Brixton-based textile designer Robyn tells us how her great-grandmother’s notebook inspired her brand, and of the links between creativity and mental health.
- Tell us a bit about Archie Mac London, what do you make or do?
Textile design. It’s all about stories! I use these story-telling textiles to make cushions and purses, and I’m currently working on a range of washbags, make-up bags and iPad covers. In future I plan to create fashion-wear too.
- What do you mean by ‘story-telling textile design’?
It started from a project about childhood. I had the intention of bringing the fun elements of childhood into a more adult form of design.
I interviewed a friend who gave me a fantastic collection of childhood pictures from the ’80s. They were wearing garish T-shirts with Simpsons cartoons on, and I was fascinated by the hair shapes of the characters. I began to manipulate them and use them to create patterns. In this way the designs originated in elements of a childhood story, and carried them into the future. Icons of my own childhood, such as a headless doll, now feature in my designs.
- What kind of processes are involved in creating your cushions?
I begin with childhood images and objects and create collage – using both old-style paper and scissors and computer programs – to explore these shapes and take them backwards and forwards. Sometimes surprising patterns result: some have come up with an Islamic look and then on the next iteration been reminiscent of African prints, others have the look of fractals.
The final designs are printed onto fabric, which I sew into cushions, bags and other items. Commercial printing is extremely expensive, so I’m currently learning screen-printing so that I can also do that part of the process myself in future.
- What inspired you to get started with Archie Mac?
The precious discovery, about a year ago, of an album my great-grandmother, Annie, had kept of her own notes and the charming sketches and cartoons of my great-grandfather, Archie McMillan. He signed each one with his monogram – AMcM, combined to make a little spider – and this inspired the name (Archie Mac) and logo of my brand.
It was so exciting to find this creative ancestry in my family. There has been something of a gap in creative expression in the intervening generations!
I didn’t come from an art background. Until recently I worked in social care, as a mental health support worker with the Community Options Team, and I repeatedly observed the importance of creative activity in restoring confidence and self esteem. This sparked the idea of setting up a social enterprise aimed at developing creative opportunities for other women (which I’ve recently started with workshops at the Eaves Centre in Brixton). Newham College recognised my enthusiasm and took a chance on me, offering me a place on their Fashion Foundation course, which gave me the opportunity to start experimenting with textiles.
- What makes your products special?
The storytelling aspect. I’d love to create bespoke designs for clients which reflect what’s important to them – perhaps featuring images or icons from their own childhood, or those of their children – and incorporate these into textiles or products which are unique to them. A wedding dress, perhaps! I work primarily with fabric but there is no reason why the designs shouldn’t be used to decorate other products. Your own story-telling kettle, or toaster?
I currently hand-stitch my logo, derived from Archie’s monogram, onto every piece. I love that personal connection with each item of my work.
- Tell us about the exciting new workshops you are involved with?
These are workshops in embroidery and beading at the Eaves Centre, a Brixton-based centre for supporting women who experience violence. Currently they are monthly, but I am keen to make them more frequent. The workshops teach new skills and an outlet for creative expression that bypasses any fear about drawing.
The women who attend are each making small panels. We’ve also been making up embroidery packs to send out to women who cannot or do not choose to come to the centre, to encourage them to participate. We are using the theme of ‘hope’ and will combine the small pieces we make into one large panel. We intend to display the final panel to raise awareness and possibly funds for the Eaves centre.
- What attracted you to get involved with Makerhood?
The network is such a wonderful precious thing: there is this lovely cycle of kindness there. It can be lonely being creative and it’s great to know that there’s somewhere so welcoming and supportive in the borough.
- What do you like about living &/or working in Lambeth?
I don’t know what it is about the borough, but it attracts so many creative people. There is a really good network of creatives here, and I have received so much support from people such as Sinead of Crafty Fox, and Colin Crooks and Lydia Gardner on the ‘start your own enterprise course’ run by Tree Shepherd, and also getting involved with Brand Amplifier has been amazing and brilliant!
Also, I greatly value that working in mental health gives me the opportunity to meet people with such different lifestyles and life experiences from my own. Being exposed to such a multicultural, multi-layered community is exciting and inspiring . For example, in the Eaves Centre workshops people bring so many different experiences and ideas to the table.
- What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Lambeth?
One best memory I will take with me if and when I leave will be the conker trees by the Lido – I think I will always feel that childhood excitement from picking up shiny conkers!
To see more of Robyn’s unique, original textiles & products visit www.archiemaclondon.co.uk