Friday Favorites: Maker Carola van Dyke
Thank you all for your kind words on my New Day Northwest appearance!
I am inspired by so many things, I decided that every Friday, I will highlight a favorite person, thing, or idea. Maybe you will be inspired too! See all past Friday Favorites here.
I was looking online at Anthropologie recently and came across the beautiful work of Carola van Dyke. She has a selection of pillows for sale through them, and when I looked further into what she does, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of uniquely beautiful textile taxidermy, ceramics, and cushions.
I asked Carola if I could ask her some questions and, although she’s in the midst of a very important deadline, she said yes! Lucky us! Enjoy the interview and all the beautiful imagery handpicked by Carola for us to enjoy.
beautiful cushions by Carola van Dyke
Blair: Thank you Carola, for taking the time to let us into your creative world! I stumbled upon your beautiful cushions on the Anthropologie website recently and found myself spending time on your website, looking at all the things you do! For starters, could you tell us where you are located, how you describe your work, and how long you’ve been doing it?
Carola: I went to a College of Fine Arts in the Netherlands and have a BA in fashion illustration and Textiles. I moved to England having received a stipend as a promising young artist and worked as a fashion illustrator, artist and scenic painter over a few years. I then set up my own textile business, Tiny Tulips, starting with children’s wear, and that evolved into a collection of soft furnishings under my own name in 2010. I did my first big trade show with them in London in 2011 and was lucky enough to be discovered by a retail expert (Mary Portas) who then bought 200 cushions to start with! As a lone designer and maker, I realised I had to get some help in, and trained some local machinists.
I live and work in the countryside in Firle, England, at the foot of the South Downs.
I design cushions and textile taxidermy heads using a combination of new and old fabrics.
I have a passionate love & need for colour, tactility and texture and they all play a significant role in my work.
Although sometimes described as a patchwork artist, I have to admit I am not so keen on this term! I see my work more as textile collage. Although admiring traditional patchwork, my aim has always been to take it out of its predictable confines and put it in a new setting.
My style and trademark originated from having access to only small scraps of vintage curtains collected over the years and continental fabrics left over from Tiny Tulips collections. As I also painted, I wanted to combine my paintings and textiles to create pictures, but not by painting on textiles. This wouldn’t satisfy my need for textures, mismatches and the contrasts of colours, textures and layers. It needed to be quirky, intricate, and with a sense of humour. So the process of drawing with a pair of scissors started and hand-cut pieces are mixed like a painter uses a palette till an illustration appears.
A selection of Carola’s handmade animal cushions.
Blair: Your cushions are what originally caught my eye, the ones that are carried by Anthropologie. Can you give us a little peek into how that collaboration happened? Are there plans for more (I hope!)?
Carola: I was originally approached by Anthropologie UK. The head buyer spotted my cushions in a tiny little rug shop in Brighton, a town near me. The owner has supported me from the moment I started, so it was great that it happened there. In their enthusiasm they told Anthropologie US about me. The US department contacted me straight away, and we agreed on a small collection to start with. This was sold out in 2 weeks, so they ordered more and we managed to make them in a very short time, while all the orders went on in the UK as well!
I very much hope there will be a continuation, quite often these plans will be brought to each others attention just before the Fall buying starts. We have spoken about bespoke designs for the textile taxidermy heads, but it usually takes a bit of time before things are finalised.
The Anthropologie link has been wonderful for us as an introduction to the US market. We very much like to continue and hope more American department stores will spot us.
Love these bird pillows!
Blair: The mix of fabrics in each of your cushions seem to be gathered and unlikely paired (which I mean in a very complimentary way). I love the sort of magpie feeling. How do you start these pieces? Do you let instinct be your guide when picking fabrics? Or are they planned and sewn to work with certain color ranges?
Carola: I pick up bits and pieces of fabric wherever I go. The vintage curtains, blankets, buttons are bought at flea markets, carboot sales, secondhand shops, antique stalls, hand-me-downs (the people in our village know I am always on the scrounge for old fabrics- curtains, and there is quite often a bin bag with note left at the back door), but also online.
I buy end of line rolls from British factories, which will otherwise be destroyed. I need some sort of continuity for the cushions and a bit for the heads, as people often want exactly what they have seen in that magazine, at that show etc. When I go buying, I literally buy anything that I feel I can use at some point, but with no particular idea in mind. Sometimes they stay unused for a few months until the right design comes up and they are just perfect for the job.
I use the vintage fabrics mainly for smaller parts in my work and as contrast with the tweeds and linens. I buy those in the same way as the new fabrics, if it feels right, just buy it, an utter intuitive decision-making process!
For the heads I also use kilim rugs, which can be found at auctions, and house clearances etc.
They all go through a cleaning process, the curtains in the wash, and the rugs are vigorously scrubbed and furiously steamed, to be then sorted to colour and placed in a huge cabinet with the others in my studio.
I love using fabrics that contrast each other, the warm tweeds together with colder silks, the soft velvet with the harsh linen, fragile fabrics with pitted rough ones. You can actually put a whole world of colours and textures together, you just need the confidence (and some experience, knowledge and bit of talent) to do it right.
