Wednesday, January 11, 2012

a new rug for Crate & Barrel

This morning my latest rug for Crate & Barrel went online.  Fun to design, and a beautiful, deeply saturated wool pile rug.  My last rug for them, Kincaid, was not such a burst of color as this one is.  And it is always fun to step out of character -- from vegetables to geometric blocks! -- and make something different.  The inspiration was Crate & Barrel's selected Pantone chart for the year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

tableware for Monticello

In 1992, a gardening friend sent me a magazine article about the restoration of Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello which totally focused my work for many years afterward.

If you don't know this garden, you might be interested to hear that Thomas Jefferson, in addition to being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's third president, was an avid gardener and researched and wrote extensively about farming and gardening as an American activity.  He used his vegetable gardens for research, growing, for example, fifteen different varieties of the English pea, his favorite vegetable.

The vegetable garden itself lay across the flat top of Monticello mountain in long ribbon -- 80 feet by 1000 feet -- patterned with row after horizontal row of varying vegetables, up to 80 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers per season.  In, I might add, the extraordinarily beautiful landscape of the mountains of Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am not much of a historian:  That's just about enough of the story for me, right there.  As an artist,  I was thrilled by the visual, by what I saw as a textile opportunity in the ribbon and the pattern, by the simpler story of a learned man who loved, above all, to grow vegetables, and so off I went!  I visited the garden as soon as I could get there, sketchbook and camera in hand, and was soon interviewing the gardeners, being taken to the head of the gardens -- a scholar and plantsman named Peter Hatch -- and shown the greenhouses, the tool sheds, anything I wanted to see.

I wove a set of tapestries about that garden which I named the Thousand Foot Garden.  The centerpiece was a set of 68 different woven panels of most of the vegetables growing there during the season in which I visited -- they had kindly shared their planting diagrams for summer 1992.  I also made an elevation of the garden, a bird's eye view plan, and a number of pieces describing the potting sheds, the tools, etc -- in other words, the process of making the garden.

This particular piece, Harvest 1992, proved a seminal piece of work for me.  It involved researching and drawing many differnet varieties of plants, but more importantly, figuring out how to weave things like santolina, or lavender.  The root vegetables were straightforward by comparison, but I had developed a rationale for how I would "draw", row by row on the loom, and had to figure out how to incorporate all of these new types of form in my woven language.

Eventually when I began my ribbon business, for which this blog is named, one of the first few ribbons I designed was vegetables.  Given the expense of designing very long repeats (the economy of weaving my ribbons was in the length of the repeat, if you can believe it, as I  was charged for the number of repetitions of the design unit.  If it was a 9" repeat, it would be much more expensive to purchase 5000 repeats of that than if it were a 2" repeat, where I might be ordering 15,000 repeats --do the math on that to convert it to yardage!  Hence I had to choose a very few vegetables to represent it all).  I would have loved to make the ribbon with a 160" repeat -- it is possible but has anyone done it? That is why I call my company LFN Textiles: Artist's Ribbons, because the artist in me is drawn to challenges like this!

This was - and still is - a popular ribbon, and I was able to convince the small gift shop at Monticello to begin carrying such a peculiarly un-touristy item as ribbon, because of it s strong relationship to the place.

A number of years later, in the recent past, Monticello built a grand new Visitor's center farther down the mountain, which has a good cafe, theater, museum and a vastly improved shop.   Since I had been licensing my designs for a few years to Crate & Barrel, and they had loved the vegetable motifs, I persuaded the buyer to license a fresh version of the design - in fact, the design which forms the header of this blog! -- for use on products, to bring a fresh look at the history.  And the new products are now available in their spring catalogue, as well as in the shop in Charlottesville.  Naturally, they went on table ware!

And of course, here is the new version of the design as a ribbon!

Monday, January 2, 2012

new thoughts

How funny that one seems to need to start a new post with the adjective "new".  Especially when the last post was very, very long ago (even though it also had "new" in the title). 

There has been a hiatus here, I admit.  I had gotten dissatisfied with my approach to writing on this blog -- which I view as my design blog --  vs. my art blog,, which has een devoted to the more personal -- less commercial? -- activity of making artwork and musing about it.

I lecture to art schools and conferences about the relationship between art, craft & design in my work, yet I have separated these into two blogs and an etsy site.  Now I am re-thinking the role of design in my creative life -- as I am doing so much of it!  I often thought it was the fun, rather thoughtless side of my work -- decorative, patterned, fun, carefree.  Certainly my commercial clients need it to be that way, but I have been considering design as a more tightly conceptual aspect of my artwork lately.  Spoonflower still intrigues me, in that it makes very accessible relatively inexpensive prints of my ideas on fabrics with which I might make items that could be thoughtful as well as decorative.

Recently I decided to start to try to express some of my more basic ideas about ecologically responsible living in useful textiles; I have been experimenting with silkscreening on towels and handkerchiefs and trying to use imagery which is inspired and fairly clear in its meaning.  Such as, "Here is a cloth napkin as an alternative to something you might throw away.  And it is nice, so you will want to have it!"  I hope to create a series this spring of household textiles, when I decide how I want to portray my messages.

I designed 3 different towels so far for Spoonflower: one speaks of the importance of trees and the other two about the delight of eating fresh, local produce.

They are available now for sale through Spoonflower -- you will have to hem them yourself: one yard of 54" fabric yields 4 towels -- or soon, on my etsy site.

You see, already I am writing more about ideas and less about "product"!

all images and designs copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, 2011.