Luxurious Fabrics with a Touch of Folk from Julia Brendel

Julia Brendel is an artist that makes luxurious fabrics, throws, cushions, tablecloths and lampshades with a touch of folk. Her work has been featured in well known publications like Homes and Interiors, The Times Magazine and The Independent, but she is the kind of warm and down to earth person you feel immediately connected to. It is usually hard to say if people are friendly or not when you first meet them online, but Julia and I managed to connect quickly. It must have something to do with our common background of struggling with the routine of being a stay at home mum, or our common love for folk or our common Eastern European roots. In any case, it is a truly humbling experience to find talented like minded people, willing to share some of their thoughts on my blog.

Hope you enjoy Julia’s chat with me and her work as much as I do!

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Please tell me a bit about yourself, like where you are from and how you started making and selling fabrics.

I came to the UK in 1999 after I graduated from The Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, Poland. It was not my intention to stay, I just needed a change in my life and that catalyst was meeting my future husband. I guess it all happened the other way round to what people normally do! I fell in love and had kids but realized quickly that there was a huge need in me to create, so I started planning, in between changing nappies and feeling like a zombie after sleepless nights! The prospect of having my own company was something that kept me sane. However, I did not know it would be fabrics straight away. When I was studying we had many different subjects to choose from and I liked alternating from furniture design to mosaics or packaging. I used to get bored with just one field of design.

 After traveling to many different places and living in multicultural London, I realized how much I loved different cultures. Also, I always loved different crafts, costumes and folk designs. Somehow it all came down to fabrics but I honestly can’t remember how! I do remember though, that I wanted to do something that would show the World that Poland is not all about nannies, cleaners and builders. Poland has had an extraordinary history and culture that was frequently in danger of vanishing because of oppressors. I wanted to show that Poland has a style and quality all of its own.
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Could you tell me something about the inspiration behind your fabric designs?
My Mother is Polish and my Father was Hungarian so I started with my own mixture of cultural roots but then other countries and continents were so alluring that my inspiration spread farther afield. I was always amazed by crafts. Often anonymous craftsmen produced beautiful objects which were never called Art because they had an ordinary, everyday use but to me, some embroidery, woven cloth or pottery are more appealing than many famed oil paintings in museums. The skill, attention to detail and time spent on making these ‘ordinary’ things is just mind blowing. My first collection is called “Origins” as I am trying to show my own roots but also the heritage of other cultures, where we all originate from. The “India” fabric is obviously inspired by the colours and patterns of this most astounding of countries. I am working now on the Middle East and Asia and Africa will be next. The inspiration seems endless…
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When did you start this business and how hard was it in the beginning to find your first customers?
As I already mentioned, I started out of a “need” in me when my kids were born and like many mums I often felt down and brainless being at home all the time, performing repetitive household chores, being half asleep. It wasn’t a choice, it was something I had to do. I always envied natural mums and housewives, as they would always know what to do when the child cried. I didn’t. I was recognized with postnatal depression and the only solution to calming myself down was designing and gardening.
My company was registered only a year ago but the whole mental preparation originates probably about as far back as 5 years earlier. I was researching manufacturers and contacting people as I really wanted to manufacture in Poland and the UK. I also wasn’t sure at the start what form of design I should pursue. I thought of furniture to start with as we have some notable manufacturers in Poland but then it evolved and finally I was set on fabrics.
I am always looking for customers. I have been very lucky as everyone is really supportive and I always feel new energy from every positive comment. Every customer counts and I feel genuinely honored when someone chooses to buy my tablecloth or fabric.
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What is the general process you go through to design and realize a piece of fabric?
It depends. I am still a bit of an old school supporter when it comes to design. I do not operate well in two dimensions. I like getting my hands dirty so I still do lot of cutting, painting and gluing, then scanning and finishing on a computer. It also depends on the inspiration e.g. my pattern called “Medallions” was inspired by Polish folk design cutouts, so I repeated the process of folding and cutting paper to get a comparable result. My pattern “Hungarica” on the other hand is a semi reproduction of old Hungarian embroidery that was used for tablecloths, runners and folk costumes. I saw it at a big market in Budapest being embroidered by ladies when I went for a trip with my father a few years ago. I then tried to reproduce it on a computer on my return, giving it a new usage, layout and media.
Each pattern has a different story and is a kind of personal journey.
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Do you have favorite artist or designer?  
My taste, especially, in interior design is quite eclectic. I do love old and new under the same roof, ideally in the same room.
I do have a great affection for Gustav Klimt and Alfred Mucha, Art Nouveau and also some Polish artists like Ignacy Witkiewicz.  Both of my parents are/were Historians of Art, so I was always exposed to those influences. It’s difficult to explain why I am so passionate about folk so much; I love the nostalgic feel to it, so often seen in Romantic literature and art. My taste hasn’t evolved that much, I fell in love few times with certain modern designers but my core heroes have never changed. Klimt in particular is very ‘textiley’. I like his highly sensual, patch worked pieces.
I also admire modern architecture, its simplicity of form and purity of material.
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Where can my readers find out more about you and your work?
I am launching my online shop on the 15th of August with all my products and fabrics available. We also have a stockist in Kent and in London and as a new company I am still looking for stockists now. Hopefully soon my fabrics will be widely available.
My website www.juliabrendel.com explains most of my background and inspirations. It also tells the story behind each pattern. I am always happy to explain more but to be honest, as in any good design, the finished product should show the skill, quality and at least a hint of its origins.
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