Hannah is the Creative Director for the wonderful Lewis and Irene fabrics. The family run fabric company is named after Hannah’s grandparents, who she tells us “created a close and loving family despite both coming from difficult backgrounds.” Hannah lives in Romsey with her husband and 9 year old son and is part of a small passionate team who love nothing more than seeing their designs come to life. Hannah is more creative and design than sewing and we love the way she has adjusted our questions to suit.
Who/what inspired you to take up design and how old were you?
My background is in creative marketing and advertising. It has always included lots of design elements. I’ve been involved with several luxury brands over the years but I’ve always been around fabric as my Dad has been in the textiles business for all of my life. I can remember spending the day in a textiles design studio in London as a child in the 80’s and I clearly remember painting with metallics, so I guess my part in Lewis & Irene was always meant to be!
What was your first successful design – do you have a picture
Lewis & Irene’s first designs were delivered to fabric stores in late April 2014. We’ve grown as a company really quickly and often people forget how small we are in comparison to some of our competitors. Jaynie is our designer and for next Christmas (2020) we have also worked with Eva Melhuish, a lovely illustrator whose work I really admire. As Creative Director I pull ideas together and come up with concepts. We are all friends as well as colleagues. Jaynie and I work together daily as we tweak designs, colour them and discuss ideas. It’s an absolute pleasure to put together our fabric collections and although we have tight deadlines we manage to create at least 22 collections each year! Dad, with his wealth of textiles experience will often come in and look at what we are doing and put in a suggestion here and there. Ben, my brother is our sales director and everyone in the office gets to see the designs as they take shape. Lots of love and care is put into every design.
What inspires your designs?
Our designs are inspired by a combination of our own experiences and interior trends. I live in the New Forest and only half an hour away from the beach so I feel lucky to be surrounded by nature. As a team we are inspired differently so collaboratively we are never short of ideas. Some of our collections are quite personal. ‘Down by the River’ and ‘The Water Meadows’ for example are inspired by the Water Meadows behind my house and ‘Forme’ is inspired by Jaynie’s artwork and jewellery.
Do you have a favourite designer current or past?
I mostly follow fashion, interior and architectural designers. I love the colour and patterns of Missoni. Italian design houses always seem to attract me the most. For interior style I love Vicky Charles who was previously head of design for Soho House. I’m inspired by so many artists that it’s hard to choose just a few.
You create fabulous fabric – do you sew if so please tell us more?
I don’t sew but my personal stash of fabric are all on 10 metre bolts as that is how we sell it! I always have to have a few each season. When we design we always think of lots of things that we’d like to make! I’d love to sew but creatively I enjoy sketching and a bit of painting so I don’t find the time. Being part of a small team we all wear so many hats. The US side of our business is expanding and I am responsible for business development and growth as well as the creative side. As a mum of a busy 9 year old boy I’m often wishing for more hours in the day. I would LOVE to be able to quilt though. One day I’ll make one .. it’s on my to do list!
What do you consider your best piece of work?
On fabric, one of my favourites is our first glow in the dark collection ‘Fairy Lights’. It was so much fun to do when Jaynie and I decided which parts should glow. I loved our little fairy in a window of a tree house that looks fantastic in the dark. We try to design happy fabric and collections like ‘Fairy Lights’ allows us to bring out our inner child! It’s not difficult for us to do that to be honest! Life is too short not to have fun when you can. Our favourite fabric design changes regularly as we always like what we are working on at that moment the best and when that finishes it’s the next thing!
What is your favourite tool or gadget?
Totally not work related but I just bought my husband a really fancy coffee machine and it’s amazing!! Without that I’m not sure my days would start as well.
You work in the family business – have you worked anywhere else?
Apart from my background in creative marketing I’ve lived in Italy and Greece. I spent several years living in Milan where I taught English. Before settling down and refocusing on my career I spent almost two years on a Greek island living in a little village. I shipped my car there and enjoyed lots of stress free, sunny days! I really appreciated taking that time out and it was a priceless experience.
