Julie Paterson is an artist and textile designer, whose company, ClothFabric, has been the source of stunning fabrics for the home décor industry now for over 20 years. Julie is holding an exhibition of her work at the New England Regional Art Museum, and is also giving locals a chance to try one of her fabric printing workshops!
Hi Julie. Artists use many different mediums to create their works. You create designs on cloth; why choose this particular method?
I trained as a textile designer in the U.K. Back in the ’70s, Margaret Thatcher said, “Don’t be an artist; get a real job”. So, I took her at word … I thought I couldn’t be an artist, because I wouldn’t make a living from it, so I have seen myself for a long time as a designer first and an artist second. This is changing now – I’ve seen it more as the other way around for the past few years.
When I first came to Australia, I was quite surprised that designers often called themselves artists. Back in the U.K., you were one or the other … So I had a very pragmatic head space around this. I wanted to be an artist, so I wondered what design practice I could train in that would be the closest to being an artist, and thought that was textile design. I had initially considered graphic design, but this is not as free – it’s always answering someone else’s brief; whereas, with textile design, I could develop my own briefs and projects.
And the business you’ve established in Australia, ClothFabric, has now been going for over 20 years?
It first started in 1995. My then business partner and I had a freelance design business, and we were going really well – designing for companies like Sheridan, who’d commission designs from us. These designs had quite a European flavour, but were somewhat generic …
After a few years we grew a little bored with this, so we decided to explore creating our own brand, which is when “Cloth” started. It was just an idea, and I think we both thought it would only last about six months – we didn’t want to drop our “day job” for what we thought was just a whim of an idea, but it ended up being the right time to do this – and the business has now been going strong for 21 years! It’s quite amazing!
How has your business evolved since those early days?
A significant change has happened over the last two years. The principles we set in place at the beginning, such as everything needing to be screen printed by hand in Australia on natural fabric and the subject having to focus on the Australian source material are still very strong, and still very much in place.
But, I wrote the book Cloth Bound nearly three years ago, and after I wrote the book, I realised I wanted to run the business differently. I was actually prepared to close the doors of the business and move on, but then realised this was a silly idea … So now, I have another company running the business for me in the city; I disposed of my stock, got rid of my overheads, and I now live in the mountains, having created a new way of running the business. Running the business was exhausting, and I’d lost my enthusiasm for creating new work. After 20 years, combining the two roles was taking their toll. It’s quite an exciting new phase I’m going through now!
The fabrics you design are typically used for home décor. What types of fabrics do you actually use in your work?
The base cloth is all natural – such as linen and hemp, and a little bit of cotton. I have a very strong focus on sustainability. It’s all upholstery weight/curtain weight fabric.
I also collaborate with others to create bed linen, and rugs made with wool.
Your exhibition at NERAM, Cloth: From Seeds to Bloom, is rather different to what we’d normally see at a gallery. Tell us more …
The exhibition is based on the key design elements from over 20 years of my business. These design elements have been turned into nine vignettes, or mini interiors, so you’ll walk into nine different sections. The first one, from 1995, showcases one of my fabrics called “Squares”, and will show the applications of the fabric – from a lampshade, to a rug, or an upholstered piece of furniture.
The nine different sections may also contain artwork, sketches, of the fabric designs – but the exhibition is essentially my vision, as it’s changed over the past 20 years.
The initial inspiration from this exhibition came from writing the book, Cloth Bound. Each chapter of this book contains my key designs, the inspirations behind the designs … It’s really important for me to tell the story behind a design.
The first vignette is called “Seeds”, and the ninth is called “Bloom” – the final vignette representing the visual embodiment of my new direction. The book was written before “Bloom” came about, so this exhibition represents my future direction, as well as what’s happened in the past.
You’re also presenting an artist talk and fabric printing workshop at NERAM. You call your workshops “imperfect workshops”. Why is this?
A few years ago, I sat down with my partner and we were talking about the concept of life and what it means, and we wrote a manifesto. We called it the “imperfect manifesto”, because I get great joy out of working in a way that allows mistakes to happen and appreciating the idea of imperfection. Many people I come across in my daily work get very caught up in the idea of being perfect, and this is very restrictive. There’s a very self-critical aspect to this, and it stops people doing what they want to do. There’s a very strong yearning out there for people to be creative, but a lot of people hold themselves back because they fear they won’t be good enough.
My workshops are a result of having the business, understanding my own processes, and allowing the mistakes to happen. What I love to do is engage people in being creative … Beginners or advanced, people can get involved and learn about what I do, create and make their own mistakes.
Look Draw Print gives everyone the chance to play at being a textile designer!
Cloth: From Seeds to Bloom; NERAM from 10th February – 30th April 2017.
Artist Talk with Julie Paterson 10:30am Saturday 11th February 2017.
Fabric Printing Workshop Look Draw Print: Sunday 12th March 10am – 3pm, Details to be advised.