Posted on June 29, 2018
Safari Living Presents: Harriet Wallace-Jones of Wallace Sewell
Following their 25th anniversary last year, we invited Harriet Wallace-Jones of renowned British textile studio Wallace Sewell to chat with Manuela Millan of Meanwhile in Melbourne about their work, tradition and the future of textiles.
Britain has always been a pioneer and world leader in textile design and manufacture. Wallace Sewell continues this proud tradition of top-quality and design-driven textiles, while bringing it into the modern age. Their ability to fuse modern technology with traditional textile design processes has enabled them to create a distinctive and vibrant range of products which can now be found in top galleries and boutique retailers in over 20 countries.
Wallace Sewell is known for keeping their design and manufacturing local, with all their products designed from their London and Dorset studios and made in a family-run textile mill in Lancashire.
We always said that we would design on hand looms to sample our ideas but the actual production would then be done on a power loom. If we were weaving it all ourselves then we wouldn’t be able to fulfil the orders from shops and galleries.
It is clear from their work that they have a real respect for their craft and the materials that they use. There is an authenticity and passion which shines through each of their beautiful pieces and each one has its own way of making you feel comfortable, cosy and happy. Wallace Sewell’s style incorporates bold colours and striking geometric patterns to achieve an iconic British design which have been recognised worldwide.
In the past, our style has been described as ‘classically British with a twist’ but I think it’s actually very European. We love the fact that everything is designed and manufactured in the UK, however I think we see ourselves as being part of a more European movement of contemporary designer makers particularly as we’re very influenced by the Bauhaus and that period of Art and design in Europe.
As graduates of Textile Design from the Royal College of Art in London, Emma and Harriet made their start after winning a grant from the British Crafts Council which allowed them to purchase their first handloom and design their first collection. Their big break came soon after when they caught the attention of the American department store Barney’s which put in an order for a scarf collection, a relationship which has endured to this day. Their work is routinely exhibited in top galleries such the Tate Museum and MOMA, which often commission them to design and create scarves inspired by key artworks to be featured in their upcoming exhibitions.
Their work is also seen and experienced by millions of people across London everyday thanks to their winning entry in the 2007 competition to design new train seat covers for the London Overground. Their work proved so popular that they were then commissioned to create custom fabric for a number of other train lines across the London train network.
Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones
Wallace Sewell work across their two studios, with Harriet Wallace-Jones working from Dorset and Emma Sewell and the rest of the team working out of London. This setup clearly works for the design team, allowing them to work independently but also come together at regular intervals to brainstorm and make the important decisions.
Having three of us on the design team is brilliant as we all have a different perspective when discussing ideas. I live in the country and we really enjoy combining our rural and urban aesthetics.
Harriet and Emma’s design process combines thoughtful research and contemplation with a hands-on practical approach to prototyping and developing their designs. They draw inspiration from art, contemporary design and the world around them and then use their expertise with the handloom and knowledge of fabrics and materials to create their signature patterns.
We’re often looking at a specific painting and we’ll analyse the proportion of each colour. We’ll then create a yarn winding by taking a strip of card approximately 3-4 inches wide and we’ll wrap coloured yarn around the card to the proportions we wish the stripe to be.
When you’re at college, you have so much more time to do primary research such as collage and drawing which you then develop into weaves. Once you have your own business, 90% of your time is taken up with admin and only 10% design time. Emma and I have found that as our team has grown and our tasks are fewer, we’ve much more time for design and we can do more painting and drawing research as we used to do which is lovely.
After an incredibly successful 25 years, and having built their studio from two graduates working with single hand-loom to their current status as a globally recognised and sought-after design studio, Harriet and Emma are excited for the future and the opportunities that they will be able to explore.
I’d really like to do some colour consultancy and continue to explore other collaborations. To work not just in weaving but design in a broader sense would be very interesting. For example, it might be applying our ideas onto ceramics or wall coverings. A few years ago we successfully launched our first collection of carpets and last year we introduced a range of printed silk scarves to be shown along side our woven collection, so we’re branching out into new products which is exciting and challenging.
Gwynne Block Throw
Safari Living currently presents a selection of textiles from Wallace Sewell. To view the collection click here.
Words: Manuela Millan of Meanwhile in Melbourne
Visit Wallace Sewell here
Photos courtesy of: The Guardian/Photographer: Suki Dhanda (of Harriet Wallace-Jones), Wallace Sewell and Safari Living