Do you have a favourite colour to work in?
If you mean clothes then it will always be black. I love black. Although yellow and orange are some of my favourite colours, I rarely wear them. When designing fabric though I’m still attracted to the dark colours more. I love to see colours pop when you put them on a darker ground.
What type of fabric would you choose to work with?
Our fabric! Ours is A+ grade cotton. It has a soft handle to it and we always use the same mill and engravers. Our cotton is sourced as part of the ‘Better Cotton Initiative’ which supports cotton farmers in sustainability.
My advice to a new designer would be ………………….?
Find your own style. We deliberately don’t look at what other people are doing in the same industry. You also need to adapt to your market.
What is the piece of work that has driven you mad/been a disaster?
‘Buddha gate’ as we now call it in the office! It happened a few years ago. As a family we are very close. We work together and still choose to holiday together so we actually all really do like each other. Not so when it came to whether we should put a really cute buddha into a design! The design, in my opinion, was fantastic but others insisted on it being removed so to cut a long story short, what should have been a symbol of peace and love turned into an almighty family row! It was removed and I sulkily hated that entire collection. I still do! Thankfully we can laugh about it now!
Who (famous person alive or historical) would you love to create something for?
I’d love to be able to show my Grandma, Irene (or Reenie as she was known) what we’ve done. Both my Grandma and Grandad (Lewis) would have been delighted at the company we have created in their name. They were very special people. Irene was my best friend as well as my Grandma and although she passed away many years ago from ovarian cancer I still miss her so much. To have their name on our fabric is my proudest creation. Right now though, I’d love to create something for the Queen. As the longest reigning monarch I think she has done an amazing job. I think she is an incredible woman.
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy
I wish I had time for more of them. I really enjoy going to a monthly sketchbook club. I go to pilates. I like reading a good book and I collect illustration books. I have a lovely little dog called Teddy, a Jackapoo so half toy poodle, half Jack Russell. Most of all I love spending time with my family and friends. Cooking nice food is always a pleasure. I love the beach. That’s my special place.
What’s your best creative background music or what do you listen to when designing?
In the office we always have Capital radio on! Our office is always full of laugher and chatter. I’d find it very strange to work in a calm and quiet environment. The more noise and activity, the more I like it!
Are you an early riser or a night bird?
I have to get up early to do the school run and then get to work but by choice I could stay up every night until the early hours. I can’t sleep before 11pm but when I fall asleep I’m gone until the alarm goes off!
Who in the sewing/crafting/design world do you most admire?
I think William Morris designs are fabulous. They never get old. But I admire anyone who can create anything in any art form. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see our fabric used and what people make with it .. whether that be in a quilt, a dress, a cushion… anything. It’s a genuine thrill. I love it.
Do you have a favourite made item from one of your designs?
My Christmas table setting with tablecloth, runner and napkins made with some of our Tomten (Christmas gnome) fabric by Sally Ablett. (available in Jun 2020
What was your proudest moment in your career?
Seeing Lewis & Irene fabric in a quilt store in Missouri. We randomly stopped at a store on a trip to the US and were elated to find our fabric there. To know how far it travels is such a great feeling.
How do you celebrate Christmas?
For three years out of the last five I have been in Finland for Christmas and New Year with my husband, son, parents, brother and sister-in-law. We stay in a wooden lodge in a small village in the far north. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. Christmas is magical there. This year we’re at home and all of us are staying at my parent’s house on Christmas Eve until the 27th. I love spending time with my family and just being together. We’ll be playing games and enjoying festive food and drinks for the duration.
Eclectic Maker are a major supplier of Lewis & Irene fabrics – pop over to our website to see the fabric ranges we stock
See more of Hannahs’ creativity at the Lewis and Irene website here: https://www.lewisandirene.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/lewisandirene/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/lewisandirenefabrics/