Stories Behind The Designs – A Family Affair

Some fabric companies use vintage, often archived designs as inspiration, reproducing and re-colouring them. The V and A has a wonderful collection of fabrics from the last few centuries which are a rich resource for all.  Beautiful old fabrics come up for sale at auction houses and even car boot sales; Cath Kidston sourced some of her designs from old eiderdowns… Another approach is to task specialist designers to come up with ideas or ask other artists and crafts people to create designs..

At Vanessa Arbuthnott it’s just me and occasionally my family, which is why the designs are quite simple…we can’t think beyond 3 or 4 colours!

I use many different mediums:  pencil on tracing paper, lino printing, or paper cutting; all of which reveal their own distinctive marks.  For example:  My Fruit Garden and Up in the Air designs were created by cutting paper shapes, for Cow Parsley and Up the Garden Path it was pencil drawing and for Life and Eternity Detail, Simple Ticking Detail, and Herbaceous Border, lino and wood block.

Here’s a little history behind some of my designs…

Gypsy Garland and Up the Garden Path – Vanessa

Both of these designs were inspired by a visit to Stockholm in Sweden.

I first saw the trailing leaves depicted in my Path design on a beautiful vintage linen skirt worn by someone.  It wasn’t until I returned home that this visual memory became the beginnings of a new design.

Similarly, the emblems in Gypsy Garland mirror indigenous Swedish design and can be found on fabrics and even in their architecture.

Gypsy Garland


Charcoal / Dove / Clay


Damson / Saffron / Cornflower / Smoke

My Traditional Sofa: a timeless comfortable sofa available in three sizes. It comes with a choice of tapered or turned legs, and also back cushions for extra comfort.

Up the Garden Path


Dove / Pigeon / Mushroom / Winter


Duck Egg / Smoke / Teal


Dusky Pink / Pumpkin / Saffron


LEFT:  This is a real statement, using dark Winter blacks on the curtain in Up the Garden Path, but also on the cushions, chair and wall colour. It was such a strong lifestyle image that I ended up using it as the front cover of my 2018 brochure!

RIGHT: Another single curtain, this time in Up the Garden Path in Teal. Blues and greens are always a beautiful combination.

Fruit Garden

This design from my Orchard Collection was directly inspired by a course I joined during a Lucienne Day exhibition in Cirencester. The morning course took a close look at Lucienne’s famous mid-century designs and then we set about with scissors and paper to make our own patterns and marks.


Clay, Sweet Pea / Damson, Light Kale, Winter / Pigeon, Powder Blue, Charcoal / Powder Blue, Pigeon, Charcoal


Buttercup, Clay, Winter / Straw, Pigeon, Charcoal / Peach, Smoke, Winter / Plum, Light Kale, Winter

An elegant Traditional Sofa in Fruit Garden – Damson, Light Kale, and Winter, with dark coloured square tapered legs.

By the Sea – Nicholas

The Artists’ Collection is the result of a huge family effort. One New Year’s Day I had a fall, leaving me with two broken wrists, making it impossible to hold a pencil. I worked with my husband Nicholas, curating his sketches and translating them into workable patterns and scales. Finally, I was able to enjoy the last part of the process: choosing colours for the new designs, to pull them together and enable them to sit comfortably with my other collections.

My husband designed this wonderful seaside print which I have called ‘By the Sea’.

In Nick’s own words: ‘By the Sea’ was inspired by my early childhood in Solva and visits to Mousehole and St Ives. I delight in coastal towns with their cosy harbours and brightly coloured cottages, nestling behind little pathways that snake between terraced gardens and climb up the hillside.”


Scree, Charcoal / Teal, Charcoal / Saffron, Charcoal

Bird Hop, In Full Flight and Branching Out – Flora

These designs were created by my younger daughter Flora, who is a printmaker, forager, and natural dyer, inspired by wild plants and natural forms, birds, and creatures.

Flora says: “I grew up in the countryside in Gloucestershire and was taught to paint and print by my mother when I was a child. I then moved away to study product design at Glasgow School of Art. Following this, I sought to reconnect with my roots and with the natural raw elements of where the materials of my work come from. I was drawn to Devon to study permaculture and wild plants. My interest in plants and fungi go beyond colour. I love to forage for food and make herbal medicines. To be wild is to know how to look after ourselves. To be in relationship with the plants growing around us intimately. There are no weeds, only medicines, foods, dye plants, and craft materials. Being with the flow of the seasons.”

Flora runs inspiring online courses as part of her ‘Plants & Colour’ page: for more of an insight into her work, please visit her Instagram account.

Bird Hop print depicts a characterful and friendly bird. She created this shape by cutting with a craft knife straight into a piece of paper without drawing first…resulting in this crisp, spontaneous result.

Branching Out and In Full Flight are two more bird print fabrics inspired by screen printing with paper cut outs. Each depicts flying stylized birds set within a leafy trellis.  Flora: “I find it inspiring to walk along hedgerows watching birds fly down to eat the blackberries and gather twigs for their nests…”


Saffron / Smoke


LEFT: Hanging in the middle of the room, and added some much needed colour, is a lovely golden Saffron lampshade in Bird Hop.

RIGHT: The Single curtain in Bird Hop – Smoke, is the best pattern to go alongside these natural textures in designs within the room!

