CLARE LOUISE FROST

 Distinctive motifs, unexpected colors, made entirely by hand; no one does fabric quite like Clare Louise Frost.

Clare understands the nuances of craft with a deep appreciation for the time and skill of each artisan a who create her designs.

If bold show stopping textiles speak to you, keep reading to discover the world of Clare Louise Frost. 

WHEN DID YOU FIRST FALL IN LOVE WITH TEXTILES? 

I don't remember a time I didn't like textiles. As the youngest of three girls, I always had hand-me-downs, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. My oldest sister is ten years older than I am, I got to wear 'vintage' from a very young age. I remember a very 1970's terry top + shorts set in greens that I was very fond of and wore in the mid 1980's. I also had a few Osh K'Osh outfits (hand-me-downs from my middle sister) with very cool prints- tropical fruits and handprints and the like. I remember noting them and having favorites. 
 
A great influence has always been my grandmother, Marie. She was an excellent seamstress, she could see a dress at a shop and go home and copy it. She made clothes for her own children and then her grandchildren too. She made beautiful dresses for us; velvet dresses with lace trim, each girl getting a slightly different style and a different color. She bought us great ribbons at the trim store to wear in our hair. I admired her hand-stitched hems, the button holes she had done at a certain shop, the choice of buttons... she was a very careful and creative designer. She passed away when I was little, but her legacy warms me and her skills and talents have always been a source of family pride. I still use her Bernina Nova sewing machine, a 1979 model, the last one she had before she passed away. It is still an excellent machine. 

Through her work, I looked at textiles through the lens of clothing- drape, movement, feel, and pattern. Of course I was one of those children who made lots of miniature clothing for her dolls, with ribbon trim and great buttons. I've always loved to sew and do it still, especially hand-sewing whenever I have the chance. I find it very relaxing. There is no greater feel or luxury than something hand sewn. 

DESIGNER, WORLD TRAVELER, COLLECTOR, MODEL, ACTRESS AND NOW SHOP OWNER- HOW DO YOU BALANCE SO MANY DIFFERENT CREATIVE OUTLETS?

Oof world traveler- hardly! There is so much I haven't seen, that is more an ambition than a fact.

In high school I did theatre, sometimes I did costumes for the productions. I remember staying up late to finish an embellished coat for the dentist in 'Little Shop' with a sparkly bleeding tooth on the back. It actually all seems to make sense to me- and anyway who only has one love?

Once on set, I was chit-chatting with another actor, she was talking about temp jobs, and asked me what else I did. I said I was a non-commercial textile designer designing and producing handmade textiles in small quantities. She just laughed. It was like 'That's Your Plan B? You're nuts!'

I feel lucky to have a great "day job" that allows me to do what I love every day, and somehow I pay the bills that way. Why just do one thing? I love them all. They are all in me. Tamam is closed on days when I'm on set. That's the balance!

YOUR COLLECTION CELEBRATES CRAFT, HOW HAS WORKING WITH ARTISANS INFORMED HOW YOU APPROACH CREATING NEW FABRICS? DO YOU START WITH AN IDEA IN MIND OR DO YOU ALLOW THEIR TECHNIQUE TO INSPIRE YOU?

Technique is critical! It is an inspiration and guide as well as a limitation. Every game has rules, as do embroidery, weaving, and block printing. The fun challenge is filtering an idea through a technique. How can I do this in a block print? One of my fabrics, Kinship, was originally painted in gouache and watercolor. How do you made a block print look painterly? You can do it by overlapping shapes and the way the block is carved and by the use of color.
 
I usually have an idea that swarms around my head for a few years, if it's lasted that long, it's probably still interesting enough to me to make a design out of. Some designs that are coming out this year have been in the making since 2015 or so. Often there are a few designs swarming around a similar idea: Black (and Blue) Domino, Blue Chain, and the new Almeron are all the same idea. They are all taken from Japanese arts; kimono prints and heraldic crests.

Many of my designs are very personal; Islands is where I used to live, Lucky and Capsi are my dogs that I miss terribly. Nazar, Naz, and Maşallah are all love letters to Turkey- some in pillow, some in fabric form. Muscles and a new print called Curtains (for now) a new print coming out in two colorways, were all inspired by The Anatomy Coloring Book and blood vessels. Because ideas can literally be anything, it is wonderful to have the "limitation" of the blocks. 

There is always opportunity in each technique. You can flip a block around and make a new design, or do a mirror image stripe. I have a new design in the works that is basically a stripe, but in one colorway it is horizontal, and the other it is vertical. Blocks give you that flexibility. In some designs, I take out a block or two and make a new version of a design. You can play endlessly with blocks. 

 I am not trying to do any classic Indian prints, as absolutely gorgeous as they are. Block printing can be used for so many different voices and styles. Some of my designs have blocks that are 12" which is enormous. The blocks are heavy and hard to control, you can't see the other side of them so you are practically printing blind, only the best printers dare. Diamond looks very chunky and it is a beast to print because of this. Window and Meander, too pose their own challenges, although at least those are stripes. Snake is a jigsaw puzzle. 

I let the embroidery techniques inform my embroidery designs. I adore traditional embroidery forms and they can be wonderfully re-worked in different colors and formats that make them entirely new while paying homage to the great long traditions of expert artists. Embroidery is extremely difficult and slow, not everyone can do it. A lot of the embroidery is used for pillows because hand-embroidered fabrics take lead times not many are willing to wait for. I can get obsessed with a stitch and go crazy for it.

