Friday 22 March 2019

Let the sunshine in

It's not just your wardrobe that needs reworking for summer

Homesense summer textiles
Homesense summer textiles
Summer textiles from House of Fraser
Wool plates and textiles from Bohemia
Bringing the inside out, textiles from JD Williams Home
Liz Nilsson with printed cusions
Summer textiles from Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic for Dunnes

Eleanor Flegg

My neighbour used to change her curtains for summer. Respect! It was a very tall window, she was a little old lady, and she used to do it all by herself. At the time, I had young children and life was chaos. Once my curtains were up, they stayed up. But I admired her commitment to ushering in the summer.

Changing the textiles in your home is quick, easy, and as liberating as putting on open-toed sandals. "I like bringing in more lightness," says Liz Nilsson, an artist and textile designer based in Dublin. "I have a selection of cushion covers that I change by the season." Her summer cushions are in lighter, cooler colours than the winter ones.

Nilsson is talking to me from her summer house in Sweden, where she was born and raised, and where the transition from winter to summer is much more dramatic than it is in Ireland. She's just finished dressing her house in its summer outfit, rolling away the heavy winter rugs and stashing them out of sight. Bare floorboards are fine for summer. Next, she'll take down the curtains and send them off to be dry-cleaned.

In Ireland, drawing the curtains is an evening ritual. In Sweden, they have a different perspective. "We don't always have curtains and, when we do, we rarely close them. We don't mind the thought of people looking in and we use the windows as a way of inviting people into the space."

Wool plates and textiles from Bohemia
Wool plates and textiles from Bohemia

Gauze curtains are summery and have a lovely way of softening the light, but Nilsson suggests taking it a step further. "How would it be not to have curtains at all? How would that feel?" Eek! I'd feel like I was living in a fish bowl. Nilsson sighs. She's lived in Ireland long enough to understand the mentality. "Just draw them back as far as possible then," she says.

Dressing the table for summer involves runners rather than whole table cloths and the emergence of Nilsson's rarely-used white linen napkins. "They're crisp and fresh, but I also like table runners with hand-embroidered flowers. There's a romantic feel to it and it's a way of bringing the outside in, even in a symbolic way." The summer transformation also involves bringing pattern and colour to the veranda in the form of cushions, a table cloth, and an outdoor rug. "It gives you the feeling that your whole living room has moved outdoors!"

Using textiles to transform your living space doesn't have to be expensive (although there are plenty of opportunities to spend money on it if you want to). "I go to a lot of jumble sales," Nilsson explains. "I'm a bit of a jumble sales freak and I always come home with textiles."

Sometimes, all they need is a wash, but Nilsson also likes to personalise fabrics with embroidery or print. A plain white linen table cloth with a bit of a stain on it, for example, would make a fine candidate for printing.

If you'd like to learn how to do this yourself, Nilsson is one of the instructors at Print Block, a Dublin-based collective of textile artists and designers working in print. "We run courses in screen printing, block printing and dyeing," she explains.

A one-day workshop at Print Block costs between €75 and €90, depending on the cost of materials, and all the techniques that they teach are easy to do at home.

Liz Nilsson with printed cusions
Liz Nilsson with printed cusions

For Nilsson, there's another, almost meditative value to working with print. "There's plenty of evidence to show that repetition calms the mind," she says. "That's part of yoga teaching, but textile printing can fulfil that as well. Because it has a repetitive element, it's calming."

Textiles bought on summer holidays make great souvenirs, but holiday shopping can be hot and hassley. Imagine you catch sight of something tempting in a Moroccan souk. The vendor's keen to make the sale but you're up against a Ryanair baggage allowance, a disgruntled husband, and kids that want to go back to the pool. Often, you end up abandoning the coveted item and going home without it.

"We fill that gap," says Jenna Garner, one of the designers for Bohemia, an online shop that specialises in hand-made artisan homeware and accessories. "When people see something on holiday that they can't buy on the spot, they buy it from us."

Most of Bohemia's textiles come from Morocco and are handmade using traditional processes and natural materials. The designs, though, are contemporary and evolved in collaboration with the artisans.

"We've got some amazing scribble-stripe blankets at the moment," Garner says. "We worked with the weavers to develop the pattern. They're made in a traditional way, but using fun colours."

The blankets (€166) are handwoven on wooden looms in Morocco. Bohemia also sells a range of Moroccan wool pots and bowls (from around €20 to €85). These are woven in coiled reed and brightly coloured wool. It's not the most obvious use of textiles in the home, but it works.

Summer textiles from Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic for Dunnes
Summer textiles from Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic for Dunnes

Part of the value of objects like this, is that you're supporting skilled craftspeople whose work is keeping a tradition alive. "The traditional craft techniques are often passed down through generations," Garner explains. "With Moroccan rugs, woven pots and plates in particular, the design is down to the individual weaver. They're works of art in their own right."

On a more mundane level, something as simple as a new set of tea towels can make the kitchen feel fresh and summery. They're not expensive, and so much nicer than grotty ones with stains on them (we all have those and they need to be relegated to wiping the floor). Tea towels from Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic at Dunnes cost €5 each with patterns including gingham (I adore gingham) and coral. You could combine them with printed seat pads (€10) with aqua gingham on one side and pretty red flowers on the other. The range is unashamedly girly, if in a grown-up way, and all of the prints are designed in Ireland by Donnelly and team.

Donnelly's style is maximalist, with strong hot colours. "Themes this summer include Oriental Sea, which includes coral, koi fish, and sea horses; and Oriental Sky, with birds, cranes, bees and flowers," Donnelly explains. "Another theme for high summer is African Beats, with outdoor box cushions, tablecloths and napkins in a wood-block printed effect in fresh blues or red teamed with white." That's summery, with a punch.


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