Meet the maker

Sarah Fen­nell on big brand col­labs

Mollie Makes - - News - Words: DO­MINIQUE COR­LETT Pho­to­graphs: KA­SIA FIZSER

There’s some­thing about Sarah Fen­nell’s bright and youth­ful ab­stract pat­tern de­signs – they’ve drawn quite a crowd on In­sta­gram, even catch­ing the eye of the de­sign de­part­ment at John Lewis. That par­tic­u­lar spot lead to a col­lab­o­ra­tion that saw Sarah’s de­signs cat­a­pulted from her screen-print­ing stu­dio in the West Mid­lands to John Lewis win­dows across the coun­try, when they were fea­tured on Spring/Sum­mer 2018 menswear.

Since then, Sarah’s been work­ing on her lat­est fab­ric col­lec­tion, Plea­sure Gar­dens, which launched at the Lon­don De­sign Fair this Septem­ber. In­spired by 18th cen­tury glasshouses filled with ex­otic plants, Sarah says the col­lec­tion re­flects her “joy in the botan­i­cal world”.

Sarah stud­ied tex­tile de­sign for fash­ion and in­te­ri­ors at Bath Spa Univer­sity, grad­u­at­ing in 2015, and went straight on to set up her own busi­ness pro­duc­ing tex­tiles and pa­per goods. She joined the Crafts Coun­cil’s Hot House pro­gramme the same year and now works from a leafy, river­side stu­dio at the Maws Craft Cen­tre in Shrop­shire. We caught up with her there for a chat about cre­ative busi­ness.

De­scribe your style in just a few words. Joy-in­fused colour pal­ettes and naive, col­laged shapes and mo­tifs.

What are you work­ing on at the mo­ment? I’m ex­pand­ing my range of gi­clee prints and have just started a new art­work based on the Lawn Aviary at Birm­ing­ham Botan­i­cal Gar­dens.

How did you get into your craft? I’ve al­ways been cre­ative. Art was my favourite les­son at school, but it wasn’t un­til I did my foun­da­tion course that I learnt about tex­tiles and print ap­pli­ca­tion. I went on to study tex­tiles at univer­sity. In my third year I dis­cov­ered my pas­sion for col­lage

and how I could trans­late that tech­nique into print. Even then, I knew I wanted to work for my­self and that set­ting up an epony­mous brand was the way to go.

And how did you get your busi­ness started? I bought a three me­tre print ta­ble sec­ond hand, found a stu­dio space close to home and set up my print stu­dio within a few months of grad­u­at­ing. It felt re­ally im­por­tant to keep the mo­men­tum of univer­sity go­ing, so mak­ing plans for my busi­ness seemed in­cred­i­bly nat­u­ral.

What’s the most im­por­tant busi­ness les­son you've learnt so far? That your busi­ness will nat­u­rally evolve. When I first started I had a re­ally set idea about what I wanted my prod­uct and my busi­ness to be. Over time, I’ve changed and grown, and re­alised that what might have worked at the start might not work for­ever. It’s OK to say good­bye to things you were fixed on and open the door to new things.

Tell us more about your col­lab with John Lewis. I de­signed two prints for them that they used on about eight items of cloth­ing in the Spring/Sum­mer 2018 menswear col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing T-shirts, shorts, swimwear, shirts and a sweat­shirt. I’ve al­ways posted my work on In­sta­gram, and one day I got an email from John Lewis ask­ing me to go to their Lon­don stu­dio and take my port­fo­lio. They liked one of my de­signs-in-progress and asked me to de­velop it and come up with a sec­ond one. See­ing my de­signs in the John Lewis win­dow dis­play was some­thing I never could have imag­ined. I re­ceived so many pho­tos from friends and fam­ily pos­ing with the dis­plays up and down the coun­try! In­sta­gram is a great plat­form for de­sign­ers and mak­ers. You never know who’s watch­ing and where that might lead. I had a re­ally pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of col­lab­o­rat­ing with a big brand, which was en­cour­ag­ing given all the fear about com­pa­nies steal­ing ideas.

