TOAST Magazine

Textile Artist Lucy Rainbow


Lucy Rainbow is a textile artist and printmaker who has designed and screen printed an organic, fair trade cotton tote bag for TOAST.

She works in Woolwich, in the Thames Side Studios – a vast, community of studios that stretch along the river with views of the Thames Barrier and its string of silver pods.

Lucy’s studio is at the top of an industrial flight of stairs. Though small, it is perfectly formed, with postcards, scraps of fabric and colour charts pinned to its four walls.

The floor, table and stools are speckled with paint marks and there are various indoor plants, taking up most of the windowsill. It is a place to experiment and make and the many pots of brushes and large sheets of paper only invite creativity. 

When we meet Lucy, is testing colours for the bag. On the table in the middle of her studio are the various stages of the printed material. To create the design – inspired by samphire silhouettes from the Norfolk coastline and the colours of the TOAST collection – Lucy has made a collage of sorts, mixing Matisse-like shapes, cut from thick card, with bold, painted dots.

Thame Side Studios has brilliant facilities, offering its artists access to screen printing, etching and offset litho printing. After a cup of tea, Lucy takes us over to the communal printing studio, where she begins to print the fabric.

Watching the process is beguiling – the ink passing smoothly and deftly onto the cloth beneath. When the printing is done she takes the mesh screen to be washed. The power hose is hidden behind a plastic curtain of colour – a Jackson Pollock in the making.

While Lucy’s aesthetic is modern in feel - she calls it 'a crafty modernism' - it was, in fact, the intricate patterns of William Morris that first awakened her to the beauty of textiles. 

In her family home there was a large, William Morris sofa. Previously, Lucy recalls, William Morris fabrics had been expensive and exclusive. This was in part due to the method of their making – the cloth was individually block printed, a slow and time-consuming process. 

But in the 60s and 70s they underwent a revolution, thanks to the techniques of screen printing. Suddenly it was everywhere – on sofas, curtains, tablecloths - even the Beatles had suits in the fabric. Screen printing democratised the design allowing everyone – including a young Lucy – to enjoy it. 

It wasn’t until she’d had her first child, however, that she finally came around to exploring her passion. She’d studied fine art, worked as set painter and decorative gilder, but somehow managed to avoid working in the subject she most loved.

The birth of her son prompted change. She enrolled on a BA in textiles, where she learnt all about screen printing, followed by a two-year MA at the Royal College of Art.

Today, Lucy creates sustainable, hand crafted textiles that are inspired by domestic ephemera and nature. She is also, fittingly, the Schools and Families Learning Officer at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. Organising free events, involving the permanent and temporary collections, she enjoys delighting the next generation with the wonders of textile design.

Lucy's tote bag is available now. Lucy also designed the Ginkgo Print for the AW19 collection.

Images by Kendal Noctor.

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