Makers Tales


Makers insights – Sarah Burns

Our founder members talk about what has inspired them, how they work and how to survive as a maker.

Makers Tales Collective: Sarah Burns, we are delighted to have the opportunity of finding out a little more about who or what has inspired you in the creation of your beautiful block printed and naturally dyed textile collection.

Sarah Burns:I’m originally from South Africa and love the traditional shwe shwe cloth or German print that is worn traditionally by domestic servants – I’ve named one of my recent designs Margaret after the lovely woman who looked after me and my brother when we were little. I’m very much inspired by vernacular arts and crafts – like the beautiful Romanesque carvings and medieval wall paintings you find in ancient churches around where I live in West Sussex – their bold colours and rhythmic patterns are really wonderful. I like the immediacy and vitality of Peggy Angus for the same reasons. I especially like that she thought about and understood some of the reasons behind pattern making; for me making patterns is full of emotion and I love that she devoted her life to teaching people more about that.

MTC: With all the different processes involved in producing the Patternmakers Collection, could you give us a brief run-down of your working day?

 Sarah Burns: The actual process of patternmaking and printing is what inspires me most. The fabric I begin with, the process of mordanting, preparing the dyes from roots and berries and the act of printmaking itself. At each stage materials change and marks alter, the smells, tastes and feelings – it’s a very sensual process and one I’ve become completely captivated by.  The process of dyeing and printing has a definite rhythm to it that definitely shapes my days and weeks. I normally print or dye all morning and then get on with other tasks in the afternoon – like preparing orders, organising workshops, talking to clients etc. After supper, I often like to cut blocks as they are lovely and soft if you sit on the lino as you eat. In the evenings I’m not good for much excepting getting ready for the next day and maybe doing a bit of website admin. I often find that as I fall asleep problems that have been bugging me all day untangle themselves and new images float into my mind just as I doze off. 

MTC: What has been your most exciting project?

Sarah Burns: I loved working with the archive of 1930s weaver Elisabeth Peacock to design new patterns for the Green Table Cafe at Dartington Hall. Her extraordinary work hangs in the Great Hall there and has always inspired me. I also really enjoyed researching and writing my book about pioneering 1930’s textile designers Phyllis Barron & Dorothy Larcher.Their commitment to slow, natural textiles has been one of the founding principles of my own practice and one which I hope will inspire others.

MTC: As a designer leading the way in sustainable textiles do you have any tips for survival in this field?

Sarah Burns:

1)Follow your passion and be brave.

2)Work hard and keep going – stamina is just as important as talent.

3)Try and learn something from everyone you meet – being open & curious will enrich your practice.

4)Find good people to work with – the ideas you have together will nearly always be better than thoughts you have alone. They will be there to keep you going when you run out of steam.

MTC: We imagine your creative day to be a long one but what is your most creative time?

Sarah Burns: I’m at my most creative first thing in the morning so I try and get all my blocks, fabric & colour prepped the night before so that I can get up early start printing first thing. I always try to start my day with a walk on the Downs or a walk around the garden – spending time in nature helps me clear my mind and see more clearly.

MTC: What is the most essential tool in your process?

Sarah Burns: My lino cutting tools. I’m always cutting a block or thinking abut cutting a block – it’s the way I design, so I definitely need my lino cutting toools to hand.

Sussex Oak block printed textile

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