BROOKSVILLE — Canadian designer Destiny Seymour didn’t play with dolls as a child. The Manitoban would sit in the back of her mother’s hair salon and make houses for dolls, which she would give away to her friends.
Seymour, a member of the Anishinaabe First Nation tribe, designs fabric. She is one of 25 profiled in “Modern Fabric: Twenty-Five Designers on Their Inspiration and Craft” (Princeton Architectural Press), published in 2020. The book was written and compiled by Brooksville fabric artist Amelia Poole and Fiddlehead Artisan Supply owner Abby Gilchrist. The Belfast store specializes in contemporary fabric as well as art and craft supplies.
“There aren’t many books about fabric designers,” said Gilchrist. “How to design yes, but there aren’t many books about the fabric designers themselves and their processes and stories.”
Poole added, “Many times, when designers are written about, the focus is the designer’s latest collection.”
Sarah Stemen, a senior editor at the Princeton Architectural Press, said, “We wanted readers, crafters, sewers, and interior designers to have a ‘go-to’ book about today’s most exciting and inspiring fabric designers.”
“At Princeton Architectural Press, we focus on art, design, architecture and beyond,” said Stemen. “Fabrics and textiles play a huge role in how we experience our surroundings; from the clothes we wear to the patterns and colors we select to enliven our homes. What is the story behind these designs?”
Although she could see Navajo designs from the United States’ Southwest, Seymour’s story was that she wasn’t finding any designs that represented her indigenous people. So, she created her own line.
Through her enterprise Indigo Arrows, Seymour incorporates and highlights the Anishinaabe’s pottery motifs and bone tools on linen pillows, table runners, napkins and other textiles. She draws inspiration (no pun intended) from the shards of pottery in the Manitoba Museum collections. The artifacts range in age from 400 to 3,000 years old.
Seymour’s personal story is just one of many in “Modern Fabric.” From around the world, the profiled fabric designers are many and range widely from Bari J. Ackerman in Arizona to Yumi Yoshomoto in Yamanashi and, closer to home, Erin Flett in Gorham. From so many to choose from, how did the book’s authors winnow their list of prospective subjects?
Aesthetically speaking, Poole and Gilchrist’s primary criteria was whether the designer’s fabric would be a fit for Fiddlehead Artisan Supply. Diversity was also figured in their selection of subjects. The authors said they didn’t want to just present the most established designers or those representing one element of the fabric design industry.
Poole and Gilchrist then interviewed the 25 designers in person, via email and by telephone. They also attended the annual The Quilt Market in Houston, where they landed interviews with some of the biggest names in the fabric world, including Kaffe Fassett (rhymes with “safe asset”).
Fassett was the first living designer to have an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1988 and is known for colorful, extravagant designs.
They also searched for less known designers.
“We wanted to feature a range of modern design styles and methods and types of production,” they wrote in the wrote in the “Modern Fabric” preface. “We found a broad array: designers who work with fabric companies and those designing independently, those who design for large-scale production and those who screen print or block print their own designs.”
The book is packed with vivid, colorful photographs of each designer’s work as well as their workspaces. The images capture their processes for designing and in some cases manufacturing their pieces.
Gilchrist curated the photos for which there were thousands of possibilities. The designers supplied most of the photos, but Gilchrist shot a few herself.
“It was just so much work to go through all the photos,” she said. Some designers would send a carefully edited package of photos that they felt best represented their work while others simply sent a Dropbox link for all of their images and said “have at it.”
“I worked really hard to match the photos to the text and have all the images work together,” Gilchrist said.
What defines modern fabric exactly? There is no easy answer.
“Initially, we thought there was a definition for modern fabric,” Poole said “But, it’s an overall indefinable aesthetic and each has their own take on that.”
“Kaffe Fassett and [New York designer] Giuseppe A. Ribaudo design fabric for the projects they have in their heads,” Poole said. “They’re designing very particular fabrics in order to make the quilts they want to make. Either because they couldn’t find the fabric they were dreaming of or had specific ideas.”
Other designers are inspired by trends on social media or historical textiles and imagery or just deep thoughts about their work.
“Destiny [Seymour] is bringing her ancestors forward,” Poole said. “They’re of course gorgeous fabrics for anyone as well.”
Destiny Seymour sums up her aim in the Indigo Arrows website’s about page:
“For thousands of years, indigenous peoples in Manitoba, including my Anishinaabe ancestors, created beautiful patterns to adorn their pottery collections and host of bone tools,” she writes. “Most of the surviving pieces are held by museums now, but I think the world needs more than exhibition. We need these patterns in our homes provoking thought; we need them bridging gaps; and, we need them inspiring our loved ones. The Indigo Arrows line picks up where my ancestors left off.”
“Modern Fabric” can be purchased online or at Fiddlehead Artisan Supply at 64 Main St. in Belfast. To learn more about the shop, visit fiddleheadartisansupply.com. To learn more about Amelia Poole and her fabric designs, visit ecouturetextilestudio.com.