Meet the Maker: Fabric Designer Lizzie Mabley
Lizzie Mabley is a fabric designer based in Chalford, Gloucestershire. She works within Victoria Works Studios, a hub of creatives, from where she creates her gorgeous hand printed home wares, and teaches workshops in order to introduce beginners to printmaking. We’ve asked Lizzie a handful of questions to better understand her journey as an artist, and the techniques that she uses to create her striking work.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your work involves:
I am a fabric designer based in Chalford, Gloucestershire. I work within a hub of other creatives at Victoria Works Studios. I have a degree in Textile Design and Surface Decoration and after a long break bringing up my two children and doing lots of different things I have, within the last 5 years returned to working in print and handmade homeware. I use lino printing as the basis for all my designs, some of these I transfer to screen myself to screen print and some I get printed up for me.
I love the fact that my prints can be made in to beautiful things for the home, I am also interested in the way a fabric shows its versatility when used for example on a ridged lampshade compared to a squashy cushion, a flat blind or a gathered curtain.
I am lucky to be able to teach workshops at our studios. It is great to introduce beginners to the craft, and pass on my love of printing to others.
My business is called ‘My Blue Shed’ because I began it in the little blue shed at the top of my garden, the name has stuck! I miss my shed and working from home, but it can be a very lonely way to work. Since renting my studio at Victoria Works, so many opportunities have opened up for me and I have met some wonderful creative people who always have loads of advice and encouragement.
How did you first become interested in printmaking as a medium?
I have always had an interest in pattern making and repeat pattern. While on my Art Foundation Course, it became clear to me that Textile Design was the direction I would go and printing is obviously an important aspect of this discipline. Block printing lends itself perfectly to the way I like to work. Each print taken from a block comes out slightly differently which adds to the character of my work. Sometimes the little imperfections are just what I’m looking for. It was also a perfect ‘kitchen table’ hobby when my children were small and time was limited! By the way, children LOVE printing too! I got my children to draw a design which I then carved for them to print themselves, great fun!
Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration tends to come from nature. I am a passionate gardener and also have an allotment. The coast also plays a part and so much of my work has a ‘fishy’ theme. As well as this, I always look for pattern in the built environment – door ways, railings, gates and tiles inspire me. I find myself seeing pattern in all sorts of unusual places!
I always keep a sketch book and take lots of photographs. I have so many ideas that the difficult bit is deciding which ones to take further into a fabric design.
What unique qualities draw you to lino printing?
I use the traditional grey artists lino, a natural product made from ground up cork and bound together with linseed oil. It smells wonderful and although more difficult to cut than the vinyl equivalent e.g Soft Cut, I find it so satisfying to carve, it can get quite addictive! The blocks have to be treated carefully, over time they can become brittle, but you can take hundreds of prints from them. They can be mounted on to wooden blocks to prolong their life, this is helpful if the lino becomes warped over time. The finished printing blocks are wonderfully decorative in their own right and have a beautiful texture. Each print you take from the block comes out slightly different. The method is becoming so popular in fabric at the moment, it is a lovely way to bring a traditional hand crafted element into modern design.
Tell us about your at home screen printing process:
While at university, I had access to all the equipment needed for screen printing – the exposure units, dark rooms, jet washer and print tables… I thoroughly enjoyed the process and included lots of screen printing in my degree work. However, at home with no budget and not much space, I needed to figure out a way of transferring my lino prints to silk screen so that I could print lots and lots with relative ease and minimum mess. After much internet research I found a process that worked. I print my lino block on to Ink Jet acetate using an oil based ink (I use Caligo Safewash, oil based but washable in warm soapy water) In the meantime, I go up into my shed and coat both sides of my screen with a light sensitive emulsion using a coating trough. This must be done out of direct light, so the shed is perfect. I then leave the screen to dry in a dark cupboard, it takes about 24 hours to dry, but if it isn’t quite dry, a hairdryer can be used to finish it off.
When I am ready to expose my design on the screen, I make a sandwich of a piece of board, a sheet of black paper, my coated screen, my printed acetate, a sheet of glass and finally another piece of board to cover it up. Then I take it outside and expose it to the sun for approximately 1 minute – this depends on how bright the day is and how much UV there is in the sunlight.
I then pop the board back on to cover it up and take it down to wash out with my hose pipe. This needs to be done as quickly as possible because as soon as you remove the board, the screen is exposed to light again and it will continue to harden the emulsion. With a blast of water from hose pipe, the areas that were covered with the black ink on the acetate will wash out leaving your design on the screen, while the area that was shown the light will have hardened. It is now ready to print with.
Tell us about a piece of work that you are particularly proud of:
This is a difficult question as I only tend to use the designs I love! One that I am particularly fond of though is my Bumble Bee. I have used it on so many products, from napkins, cushions, bags to tea towels and it is one of my best sellers. It seems to strike a chord with people especially as our bees are in danger.
What are 3 tips that you would share with a budding Printmaker?
- If you are new to printmaking, keep your design simple, often the simplest designs are the most successful, especially when repeated across a piece of fabric. If you attempt something more complicated, you might be disappointed with the result and it will put you off. Start simple!
- When drawing your design, think carefully about which areas you want to be inked and which will be blank. The areas you cut away will not be inked and the areas you leave will. Also remember that your design will be reversed on the lino, so use tracing paper to transfer your design in reverse to make sure your design prints the right way!
- Once you have carved your printing block, the opportunities are endless, use it to print greetings cards, wrapping paper, tea towels, cushion covers, lampshades….whatever you can think of!
What’s next for you in 2018?
2018 is all about focussing and growing my business. I am proud of the fact that I have moved from my shed to a studio, then to a bigger studio. It has been great progress. I have had some lovely publicity – including a feature in Country Homes & Interiors Magazine last August, so I need to make the most of it and work hard to continue progressing. I will be taking a closer look at all aspects of my business and adjusting it accordingly, being self employed is massive learning curve!
May is an important month in my calendar as I will be taking part in Stroud International Textiles open Studio Trail – SIT Select. It takes place over two weekends 5/6 May and 12/13 May. You can find out more at www.sitselect.org we get visitors from all over the country.