Tag Archives: textile designers

Kaffe Fassett – no doubt about colour

When in doubt add twenty more colours.

Kaffe 1

Kaffe Fassett fabric used in one of his quilt designs

I heard this quote from Kaffe Fassett many years ago, long before I really knew who he was or how extraordinarily creative he is. I was a young Afrikaans girl in suburban Pretoria, South Africa. All I knew was that he’s a man from ‘overseas’ who knitted multi-coloured garments. There were so many things about him which were completely foreign to me.

Firstly, I didn’t know men can knit. Secondly, I didn’t know that knitting was considered art and that one can make a living from it. I also didn’t know it was ‘allowed’ to mix all these colours together. I came from a time and place where blue and green didn’t go together, beige was always a safe option, and only mums and grannies knitted.

I had no idea that many years later I would live ‘overseas’, have a career which revolves around creative needlework, and actually have the opportunity to meet the man himself.


Filled with energy and enthusiasm during his talk

Kaffe Fassett and his business partner Brandon Marbly visited Australia earlier this year, doing a series of talks and workshops around the country. I had the opportunity to meet him in Adelaide on the last weekend of a hectic almost two-month tour.

What struck me most about him was not his amazing talent or sense of colour, although that is something to behold. It’s his amazing energy. Kaffe is in his early 80’s yet talk, move and act like someone at least 20 years younger. He is bursting with enthusiasm about his work, about colour, about meeting other creatives, and about teaching.

Kaffe 2

When in doubt add twenty more colours

He is extremely prolific, turning out designs for fabric ranges, quilts, as well as knitting patterns and books at a pace which makes me tired just thinking about it. As someone who takes the time to process information and contemplates ideas before putting it into action (read: procrastinate), I am in awe of this skill!

In his talk, he tells about his travels to different parts of the world. Australia, South East Asia, Africa and India, features alongside South America and Europe. He finds inspiration in everything from street markets to faded wall paint. But it is not just the far away and exotic which speaks to him – he finds as much inspiration from his neighbour’s garden as from a faraway location. As long as there is colour, Kaffe can turn it into something extraordinary.

Kaffe designs knitwear for Rowan, fabric for Westminster Fibres, and needlepoint tapestries for Ehrman. He also publishes an array of books on quilting, knitting and colour inspiration. I found his autobiography Dreaming in Colour, especially interesting and inspiring.

Kaffe 3

Image from Kaffe’s slide show

One of the questions put to him during his talk was how he gets time for everything. For Kaffe, the answer is simple: No television, no mobile phone and no computer. Brandon, who is his business manager, handles all those things, freeing up Kaffe’s time and mind to create. He loves listening to music while he designs and to BBC Radio 4 while he stitches.


Brandon working on a design wall

During the workshop, Kaffe and Brandon shared another secret: Work with music. Choose something with a beat and turn it up loud. Move to the rhythm! Kaffe believes in doing first and editing later. When designing a new quilt, he works on a flannel covered design wall where he can put up all his fabric pieces, adding as many colours and patterns as he wants. Then he stands back and edits by removing and rearranging. His mantra is – Don’t be afraid. Add more colour and pattern.

Listening to Kaffe and watching him work and talk about colour is extremely inspirational. He oozes energy and enthusiasm for life. Beige does not feature anywhere in his work or life, blue and green can go together, and with many other colours too.

I now realise that that quote I heard so many years ago does not just apply to needlework. It applies to life.

Have you attended any of his workshops or made any of his designs? Please share!

Deborah McKellar Talking Textiles in Singapore

The taxi dropped me off at a busy intersection in downtown Singapore. The narrow sidewalk, stacked with car and motorcycle tyres, fronted a row of workshops where men huddled over dismantled wheels and greasy axles. My inquiries about the textile studio indicated on the map were answered with blank stares. Just when I thought I had the wrong address I found the narrow staircase tugged in between the tyre shops, with a sign saying Talking Textiles: 4th floor.

Talking Textiles Stairway to heavenWinding my way up the steep stairs, I’m encouraged by phrases painted onto the steps saying things like ‘Stairway to Heaven’; ‘Art lovers, design enthusiasts and shopaholics – Welcome’. As I was about to run out of breath near the top, this one, ‘Feeling unfit? Join the Pilates class.’

