Kathryn Sanderson: Expat textile designer thrives in France
Kathryn Sanderson is an Australian textile designer working and living in the north of France. Born in Condobolin, New South Wales, and trained at the University of Technology Sydney where, Kathryn says by way of “pure sweat and tears”, she achieved an Honors Degree in Fashion and Textiles.
She loves to weave and has her own loom which has travelled the world with her. She specialises in hand screen-prints of her own designs, which she makes into unique cushions using 100% Belgian linen, and Australian printing ink, which is solvent free and environmentally friendly. Kathryn and her husband Aris live in an ex-café at Ligny-lès-Aire, population 500.
What made you decide to move to France and Nord Pas-de-Calais in particular?
My husband and I lived in Athens, Greece for four years but we found it wasn’t quite the right location for our business. We chose France because it’s central to the whole of Europe, and the location of our home and studio in Nord Pas-de-Calais allows us to access an arterial freeway within ten minutes. From here we can go anywhere — two hours from Paris and Brussels, under three hours to Amsterdam, and two and a half hours to London.
Now that we are here, we have discovered that we are quite suited to the weather and love our tiny rural village.
Was it how you imagined it would be when you moved to your village?
It’s better. I did not expect to have such wonderful neighbours. They really are good, wonderful people and so very patient with our poor language skills. Rather than avoid conversation with us, they persist and repeat sentences using different vocab until we understand. We learn so much more because of this attitude and we are very grateful that they are so friendly. There is great value placed on growing your own food, not being overly material in nature, working hard and enjoying family time.
What inspires your designs while you’re sitting in this tiny remote village in France?
To be honest, my work is not directly inspired by where I live. My life and lifestyle are definitely inspired by this village but those characteristics are vernacular to the region. Generally, inspiration for my work comes from memory, a natural experience that I’ve had in my life or something I’ve witnessed, but more often comes from learning something remarkable about an animal or plant.
My monarch butterfly pattern was inspired by learning about its extraordinary migratory habits. They are the only butterfly that migrate north and south like certain bird species. The normal lifespan of a butterfly is two months but the journey exceeds its lifespan. So there are designated geographical sites along the migratory path where the butterflies lay eggs or overwinter and each generation takes part of the journey.
What baffles scientists is that each generation knows where it’s laying or overwintering location is even though it has never been there and is born of a generation that has never been there, appearing as if flight patterns are in some way inherited. This is the good stuff, the spark that gets the ideas flowing. So to ‘get inspired’ I like to visit zoos, sanctuaries, museums, watch documentaries and read books about life and nature.
Have you found it hard to set up a new business in France?
From a public administrative viewpoint, and having tried to start a business in another European country, I can tell you that starting a new business in France is a breeze. With the newly introduced Auto-Entrepreneur scheme almost anyone can easily register and maintain a business without aid. I have very poor French skills but have been able to navigate my way through the forms and documents required of me.
From a day-to-day viewpoint, there are challenges. In Australia I could find anything I wanted, rare textile finishing services or specialised suppliers. I could hunt down anything and could communicate freely what I wanted.
Here is another story entirely. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is standing in front of a service provider who has stuffed up your job and you can’t communicate with them about what went wrong and how it could be rectified. I stumble on language everywhere I turn. Even trying to find an industry specific product or service in Pages Jaunes can be a challenge.
But it’s a good way to learn. I never forget an elusive word that I’ve had to work hard to discover.
The most recent assignment was to find a new screen coating trough. It is a piece of extruded aluminium, long and curved like guttering, used to apply photo emulsion to a mesh screen used for screen printing. In French they are called raclettes creuses en inox. It took me hours to work out what it was called but in the end, I found its name by searching online for serigraphie (screen printing) and fournitures (supplies).
What’s the best thing about being a designer in France?
A world of cultural input — European history is enthralling and it’s given me a concise sense of contribution to culture, art and design. Great things happen in Europe, so many cultures in such a small geographical area, it’s a giant living organism. Brilliant. As a small business owner, France is perfect; there are not many European countries that have such an innovative business registration scheme.
What do you do when you’re not in the studio?
I love the city of Lille, no contest. It’s a lovely place to shop and hang out. Summer nights are wonderful with relaxed al fresco dining and chilled-out pubs and wine bars. It’s a very cool city and a great place for dinner meetings; some of our suppliers are there as well as two of France’s more successful online business stationery printers, so it’s extremely convenient for us to pick up goods.
Kathryn rocks it old school — contact her via email to receive her catalogue or visit her website here.Image credits:
1. Courtesy Kathryn Sanderson
2. Ligny-lès-Aire via cartesfrance.fr
3. BY Janine Marsh
4. By Janine Marsh