“When I’m looking out to sea I feel such a sense of calm. It’s a very different pace to my London life, a lot more reflective and hopefully this will be beneficial to my practice.” This month, we chat to textile designer Beatrice Larkin.
Bea runs her textiles business from Margate in Kent. She set it up in 2017 presenting her first collection at Clerkenwell Design week. Bea’s designs are recognisable for their inky hand-drawn patterns and line drawings which are crafted into cushions, throws and fabrics for interiors. In 2021, she decided to up sticks and leave London for the coast. We caught up to talk about life by the sea and how textiles run in the family.
At the end of 2021, you relocated from London to Margate. Have you enjoyed the change of scenery and what is Margate’s creative community like?
I’m really glad I made the move to Margate. I definitely miss London but ultimately I couldn’t afford to live there anymore…and it’s only a short train ride away! My parents are just along the coast in Whitstable and I already had a few friends who had made the London-Margate move, so it seemed logical.
Being by the sea has offered me a much better work/life balance. When I’m looking out to sea, I feel such a sense of calm. It’s a very different pace to my London life, a lot more reflective and hopefully this will be beneficial to my practice.
There is such a buzzing creative community here and it seems only to be growing. I initially thought it might have more of a fine art slant rather than product and craft (where I feel at home) but there are so many different creative people from all sorts of areas. I’ve built a great network of creatives/friends who run their own businesses and can share the struggles!
Do you have a set method of working? For example, do you start by sketching out designs or does the material come first?
I’ll often start by spending time making lots of sketches and mark-making and then work these into a repeat on the computer. I’ll end up with a number of designs and then I have to select those I think will work best. I’ll figure out how this design will fit in the collection and what end-product it will be used for. Once I’m happy with a design, I will start sampling it at the mill to work out weave structures. A sample will come back from the mill and it might need to be tweaked. If so, I will sample again at the mill. I have always used the same merino yarns in a black and concrete grey colour for my wool product so this choice is often quick. However, if I am deciding to bring in a new colour or creating a bespoke colourway for a client, this sampling process may be more extensive.
Where does your inspiration for new designs come from?
All sorts of places! I have a desire to create patterns that have an organic hand quality, but alongside this I look to geometry for inspiration. I love a broken line, the sign of the hand touch within a regimented repeat structure. I will often seek this quality when looking for inspiration…but this could come from anywhere. Recently, I have been looking at basketry at different stages of construction. I also like weathered markings on architecture, ink smudges, tiles, mud cloths, dye techniques etc. I like to look at traditional hand-woven structures and play around with them by manipulating scale or working the structure into the pattern of the cloth. The Jacquard loom allows me to be quite free with designs as you aren’t restricted by the strict parameters of other weaving techniques. I try to harness this capability when I design.
You’ve spoken about your love of the Bauhaus and Brutalist architecture. Which artists and designers from this period are you most inspired by?
I don’t have a love for one Bauhaus designer over another, but just an overall admiration and love of the aesthetic. Of course, the Bauhaus weavers are a huge inspiration and Anni Albers feels special to me ever since I was asked to design a fabric inspired by her work for the Tate’s exhibition in 2018. But I also love the work of Gunta Stolzl, Marli Ehrman, Otti Berger and Lena Bergner. In terms of Brutalist architecture, my favourite building has always been the Barbican in London, designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. I’ve been on the architectural tour there a number of times. I’ve realised I love the impact of nature on the space, especially in the conservatory, the view of the water gardens and the effect of weathering on the concrete.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently launching a recycled cotton upholstery collection. I had a lot of feedback from customers saying they wanted to use my fabrics for upholstery but the merino wool fabrics don’t suit this purpose. So I found an Italian yarn company that takes old clothing and regenerates this back into yarn, skipping out the dying process. So while I am still selling my merino-based products and developing them, alongside these I am moving towards selling fabrics by the metre to the interiors market. These cotton fabrics include two new designs, as well as introducing a few colours…which is very new for me!
You grew up surrounded by textiles and beautiful fabrics as both of your parents worked in the industry. What did they do? How did this impact and inspire you?
My dad still has an interior design shop in Canterbury which has been running since 1988. He advises customers and sells fabric and wallpaper. My mum is a textile artist/maker who also buys and sells antiques. She makes beautiful embroidered, patchworked products and has a love of French linen and kitchenalia. Since I was young, I’ve joined her selling her work at craft fairs and antiques markets. I don’t think I realised their influence until recently. When you’re young, you think your childhood is normal, but in hindsight I guess not so average! Overall, I think the biggest impact was understanding the lifestyle of having my own business and not being scared to give it a go myself. I have seen how hard it is and it didn’t stop me! I’ve never been used to working set hours, and ‘living for the weekend’ is alien to me. There is something very fulfilling about running your own business and even though there have been some tough times with my parents’ businesses, I think I saw that rewarding quality and wanted it. Obviously, I was also influenced by the beautiful things in my house, mainly that my mum brought in. I always found it funny that most things had a price tag on. I knew that something may be heading out to be sold at the next market. I also have great memories of visiting Chelsea Harbour with my dad for Design Week and learning about some of the fabric and wallpaper companies from a young age.
What was the last exhibition you visited?
Just last week I went to see Magdalena Abakanowicz at Tate Modern. Such a stunning exhibition, you really have to see these giant sculptural woven pieces in the flesh.
Photo credits: Alun Callender, Veerle Evens and Daniela Sbrisny