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In The Studio: Petra Palumbo – MA Textile Design


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Published date
30 August 2017

As she prepares for the final show, MA Textile Design student Petra tells us about what has inspired her, the importance of sustainability in her work and passing on her skills to help tackle youth unemployment.

Describe your experience at Chelsea in 3 words

Liberating, challenging, fun.

Please tell us about your work over the last year

Over the last year, I have been exploring geometry, colour and texture through London’s architecture and urban landscape. I have been particularly inspired by Brutalism, abstraction and gestural design.

In terms of sustainability, I have been promoting it through screen printing and reducing the need to consume:

I have been interested in applying TED’S TEN sustainable design strategies for textile and fashion designers to my work. Whilst screen printing wastes huge amounts of water during production, I can argue that I am designing for longevity and reducing the need to consume by creating a product of the highest quality that customers really desire, that they will want to keep and look after and that will improve with age. Within a culture of rapidly changing tastes and trends, I believe my role as a designer is to create lasting relationships between my customers and products.

Water-based Inks:
I have been using water-based inks that are made with no petro-chemicals, plastic, PVC, phthalates or PCB’s, not only do these inks have positive health implications and the added advantage of being soft to the hand and breathable but they penetrate into fibre becoming part of the garment so the design and product last for decades.

I wanted to find a fabric which was sustainably produced, versatile and of very high quality to use for my tableware; tablecloths and napkins. I decided that linen was the perfect fit as it is strong, naturally moth-resistant and fully biodegradable. Flax, the plant from which linen is made is resilient and can grow in poor soil, using far less water in its consumption than cotton. Linen can withstand high temperatures, making the fabric generally perfect for multiple washes in the washing machine and it absorbs moisture without holding bacteria.

Manufacturing in Britain:
I am also going to tackle sustainability by manufacturing my products in the UK which I believe would have many benefits; supporting local communities by creating jobs, encouraging and reinstating skilled workers, adhering to quality control inspections and audit methodologies, complying with the international fair-trade textile standards, having greater control, flexibility and visibility over supply chains and being more sustainable by producing lower emissions in both production and transport.

Please tell us about your work for the final show

I will be displaying my first collection of sustainably produced, printed linen tableware: x4 tablecloths and x18 napkins. They will be displayed in a conceptual way i.e. not on a table. I have playing around with scale, negative space and composition.  All the prints are using the same imagery but I have assembled them differently.

There are two reasons why I decided to choose tableware: the first is because I love food and the second is because, to me, the dining table is the heart of the home, where families and friends gather to debate, laugh, make announcements and celebrate. I believe that by dressing a table beautifully it can enhance ones sensory experience and therefore, create a lasting memory.

My vision for my tableware is to not only inspire (hopefully) but to challenge the consumer aesthetically, encouraging them to be daring and move away from chintz and florals. My mishmash of abstract prints are very textural, industrial, urban, playful and colourful. I want my tableware to make an impact as soon as you walk into a room and be an instant conversation starter.

What was your greatest challenge in working towards the degree show?

Sensible, organised time management. I’ve learnt to allow twice as much time as I originally think it will take!

What do you see yourself doing after you graduate, what are your career ambitions?

My future plan and goal is to create a sustainable, high-quality ‘Made in Britain’ tableware accessories brand that inspires through pattern and print. My husband is from the Highlands of Scotland which is where we plan to spend more time in future. Hopefully, there will be enough demand to justify setting up an environmentally-conscious, fully-compliant print studio; harnessing the creative energy of local skilled workers. I also want to try to tackle youth unemployment in Inverness, encouraging young people to learn screen printing and build their careers at my studio and therefore, I will be creating a sustainable community (hopefully).

What have you enjoyed most about studying at Chelsea?

It has been the most creatively liberating experience for me, I have found my passion – to print and tread as lightly as possible on the earth through my work and at home. I think it’s wonderful that the common thread that runs through those doing MA Textile Design is that we’re all passionate about the environment in one way or another so that’s what fundamentally binds us. It’s been fascinating debating and learning from my peers about sustainability and watching them tackle it through their work – it’s also been amazing being surrounded by such talented and genuinely lovely people.

What have you most enjoyed about the area around Chelsea? Any tips?

Lebanese Gardens for a grilled Halloumi Sandwich!

Of course Tate Britain for amazing exhibitions.

Battersea park for a brisk walk at lunchtime to clear my head.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about doing your course? Any advice?

I couldn’t recommend it highly enough, go for it.

See more work on Petra’s Instagram

Read more about MA Textile Design and our MA Summer Show