Each year, the release of our limited edition Home capsule is a highlight on the Nancybird calendar, as we turn our creative process towards designing and crafting pieces for the home.
This year, Sarah Strickland – our textile designer, and the brains behind the Home collection – looked to native Australian flora and fauna for inspiration; collaborating with Indian artisans on heritage techniques to realise her designs.
We chatted with Sarah about her sources of inspiration behind these memorable styles, and the lifecycle of designing a print, from the first scribbles in a sketchbook to the beautiful pieces that arrive in your hands.
Each Home collection begins with daydreaming and brainstorming, to strike upon a theme that Sarah can spin a world of homewares from.
“Inspiration can be hiding in all sorts of places – I look at the internet and Instagram, interiors magazines from around the world, and – most importantly – people’s houses! Then I start sketching,” Sarah explains.
For this year’s collection, Sarah wanted to create a fresh take on Australiana. “I focussed on the Banksia Serrata, and the animals that inhabit this plant species. In the Banksia print, you can find a Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo, Sugar Glider and White Cheeked Honeyeater – just a few the animals that find food and shelter in this plant!”
But it wasn’t just the Banksia Serrata’s wild looks that inspired Sarah, but also it’s resilience! The Banksia Serrata is a pretty remarkable plant, because it manages to grow in the nutrient poor soils of Eastern Australia. ”They’re fire tolerant and even require bushfire to release their seeds – what a trooper! It’s such a graphic-looking species that it was practically crying out for a strong print.”
An ink drawing of the Banksia print from Sarah's sketchbook.
Once Sarah settles upon a theme, she tries out little ideas in her sketchbook to make sure her ideas have legs. Speaking about the Banksia print, Sarah explains: “The Banksia print started as a scrappy sketch and an idea in my head. I really wanted to play to the strength of screenprinting, where you get lovely strong, flat colour, and I liked the simplicity of a two colour print.”
Sarah’s design process can vary, though. “I had a strong vision of how I wanted the design to look, but it’s not always like this – some designs are a bit more about feeling my way through the process.”
After Sarah’s initial sketches, she starts to refine her ideas with more careful artwork that can be developed into a print. These more precise drawings are scanned digitally, so that they can be arranged in Photoshop into a print tile that can be repeated across the fabric.
“Good rhythm and flow are essential ingredients to a great pattern design. I’ll edit and rescale my drawings digitally, to transform them into something that will look great when it’s repeated across the fabric at a larger scale! I can also check for any weird gaps that might create problems when the design is repeated out multiple times across the fabric.”
Sarah transforming her sketch into a pattern tile in Photoshop.
Once Sarah has transformed her first drawings into a pattern tile, she prints it out and carefully traces it. “I carefully trace the motif in brush and ink, and then scan it all back in again and colour the design digitally.”
Once Sarah finalises her designs, she carefully sets up specifications for the makers to sample the prints. An important part of the process is selecting the fabrics that will be printed on, with this year’s Home collection prints utilising organic cottons.
“We’re lucky that our makers can source GOTS-certified organic cottons for us. The organic cotton sateen has a lovely hand feel and it great for sleepwear! Our artisan partners in Jaipur, India also use AZO-free dyes, and are super-committed to making their business sustainable for the environment and for their workers.”
One of Sarah's spec sheets for the Home collection makers.
While there are many different printing methods, the Banksia print utilises screenprinting to create the intricate two-colour design. The screenprinting process uses a clever technique that requires highly-skilled artisans to realise the designs beautifully.
The printers prepare the design on a “screen” – a piece of mesh fabric within a frame, that looks like a flyscreen. A special emulsion coating, which hardens with UV light, is applied to the screen, and the design is printed onto a clear film – a bit like a photo negative. This gets taped over the mesh screen, which is then exposed to sunlight. The clear film allows the sun to filter through some parts of the design to the mesh, while hiding other parts. The areas hidden by the printed film don’t harden, which allows them to be washed away.
Now the printing can begin! “The fabric is secured to a very long table, and then the screen is placed on top of the fabric at one end. The printing ink is then poured onto the screen, and the printers work methodically down the length of the fabric; using a big squeegee to apply the ink evenly across the screen and onto the fabric.”
Some of the Home products that feature Sarah's screenprinted Banksia design: the Quilt Cover, Pillowcase and Pyjama Pants.
Sarah will receive samples, which allow her to check the colours and quality, and then send her feedback through. The makers then move onto producing the final samples – the exciting bit, as we get to see her beautiful designs come to life!
“After receiving the final samples, we photograph them with the wonderful Annette O’Brien. Not long after that the production of goods arrives and we send them out into the world!”
As for Sarah’s favourite piece in this year’s collection, she loves the Banksia-printed bedlinen. “I love that you get a big expanse of the print and can see the little scenes contained within the foliage.“