents. And when I finally decide I have a few minutes in which to open it I find I am rather tired and reluctant to do so.

Why so anxious? Because these were not just fabrics - and yes I know all fabrics are exciting - but ones I have had printed from my aunt's designs. And I wanted them to be really special.

One of three artistic sisters, she did not have a steady job but, family myth has it, when she needed a bit of spending money she popped into Heals or Sandersons and sold them some of her textile designs. I'm sure it was all rather more serious and organised than this suggests, and we have some magazine advertisements from the 1940s featuring her designs to prove it, but I like to think of her flitting into a top design studio and coming out with money for a new blouse and lipstick.

When my aunt died recently in her late nineties, I was "commissioned" by the family to make a memorial quilt. Among her things were a small portfolio of gouache fabric and wallpaper designs, and in a Eureka moment (not in the bath but in the shower, where much of my best creative thinking takes place) I decided to explore the possibility of turning them into real fabric.

Spoonflower was the answer: put simply, just scan the designs and download them on to the site, then decide how much you want - from a small sample to 20 metres. Of course it took some experimenting with pattern repeat, scale and colours, and some of my first attempts a few months ago were not a great success. But when I finally opened the package, I was delighted. There are some misfits on the repeats, and no doubt someone with more Photoshop expertise could have made a better job of it, but I quite like evidence of  the human hand. The colour saturation is not brilliant, but I am still thrilled.

Some of my aunt's designs, while lovely, are not appropriate for the project - it would be difficult to incorporate prancing white horses with red hoofs and coloured ribbons into a meditation on saints and nature, even if I still intend to sneak in a puffin or two.  But I'd love a New Look style dress made of the dancing ponies...

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