Twenty-seven years ago, textile designer Julie started the company Cloth, which became hugely respected for its wonderful fabrics drawing inspiration from the bush. Then she moved to Blackheath. Here she talks about creating a new existence, and her forthcoming exhibition.
Michael: How did it all start?
Julie: I was arty as a working class kid growing up in Britain, but Margaret Thatcher told us we all had to get a job. My art teacher was a textile designer, and I chose that because it was creative but with employment possibilities.
Michael: You came to Australia on a working holiday in 1989?
Julie: I found there was actually more creative freedom in Australia than Britain at the time. I started doing designs inspired by the bush and the landscape. That’s more common now, but it wasn’t then - sometimes it takes a foreigner to see things with fresh eyes. I started Cloth in 1995.
Michael: My wife and I have some of your work on our chairs and lampshades – it’s beautiful and it’s lasted well. Who does your printing?
Julie: A guy in Wagga, he’s been doing it for 27 years, all by hand screen-printing. Most people digitally print fabric now. I use the old technique because of the potential for little errors and mistakes, I love that. I like the process to inform the result. I think Scott is the only person still printing textiles that way in the state.
Michael: How did you cope with running a business, not just designing the textiles but manufacturing and selling and marketing and distributing and having staff?
Julie: I’ve always been entrepreneurial. The secret is, if I can’t do anything, I get someone else to do it, like the actual printing. I hired a bookkeeper straight away too, because I’m hopeless at paperwork. I wanted to create an environment where I was in control of the things that matter to me.
Michael: But you like working with people too, don’t you?
Julie: I like teaching and drawing people into design, helping them engage with their own creativity. It makes people happy, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Michael: Why move to the Blue Mountains?
Julie: I’d been coming here to a friend’s place for visits, and found it inspirational. The Cloth shop became very busy with people dropping in all the time; up here I got a lot of design work done. Then the global financial crisis hit, and sales dropped off. I struggled on for a while but started to wonder why I was driving myself so hard? It had got pretty stressful. In the end I closed the shop in Sydney and moved up here, four or five years ago. It’s been wonderful, I have time to design and teach and paint, and do the things I’m passionate about.
Michael: Did moving to the Mountains changed your designs?
Julie: Not much, because I’ve always been inspired by the bush, and a lot of my designs were created up here anyway.
Michael: Still, it sounds like quite a change?
Julie: I’m not sure what shape this new creative life will take. Covid knocked things around again, and I’m still trying to work it out. I’m working harder than ever in my life, but in this wonderful environment. We have 29 acres on the edge of Blackheath, mainly bush with a few cottages we lease out.
Michael: It’s an interesting challenge, isn’t it? I know quite a few older creative people who are struggling with that, wanting to change the way they do things, but definitely not stop.
Julie: Yes. It’s about getting the right balance.
Michael: Do you have a favourite place here?
Julie: My partner Amanda and I have a rock near Evans Lookout we like to sit on. We call it the Hard Rock.
Michael: Tell us about your project EverySevenDays.
Julie: I’d love people to participate in this. I spent a year creating ephemeral artwork each day during my walks, with things like leaves and stones, and putting them up on Instagram. I wanted to show it’s not hard to be creative, you can get inspiration from anything around you. It got a great uptake from people who wanted to do it themselves. So I had the idea of posting a theme once a week and giving people seven days to create their own artwork. There are thousands of people around the world doing it now, we’re in our third year and I’m working with a mental health organisation to make it more accessible. It’s such a joy, it makes people feel better. It’s very rewarding.
Michael: Tell us about the exhibition.
Julie: I’ve been in business so long now that people ask me to mend my old fabric for them. The exhibition is about mending and making do. Lots of sewing. Lots of fixing things up.
Her exhibition ‘Modest Fancies’ is at the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery 2 July to 27 August.