Last Friday I spent a delightful few hours in the Gloucestershire countryside at a Studio Open Day held by Vanessa Arbuthnott, the fabric designer. I have been a fan of her work for some time so I was keen to see where the designs are created and to hear the story of their creation from the lady herself.
The Vanessa Arbuthnott Studio is located in the most beautiful setting next to her family home in some converted old farm buildings surrounded by several acres of garden and woodlands. The fabric business operates from the ground floor with Vanessa’s studio upstairs which is a multi-purpose space where Vanessa runs art classes for children and community groups.
I really like Vanessa’s fabrics because of the peaceful and muted colour pallet she uses which makes them easy to use in a lot of different settings. There are always plenty of complementing patterns combining her quintessentially English nature themes from nature with simple spots and stripes for a very pleasing effect.
Vanessa explained how she began the business after a career in the NHS and as a primary school teacher where she discovered her artistic talent during craft lessons with the children. Unable to take the ceramics course she was hoping for, she opted instead for textile printing where she learned the principles that she now employs so well.
While renovating their old farmhouse Vanessa realised she needed lots of curtain fabric to dress the old window frames they had imported from France so she used her newly learned skills to create the first Vanessa Arbuthnott originals. After renting the house for a photoshoot, a magazine ran an article about Vanessa and her fabrics and it was suggested that she try marketing them and the rest, as they say, is history.
Vanessa is a strong advocate of a more responsible approach to business reinvesting a percentage of all sales in the support of social projects and the arts. This ethical approach is carried throughout her business and particularly in her choice of raw materials. For example she only buys certified organic cotton which is combined with eco-friendly flax to create a unique linen union which is used for most of her printed and plain fabrics.
Vanessa’s passion for a more natural, simple approach is evident in every aspect of the operation. Her studio is heated by an air to air heat pump and solar panels, the sample room is insulated with sheep’s wool, they use recycled paper and biodegradable cardboard, and their own waste paper is shredded and used as bedding for their ducks and chickens that in turn becomes compost for the vegetable patch.
I found her to be an inspirational personality and really enjoyed meeting with her. Listening to her stories of running her business single handed, cutting and bagging her own samples and the challenges she has faced in pursuit of her vision of excellence in the finished product brought back many memories of the early days of Denton Drapes. Vanessa has achieved so much because of her passion for her craft and her refusal to accept second best.
I am really pleased to have made the trip and met this amazing lady. My clients love her fabrics and we have been able to create some really special soft furnishings using pieces from her wonderful range. For a natural, simple but stylish English look using organic materials Vanessa Arbuthnott has to be top of the list.