Homes

With de­signs on Cross­rail and the tube, Wal­lace Sewell are go­ing places

The Guardian - Weekend - - Starters Contents -

If you hap­pen to be trav­el­ling in Lon­don soon, take the Bak­er­loo, North­ern or Ju­bilee tube lines and try to spot the four land­marks em­bed­ded in the fab­ric pat­tern on the seats. Peer hard enough and you’ll see sub­tle ren­di­tions of the Lon­don Eye, Big Ben and Tower Bridge.

These are just some of the many mo­quettes cre­ated for Trans­port for Lon­don by tex­tiles duo Harriet Wal­lace-Jones and Emma Sewell, who have been de­sign­ing to­gether as Wal­lace Sewell for the past 25 years. They have also cre­ated fab­rics for the Over­ground, Croy­don tram and the new Cross­rail. “For the first few Cross­rail trains, which are run­ning now, we rode the line and took lots of pic­tures of build­ings and sta­tions,” says Sewell. “There was a shed on the side of the track that was a beau­ti­ful grey-green colour, and that ended up as part of the de­sign.” She still feels proud when­ever she catches the tube to their north Lon­don stu­dio.

Since team­ing up in 1992, the pair have de­signed cush­ions, rugs and throws for the Tate, West Elm and An­thro­polo­gie, among oth­ers. They have even recre­ated Jimi Hen­drix’s bed­spread for his for­mer Lon­don house (now a mu­seum). What unites their work is a love of colour. “We’re very choosy about it,” says Wal­lace-Jones. “Every year we have an artist whose work we re­fer to at the start of a new col­lec­tion.” David Hock­ney has in­spired their spring/sum­mer 2018 scarves; other re­cent in­flu­ences in­clude Robert Diebenkorn and Korean artist Chung Eun Mo.

The pair met while study­ing tex­tiles at Cen­tral School of Art (now Cen­tral Saint Martins), but only re­ally bec ame friends dur­ing their MA in wo­ven tex­tiles at the Royal Col­lege of Art. “There were

15 peo­ple in our year, so we be­came quite a close group. We still have meet-ups,” says Sewell. Then, in 1992, they set up a stand to­gether at the Chelsea Crafts Fair, mak­ing their own scarves but trad­ing un­der the Wal­lace Sewell name. “An ac­ces­sories buyer from Bar­neys in New York came to scout the show and put in an or­der for scarves. She came back six months later and asked what we were do­ing for the next sea­son,” says Sewell. “Our ac­coun­tant said, ‘Why don’t you just be­come a part­ner­ship? It would be sim­pler for the books.’”

From the start, they knew they wanted to de­sign on hand looms, but have the fab­rics wo­ven in industrial mills. “Emma and I are in­flu­enced by Bauhaus, which is very much that ethos of hand craft cou­pled with industrial pro­duc­tion,” says Wal­lace-Jones. They chose the UK so they could be more hands-on. “We were try­ing to push the lim­its of what could be done, both with the types of thread we wanted and us­ing multi-colours in the warp. It was quite com­pli­cated,” says Sewell.

Af­ter try­ing a num­ber of mills across the north of Eng­land, they set­tled on Mitchell In­ter­flex, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion, fam­ily-run, 18th-cen­tury mill. It has been weav­ing their fab­rics for the past 17 years.

It’s a busy time for Wal­lace Sewell: as well as Cross­rail, they are launch­ing their first col­lec­tion of rugs at the Lon­don De­sign Fes­ti­val this month and, to cel­e­brate their quar­ter-cen­tury mile­stone, pre­par­ing for an ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing at the Fashion and Tex­tile Mu­seum in Oc­to­ber.

“Nine years ago, I moved from Lon­don to Dorset; so now we split the col­lec­tion, de­sign­ing in­di­vid­u­ally on our own hand looms, then meet­ing up once a week to dis­cuss ev­ery­thing,” says Wal­lace-Jones. “We re­alise in our dotage that it’s nice we’re not to­gether all the time, and there’s al­ways a fresh eye look­ing at the work.” They also go camp­ing to­gether with their fam­i­lies once or twice a year, all over the UK.

One of the se­crets to their suc­cess is that they are com­pletely hon­est about each other’s de­signs. “We might dis­agree a lit­tle about some­thing,” Sewell says, “but be­cause we trained to­gether and have worked so closely to­gether for such a long time, our tastes and styles are pretty sim­i­lar – we al­most al­ways pick the same colours.”

Wal­lace-Jones agrees: “We’ve never had a row; we’re a bit like a mar­ried cou­ple and fin­ish each other’s sen­tences.” In­deed, one will take over from the other mid­way through a sub­ject.

Look­ing ahead, Sewell would like to “go back to my roots and do some beau­ti­fully wo­ven fashion fab­rics”, while Wal­lace-Jones is keen on colour con­sult­ing. Which means what­ever the fu­ture holds, it will be bright.

See Wal­lace Sewell’s work at de­sign­junc­tion, 21-24 Septem­ber, Gra­nary Square, Lon­don N1 (thedesign­junc­tion.co.uk); Wal­lace Sewell: 25 Years of Bri­tish Tex­tile De­sign, Fashion and Tex­tile Mu­seum, Lon­don SE1, 20 Oc­to­ber to 21 Jan­uary 2018 (ftm­lon­don.org).

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