As a child I used to sew tiny bits of fabric together, a combination of Laura Ashley and scraps found in an old trunk in the attic. Once I cut all the labels out of my mother’s clothes and stitched them together, she wasn’t too pleased! I first had the idea to make patchwork for my business when I went to a Paul Smith fashion show in the early 90s and he’d used hanky squares I’d designed for him cut into shirts. I thought, that’s good, using them to make something else. I went home and pulled out all our ends of silk and started sewing them into scarves. In those days Suzy Thomas, (my business partner for the first 10 years) and I used Belford prints to do beautiful discharge screen prints, which means burning out the dyed ground to put the printed colours on and we had lots of test pieces.
We showed our new patchwork scarves and shirts in Paris but apart from a big shirt order for Bob Shop, a boutique in Paris, we only had people looking not buying. Next time we were showing our Winter collection, we added burn out velvet to it and included it in the patchwork. The timing was perfect, this season people were mad for it and there was a queue of buyers at our stand. On and off since then I have always had some kind of patchwork in the collection, and when I haven’t it’s always been brought back by popular demand. There was no organisation to it at first, until Judy Collinson (from Barney’s, New York) trained us into doing them in colour groups. They were a big hit when their Madison Avenue store opened. She said, ”People have no trouble deciding to buy one but they spend hours choosing which one”. Each one is unique and the maker has their own style and feels quite strongly about how they should be. Ximena who has worked for Pazuki for nearly 18 years since she left college told me that whenever I moved any pieces to how I liked them she would move them back when I had gone. I rarely do it now, it’s their creation.
I love using up off-cuts and gone-wrong test bits, we hardly ever throw anything out and if we do it goes to Goldsmith’s College embroidery department. Something quite dingy can look fantastic put next to something vibrant. I’m lucky that I have my own fabric digital printer so I can add extra bits into the mix. Over the years I’ve done every possible form of patchwork invention - using knit, embroidery, laser cutting, vintage lace and ribbons, yarn. In the old screen-printing days we used to mix plain and textured silks with overdyed prints, stitch them into long lengths and discharge print them. The effect was so rich. Joni Mitchell bought one and said she used it as inspiration for her paintings, and Diane Keaton was given one as a present by the BBC. I’ve also done huge patchwork bed covers that I sent out to India to be quilted and hand embroidered, in the days when shipping wasn’t so expensive! I’m longing to cut up a trunk full of Victorian table linen I’ve inherited and mix it with printed linen and do some more.
Now we mostly use vanishing muslin to piece together the patchwork and free stitch. The first time I did this, raw edges were very new. I made a piece for our stand in Paris because I had a burning desire to do it. It was very grungy and ragged and I thought everyone would think it was a bit mad. It was our best seller. We are almost at maximum production with our patchwork as it is so time-consuming to make and hard to mass-produce. Most of it goes to Japan. They love it because they really appreciate stuff that is hand-crafted - and they know how to wear it.