My story, Eleanor Pritchard –
Textile Designer

What I do now was not prescribed at school, I didn’t do Art as one of my A levels and I thought doing art was not a good idea, I couldn’t see it leading anywhere in terms of a career or getting a job. With hindsight I realise how much I enjoyed making things and maybe if I’d been more self-aware at school I would have chosen a creative route sooner. But I thought doing an academic degree would be a good thing and chose to do a combined honours degree in History with English Literature and African Studies.

After that I had a range of jobs but nothing felt long term. I’d always liked making things, always been a hands-on person, so I started an evening class at City Lit, just as something I wanted to do, something to enjoy. My tutor there was very encouraging and inspired and it was she who suggested I would get a huge amount out of going back to college. I hadn’t done a foundation course so I took advice about how to put a portfolio together and applied to Chelsea College of Art and got in, luckily.

On the Textiles course we studied Weave, Print, Knit and Stitch. I hadn’t chosen before I started but I had an inkling that I’d enjoy weave. What appeals to me is that you are working within quite tight parameters a lot of the time and there are all kind of rules to do with the way it works in terms of the construction. I liked the stages, it’s quite a long process and I liked the planning involved. Surprisingly I like the maths part of it and also that the pattern and the structure are the same thing - the whole thing is created as a holistic piece of design.

After graduation I was put forward by my college for Textprint* for graduate textiles students and I was one of the twenty-four selected to show at ‘Indigo’*, part of ‘Première Vision Pluriel’* a big trade show in Paris. Each designer has their own stand and you are very much representing yourself, showing your own collections. You get a huge amount of support and advice and it’s the first professional opportunity you have to sell samples. It was there that I met with the head of couture studio at Christian Lacroix and was asked to make some lengths (of my designs) for their catwalk shows. That was an exciting opportunity.

I came back to London and at that point I hadn’t got a loom or a studio but I thought I would like to set up on my own, be self-employed and run my own business. So I bought a loom and having the Lacroix commission helped with my Crafts Council application for a ‘setting-up’ grant. It was all quite quick, just within a few of months after leaving college but I completed the work for Lacroix during a fraught and manic Christmas period.

Also in that year I showed at New Designers ‘One Year On’* and, in the autumn, at Chelsea Craft Fair (which has now evolved into ‘Origin’*) one of the Craft Council’s flag-ship shows.

I’d gone from having samples from college, just lengths of fabric, to having to think about what these could be sold as. I felt I needed something easier for people to buy and I started to make scarves. So initially I was hand weaving, but I came to realise that it’s terribly hard to make a living that way and I actually found it quite soul destroying; you’d come up with a design, a structure and the pattern for something and the colours would be great but then you’d be making the same thing over and over again. I recognised that it would be grindingly hard to make even a pretty impoverished living from hand weaving.

The next year I got a Crafts Council bursary to show at 100% Design*. It’s the big interiors trade show and I was part of a cluster of stands for a group of new designers, which attracted quite a lot of press interest. It was from that that I got a really big interior commission making up panels for the National Trust’s new central office. A five minute conversation with the architects led to my submitting an expression of interest for the project. I’d done a couple of panels for private clients but nothing on that scale and I was really thrilled to get the commission. It was a good year’s work for me and the next big leap. So I get work in different ways, sometimes from trade shows, including the New York Gift Fair, and sometimes from commissions, such the vestments I was asked to design for Ely Cathedral.

 

Eleanor Pritchard

   
 

In early stages it’s very hard but I was given a great piece of advice. Someone once said to me that it is much better putting yourself in the flow of traffic rather expecting to divert it to come to you. So it’s better to be at the right big show rather than an obscure little gallery expecting people to find you.

The product I sell now is a range of blankets which are designed and sampled by me and then produced by a very small traditional mill in Wales. They set up the yarn and threading in exactly the same way so the standard is the same as hand weaving. I never send anything off to be woven unless I’ve tried it myself usually having made umpteen versions. Blankets are quite seasonal, selling more in winter, but shops are thinking about their winter stock in July and August, so I have a rhythm to the year. Getting things into production is quite time consuming but has allowed me to undertake my commissioned projects. In the last year I’ve upped the scale of my production and I do business side as well. It’s very fraught and frantic sometimes!

The other thing I do is a little bit of teaching on the weave course at Central Saint Martins. I really enjoy it and the balance is just right. There’s an exciting range of output and a great energy there. It’s great to part of a dynamic department. I also now sit on the Textprint panel which gives me a good overview of weave courses. It was Textprint that took me to Paris just after I’d graduated.

If you are inclined to set up your own business you have to be a jack of all trades. Do think about whether you are able to do paperwork and have any business skills. In terms of design the most important thing is finding your own signature and your own voice. Regardless of what area of design you are going into, what’s important is primary research; that’s you going out and drawing and doing your own photographs and generating your own ideas. That’s absolutely what will pick you out from the rest of the crowd. Finding that personal signature is important. You have to put in the spade work; you have to do drawing, make sketch books and ideas books. There are no shortcuts. I know that when I look at people who will succeed in the design world they have that spark of originality, they are not producing a kind of version of something that is already out there. Go back to original design stages, the primary research. Enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy all stages in the process you’ll not produce successful design and you may not feel fulfilled. Work experience would be very useful, and not necessarily just in design but in the application of that design. I think what I missed was the experience of industry. I really didn’t know how production worked, how big mills worked, I learnt along the way.

I wouldn’t want to do anything else, there’s a huge amount of reward and satisfaction.

Visit Eleanor’s website: www.eleanorpritchard.com

*other organisations mentioned in this article:
www.texprint.org.uk
www.indigo-salon.com/ipa
www.newdesigners.com
www.originuk.org
www.100percentdesign.co.uk