The minute I saw Kate Miller’s textiles I knew I had to contact her. Kate’s company, Elworthy Design, which is named after her great-grandmother, creates textiles and wallpapers that marry sophistication with the right amount of savvy edge. All the while being elegant, and just plain gorgeous. Her environmentally-friendly designs are made using water-based ink, natural fibers, and FSC-certified paper. I talked with Kate about how her background doing visual merchandising impacted her design career, when she knew when to put school aside and start her own firm, and how she finds moments to get “unstuck.” Plus, see her latest collection that we adore!
24 East: What is your background?
Kate Miller: My career began at Bloomingdale’s in NYC, where I worked as a buyer, then transitioned to visual merchandising/store display. It was such a great foundation- I learned how to curate a collection, create a strong visual statement, and drive sales- lessons that I draw from all the time!
From there, life took me took Shanghai, where I led merchandising and product development for a men’s fashion startup, Indochino. This opportunity taught me about the world of e-commerce, and since I worked closely with marketing, sourcing, design, and production, I gained a well-rounded education into many areas of running a business . I also managed the textile designers and discovered my own love for textile design, which led me to pursue this new direction.
I moved to San Francisco in 2013 and studied textiles at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. After two semesters, I felt that I had learned the technical skills I needed and was excited to start my own business, so I withdrew from the program and founded Elworthy studio!
24E: What inspired you to start your own studio?
KM: For many years, I dreamed of having my own creative business but it took a while for this dream to come to fruition. Then, in one of my textile classes, I created some designs that had me very excited. It felt like I had really tapped into my voice as an artist, and I wanted to further develop them into a collection…so I did! Those designs were the impetus, and evolved into my debut collection of textiles and wallcoverings, Decay.
24E: When are you your most creative?
KM: When I have the space to create…by that I mean both physical space and mental space. Ideally, I’d be able to escape for a month, rent a cottage or cabin in nature, and spend my days drawing inspiration and translating the inspiration into design. Unfortunately, that isn’t always realistic! I have found other ways to create space in my routine, for example, I go for a solo hike every friday morning and have found that it really clears my head. I do my best thinking during these hikes! If I need to fit creative work into a normal week, I block off creative-only days rather than trying to combine creative work and marketing or admin work within one day.
24E: How do you get past moments of doubt or when you get stuck?
KM: The Friday hikes really help with this! For me, getting stuck is usually the result of getting too “in my head”, so taking a break to do something else then coming back to the project with fresh eyes and (hopefully) a fresh perspective does the trick.
24E: I’m in love with your new collection! It was so fun to hear about what inspired it, could you share more?
KM: Sure! I went to an exhibition at the Getty Museum in LA featuring the work of photographers working with alternative processes (camera-less photography). I was so intrigued by the range of effects and textures they were able to create, and saw huge potential in this type of art translating to textiles and wallpaper. I spent months experimenting with some of these processes and creating my own photographic prints, which later evolved into the luminous Clair Obscur designs.
24E: How do you design, what tools do you use, etc?
KM: I always start by hand, but the tools vary because I love designing using all different fine art and craft processes. For the Decay Collection, my tools were white fabric, rusted objects, and a water/vinegar solution to oxidize the rust onto the fabric. For Clair Obscur, I used both vintage and new photo paper, low toxicity photo chemicals, and all kinds of tools and objects that served as my “brushes” for painting and creating marks directly onto the paper.
The second part of my creative process is digital, so I use an Epson flatbed scanner to get a crisp, high resolution scan which can be manipulated, colored, and put into repeat using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. My LG monitor is essential for this part and has totally saved my eyes! I love it because it is widescreen and I can look at multiple versions of a design side by side.
24E: Is there a particular way you love to see your work installed?
KM: I love seeing the prints on a large scale, so wallpaper installations are my favorite. It always amazes me how dramatically wallpaper can transform a space! It’s also been so cool to see how different designers use the same design for completely different effects. For example, I’ve seen my Patina wallpaper installed in very modern, minimal spaces as well as more traditional spaces. The designer’s visions bring out the versatility of my designs.
24E: What type of design inspires you?
KM: As a process driven designer and artist, I am inspired by other artists that explore innovative processes. My latest collection was inspired by photographers working with alternative methods. I’m also very inspired by the design within nature, which in my opinion, is always the best design!
24E: It was fun talking about moving over to the East Bay. What do you love over here?
KM: We would love to call the East Bay home…alas, my husband’s commute would be brutal so for now, we will just have to visit frequently. Berkeley and Oakland are so culturally vibrant. I always feel inspired by the variety of art, shops, and restaurants. It feels like the communities are really supportive of the arts as well, and are trying to foster that scene.
I also like that it is more single family homes with space between them…ok, maybe not a ton of space, but even those few feet make a difference because you get windows on all four sides which means more natural light! Overall, the East Bay neighborhoods feel more quiet and residential than those in SF, yet have all the benefits of city living. You lucky East Bay dwellers!
For more information on Elworthy Studio, go here.
Images c/o Elworthy Studio