Fabric Designer in-Profile: Julie Paterson, Owner of ClothFabric
Artist and textile designer Julie Paterson of ClothFabric may have grown up in England, but since she lives in the NSW Blue Mountains and her designs are so inspired by Australia’s landscapes, we’re claiming her as our own. Here’s what you need to know about this mega talented artist and fabric designer…
Julie is a painter, printmaker, designer and owner of ClothFabric, creating contemporary fabrics by hand, locally and sustainably.
What’s the story behind the move from Australia from England?
“I arrived in Australia on Valentine’s Day in 1989, and feel like I’ve had a love affair with the place ever since. I didn’t think I’d move here forever at the start – it was definitely going to be a short term thing. I had a good job after graduating, working as a textile designer in a furnishing company in Brixton, London. It was a good job and a cool place but a bigger world was out there and it was calling me. Lots of my friends were travelling and I thought I’d join them. I arrived in Australia with a small backpack, hardly any money and a portfolio of designs. I loved the place straight away and managed to pay my way as soon as I arrived as I sold a bunch of designs within the first couple of weeks.”
What did you study?
“Back in my early 20s, in the early 1980s, I studied multi-disciplinary design for a few years. It was a bit of all the different elements of design – glass, ceramics, graphics, illustration photography and finally focussing on textiles. In the UK the industry is so much more established so you specialised in specific areas, and my speciality was printed furnishing fabrics.”
The original Spotcheck sketch and the Spotcheck Lino on Cream fabric, $145p/m.
Julie painting a customised bike in Spotcheck design. The Spotcheck bike!
How is the Australian textiles design different to the UK?
“When I came to Australia, everybody did a bit of everything – and they still do. This is a strength because you can be so versatile, but it is also a weakness, because you don’t necessarily become a specialist in any one area. I realised that there was an opportunity here to sell my furnishing fabrics and designs, and people responded to them and bought them straight away.”
How did your fabric design business, ClothFabric, come about?
“After a few years of being here, in 1995, I set up a textile design consultancy with my friend, Penny Simons. We were selling a European style of work and it was a successful business. Everyone seemed to want that kind of thing back then. However, after a few years it seemed wrong to me that there was so much amazing beauty in Australia and no-one was focusing on it. So we decided to develop a product that was inspired by the amazing country that we are in – and that’s when Cloth began, in 1995.”
How is your use of colour different in Australia to when you were designing in the UK?
“The colours I use here in Australia are very different to how I would work back in the UK. There, I used muddier, dirtier greyed off tones. It’s the soft cloudy light there – bright colours look too bright in that light I think. Whereas here, you need the colours to be more brave and strong to balance the light, the sun – the strength of the place.
I was influenced by these things – the colours and the scale of the landscape early on – but it took a few years to distil all this new information. Designs depicting the flora and fauna started coming through probably after my third collection in 1999, On the Table.”
Bloom – Julie’s latest collection as it hangs in the showroom. This is her first in collaboration with Ascraft fabrics.
Explain your sustainable approach to fabrics…
“Everything I make is produced locally, in NSW, which makes it a labour intensive and expensive undertaking but allows for really great quality control and fewer miles being eaten up with freight. Off shore productions have a bigger impact on the environment not only because of shipping costs, but because often the control of the quality of the product can be compromised. It is hard to control the processes and products to the same level as I do now.
Choosing to produce within Australia gives a strong sustainable message. This is important and I work sustainably in a number of other ways. We produce small runs, using water based low toxicity dye stuffs and no finishing chemicals such as fire retardants or stain resistants, unless requested by a client. I also work a lot with natural fibres such as linen and hemp. Hemp in particular has been a long standing favourite – it requires minimal water, produces nutrients which are absorbed back into the soil as it grows, is long lasting and has wonderful by-products, including oil and seeds.”
Where do your ideas come from?
“I carry a sketch book at all times. When things catch my eye I stop, look, and record the details. I love flying and watching the landscape unroll below me– noticing all the little shapes and motifs and repeating patterns. Even just walking the dog around the block can be inspiring. There’s a wealth of interesting stuff out there. It’s just a case of noticing it and being able to catch it when you see it, filtering that information. That’s what my sketch book does. All the ideas go in there and one or two of them will come out the other end.
Mind you it’s often quite a slow process, some of these ideas hang around for years before I actually make the finished design. I’ll get an idea together the put it away for a while, forget about it even, then find it again years later and decide it’s time for that idea to come forward at last. It’s a great way to work as there is a bit of an inbuilt editing process – if you still like that design idea now that you did five years ago, then that’s a very good thing.”
Julie’s ‘Imperfect Manifesto’ runs throughout her entire life. It is a collection of words and philosophies she lives by. Julie paints little artworks or on old pieces of wood and has them hanging on her wall. Also available to buy at ClothFabric.
Your designs are not trend-focused, why?
“A key thing for me is that my designs have longevity – I like to create my designs to last at least 10 years. They need to mean something and have lasting power. I don’t like that whole concept of churning out ideas all the time just for the sake of something new.
I still have designs in the collection that I designed twenty years ago – they are contemporary classics. I’m always looking for the next contemporary classic. That has to come from an idea that has weight and significance.”
Can you tell us about some of your favourite designs?
“Stuffed Olives is my ultimate favourite. I created this in 1999 and still have it hanging as curtains in my lounge room. It’s a rusty red colour on raw unbleached hemp with a cream spot. It has quite a contemporary art feeling to it I think, but also feels very classic. And it’s strong and modern and sits beautifully like a piece of artwork on the curtains as the focal point in the room. The reason I like this design is because back in 1999 I started playing with big scale images, throwing away the normal textile design rules, experimenting with basic composition and structure. Stuffed Olives was the first big brave move I made and I haven’t looked back since that moment.”
Stuffed Olives Burnt on Raw, $170p/m. Julie’s lounge room features curtains in Stuffed Olives. Julie’s work is a form of contemporary art in the home with textiles.
Are you an artist or fabric designer?
“Everything comes from my creative process which obviously is common to both disciplines but I would call myself an artist before a designer these days. However, I trained the other way around – I studied design rather than art. I grew up in England with Margaret Thatcher the then Prime Minister running the country. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was tough – she said things like, ‘don’t be an artist, get a real job, be realistic’. And I came from a family that had to be realistic because there was no money around. I knew I loved painting but the nearest creative thing to that that would secure me a job was a textiles designer. And textile designers have to know how to paint. Well that’s how it was back then anyway.”
You have an Exhibition coming up. What can we expect to see?
“The exhibition shows people my process of fabric design from beginning to end – ideas, artworks and the fabric. It’s a retrospective exhibition that coincides with my book release, ClothBound, (available April 1, 2015). There are nine individual little room set-ups or vignettes in the exhibition that relate directly to a chapter, and collection, from the book. They span from the very first collection from 1995 called Seeds to the most recent collection Bloom released late 2014. Seeds to Bloom – quite nicely on topic really, and that wasn’t planned either! It shows my ideas have stayed true for 20 years straight!”
A slightly more formal arrangement of her newest work – Gumblossom Pod and Stripe from the Bloom collection.
Don’t miss Julie’s exhibition:
When: The exhibition opens at the Sturt Gallery, Mittagong in Southern Highlands, NSW, 19th April to May 31.
Meet Julie: Join Julie and the Sturt crew for the opening of this show and the launch of Julie’s new book ClothBound on Sunday 19 April at 11am.
x Miss Stitched