 In Full Flight


Teal, Winter / Damson, WinterPowder Blue, Charcoal


Wonderful made-to-measure single door curtain on a portiere rod that fits to the door frame and door.  A single width curtain with heavy bump interlining, traps layers of air to help with insulation and helps keep draughts at bay.

Branching Out


Teal / Charcoal / Lily Pink / Scree


LEFT: This chair has been covered in the Branching Out in Scree, and is just the perfect colour for my Pretty Maids – Dusky Pink and Winter Wall Covering!

RIGHT: The Branching Out in Charcoal goes well with the lines of the illustrative By the Sea, simple yet effective.

Our very useful and compact Cuber Footstool, is covered here in Branching Out – Teal. A place to sit or place your book and cuppa. Great for children too!

Wild and Free – Rose

An enchanting animal fabric: Quirky, light-hearted and fun from my Birds and Beasts Collection. Wild & Free is a whimsical depiction of magical wild animals designed by my daughter, Rose. Printed in the UK on a 100% eco Linen. This design also saw the introduction of some beautiful colours: Tomato, Terracotta, Saffron, Kale, Smoke, and Limestone.

Rose says: “I started designing ‘Wild & Free whilst on a course at the British Museum. I walked around the corner to a wonderful art shop called Cornelissen & Son, bought a set of giant colouring pencils and started drawing images of animals in the museum. I drew a bull from a 4th Century BC Etruscan vase and more magical creatures from ancient cave art illustrated on some shamanic cards. I feasted on 7th Century BC Assyrian relief carvings of deer hunts and then went on to draw the African inspired Acacia tree.”


Tomato / Terracotta, Charcoal


Saffron, Dormouse / Kale, Charcoal


 Smoke, CharcoalLimestone, Soft Charcoal


The very first sampling at my printers.Trying out new colours until eventually being made up into either furniture of soft furnishings! It really does transform the fabric, as you can see here in the Kale where it’s been made into a beautiful single curtain.

Harris Tweed

My earthy range of Harris Tweed is woven exclusively for me on the small islands of Harris and Lewis. The tweeds are woven using 100% Scottish Wool.

The colours are amazing, seemingly a lone colour until you look closely and notice that they are made from many soft colours all reminiscent of the natural landscape.

Rose visited the Isle of Harris for me: “I journeyed around the west coast of Scotland painting land and seascapes in my camper van called Patrick. Accompanied by my friend Jess, I took the long road to Ullapool with a view to reaching a far-flung book festival in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. We took the early ferry surrounded by beautiful sea light; the entire bay was in twinkling shade. We embarked on the hunt for Harris Tweed, driving all the way around the mountainous Isle of Harris and Lewis too, with scattered homes in little bays between an abundance of sheep covered hillocks. We visited the home looms, little sheds next to the houses (hence the phrase ‘home spun’) selecting samples of beautiful colours reflective of the landscape: bracken, sea, and sky.


Grass / Sea / Sky


I then made a visit to the islands myself and am photographed above with the celebrated tweed weaver, Donald John Mackay who lives by the beautiful Luskentrye beach. It was Donald and Maureen who first received the enquiry from Nike which led to the development of a limited-edition Harris Tweed running shoe. From a humble shed, perched above a beautiful white beach with crystal clear waters, John worked himself onto the Queen’s honours list, producing tweed for a sportswear giant and mobilising an army of producers. “They called back and wanted to order 10,000 yards of cloth for a trainer. I only weave on average 27 yards a day, so it would have taken me years to produce.” Donald set about mobilising weavers throughout the Outer Hebrides. Three months and lots of man hours later they had completed the order. Nike were delighted, the new Terminator trainer was a huge success and they rang back for another 10,000 yards.

The wind whips up off the green blue sea of Luskentyre and nips at our faces as we head to see Donald. His weaving shed sits next to the house overlooking the bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, where the sand is porcelain white, and the water is a thousand shades of green and blue.”

The inclusion of tweed in a room adds wonderful texture and a grounded, organic feel. It suits cushions particularly well which we can make for you in various sizes and finishes through our made to measure service.

For the Love of Rose – all of us!

This design encapsulates a truly romantic story about a Bohemian couple living in a shepherd’s hut…this beautiful, romantic fabric collection is a family affair and was inspired by my eldest daughter Rose’s drawings of a goat trying to reach up to eat the last green leaves on a tree, along with my youngest daughter Flora’s passion for a simpler way of living and permaculture. A true team effort, it was designed during the time we were running an artist’s residency in part of our house. I laid a large piece of paper on a table in our hall and invited the artists to draw with me. They loved the story of the free-spirited couple and drew the chickens, goats and vegetable garden.

I have a very talented friend Carolyn Horton who is a print maker, who set about drawing the trees; we then cut them out of lino and printed them onto paper to make those beautiful marks. I drew the shepherds hut and people. What fun it all was…lots of conversations and ideas shared. I called it ‘For the Love of Rose’ because Rose my daughter is a someone who loves to explore and travel…she even walked from our house here near Cirencester all the way to Solva in Pembrokeshire, sleeping in barns and her tent…carrying everything on her back.


Clay, Damson / Dusky Pink, Whippet


Saffron, Charcoal / Dove, Charcoal

A lovely Rounded Headboard in For the Love of Rose – Saffron, Charcoal. Displayed with a frilled Quilt, and a Tub Chair to finish.