Sometimes creating a distinctly modern design comes from using traditional methods. At least this is the case for Wallace Sewell, the acclaimed London-based textile firm, launched in 1990 by Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell. Known for their patterns that are as tactile as they are visually striking, their work is in the permanent collections of some of the world’s top design museums and their client list includes institutions like The Tate and The London Underground. This year, they are unveiling their first collaboration with west elm. Take a peek at the collection below!
Tell us a little about your process, from conception to the final product.
Initial ideas for this collaboration began with us brainstorming whilst thinking about the west elm brand and ethos. We then gathered images, created paintings and drawings as part of this primary research, and selected woven ideas from our own studio portfolio. We then shared these first ideas with the west elm design team who narrowed it down to one theme on which to focus. Within this we created designs in the form of paintings and woven swatches for a range of products including pillows, throws and rugs.
Your work seems to be just as much about material and process as it is about color, pattern, and design. How do you create products that speak to both the visual and tactile elements of your design process?
We love creating iconic pieces that stand alone, often with a vivid visual impact of strong patterning and stripes that with closer inspection reveal intricate and intriguing structures.
Historically, our work has focused on these two different strands of our design process. Harriet being fascinated by the visual composition of patterns and stripes and Emma exploring the possibilities of woven structure combined with unusual threads and washing processes. Now, our working partnership offers the freedom to explore our individual design strengths, combining the various facets together into collaborative designs.
The work of Bauhaus weavers like Anni Albers seems to have had an enormous influence on your aesthetic and craft ethos. What is is about the work of the Bauhaus that inspires you most?
The ethos of our studio, creating designs on hand looms to eventually be woven industrially, is similar to how the Bauhaus pioneered the marriage of handcraft and industrial processes. In addition, the bold, geometric designs of the Bauhaus textiles and paintings, that juxtapose asymmetric stripes and blocks of color, have always inspired us in our approach to composition.
Tell us about your collaboration with west elm.
Working with west elm has been amazing. Initially it was a very intense, creative few weeks. It made us really dig deep into our creative resource and work beyond our normal parameters. It was both liberating and challenging in equal measure but also great fun!
You typically design and manufacture in the UK, but your rug designs for west elm were manufactured at a Fair Trade certified facility in India. What was it like working in this way?
It’s been wonderful to see our pieces translated by west elm, using a variety of manufacturers and processes that are new to us. Being weavers, we have a good understanding of woven production processes so it is exciting to see our designs translated through other craft skills.
In addition to west elm, you have partnered with numerous companies and institutions throughout the years. What sort of considerations do you take when working with a partner? How does the process differ from producing for your own company?
We always enjoy working on collaborations with external partners. We start by discussing the brief and asking for visual references to design from. Inevitably the act of immersing ourselves in a particular inspirational theme draws us in new directions, as we abstract the references into geometric woven form.
Themes can vary from 20th century sculpture, as for the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Tate; to graphic paintings, as for the Escher exhibition at the Dulwich Picture House; to capturing the skyline of London and disguising it in a pattern for London Transport’s Underground seating. We enjoy new challenges and like to think we can create a design from anything!
You’ve been in business for over 20 years. Given the confines of the weaving process, how do you keep producing fresh ideas? What keeps you inspired?
We are constantly being inspired by nature, art, architecture, and the creative world. Our work thrives on a mutual respect for each other and an in-depth understanding of our craft discipline, continually challenging ourselves to experiment with unusual color palettes and push the parameters of weaving, developing these ideas new product lines.
You are proponents of traditional weaving methods. Why are these important?
We find it liberating to work with the loom’s capabilities, which are relatively restricting as we weave on ‘dobby’ shaft looms, as opposed to jacquard pattern looms, that can weave patterns. From the outset, we have always pushed to see how much we can achieve within the parameters of 16 shaft and 8 colours in the weft. This was how we were trained and so naturally part of our design process.
What excites you about working in textile design today?
It is very exciting to be designing for textiles today, as lifestyle and fashion now collide and co-exist, and there is so much interest in the home and furnishings. The world is more accessible, with global communication making it so much more immediate to realize ideas and work with other partners.
What can we expect from Wallace Sewell in the future?
Wallace Sewell is 25 years old next year! We have a multitude of new product launches, events and customer participation planned for 2017, so watch this space!