I have 100s of fabrics in my studio, and when I design, everything gets pulled of its shelves and put into place till I have found the right one.
I sketch the animal portraits first till I have a good composition, but the rest is more of an intuitive decision- as if I think through my hands. The shapes change in a spontaneous action (hand-eye co-ordination with a pair of scissors), just do and create!
The top stitching is all done on very old industrial machines, not modern freehand ones, to create a rough looking sketch, not a perfect embroidery. I love the rough sketching style of the machines, some lines are stitched too far, the length of the stitch is different all the time or you have to go over it a few times, like a drawing.
I know usually what colour and texture I have in mind for a certain design. I will then be on the look out for fabrics, blankets, throws, rugs that are close to what I have in mind and buy them all. I will create the final design with the ones that work best, and pull out all the other materials that I have bought a previous time. But sometimes it doesn’t quite work out as well as I thought and I will need to abandon the new fabrics, as something that has been in my studio for ages is the perfect answer. This does mean that the entire design has to be changed, because of that small change you made with not having the right bit of vintage fabric!
For practicality, I can’t use something that I only have a small piece of (in the cushions). I need to be able to repeat the process, and even if it is the most amazing piece of fabric, colour , texture, everything, I cannot use that piece. Those pieces will go in a special box and will go to my one off art works.
I frequently run out of my vintage fabrics, but the pieces will then be replaced with something similar, that fits in well. You never really find the same fabrics, but that is fine. It keeps the cushions exciting, fresh, limited edition etc
Blair: Do you have a dedicated sewing space? Tell us about it.
Carola: I work in a lovely studio which we share with 4 other artists, it is a converted cow barn, so a nice old feeling to it, with plenty of space and outbuildings for storage etc.
For years my part of the studio was rather small, but (kind of luckily!) my neighbour moved out so I could double my space, which has been fantastic.
One of Carola’s textile taxidermy pieces.
Blair: Another thing that attracted me to your work is the wide variety of beautiful things you do. Your create textile taxidermy pieces, cushions, ceramic pieces, and you’re also a painter. Because I, myself, feel creative in many different mediums, I’m always curious to know how others handle wearing so many different creative hats. For example, I know for me, some days I want to paint, but there’s fabric everywhere and it’s just not practical! How do you divide your time among your creative pursuits? What would you like to have time to do more of?
Carola: I have to be honest and admit that there is not much time for my paintings anymore and had to stop all commissions. The cushions and textile heads have officially taken over!
But as the cushions are a kind of painting (with textiles) anyway, it is ok. Also, I have plans to get the painting back into my textiles, not sure exactly how, but a combination of painting and my textile fabric combination with stitching, should make beautiful wall hangings and wall paper I would have thought.
The ceramics is a collaboration with a company called Magpie, I provide the work, they sort out the ceramics. In the UK it has been a fantastic success, so exciting to see! They will launch a sister company in the US soon, which will be very interesting to see what response the ceramics, and therefore hopefully the cushions will get.
Blair: Where do you find inspiration? How do you break out of a creative slump?
Carola: As a textile lover I do have many books relating to the subject, from history of textiles, textiles around the world, lifestyle & interior books, and take inspiration from them, as well as museums, galleries, flea markets, artists, my Dutch inheritage (colour, design and quirkiness) and my environment in the countryside.
My favourites are old Turkish rug patterns, Suzani’s, Kimono’s, Sibella Court’s books, Vermeer’s colour schemes, Eastern European interiors, paper collage, Jean Paul Gaultier (“The only way to stay ahead of the game is by staying true to oneself”), natural curiosities, folk art, etc
At the moment there is no time for creative slumps, there are so many ideas, but not enough time to visualise them all.
Blair: Tell us what is next for you, what will 2014 bring?
Carola: As I have only done UK shows, I thought I might be ready for the Paris show, Maison et Objet. I would also like to do a few more design shows instead of retail shows and hopefully find commissions for the cushions, wallpanels, and heads for bespoke designs for fashion houses, upmarket department stores etc.
A new range of ceramics will be released this year (“pooches”, lovely range of ceramics with dog textile images) Other plans are wall hangings, rugs, wallpaper and maybe conquer the rest of the world??
Blair: And lastly, how do you relax?
Carla: Haha, well, am not so good with that, there isn’t always the time. But, I have a lovely family,: husband and 2 children. We enjoy going for a cycle ride in the weekend and pop into a pub for lunch or just pudding. I have lovely girlfriends as well, and a glass of wine between us is always fun and such a laugh.
I start the mornings with a brisk walk up to the beacon with a girl friend, and my husband has the coffee ready on my way home! Working in the studio is great with the others, there is always time for a chat and a laugh.
I love cooking a family meal, and always enjoy our time together eating it. And always read before bedtime, preferably a dreadful thriller!
Thank you so much for taking the time Carola! You can find selected pillows made by Carola on the Anthropologie site, more on her own website.
Enjoy your Friday everyone!