We interviewed designer Ali Brookes to find out what inspires and motivates her to create her wonderful designs.
Ali is a surface pattern designer from Northamptonshire and describe herself as a curious person, with a passion for colour and design.
After graduating with a First Class Honours Degree in Printed Textiles from Derby University, Ali started work as a lecturer teaching visual studies to interior design students and freelancing as a surface pattern designer creating hand painted work for the home decor and stationery markets.
Pattern design is a real obsession and her design process starts with an inky drawing, painting or cut paper before finishing off the final design digitally in either Illustrator or Photoshop.
When she’s not designing, you can find her hanging out with her young family and knitting colourful socks – more on that below!
Who/what inspired you to take up design and how old were you?
I come from a long line of sewers, knitters, and crafters and I always had a crafty project on the go as a child, so it was inevitable that I ended up studying textiles at university. Weekends and holidays were spent rummaging around various relatives fabric scrap bags, looking for treasure for future projects. I’ve still got a lot of fabric and threads from my childhood and all my granny’s quilting templates and such like. I used to love spending time at my aunties as she always had fabulous fabrics on hand and was a frequent shopper at Habitat. Habitat seemed so fresh and bright to my 1970s child eyes and definitely very different from what I was used to at home. I loved the Habitat aesthetic, and still, do, and I think having that early experience of design helped me to be the designer I am today.
Shortly before going to university I read Anne Sebba’s book: Laura Ashley: A Life by Design. This was before the Internet, and the plethora of designs and design courses that are available now and Laura Ashley’s story captured my imagination of what could be achieved if you followed your dreams and passions.
What was your first successful design?
My first successful design wasn’t one design but a collection of cards for the British card company Paper Rose, shortly after leaving university. My agent at the time persuaded me to do it, as I wasn’t sure at first. I’m so glad he did! I ended up designing a lot of cards for them.
Tell us about your knitting of socks
I learnt to knit before I went to infant school and I had the best-dressed dolls and teddies around! I knitted on and off throughout my childhood and teenage years but stopped during my twenties and rediscovered knitting when my children were small and started knitting socks then. I knit to relax, so I tend not to do complicated projects that require design decisions, as I spend all day doing that. Socks are the perfect project for me especially with the self-patterning yarns available now as I just let my fingers do the work while I relax with a good film
Do you have a favourite designer current or past
That’s a tricky question as I love so many designers past and present, but my all-time favorite illustrator is Christopher Corr – his work is so joyful, and it always makes me smile especially his multicoloured zebras.
You create fabulous fabric – do you sew if so please tell us more?
Aw, thank you! I can sew, and I’ve made clothes and quilts in the past. Unfortunately, I spend so much time designing fabric that I don’t have any time left to sew anything with it!
However, I’ve bought some washable metallic paper to combine with my Winterfold collection to make some storage baskets. I’m also one of those folk who hoards fabric – I’m really good at that!
What do you consider your best piece of work?
Ooh, that’s a tricky question to answer as that changes from year to year. Currently, I like my Winterfold collection and the main pattern from Hanging Around. The animals, especially the anteater, were a joy to draw, and certainly made me smile as I worked with them.
What is your favourite tool or gadget?
It’s got to be my computer, and my collection of black pens – I wouldn’t get much done without either of them.
Do you have a favourite colour to work in
That’s an easy question to answer as I love blue! It doesn’t matter any shade or hue will do.
What type of fabric would you choose to work with?
It would probably be cotton or linen as I’m a big fan of natural fibers.
You design for fabric as well as stationery – what’s your favourite – is there a difference to your approach?
I don’t mind as I love designing. Each has its own considerations. I have to be mindful of printing constraints with fabric printing, especially if it’s going to be screen printed. You can get something called ‘trapping’ with fabric printing, where one colour bleeds into another one. If they are close in value, it produces another tone; sometimes this can look unsightly. What works on paper doesn’t always work as well on fabric. I also design craft stamps for the American company, Penny Black. This is great as I get to draw lovely things and I don’t have to worry about repeats and any technical aspects of the printing process.
My advice to a new designer would be ………………….?
Never stop being curious. There is always something new to learn. Also, get yourself a ‘standing desk’ – your body will love you for it!
What drove you to tears? What is the piece of work that has driven you mad/been a disaster?
I haven’t been driven mad by a project, but technology sends me bonkers at times! I like working in Adobe Illustrator, but this program can be like a stroppy teenager at times!
Do you design for other people or family members
Not really, as I’m too busy working on client projects and portfolio pieces. They also know it will take me forever to do it – I’ve been making a quilt for my youngest for the last ten years!!
Who (famous person alive or historical) would you love to create something for?
Iris Apfel, as she is a creative and wonderful all-around human being, with the most fantastic dress sense and still very much alive!
What’s your best creative background music?
I’ve got quite eclectic taste in music, and I can listen to most things, but I tend to listen to Radio 4 while I’m working and I’ve picked up an astonishing amount of information over the years, just by having it on in the background. I love the plays and Women’s Hour.
Are you an early riser or a night bird?
I love working late at night when it’s quiet, and the kids have gone to bed. I could work all night if you let me, but ask me to get up early in the morning and be creative, and I would struggle – it takes a while for my brain to wake up! I’ve tried so many times to get up early and design, but it never works out as I faff about too much, and it’s not worth it. I get more done if I get up at my normal time.
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy apart from the knitting…!
I love cooking, and I’m an avid collector of cookbooks. I’m a reader too, and I love a good bookshop that I can get lost in. My love of bookshops has resulted in a large and varied collection that I go to for inspiration time and time again. I’ve collected many over the years, old and new, including four volumes of Modern Drapery and Allied Trades published in 1914 – they are a mind-boggling treasure trove of information with chapters devoted to subjects such as: Highland costume and clan tartans, cloth cutting systems, fabric classification, shop fittings, the classification of gloves and a lengthy chapter about umbrellas.
Who in the sewing or crafting world do you most admire?
That’s a hard question to answer, as there are so many people I admire in the industry and for many different reasons. I admire Denyse Schmidt and the way her work has contributed to the modern quilting movement, which in turn has inspired a new generation of quilters and fabric companies. Janet Bolton for her wonderful stitched artworks that always make me smile and Stephanie Pearl–Mcphee for making me laugh with her stories about knitting. I admire how communities and conversations have been created through the shared love of sewing and crafting.
How did you get involved with Dashwood Studios?
I returned to the surface pattern industry in 2016, after having a break to have a family. In that time the whole industry had changed, the Internet and social media had arrived (that makes me sound so old!) and computers had replaced designing repeats by hand. I learnt how to create repeats with Adobe Illustrator and started to show my work on Instagram. Not long after, I started posting pics of my designs, Dashwood Studio spotted my work and got in touch with me, and it went from there. It’s a lovely company to work for as you have a lot of input into the final designs and it’s always great to be involved from the initial concept to completion of a collection. Also, seeing the fabric out in the world and seeing what folks make from it is the icing on the cake!
Do any of your young family show signs of creativity?
All three children can draw, and they get involved with crafty projects from time to time. My oldest is a creative cook, and my middle one has a fantastic imagination, and my youngest understands fabric and threads. He likes the smell, feel and appreciates a cupboard stuffed with the stuff!