Once I reached the top landing a wooden door opened up into a light filled, airy studio where I’m welcomed by designer and artist, Deborah McKellar, and her assistant Adeline. With a refreshing cup of green tea in hand, Deborah leads me on a guided tour of the open plan studio, office and retail area. The glass wall making up one side of the space opens up onto a wide roof terrace where a cat lounge lazily on the sofa overlooking the Singapore cityscape. The vantage point and the view is a far cry from the tyre shops below.

Talking Textiles displayDeborah, born and raised in South Africa, completed a BA in fine arts at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts in Singapore, followed by a Master of design, majoring in Textiles, at the College of Fine Arts at the UNSW in Sydney. She now divides her time between her textile design studio, lecturing in Fashion Textiles at her Alma mater, and practising her fine art.

Her workspace is full. Rolls of textiles, huge colourful canvasses, and piles of hand printed cushions overwhelm the senses and create a feast for the eyes. Yet, the huge printing table, the neat desk and the well-organised supply shelves, create a sense of order and calmness. This combination of overwhelming creativity and calm order, I soon realise, is what makes Deborah a successful artist and businesswoman.

Talking Textiles scissorsHer work is distinctly Singaporean. Deborah’s habit of photographing typical Asian architecture, the tropical landscape, and other local design features, forms the basis of her work. She uses these images to create various screen prints which are then used in different combinations and colours to create cushion covers, tea towels and other décor items, marketed under the trade name Talking Textiles. Her series Raffles, inspired by the architecture and features of the famous Singaporean hotel, can be viewed and bought at her retail space in the hotel.

Talking textiles screen printing

photo courtesy of Talking Textiles

The huge canvases covering the studio walls are layered with screen printed images and textile strips, overlaid with freehand machine embroidery, creating works of fine art. “My first solo exhibition was back in 2012 and I aim to do one solo exhibition every year,” Deborah explains. “I enjoy the freedom of making fine art, but it does take many hours to create a big enough body of work for an exhibition.”

As if a busy textile design business, her role as part-time lecturer at LASALLE-SIA, and a successful fine arts career are not enough, Deborah believes in giving back and paying forward. The Talking Textiles studio takes on apprentices and students, to teach, coach and prepare for careers in the textile art world.

Talking Textiles Deborah McKellarBefore I left the studio, I asked if I could take a few photos. While I busied myself trying to capture the riotous colour and rich textures of the textiles, Deborah rummaged through a stack of tea towels to find one of each design so I could pick one as a gift. I asked if I could photograph her in front of one of her canvases to which she readily agreed. As she took up position in front of the canvas, she took the clip which held her hair up in a bun out to let it fall over her shoulders. In one quick movement, Deborah changed from a designer business woman into an artist, and the switch between calm order and overwhelming creativity which I noticed on my arrival happened right before my eyes.

As I exited the narrow staircase back onto the busy sidewalk filled with tyres and noise, all I could see was rich colour, tropical designs, and the distinctive Singaporean style. The narrow staircase did, in fact, lead to heaven. Textile heaven, that is.


17 October – 1 November 2013

They’ve had me at Textiles and Africa. The first one I come across quite regularly in South Australia but the second one is a rare find.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Melanie Harteveld Becker, the Namibian Cultural Liaison, and curator Victor J Krawczyk. Together they conceptualised the idea of exposing the art community in Adelaide to the world of African art while simultaneously exposing Namibian artists to the wider, international art world. With the help and support of Nexus and the National Arts Council of Namibia, their idea became a reality.

Nexus Namibia Maria Caley silk chiffon

Maria Caley, Ukerete, Silk chiffon dyed with bird plum bark

They brought together an exciting collection of contemporary art and craft, consisting of textiles, baskets, jewellery, linocuts, graphic illustrations, prints and … bottle tops.  Eight different artists and art collectives, represent an ethnic and culturally diverse Namibian society.

Nexus Namibia AttilaGiersch

Attila Giersch, jewellery from Tameka Collection

I spoke to Maria Caley, a textile artist and fashion designer who accompanied the exhibition to Australia. By using plant and earth dyes occurring naturally in Kavango, Northern Namibia, and decorating with traditional Kavango patterns, she uses her textile art to explore her cultural heritage. She believes it is important to document her ethnic inheritance in a contemporary manner and so make it accessible to a future, modern generation.


