In the Creative Cafe today, the splendidly talented textile artist Deborah Main of Deborah Main Designs. Deborah shares her inspiration, passion for designing with vintage fabrics and jewelry and her sage advice to creatives.
I am inspired by the things I see around me. This could be nature, everyday objects, a painting, an architectural design, the latest fashion, or on the hunt for fabric. The creative inspiration starts when I discover striking materials and design, like a 1950s’ cocktail dress, a spool of colorful ribbon, or a unique textured fabric. I found one incredible 1960s’ gown its colorful wool and metallic fibers were absolutely irresistible! I then begin to imagine how these “found” objects can be fashioned into a fresh, dynamic way and I envision them as artistic pillows. Part of my inspiration also stems from being aware of my surroundings and open to seeing things in unusual ways. The world is full of layers upon layers of texture and color. A simple walk in the park might produce inspiration; I don’t look for it, it finds me!
Textile art and design attracts me because it is endlessly fascinating. To me, textiles, fiber and design present opportunities to explore color, texture, shape and form, all the things that make our world special and different. The materials exemplify a historical tradition of fine craftsmanship and artistry that I greatly value. I strive to rework what I see into a contemporary design that’s fresh and new, but can also be shared with generations to come. These textiles and designs not only speak to the moment, but carry forward a sense of timeless history and meaningful stories. And because of this, I relish in finding the unique in the ordinary. That’s what truly attracts me and gives me the opportunity to explore and create my textile art.
If not creating textile art, I would still pursue something related to the arts for sure – perhaps as a painter or photographer. But there is something about making use of these extraordinary materials and bringing a new and different perspective to them that really excites me. I can’t imagine not being involved with textiles, because I love the richness of color, the visual interest of texture, and the stories behind each piece I create.
Being an artist is woven into every aspect of my life, from collecting textiles to envisioning new designs. During the past 10 years, I’ve created a massive collection of unique materials from vintage apparel and jewelry to rare French trim and new silk brocades. When I manipulate the textiles, looking at them from a different viewpoint, I see endless design possibilities. Like an artist, my materials are my paints, and the pillow my canvas.
The most recent textile art-related book I’ve read and would recommend is “Once Upon A Pillow” by Rebecca Vizard, another artist who works with antique rare textiles and trim. She shares her personal story and how her work with textiles evolved over time. I’m inspired and fascinated by other artists and designers’ stories of how they got started in the business. And the textiles themselves have stories as well. I have one basket of gorgeous French metallic trim that I collected yard by yard over several years and Rebecca has two shelves of about 20 baskets of all the different shades of golden trim. After reading her book, I feel I’ve only skimmed the surface! Rebecca’s story and designs greatly motivate me to collect more of these rare materials.
I would definitely recommend this book because it ties in the history of Rebecca’s life with the history of the textiles and how it is all interconnected. I relate to Rebecca’s experience on a personal level as my business is based on the history of my Main family heritage, and the heirloom-quality textiles and jewelry that were passed down to me. So it’s very important for me to read books that share artists’ life stories, their love of textiles, and the designs they create. Books like these inspire me to work harder and continue to follow my passion to make beautiful pillows.
The most challenging artistic project I’ve undertaken was my very first custom order in 2004 using antique beaded shelf-liners and most recently a Pillow Art Challenge for BD West Design Fair. They both involved working with new and different materials and problem solving. I had never worked with antique textiles before and the client asked me to transform two gorgeous Victorian hand-beaded shelf-liners into pillows. To overcome this challenge, I had to learn more about antique textiles to figure out a way to protect the Victorian beading, how to sew and ruche a fragile Victorian velvet cape, and hand stitch the beading without damaging it. Basically, to solve this design problem, I created a box pillow with a high trim so that the beading would be inset and more protected.
For the Pillow Art Challenge, there were few guidelines on size or materials. I used unique items from a vintage black leather belt with wooden beads, and vintage chinchilla fur to antique French trim. The challenge was creating a design that incorporated these beautiful, yet very different, textured materials with varying thickness, into something modern. I played around with the supplies I selected, creating layers upon layers, trying lace and other textiles as the backdrop to the vintage belt. Then I was faced with how to sew on the belt. I took it to a shoe repair shop and asked them to cut the belt in a way that preserved an edge to work with. Thankfully, it worked!
Both were very challenging projects requiring me to be creative, do research, think outside of the box, and problem solve. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time, because I never know how the final product will look until it is completed.
My creative endeavors have from the very beginning forced me to step outside my comfort zone because I never considered myself an artist or designer. I had to learn how to sew, understand textiles, and market myself and my product. Basically, I was thrust into becoming an entrepreneur, running every single aspect of a small business. Little did I know that my creative endeavor would put me there and open up the exciting worlds of fashion, vintage, textiles, art, interior design, tradeshows, blogging, and more.
In my first year, I stepped into the world of vintage with a local shop owner and collector that very quickly became my mentor and taught me everything I know about vintage textiles and jewelry. And to my good fortune, she loved my designs so much, she gave me access to her private collection of textiles.
My creative vision gave me a hunger to learn all I could about new and vintage textiles and trim, and the cultures where some of my materials came from. For example, I traveled back to China, where we adopted our daughter, and met small shopkeepers and learned how to select beautiful silk brocades. I was also fortunate enough to travel to Suzhou along the historic Silk Road and see for myself the silk worms and old wooden looms that weave these gorgeous textiles.
Most recently, this past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy which was incredibly inspiring. A dear milliner friend who studied textile restoration and taught me about working with antique textiles, reminded me about Fortuny being on Giudecca island near Venice. Luckily our hotel was right across the island! So a very special part of that trip was scheduling a private tour at the Fortuny factory and showroom. That visit to Fortuny turned out to not just be a step away from the usual tourist destinations, but a huge inspiration that opened up a whole new world for me revolving around the history and traditions in textile making.
I have found that when we’re thrust forward into other worlds, there are such enriching cultural experiences and relationships awaiting us. I met so many incredible people along the way, heard fascinating stories, learned more than I ever new possible, was fortunate to have mentors, and created lifelong friendships all over the world. These cultural experiences have helped me see the world in a whole different inspiring light.
The project I dream about creating someday with no limits or boundaries on time or money? I’d hop on a plane tomorrow to Paris and shop at all the flea markets collecting vintage French Passementerie. Actually, I’d fly all over the world on the hunt for textiles and trim. I love meeting the shopkeepers and learning everything I can about textiles. Also, I guess you could say the biggest project I truly dream of creating is building my design empire with my 20 year old daughter and exploring the world with her. We have big plans together and bigger dreams. We even have a name for the company, but I’m not revealing anything quite yet.
My advice to those who feel the call to pursue their creative dreams is to just do it! Don’t wait for enough money, enough time or anything. When the creative spark comes, run with it as fast as you can. I had an artistic epiphany in a textile store and knew immediately that something special happened and I was going to become an artist. People follow their dreams in many different ways. Some have a business plan and financial backing. Others, like me, just let it evolve and reveal itself over time. It helped tremendously that my husband had a full time job which gave me the opportunity to explore the textile and design business before I jumped in with both feet. There is no wrong or right way to pursue your creativity. You’ve got to take risks. If you’re lucky enough to discover it, then own it, explore it, and watch it take you to worlds you never dreamed of. Your creativity is a beautiful thing and will set you free in so many ways!