Melissa Ashley is a self-taught designer of printed, sculptural and tactile textiles. She is based in Oxfordshire, UK from which she runs her textiles business, Maud Designs.
To view Melissa’s Designer Profile and complete Patternmash portfolio, click here.
Tell us about your background and how you first came to textile design.
I have no formal educational background in any creative field. I spent my early adult years as a wren in the Royal Navy and after that I moved onto a career as a healthcare professional. It was during a particularly busy and stressful time that I decided to take a career break. I can’t remember why I did the following but I had the urge to go out and buy an “all singing, all dancing” sewing machine! I couldn’t sew. I could even thread the darn thing at first (I’m very reluctant to read instructions). Still, I didn’t give in straight away, I gave it at least 3 days!
After getting over the initial frustration, I packed it away and started my research. I mean, where else do you start when you’re a total beginner? The computer was my life for the next 4 months. I googled everything ‘textiles’ and what a lovely load of visual delights I encountered. With a week to go before Christmas I declared “I’m going to make everyone’s presents this year!” (..much to my partner’s dismay). For the next week, my sewing machine was smoking from churning out cushion after cushion. They were very sculptural, 3D in style made from 100% wool felt and went down very well with their recipients. That January, Maud Designs was born and the start of what has turned into a life changing passion from which I haven’t looked back since. Along the way I’ve been lucky enough to make pieces of art for SCIN Gallery, Clerkenwell (a very large HRH Queen) and Campaign for Wool (exhibitions at Somerset House and Southwark Cathedral).
Was it wool and textiles that you were first interested in or pattern design? Did one lead to the other or was it a general passion for the field that you had?
Initially, it was wool and tactile textiles that first interested me; particularly 100% wool felt and it’s many amazing properties and uses. As time went by though, I became more and more interested in other crafts and traditional skills and I’ve actually attended all sorts of workshops and classes, from ceramics and screen printing to paper marbling, tambour embroidery and straw work. However, discovering Surface Pattern Design was to be a major turning point for me. I have since completed a few online courses and love it. Pattern is absolutely everywhere and you live with it constantly. I love a good pattern!
Do you find your practice with 3D textiles and print design inform one another? Do you ever try to turn your prints into 3D embellishment?
Yes, one can certainly inform the other, especially if your mind works that way. I have hopes of one day turning designs into large wall hangings; taking it from an initial pattern and developing it into something very tactile that incorporates all sorts of embellishments and 3D elements. My problem is that I can’t just ‘do it’, I like to make everything myself. For example, if I was to use sequins, I would want to make the actual sequins myself. Or if embroidering with ribbon, I wouldn’t want to just go and buy it off the shelf, I would want to refine the colours and dye it by hand. I certainly don’t make it easy for myself!! Another aspect of surface design I’m interested in are wall tiles. There is a company called Kaza Concrete which make the most amazing wall tiles with 3D effects and I think a lot of my basic designs would lend themselves to something like this. Again, it’s not straight forward though. You need knowledge, time and that all important financial input.
You recently travelled to NYC and attended one of Helen Dealtry’s water colour classes. What did you learn and do you feel it gave you a boost in confidence? What is it about Helen’s work that you love?
Oh, Helen Dealtry is one amazing designer/artist (in MY opinion!). She is such a humble, down to earth lady, a lovely person and great teacher. There’s no denying, I’m jealous of her skills – a Brit who’s made a new life for herself in vibrant Brooklyn! I loved NYC, I’d never been before and was really pleased to have secured a place on the class as they sell like hot cakes; you have to be quick and there’s no wonder why. I would always look at Helen’s work and drool (can I say that!). Effortless, very loose florals with fabulous use of colour. However, they may seem effortless but are actually far more difficult to achieve!
Did it give me confidence? (laughs to self). No, quite the opposite, I was pretty useless and it can be quite frustrating. It did give me some basic foundations to work on. Don’t get me wrong, Helen’s class is brilliant and I would highly recommend it, I just didn’t have the background experience to enable me to understand everything. Practice, practice, practice, that’s what I say! All of the classes/courses I have taken part in have taught me something. In the end, you may find that a particular technique they are teaching simply ‘isn’t for you’, but you have gained knowledge that can be taken in different directions, not rigidly kept in one place. I’m still discovering hands on ‘painting’. I’ve recently taken part in Sarah Campbell’s textile design weekend at the Bradness Gallery in Sussex and Este MacLeod’s online course “Explore Colour’ – I found both very worthwhile. It’s nice to get away from computer generated graphics and use a hands on approach to create something more personal. I’m not giving up any time soon.
What has been your favourite Patternmash project and why?
Oh gosh, that’s a difficult one. They all challenge me…in a good way! I suppose if I HAD to choose one though…….umm, no I can’t! I think the Poolside project was the most fun to research. Azulejo was very visually rewarding and Ancient Mariner just appealed to me (maybe that has something to do with being an ex-sailor!!). I have to say Hannah has a great way of putting each project together and the weekly emails/prompts certainly inspire.
What does the future hold for Maud Designs? Any plans or upcoming projects/exhibitions you can give us details on? Tell us what direction your work is going in.
Who knows what the future holds! I recently got married and have pretty much had things on hold for the last eight months – who knew organising a wedding would be so time consuming. I would always welcome further work with Campaign for Wool because I enjoy creating one-off pieces of textile art.
As for the direction my work is going in, I love to mix things up, explore new processes and traditional craft so I’ll no doubt carry on with that side of development. My main aim would be to get an agent to represent my pattern design work. I haven’t gone down that road yet as I believe I’m still learning. When I’m ready, I’ll pursue it and do a bit of research for the right fit. I’m not in any rush. I’m enjoying the freedom of what I do and plan to be in it for the long run.