Meet the Maker – Kate Rowe
When textile designer Kate Rowe‘s son was diagnosed with severe autism, she gave up her job in the fashion industry to be at home and help the family adjust. Being restricted by where she could work, Kate started making and selling her own embroidered textiles, which she found gave her a sense of creative fulfilment. Her style is inspired by mid-century design and all her embroideries are stitched by hand, so she can work on them anywhere and look after her son at the same time. We caught up with Kate to find out more about her textiles, her influences, and the difference craft has made to her life…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hello, My name is Kate Rowe and I live in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire. I’m a textile designer and I create hand-embroidered bags and accessories.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t create things. When I was a child that was how I played – by making things.
Have you always been interested in making?
It feels like I’ve been making things all my life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t create things. When I was a child that was how I played – by making things. My friend and I embarked on a very ambitious project to create a big doll’s house and furniture for our Sasha dolls (do you remember them?). We made a fireplace with sweet wrappers for the fire that we were very proud of.
Where did you learn your craft?
After studying fashion design at Epsom School of Art and Design (now part of The University for the Creative Arts), I worked in the fashion industry in London. I worked for 15 years in the trade and learned many techniques and skills from some amazing people. For the last five years of work, I used a CAD system developing embroideries, prints and recolours for high street chain stores. This was lovely work and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
My son is at the very severe end of the spectrum and I’m unable to work outside of the home. However in the past year or so we’ve been given more respite, which means a little more time to myself… and I thought perhaps it was time to make things to sell.
How did you make that leap from making to selling?
When my son was two years old he was diagnosed with autism. He is now 16 and at the very severe end of the spectrum. He attends a school for pupils with severe learning difficulties and I’m unable to work outside of the home. This was difficult at first as I really missed being at work. However in the past year or so we’ve been given more respite, which means a little more time to myself. At first I made lots of things for the house and when I realised I wouldn’t be able to crush another cushion on to the sofa, I thought perhaps it was time to make things to sell.
Your pieces are very distinctive and original. How did you find your style?
My style has come about, I think, because of all the visual research I consciously and unconsciously do. I like to design all my own fabric prints and this means I’m creating all the components that go into a piece. I think mixing up themes can give an original edge – for example, Scandinavian looking birds with a botanical flower. Colour is very important to me as well and I try to create cohesive colour stories across the pieces. My embroideries are all stitched by hand. I deliberately chose to work this way, so I can work on them anywhere and look after my son at the same time.
I love to look at mid-century things and have been inspired by all sorts of influences from this period, particularly ceramics.
Your embroideries have a mid-century feel to them. Are there any designers from this period who you particularly admire?
I do love to look at mid-century things and have been inspired by all sorts of influences from this period, particularly ceramics. I have always loved ceramics and my current favourites are Hornsea Pottery, Lisa Larson, Bertil Vallien and I love Poole Pottery – Delphis Ware and I’ve collected a few inspiring pieces of this. My enduring favourite, however, has to be Susie Cooper, particularly the 1950s coffee sets.
I like to design all my own fabric prints and this means I’m creating all the components that go into a piece.
Where else do you look for inspiration?
My husband also shares an interest in this mid-century style, so we go out on a mid-century trip if we can! We are lucky enough to have The Henry Moore Foundation right on our doorstep and nearby Harlow Town has some amazing sculptures and buildings. Harlow Town’s architect Frederick Gibberd lived just outside Harlow and we often visit his garden and house, which are open to the public. Gibberd’s house and Henry Moore’s house are just so wonderful, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1950s. We also spend lots of time outdoors in the nearby countryside, often along the River Stort. I regularly bring back wild flowers or leaves and this has definitely influenced some of my floral embroideries.
Can you explain how you make your textiles – where do you start?
When starting a new idea I always begin with a fabric print. I make sketches and doodles of ideas based on something I’ve been looking at and it evolves into a tangible print idea. I then scan the sketch and trace the design with my Wacom pen on our computer – this makes it easy to experiment with colourways. Digital printing on to cloth is next, which is ordered online. The embroidery designs usually flow on from the finished print design. I don’t stick to the rules for the embroidery threads, I tend to use whatever looks right, particularly if it adds texture. The final stage is machining up the product on the sewing machine and any hand finishing is done at the very end.
I don’t stick to the rules for the embroidery threads, I tend to use whatever looks right, particularly if it adds texture.
Can you describe your workspace?
I used to work at the kitchen table and everything was kept under a long bench in the dining room. However, this meant everything had to be put away before my children came home from school and set out again the next day. So in February my little garden studio was completed! This has been a life changer for me, as it really is a room of my own. I can have all my things out all the time. I can be untidy if I want to or super neat – it’s totally my space. I just close the door when school is over and carry on where I left off the next day.
My garden studio has been a life changer for me, as it really is a room of my own.
The studio is a wooden-clad box shape, 2.5 metres squared and I love it! Every spare minute is spent in the studio and my productivity and passion for working on my pieces has rapidly increased. The hand embroideries are mostly completed inside the house in the evenings or school holidays.
Every spare minute is spent in my studio and my productivity and passion for working on my pieces has rapidly increased.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is my way of communicating and interacting with the world. My situation means that I’m quite restricted and craft gives me a sense of fulfilment and purpose, something creative all of my own that I can wrap around my family. Anyone who has a piece of my craft is getting a little bit of my personality as well.
Use discount code MIDCENTURY for 10% off all Kate’s textiles – only valid until 13 November 2016