How Microbatch Textiles Became Cool


Long the domain of established players such as Kravet, Scalamandré, Schumacher and others holed up in Manhattan’s trade-only Decoration & Design Building, fabric for the home is being pushed in a new direction by a bevy of micromakers.

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Rebecca Atwood started her textile company by dyeing fabric for pillows in her Brooklyn kitchen.

Credit
Evan Sung for The New York Times

“There is a made-in-America revival with small atelier-type start-ups,” said Lidewij Edelkoort, dean of hybrid design studies at Parsons School of Design, who spearheaded the first New York Textile Month with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum last September. “Wherever we look, we see a recent return to textiles.”

Wares include pillows, throws and bolts of fabric with gauzy washes of color, patterns that look as though they’ve been painted by hand, stylized tribal motifs and other designs that share a purposely imperfect, bohemian quality.

These fabrics are now streaming into hotels like the Dewberry in Charleston, S.C., restaurants like Amada in Manhattan, stores ranging from hip Brooklyn shops to Barneys New York, and homes both edgy and upscale. They are snapped up by internet wanderers stumbling into online stores, as well as by top interior designers including Steven Gambrel, Jeffrey Bilhuber and Katie Ridder.

“They seem much more special” than run-of-the-mill textiles, Mr. Gambrel said. “The materials, textures and palettes are a bit more peculiar, in a good way, so they feel more real.”

The rise of these boutique textile companies is being propelled by two seemingly opposite trends: the current obsession with products that communicate a sense of handmade authenticity, and digital innovations that make producing and selling textiles in limited quantities easier.

Four years ago, Rebecca Atwood, 32, a painter and former product designer for Anthropologie, began her namesake textile company by dyeing shibori fabric for pillows in her Brooklyn kitchen.

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Caroline Z. Hurley at her studio and boutique in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Credit
Evan Sung for The New York Times

“I hand-painted, printed and dyed the first 60 pillows myself, in my apartment,” Ms. Atwood said. “I was washing silk-screens in my shower and had pillow inserts in the bedroom.”

But after selling out in two months, with only a web store and some recognition from blogs and social media, she expanded.

Today, Ms. Atwood has a couple of employees and produces an extensive range of home fabrics that are dyed, digitally printed, screen-printed, woven or embroidered, with patterns resembling free-form painted brush strokes, naïvely rendered flower blossoms, artfully splattered ink and grids of scribbled pencil.

Caroline Z. Hurley stumbled into a business when friends demanded block-printed textiles she originally made for art projects.

“There’s a real textile trend right now,” said Ms. Hurley, 35, who established her namesake company in 2015 and runs a store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, offering graphic throws, pillows and napkins block-printed by artisans in Massachusetts. “People are bringing a fine arts or funkier spin to it.”

In Los Angeles, Paige Cleveland, 38, a former designer for Juicy Couture, founded Rule of Three in 2013 to produce marbleized silk and linen. The company’s fabric can be found in pillows at Barneys, textile showrooms like ALT for Living and homes designed by interior designers such as Markham Roberts and Amy Lau.

“Every piece is still marbled by hand in the studio, so each piece is one of a kind,” Ms. Cleveland said.

The renewed interest in textile making is also creating enthusiasm for classes. At the Textile Arts Center, which started in Brooklyn in 2009 and added a Manhattan location in 2011, “it’s now bustling around the clock,” said the director, Kelly Valletta, who is expanding class offerings. “We have more enrollment and more interest every year.”

The center’s director of artist programs and outreach, Isa Rodrigues, said: “We’ve been witnessing a boom. We started with four or five looms, and now we have maybe 30, which are always occupied.”

Meanwhile, the center’s in-house design service, 505 Textiles, has worked on custom commissions for the fashion brand Altuzarra; blankets for Ellen DeGeneres’s lifestyle brand, ED; and the earthy wall hangings at Amada, the restaurant designed by AvroKO for the chef Jose Garces.

The textile revival is also being spurred by technology.

“Digital has been a big game changer,” said Stacy Waggoner, an owner of Studio Four NYC, a showroom in the Flatiron district that sells fabrics by Atwood, Clay McLaurin Studio, Flat Vernacular, LuRu Home and other boutique textile makers.

Instagram and e-commerce have made it easy for fledgling companies to promote their wares and sell direct. And the maturation of digital printing means that fabrics can now be created on demand, lowering overhead costs.

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Fabrics and home goods in Ms. Hurley’s boutique.

Credit
Evan Sung for The New York Times

“Nobody inventories anything anymore; it’s all print to order,” Ms. Waggoner said. Because boutique companies require little to no stock, she continued, “they don’t have to make safe choices, and can take more risks with design.”

That’s how Zak Profera, founder of the Manhattan textile company Zak & Fox, got started in 2012. “It made it affordable for someone with a day job trying to figure out how to start a company,” because there was little upfront investment required, said Mr. Profera, 33, who formerly worked in music marketing.

At Eskayel, which began with wallpaper in 2008, added textiles in 2010 and opened a street-level showroom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last October, digital printing is a way to create patterns that would have previously been almost impossible.

“I develop the patterns starting with watercolor paintings, using a lot of water and ink,” said Shanan Campanaro, the company’s founder. She then scans the results, which sometimes resemble Rorschach ink blots, and digitally morphs and multiplies them to create patterns.

The resulting printed fabrics look unlike anything else. “With digital, you can get that watercolor effect, with multiple hues” bleeding together, Ms. Waggoner said, a quality difficult to achieve through screen printing.

Of course, none of these companies could flourish if it weren’t for designers and customers seeking unique fabrics.

“I just wanted to do something wonky, weird and minimal,” said Brook Perdigon, 39, who started her company in Los Angeles in 2015; it prints patterned textiles with screens she cuts by hand. “It totally worked, and people are digging it.”

After years of watching larger textile brands regurgitate time-tested design motifs, she noted, “It’s not about the giant Suzani or big paisley anymore.”

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