Debra Prinzing

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Here’s how her garden influences one textile designer

Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Sina Pearson relies on regular visits to her island garden in Washington state to inspire her teextile designs.

Sina Pearson relies on regular visits to her island garden in Washington state to inspire her teextile designs.

I met Sina Pearson in 2006 when her publicist Susan Harkavy arranged a visit to the textile designer’s aerie (aka studio, atelier, loft) in SoHo.

I was in New York City with Bill Wright to photograph an amazing glass-and-steel West Village “shed” for Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, but I took a side trip for an hour to meet Sina and see her work.

She grew up in Washington State and studied art and textiles at the University of Washington. Our common Pacific Northwest roots gave us an easy, mutual language, designer-to-writer, as we talked about her interests, influences and passions.

Recently, Garden Design magazine invited me to profile Sina as “One to Watch,” with a short Q-and-A that appears in the November-December 2009 issue. Due to space, a portion of my interview did not make it into the print edition. So here it is in full, along with some photos that Sina shared from her garden in Washington’s Fidalgo Island (Skagit Valley).

Garden Design NovDec001ONE TO WATCH:

Textile designer Sina Pearson may live and work in SoHo but trips outside the city inspire her saturated stripes and vibrant abstracts.

She spends one week each month at a remote island cabin in Washington State, surrounded by a semi-wild garden, just steps away from the 1950s A-frame where she played each summer as a child. Sojourns abroad include idea-gathering places like Scandinavia, France, Mexico and the Caribbean. Collectively, these design “threads” are woven into finished cloth: confident, evocative – and high performance – textiles for residences, hotels, restaurants, offices and outdoor settings.

sina-pearsonThe designer, manufacturer and entrepreneur trained in fine arts and textiles at the University of Washington before earning a MFA in textiles from Cranbrook and studying at the Royal Academy of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm. She launched Sina Pearson Textiles in 1990.

Pearson reinterprets outdoor fabric that looks as if it belongs inside, including terrycloth, chenille and boucle cloth made with Sunbrella® yarns for sunfast, stain-, rain- and mildew resistance. Her newest collection, out next spring, is called Colores de Mexico. Her influence? The orange-striped, hand-woven Mexican curtains that Pearson’s mother hung in the family’s beach cabin. “It has an ethnic, modernist vibe with a serape-like texture,” she says.

 Q. Tell me about your Fidalgo Island garden and how it informs your textiles:

 A. I could not be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t have my garden. It frees my soul and lets me experiment with weaving colors and textures together. The way I work in my garden is very much how I work in textiles. I’ve always maintained that you have to listen to what the fabric wants to be – it’s a wonderfully slow process. Similarly, I have to let my garden design itself. I observe how each plant color works together, how each season is revealed in flower, foliage and blade.  

Q. What influences you as a designer?

A. I can’t separate how I’ve grown up from what I am now. My parents were so visual – my mother was a landscape designer and my father was a photographer. We had Jack Lenor Larson’s textiles in our house. I cannot remember a time when I was not playing with fabric. Family legend recalls me cutting textiles into small pieces and arranging them on the sofa when I was two. At 12, I learned weaving from a Swedish woman and batik design from Ruth Pennington, a very fine metal artist. I created a huge, abstract piece of batik silk with fuchsia pink, bright orange and red colors. We hung it up in the sun and it looked like a stained glass window. Ruth turned to my mom and said: “Sina has a career in textiles.”

Q. How is your Scandinavian heritage reflected in your work?

A. I grew up with Danish modern furniture and I double-majored in Swedish language and literature in college. I also lived and studied in Sweden. When I design, I am looking for “emotion” – the feeling conveyed by yarns, colors and textures in my fabrics. After my last trip to Scandinavia, I created a collection evocative of what my ancestors would have woven to wrap themselves in for warmth: soft, heathery “comfort” fabrics that are hand-crafted, quiet, simple and dignified.

cote d azur_03Q. How have you re-imagined outdoor fabric as something more than utilitarian?

A. When I first started in the contract fabric industry in the late 70s and 1980s, everything was rather plain. That all changed when I went to Unika Vaev as president and design director. We introduced the first tapestry for contract interiors. Herman Miller put our tapestries on its new paneling system and broke open the whole concept of patterned fabrics.

The same thing has happened now that I’m designing outdoor fabric with Sunbrella® yarns. I wanted to invigorate outdoor fabrics with modern designs. I’m a big proponent of mixing cool and warm colors together. I also like to use neutrals – sage, taupe, mid-tone brown – with brighter colors to give a reference to nature.

Q. What is the ideal exterior setting for Sina Pearson’s textiles?

IMG_3265A. A space where the interiors blend with nature as occupants move from indoors through a covered area to the outdoors. I love to see complementary fabrics and colors in all three environments. I don’t design my outdoor fabrics separate from my interiors collection. My outdoor fabrics look and feel just like indoor textiles, yet they are made with high-performance fibers for resistance to sun, mold and mildew.

Q. What is on your drafting table right now?

A. I have little piles of yarn sitting on my desk. I’m playing with brighter palettes to create fabrics with clean, crisp colors of summer. I’m also playing with simple shapes, hand-cutting paper into geometric forms – stripes and flowers. I find it very satisfying. I look like a second-grader, sitting on the floor cutting out bits and pieces.

–Debra Prinzing