Maria Caley, Untitled, cotton dyed with red ochre with hand painted patterns and embellished with San people ostrich egg beads

Other textile artists represented are Chakirra Classen who’s experimenting with iron oxide dye on raw silk and cotton, and Filllipus Sheehama who uses recycled bottle tops to create alternative textiles.

Nexus Namibia Chakirra Classen

Chakirra Classen, Untitled, Raw silk dyed with iron oxides

There are few other art forms which capture the unique features of a landscape as successfully as basket weaving. Local plant material dictates the shape, texture and colour of a basket, naturally occurring dyes and the patterns and motives unique to a local ethnic group, all add up to capture the essence of a place in one object.

Nexus Namibia Kavango Basket

Imelda Ngonde, OMBA Collective, Kavango food serving basket

Looking at the baskets in the exhibition, masterfully displayed in a suspended collection, it is obvious that they represent three different Namibian landscapes and ethnic groups (Ovambo, Khwe and Kavango.) The fact that objects so representative of the earth are displayed in a suspended, almost floating way, casting wonderfully moving shadows on the walls, spoke to me about how this exhibition opens up new horizons to the mostly isolated artists of Namibia.

Nexus Namibia baskets

Installation of Ovambo, Khwe and Kavango baskets

This exhibition is a groundbreaking event, paving the way for future collaborations between the artists of Namibia and Australia. I salute Melanie, Victor and Nexus for the important work they do. Namibia is still on until Friday 1 November. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss this. The artworks are on sale and well worth the investment.

Nexus Namibia San Ostrich Shell jewellery

San people jewellery, Hui-a khoe Foundation, ostrich egg shells

Umbrella Prints

The thing about being relatively new in town is you hear names and see faces, but as nothing is familiar, you don’t bring the two together. And then one day, all the loose ends come together and you stand face to face with amazing talent.

This is how I discovered Umbrella Prints. I saw the fabric somewhere on a blog and thought “oh, this is cool!” Then I saw the name Umbrella Prints, realised it is a local business and started following their Facebook Page. Even later I attended a networking event where I met two really friendly and talented women who told me about their fabric design business. And lo and behold, there they were! Amy Prior and Carly Schwerdt, the brains and talent behind Umbrella Prints!

UP Carly and AmyCarly and Amy

Amy, an artist and textile designer and Carly, a graphic designer both worked with fabric, designs and printmaking before they joined to launch their first hand-printed organic cotton/hemp fabric line in 2006 and they haven’t looked back since.

Along with considerable experience and skill, it is their love of playing which inspires their designs. They share their working space with children’s art studio Nest Studio (run by Carly), where stories, play and creating are central to the approach. For Amy and Carly, a new design is not just about line, form and colour, it is about the story and the feeling it represents.

Umbrella-Prints-studio-pin-boardWhere the magic happens

In 2008 Umbrella Prints created a product with its own story- Umbrella Prints Trimmings. Trimmings are a packet of fabric off-cuts collected from the making of different Umbrella Print products such as cushions, bags or end of rolls. The little snips of fabrics showcased the duo’s design skills; every inch is beautifully resolved; they also inspire people to think creatively about making good use of the off-cuts that traditionally would have ended up in the bin – to encourage a waste-less mindset.


They sold like crazy and in 2009 Umbrella Prints created the yearly Trimmings Competition -inviting clients to send in photographs of the most creative item/thing they could sew, make, do from one packet of Trimmings. The amazing creations from all over the world can be seen on the Umbrella Prints Pinterest boards. Each year there are two winners, and now there is a team of industry judges, which have recently included Irene Hoofs of design blog fame Bloesem, Jodi Levine from Martha Stewart and environmental creative champion Lianne Rossler.

Cate Oaten-Hepworth winner Umbrella Prints 20132013 winner Cate Oaten-Hepworth’s winning entry

Being environmentally aware is a core value at Umbrella Prinminimisingwaste, using GOTS certified 100% organic base-cloths, printing with water-based inks and using recycled packaging are all a consideration in their approach to design.

Umbrella Prints has recently launched a new range of printed fabrics – Floating World. Six new quilters’ weight 100% Organic Cotton and Five new 100% Organic Hemp/Cotton designs make a small and unique collection inspired by the lightness of being and which are sure to be snapped up by collectors of beautiful fabrics worldwide.

Floating World Stack by Umbrella Prints WRFloating World

See more Umbrella Prints magic here and here.

Have you made anything with Umbrella Prints fabrics? Show and tell, please!