Can you share your de­sign process with us? Ev­ery sin­gle piece of art­work or pat­tern starts life as a col­lage. Cut­ting

“Cut­ting pa­per is the eas­i­est way for me to trans­late thought into shape.”

pa­per is the eas­i­est way for me to trans­late thought into shape. I might do a quick sketch so I have some­thing to work with, but most of the time I start in­stinc­tively cut­ting and past­ing into my sketch­book. De­pend­ing on the prod­uct, I’ll then ei­ther scan it in and work with it dig­i­tally on Pho­to­shop, or I’ll take it into the print stu­dio and use the col­lage as in­spi­ra­tion for a screen-printed piece of work. Where do you find in­spi­ra­tion? It’s a cliché, but ev­ery­where. I love the botan­i­cal world and old coun­try houses – I’m at my most peace­ful wan­der­ing around those places. I’m in­spired by Ja­pa­nese and Scan­di­na­vian aes­thet­ics and find peo­ple’s homes in­spir­ing – I’ll end up think­ing of pat­terns that would suit the in­te­ri­ors or go with what’s in their closet.

“I love fin­ish­ing a piece of work and know­ing my heart and soul went into cre­at­ing it.”

De­scribe your cre­ative space. The stu­dio is set in a con­verted tile fac­tory in Jack­field, Shrop­shire – I adore old build­ings. I’m for­tu­nate enough to have a shop area, print work­shop and small o!ce. The stu­dio has high ceil­ings and that rus­tic-in­dus­trial feel with­out be­ing too over-the-top. It’s fairly neu­tral, with the in­jec­tion of colour com­ing from the tex­tiles and ob­jects I fill the space with. I en­joy us­ing sal­vaged pieces of fur­ni­ture both at home and at the stu­dio – in the shop I’ve used an old oak door found on­site as a ta­ble top. Do you have a de­sign hero? Fin­nish de­signer Maija Isola, who cre­ated de­signs for Marimekko in the 1960s which are still be­ing pro­duced to­day. I love her ap­proach to line and stylis­ing of mo­tifs. What do you love best about what you do? So many things! Fin­ish­ing a piece of work and know­ing my heart and soul went into cre­at­ing it. I love the feel­ing of push­ing a de­sign to its bound­aries and think­ing, “this is as good as it’s go­ing to get, now is the time to stop”. Set­ting my own goals and hav­ing the power to say no. Are there any el­e­ments you don’t en­joy? My num­ber one gripe with the self-em­ployed life is the lone­li­ness. I don’t think we talk about it enough, but I find work­ing on my own can be crip­plingly lonely. Some­times I re­alise I haven’t said a word out loud all day un­til I get home to my hus­band in the evenings. " What’s the best piece of ad­vice you’ve been given? Have a port­fo­lio ca­reer – mul­ti­ple in­come streams from a va­ri­ety of work ac­tiv­i­ties, which all strengthen and con­trib­ute to each other. This has led me to reg­u­larly teach­ing at Birm­ing­ham City Univer­sity as a vis­it­ing tu­tor, giv­ing lec­tures at univer­si­ties around the coun­try about my tex­tiles and run­ning work­shops. And fi­nally, do you have a dream project? I’d love to col­lab­o­rate with Marimekko or An­thro­polo­gie. Those are my dream clients. My prints stocked in Lib­erty would also be very ex­cit­ing!

Sarah’s new Plea­sure Gar­dens col­lec­tion of vi­brant prints and tex­tiles is avail­able on her web­site at www.sarah­fen­nell.co.uk. She also shares her col­lages on In­sta­gram @freck­led­fen­nell.

01 01 Lamp­shades made us­ing fab­ric from Sarah’s lat­est col­lec­tion. 02 Two of Sarah’s gi­clee prints. Glasshouses in coun­try house gar­dens are a big in­spi­ra­tion.

03 There’s plenty of colour and pat­tern in Sarah’s stu­dio. 04 Af­ter col­lag­ing comes the dig­i­tal edit­ing, al­ways with the ra­dio on. 05 Sarah found her pas­sion for col­lage at univer­sity. 02

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01 Sarah sells lamp­shades and cush­ions made in her bright fab­rics both in the shop space at her stu­dio at the Maws Craft Cen­tre and on­line. 02 One of Sarah’s sig­na­ture colour­ful col­lages in progress on her desk. 02

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