Fabric Crush: Elworthy Studio
Textile designer Kate Miller is the founder of San Francisco-based Elworthy Studio, where she creates stunning, made-to-order fabric and wallpaper inspired by the natural world. We sat down with Kate to learn more about her unique design process, where she finds inspiration and why being environmentally conscious is an essential part of her design studio.
How did you start Elworthy Studio?
I first gained experience working for two very different retail fashion companies; a large, established corporation (Bloomingdale’s) and a small but rapidly growing start-up (Indochino). Working for these companies on the opposite ends of the spectrum gave me a great business education while allowing me to develop my personal style and aesthetic.
During my time at Indochino, I ended up managing the fashion and textile designers and discovered my love for textile design! I went back to school for textile design to hone my technical skills, and once I had the skills I needed, I made the decision to launch Elworthy Studio. Some of the prints from my first collection were actually (better) versions of work I created in design school!
Snapshots of Kate’s inspiration during her textile design process.
What does your design process look like when creating a new pattern?
For all my Elworthy Studio collections, inspiration has struck me in a sudden and profound way. Call it luck, magic, or divine intervention…I’ll take it! Once I have a source of inspiration, I connect it with a process, and I tend to employ more avant-garde techniques such as rust-dyeing or alternative photography. More recently, I’ve reconnected with my painterly side, working with mark-making and printmaking. I let intuition guide me during this tactile part of the process, keeping it loose and experimental (rather than getting fixated on what I want the finished designs or collection to “look” like). I usually create a large body of work by hand, then edit and refine what I feel are the best design ideas.
If inspiration doesn’t present itself (which has happened for smaller projects), I seek it out. I turn to nature, or walk around the city with my camera, or visit a museum. If I am already drawn to a theme or idea, I love researching at the library (and yes, on Pinterest too).
The inspiration behind Elworthy Studio’s ‘Miramar’ fabric, and the finished product.
Tell us about one of your favorite new designs this year, and what inspired it. What was the story behind the creation of that print?
’Miramar’ is one of my favorite designs from the Native Collection. I was walking along the coast near my home one day when I spotted these cool intersecting diagonal lines created by sunlight peeking through a fence. I instantly knew how I wanted to translate it into a design! When I got back to the studio, I sketched the idea, then used printmaking to bring the idea to life. After making the first print, I looked at the printing surface and saw beauty in the lines of paint that remained. I decided to make a second print (or “ghost” print), and loved the softer lines and textures. That ghost print evolved into Miramar! It’s so much fun when the process yields unexpected results.
Why is being eco-friendly important to Elworthy Studio? What does that look like in practice?
Being environmentally conscious is part of my personal ethos, and my brand is an extension of who I am as a human. I spent some time living in China, and had health issues related to environmental toxins. Through extensive research, I learned about the impact of various industries on our planet and in our lives, and found ways to reduce my exposure to harmful toxins. To me, home should be a safe and healthy sanctuary.
In practice, this means working with production partners who share my values, sourcing responsibly, choosing natural materials that are grown sustainably, and using printing processes with the lowest impact. My business model requires minimal inventory which equates to very little waste, and I am always looking for ways to repurpose the small amount of waste I do create.
What colors are you currently getting inspiration from for your next collection?
My color affinities have been super consistent! I love earthy hues, jewel tones, and inky blacks and blues. I am gravitating towards the dark side lately, and am drawn to super rich colors like deep aubergine, teal, and forest green.
What is your favorite piece of vintage furniture? And if you were to upholster it in one of your fabrics, which would you choose?
I love Milo Baughman’s brass frame lounge chairs. It would be fun to see one reupholstered in my Wild Palms fabric (the Rio colorway, which is chartreuse and teal). Or Aurora (in black) for a more glam look.
What’s your design motto?
Be bold. Be brave. Be unafraid. I certainly wasn’t the author of this motto, but I found it on an engraved bracelet years ago. I’ve since lost the bracelet but the sentiment stayed with me. I love experimenting with new ideas and techniques, and sometimes my ideas are very different from what other artists and designers are doing. The mantra is helpful when I need to push past any fear and uncertainty!
Thanks to Kate Miller for sharing the inspiration behind one of our favorite fabric brands. See more of Elworthy Studio’s gorgeous textiles in the Revitaliste Fabric Library!
Photography by Gina DeMarco