Unravelling the fabric of designer society

By Claire McCall

Fabrics are factor number one when it comes to introducing softness and warmth to your home. But textile technology has brought a whole new dimension, literally, to the fabric game. Viva explores some of the latest innovations in our material world.

(Clockwise from top left) Designs by Sonya Cotter; Leanne Culy; Sonya Cotter and Florence Broadhurst. Photo / Supplied
(Clockwise from top left) Designs by Sonya Cotter; Leanne Culy; Sonya Cotter and Florence Broadhurst. Photo / Supplied

Pump up the volume
Think of the textures in a crocheted tea-cosy then magnify them 500 per cent. Interior designer Sonya Cotter specialises in product development and visits the Milan Furniture Fair annually to keep ahead of the game. She says volume with a capital V was the most evident trend in fabrics this year.

"Think knitted, woven, chunky," she explains. Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola was its big-name hero. Her Biknit chairs for Moroso feature a plaited stocking-stitch design in mammoth proportions which is draped over a chair and chaise. Not to be outdone, the Bouroullec brothers of France presented their deep-buttoned, peanut-shaped sofa for Ligne Roset upholstered in a contemporary quilted fabric with huge elasticity.

"Whether pleated, tucked or ruched, fabrics of today seem almost three dimensional," says Sonya.

An element of architecture
Treating textiles as just another layer of the building is how interior architect Penny Hay views fabric.

Curtains are used as a wall element.

"It's not just about their interaction with the window. It's how they can be used to cocoon you, and bring shelter and comfort."

Penny seeks out soft, natural, crafted fabrics that are not simply "adornment" and this philosophy extends to bedding, an integral part of the whole environment. She says Society Linen from Siena Home in Parnell is a good example that will stand the test of time.

Keeping it Kiwi
There was a time when we had no choice - it was European fabrics or nothing. But, these days, New Zealand textile design is here and here to stay. Says Lynne Beavon of HempTech: "It's about creating our own identity. We don't build old villas or Spanish haciendas anymore - our domestic architecture expresses our way of life and so, too, should our textiles." The company has collaborated with designers such as Sarah Shepherd, Tanya Wolfcamp and David Trubridge, whose "Traces" collection was exhibited at this year's Milan Furniture Fair, in creating fabrics that speak Kiwi loud and clear. Many of the designs allude to our natural environment and have a spontaneous, casual feel.

"Our latest release is by Tanya Wolfcamp. It's of the puriri tree, first noticed by Sir Joseph Banks who was the botanist on Captain James Cook's first voyage to New Zealand in 1769."

Vintage va-voom
When Vicki Mossong and her business partner set up the Auckland Vintage Textile Fair five years ago, she had an inkling it would be a runaway success. It was. The day-long fairs consistently draw crowds of 2000 people who are on the hunt for textiles with style and substance. "It's not only retro fabrics or mid-century design that is sought after - although Marimekko still commands its price - it's discovering something unique you won't get in Spotlight."

Clientele include fashion designers looking for inspiration, museum curators who have a gap in their collection, theatrical designers, embroiders, quilters and collectors. "We only allow fabric from the 1970s and older - no reproductions," says Vicki. "People know if a fabric has lasted that distance, it is quality."

Apart from the thrill of the chase, there's the sustainability angle of re-using or up-cycling.

"It's about re-thinking vintage fabric for a modern context. I sell so many large white tablecloths, not because formal dining is back but because people use them on their outdoor tables at the beach."

Bye bye the basics
"We've moved beyond all that self-restraint and modernism," says Auckland-based textile designer Emma Hayes with obvious relief.

Her "River Print" fabric series, a watercolour print on luxurious silk, was a finalist in the 2012 Home New Zealand magazine Design Awards. Emma likes to keep in touch with trends overseas, but feels we are doing our own thing here - and rightly so. "People are beginning to realise you can use custom-designed, limited-edition pieces in your interiors." She's happy to see a more adventurous spirit, a move towards combining disparate styles.

"Embrace it if you love it," she advises. She particularly likes the idea of Cape, an upholstered sofa designed by Konstantin Grcic for UK company Established & Sons. It's a clever way of formalising the idea of draping a throw over an old sofa.

"The fabric is not a separate design element but an integral part of the hardware underneath," she says.

Similarly, she's taken with the Garment chair by Benjamin Hubert for Cappellini, a club chair that can be dressed and undressed.

"I design fabrics for fashion, too, and am always thinking of how it works on a body."

Fan of the artisan
In the same vein, Suzannah Tonascia, owner of Bolt of Cloth, an on-line fabric retailer, has noticed a growing love affair with hand-printed-to-order textiles. This appreciation of the boutique and often, imperfect, is a huge step forward.

"In countries where there is a history of cloth making, flaws are revered. Batch-printed works tend to have more imperfections than cloth rolled off the mill thousands of metres at a time. They are what make these fabrics special," says Suzannah.

Now, more Kiwis are taking the wabi-sabi way and learning to love these built-in blemishes.

It means they'll get to discover and enjoy works that are designed and made closer to home. Bolt of Cloth stocks fabric by Australian names such as Ink & Spindle, Thea and Sami, and Florence Broadhurst. Ingrid Anderson and Leanne Culy feature as part of their New Zealand line up.

Sustainable and natural
The emissions that are a by-product of the petro-chemicals used in the manufacture of some polyester and nylon fabrics are not to be sneezed at.

As more people become aware of this, they're turning to nature. Linen, wool and hemp are key players in this field, says Lynne Beavon of Hemptech. "People with bad allergies really notice it and even cotton can be grown with herbicides and pesticides so there may be residue in the fabric."

Linen and hemp can actually be recycled into paper products and insulation materials so if being green is your scene, these are the textiles to favour.

Brave for brights
According to Suzannah Tosciano from Bolt of Cloth, bright colours and bold prints are jumping into the limelight. "We became rather conservative in New Zealand for a while there - our homes began to look like hotels!" She's noticed a trend to choosing fabrics with bright colours and large scale designs for curtains and blinds.

For those not so brave but craving a shot of colour, funky cushion collections are the answer. If you make a mistake, you can always hide them in the linen closet!

Raw and crafted
Fashion's being doing it forever but finally, exposed seams and hems are making their presence felt in upholstery, too. German designer Sebastian Herkner's design, Coat, for Moroso, in fruity flavours such as watermelon and pale lime, has exposed seams on the arms. Material mad designers have also embraced the folksy, handcrafted look, says Sonya Cotter. It's a trend that was on show at Heimtextil, the biggest international trade fair for textiles held yearly in Frankfurt.

"Boucle, patchwork and plaids that have been hand-stitched and even appliquéd are in vogue," she says.

Technology talking
Interior designer Sonya Cotter says that the future of fabric production is in the lab. That may be bad news for our nature-loving country - or not. Here's the story.

"Natural weaves are getting more expensive due to a shortage of cotton and the mills becoming old, closing down and not being replaced," says Sonya. While you may be dreading the "polycarbons" and synthetics that may be just around the corner, there's another option perfect for Kiwis to embrace - fabric made from milk.

Yes, believe it or not, a German bio-chemist named Anke Domaske has come up with a way to create fabric from a milk-protein powder which is then boiled and pressed into strands. Once woven, it becomes a wonder fabric that drapes like silk and washes like cotton. Now there's one Fonterra didn't think of.

- NZ Herald

(Clockwise from top left) Designs from Sonya Cotter

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