Handwork is a social justice and labor issue; I think we don't talk about that enough. I love to buy old textiles, collect old wonderful things, but there is a social and cultural value to supporting the experts who create culture now, and to continue to create real, made things. We have too much in the world already that was made quickly and cheaply and by people who work under terrible and unfair conditions. Organic food, too, can be thought of as a labor issue, right? Who wants people working in chemical fields? It is just not a healthy working environment. I know the people who make my designs and I think that is important, too. They are people, I know their hands and they know my work, my color sense, my style. It is a conversation.

WE ADMIRE THAT YOU TAKE A THOUGHTFUL APPROACH TO RELEASING NEW DESIGNS, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU ARE READY TO INTRODUCE A NEW FABRIC TO THE WORLD?

Does that mean I'm slow?! I don't care about 'collections' or 'seasons.' I am interested in pursuing ideas that are interesting, not just putting out new designs or color ways because I can. I don't follow popular colors or styles which is a terrible way to run a business, but what's the point, otherwise? 
 
My work is affected by the holidays celebrated by the people who produce my work, by their personal lives and sometimes unthinkable (for us) things that happen to them. Things like monsoon season in Gujarat, floods in Kabul, people disappearing and not being found again, people leaving Afghanistan for better opportunities elsewhere, hopefully. Every time there is an explosion in Kabul... 
 
I am not in a hurry; it is, after all, just fabric. My work is truly not for everyone, and I am more and more okay with that. I am not trying to make fabrics that please, although I think my fabrics can invoke pleasure! In a self-selected audience, to be sure. I don't time any 'releases' of new fabrics, they are done when they are done. I don't think the world cares about a new fabric! Or they don't need to care one day in particular instead of another or during a certain commercial schedule that I wouldn't be a part of anyway- I feel that my audience will find it when they find it, if they find it! 

YOUR FABRICS HAVE SUCH A DISTINCT PERSONALITY, WHICH OF YOUR DESIGNS DO YOU LOVE MOST? 

Every day, a new answer. I like how different they are and how differently they play in different contexts. Of course, when I see my prints, all I see is my hand painting and drawing the original... and thinking of all the flaws in the line here. Then seeing it drying in the sun in Gujarat and hoping it's not going to get dusty and dirty, or being packed and shipped in Kabul and hoping there's no tea stains on the yardage, etc, etc. It's really hard not to see the context of its production, often it seems like a miracle any of it exists at all.

I love Flower in the Apricot color way, and Olive in the Moonlight, and my Kabul and Herat stripes. My top favorite is probably the hand-embroidered and beaded Farima which is discontinued because she is such a f&%*$*)$&^%&^*$ nightmare to produce. The outline is block-printed, then the fabrics goes to women who work in a women's center in what is called the "second biggest slum in Ahmedabad." They work 5 to 6 hours a day and the calluses are legendary, it takes months to produce. But she is available to those who can wait. I have all sorts of off-yardage in two rooms in my apartment as floor-to-ceiling curtains. I look at her in all her quirky elegant fierce glory every day and still love her.

TRAVEL IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF YOUR LIFE AS WELL AS A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION. YOU'VE LIVED IN AND VISITED SO MANY EXCITING PLACES, WHERE DO YOU MOST LOVE RETURNING TO?

I am lucky to travel to Gujarat for printing and embroidery, and to swing by Mumbai on the way out. Production is the best part of the job and I pinch myself the entire time I'm there, how lucky can I be? Every time I go, I learn so much about printing and embroidery, it is always so exciting to see the unlimited potential of these crafts. Also, Gujarati food is amazing.
 
Turkey and Italy- obviously! If I make it big, I'm retiring to the Aegean immediately, it is the most beautiful part of the world. In August I'm going to Sicily with a wine friend and my cousin. We are focussing on women winemakers and I can't wait. Besides textiles and acting, real wine is my other great love!
 
I am planning a Turkey tour with Danielle Kelling with The Passenger Travel for next spring. So stay tuned, you won't want to miss it!

WHAT'S COMING NEXT?

I am excited for the continued success of Tamam, the shop that Elizabeth Hewitt, Hüseyin Kaplan, and I opened recently. It is such a great outlet and platform for the things I love and I think others should love too. Antique and vintage carpets from Turkey and Caucasia, textiles we've all collected from Central Asia, Turkey, India, etc, made-to-order hand-painted Iznik tiles, and so many other great things. We also produce new, handwoven and hand-knotted carpets and kilims. I am excited to continue making fabulous and high quality rugs for trade and private clients alike. Twin joys- sharing old things and making new things with old techniques.
 
I am excited about Almeron, a design I first did as a printed paper in a different scale and color back in... 2012 ?! It is great to see it in its fabric form. I wanted to challenge myself to make something in a smaller scale, but without making it too precious or cute. There is another very different color way on the horizon, too. I love my new Naz pillow, which is hearts with eyes. The blocks are just gorgeous in of themselves, too. 
 
I am excited about some wild and crazy big new prints coming out this year. I'll let them speak for themselves when they arrive, likely after monsoon season. I have a new cache of antique embroidery fragments from my last trip to Ahmedabad. The lovely dealer I visit there provides me with lots of scraps of inspiration- unsellable tiny scraps which I will use as inspiration for new embroidery designs.
 
Full steam ahead! By which I mean slow and as long as it takes...