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Norfolk designer's world of fabric and florals

PUBLISHED: 12:31 03 July 2012 | UPDATED: 12:48 03 July 2012

Pat Albeck, textile designer. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Pat Albeck, textile designer. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011

Norfolk textile designer Pat Albeck is about to embark on a new project that will be unveiled at an exhibition next month. Emma Harrowing catches up with Pat to find out more.

Pat Albeck’s home provides a glimpse into the glamorous and quite eclectic portfolio of one of Britain’s most respected designers.

Floral prints feature highly. Pat’s Palladio Sunflower printed wallpaper hangs majestically on the walls of her staircase and acts like a precursor to the textile designer’s career to date. The design was first used for a Sanderson wallpaper in the early 60s and was relaunched in 2010 as a wallpaper and fabric and florals provide the backbone of the majority of Pat’s designs to date.

Floral pattern is punctuated with fabrics adorned with illustrations of people. The cushions on Pat’s sofa are made from a dress fabric designed for an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum to celebrate the life of stage designer Sophie Fedorovitch. The design is based on an opera she had designed at the Royal Opera House – La Traviata.

For over 60 years the 82-year-old designer has designed prints for fashion, wallpaper and furnishings.

“Back when I was studying at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s one of the designs I was working on – a black stripe with a red rose – caught the eye of the head of Horrockes Fashions, Jimmy Cleveland Belle, who asked me to come to work for them when I graduated,” says Pat. “I designed furnishing and dress fabrics for them until the late 50s.

“My designs featured florals, but also fruit and vegetables and buildings. I prefer drawing flowers to buildings though.”

Buildings were to feature more in her work in later years. In the 60s Pat worked for Cavendish Ltd, the production company for John Lewis, which included designing a range of tea towels. In the 70s she began what was to become one of her trademark products – designing tea towels for the National Trust. Last year Pat exhibited over 50 tea towels in her All Washed Up exhibition, at Norwich Cathedral.

“Seeing all my tea towels out on display was awe inspiring,” says Pat. “When I look at them now, especially the ones depicting National Trust buildings, I can remember all the work that went into making sure that the designs were as accurate as they could be.

“Of course some of my tea towels picture animals, fruit and vegetables and flowers. Painting floral prints will always be a firm favourite of mine they are easier and so much more fun to draw than buildings.”

Since moving to Aldeburgh in Norfolk 12 years ago, Pat has been painting watercolours from her small studio upstairs in her picturesque house. Most of the paintings are inspired by the gardens at East Ruston. She has also produced designs which include butterfly and pigeon mugs and cat tea towels for her daughter-in-law, British ceramics designer and manufacturer Emma Bridgewater.

Recently, Pat has swapped her HB pencil and paintbrush for a pair of scissors in what looks set to become the next successful project in her illustrious career.

“It was Emma who persuaded me to use cut paper to create floral art instead of using watercolours after I had designed some flowers for her,” says Pat. “I guess you could call these ‘paintings’ 3D in that each petal, the stems and the backgrounds are made from layers of cut paper.”

Pat has designed around eight cut-paper paintings so far and plans to show them for the first time in a private viewing at East Ruston Old Rectory on July 5 – a fitting location considering the gardens have provided an endless source of inspiration for Pat’s most recent designs.

“When I told Alan [Alan Gray is one of the owners of the garden at East Ruston] about my new designs he asked me if they are like Mrs Delaney’s,” says Pat. “I didn’t have a clue who Mrs Delaney was until I was given a book about her. She produced the most delicate and detailed floral cut paper prints in the 18th century. My designs are not as intricate as hers were – well not yet anyway. I like to think that like my previous works, my designs are quite simple and bring out the natural beauty of the flower.”

As Pat’s design technique has changed, her work space has too. Layers upon layers of coloured paper, a pair of scissors and some glue have taken the place of her trusty pencil and sable brush that had become the tools of her 60-year career.

“Everything about designing with paper is a challenge, so you need a lot of patience,” says Pat. “First of all there is a limit to the colours that are available in the papers that I use, so sometimes I will use other materials found around the house such as a cream envelope if the flower is a different shade to the papers I have. There is a bright pink in some of my designs I call ‘Post-It pink’! To get the illusion of light I will use different shades of the same colour. I never use a pencil to sketch the flowers first, I just pick up a piece of paper and use scissors to design the shape, although scissors are not as lenient on your hands as a sable brush.” Despite Pat’s expertise in accurately bringing each type of flower to life on the page, there are some that are as exasperating for Pat to design as the buildings she draws for the National Trust.

“It’s the Iris that is causing me problems,” says Pat. “Every time I try and replicate this beautiful flower using coloured paper it looks so harsh and angry. I’ve tried so many times I think I will just give up!” Judging by Pat’s determination, her past achievements which have seen her rise to any challenge and her expertise with the paintbrush and now a pair of scissors, something tells me that the Iris will be featured in at least one of her new cut paper designs in the not too distant future.

You can see Pat Albeck’s cut paper flower pictures at the Old Vicarage in East Ruston from Friday, July 6. The exhibition will be open at the gardens until July 19. For details call 01692 650432.

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