salty oat spotlight: sarah waterhouse

Today is the first in what I hope will be an on-going series of interviews with inspiring and creative people---including fabric designers, shop owners, quilters, and other makers. To kick things off, I'm so excited to welcome Sarah Waterhouse to the blog! Sarah is an incredibly talented fabric designer based in England, whose work I have the pleasure of stocking in the shop. Sarah's designs are fresh, modern, and often geometric, which is what immediately drew me to her work when I stumbled across it almost two years ago. Read on to learn a bit more about her background, her design process, and how she has environmentally friendly fabric specially woven for her.

Image source: Sarah Waterhouse

Caitlin: Tell us a bit about your background and how you got your start. What was the path that led you to where you are today?

Sarah: I studied art and design at college but decided to pursue the academic side of the subject by doing a History of Art & Design degree at Sheffield Hallam University in 2000-2003. I loved Lino printing at college, but never got a chance to screen print and I was determined that I wanted to have a go. So when I finished university I went to work in an art gallery and started to teach myself how to expose screens and screen print and soon became addicted. I also had to teach myself how to put designs into repeat and absolutely loved working with patterns. I used my new fabrics to make gifts for myself, family and friends and it just blossomed from there.

C: What does a typical work day look like for you?

S: I get into work early, usually around 7am, and deal with all my admin, marketing and orders first so I can spend the rest of the day on the practical side of the business, so designing, sewing and printing. There are also extremes in my working week so some days I might be completely glued to the computer and others I’m printing all day. I love the variety in my work!

Image source: Sarah Waterhouse

C: It’s not always easy---from a sourcing or financial standpoint---to use organic fabrics, but sustainability and environmentally friendly materials are obviously a big part of your company’s story. Why is that?

S: I’ve always been very environmentally minded and determined that once I started a business, it would continue in the same thread. I didn’t like the thought of putting something else out into the world that was damaging, and the processes surrounding cotton production are so polluting. It was very difficult to source both materials and inks though. Even looking for the right packaging was difficult as I didn’t want the quality to suffer in the face of the environmental aspects. Once I found some good suppliers for fabrics and started buying in bulk, my choices grew. I’m now at the point when I’m able to commission my own woven cloth made here in the UK and that is wonderful.

C: What three words would you use to describe your aesthetic?

S: Bold, contemporary and colourful.

Image source: Sarah Waterhouse

 C: What’s your current favorite color palette?

S: I love all the colours as you can probably tell from my fabrics, so I don’t really have a favourite palette. I don’t like to limit myself in any way. I love putting different colours together and creating unusual combinations.

C: What are your sources for inspiration? Can you walk us through how an idea goes from your sketchbook to fabric, and how you refine design elements and select colors before committing to printing the final design on fabric?

S: Most of my inspiration comes from nature so either from direct sketches or photographs I’ve taken. I carry a sketchbook and my camera with me everywhere so I can record any interesting shape, pattern or composition I find. I sketch all throughout the year but twice a year I have a period of about 2 months when I concentrate on work specifically for a new collection. I look through all the work I’ve done so far and then start picking out elements I find interesting to build up a set of about 10 different ideas which are worked on again to see how they could be turned into repeat patterns and my final choice cuts this again down to 3 designs. Once I’m happy with the designs, I refine them as a repeat pattern and get the screen etched. Whilst I wait for the final screen to arrive, I start work on mixing colours. By this point I usually have colours in mind which have come from the point of inspiration. I usually mix up about twice the number of colours I think I might need and do test swatches until I’m sure of the final set and am happy that they all work well together.

Image source: Sarah Waterhouse

C: What projects have you or your customers made with your fabrics?

S: My customers use my fabrics for a variety of uses which is lovely, that’s why I like being able to offer many different weights of fabrics that are suitable for a range of uses. My designs have been used on everything from upholstery to clothes. I always ask my customers to share any images with me of the finished work. It’s lovely to see my fabric become a part of someone’s home or wardrobe.

C: What’s Sheffield, where your studio is, like? Any favorite places to shop, eat, or hang out?

S: Sheffield is a wonderful place to live. I was born here and couldn’t really see myself making my home anywhere else. We’re the greenest city in the UK with more trees than people and we’re surrounded by one of the country's most beautiful national parks, the Peak District, so I’m very lucky to live here. We also have a fantastic cultural vibe in the city, especially music, art and design. There are so many makers based here and we have lots of studio spaces. My studio is lovely. It’s my home away from home and I share it with my husband and our rescue pug Etty. The room is mostly taken up with a huge printing table, 8.5m in length.

Image source: Sarah Waterhouse

C: Where can people find you online? Do you have any upcoming in-person events or open studios?

S: I sell through my own website shop. I also sell through Etsy and have a number of stockists. I like to do as many trade and retail shows in the year as I have time for and try to visit as many places in the UK as I can. The big event of the year is definitely our Open Studios though, which happens every November. This year it’s the 20th-22nd November and all of our studio buildings are open over the weekend so that’s the chance to see about 140 different artists and makers. I like to put on a good display and sell a variety of different fabrics and finished items over the weekend and it’s a lovely chance to meet so many of my customers face to face.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses, Sarah! You can find a selection of Sarah's fabric in the Salty Oat shop (it's currently on sale!), along with a recently added pair of pillows featuring her designs (red and orange), which I made in my studio.