As the Fashion and Textile Museum opens a new show focusing on London design duo Wallace Sewell, Absolutely looks at their colourful work
Words Pearl Boyd
Meet Wallace Sewell
British design duo Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones have been producing colourful textiles from their London studio since 1992. Their work spans Transport for London moquettes and huge woven artworks as well as a large collection of scarves, blankets and cushions.
The display charts a story of 21st-century textile success, with global commercial sales rooted in British design education and UK manufacturing. Wallace Sewell create their innovative fabrics on hand looms using traditional techniques. Work is then sent to a Lancashire mill, established in 1776, for manufacture.
Colour and geometry meet in their abstract designs, which display the influence of Paul Klee, the Bauhaus and Bridget Riley. Although trained at British art schools in the traditional skills of drawing and painting, rather than mixing an artist’s palette of colours, they weave their fine blend of hues through thread. Colour is integrated into the structure of weaving to create pattern, whilst contrasting yarns mix to create open gauzy textures with felted areas.
From cushions and throws to scarves and upholstery, the display underlines the immense variety of Wallace Sewell’s output. Highlights include an Anni Albers-inspired oversized artwork and original pieces from Emma and Harriet’s graduation shows. The retrospective will also include drawings and design swatches which unravel Wallace Sewell’s fascinating work processes. Textiles on display range from striped silks and sculpted wool crepe, to cashmere, transparent organza and patchwork cotton chenille. However, scarves will be a highlight of the show, as like small paintings, they provide the perfect canvas for Wallace Sewell’s designs.
The display demonstrates Wallace Sewell’s strong relationships with international museums including MOMA New York, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Academy and Tate. The designer’s sensibility for abstract pattern and composition has enabled their collections of textiles to sit alongside major exhibitions. These designs have included a pair of silk block scarves in a vibrant colour palette of primary blue, fuchsia and orange – inspired by the Tate’s Henri Matisse: Cut Outs exhibition.
In 2007, Wallace Sewell followed in the footsteps of designers such as Enid Marx, Marianne Straub and Jacqueline Groag to design ‘moquette’ fabric for Transport for London. Their iconic upholstery for the underground (Barman 2011) is inspired by the London skyline, whilst the orange and brown geometric design for the London Overground is pure abstraction. These seminal designs, influenced by Russian Constructivism and mid-century modern, will be shown in stacked cubes, each upholstered in a different moquette fabric.