Chatting with Katie Smith from Smitten

Earlier this year I approached Katie, asking if she’d create some of her handprinted cushions in a selection of custom colours.  She agreed, so I created a mood board to capture the feel I had in mind.  I wanted these colours to feel Wintry and to reflect the colours of our landscape.  I wanted them to feel ‘current’ but at the same time not be too trend-driven.  After all, these cushions are made to last so I want them to still feel relevant in 5 -10 years time.
Winter Mood Board for SM

Once I was happy with my board, I searched through my paint charts looking for colours to reflect this.  My chosen colours were packaged up, sent to Katie, and she then worked her magic.

Below are a few questions I put to her, giving you more insight into her background, and what inspired the two designs of hers I’ve chosen.

ME: I first met you years ago at Mokum Textiles.  Have you always worked with fabric in some form or other?

KATIE: I spent 10 years in London and was a Textile Art student there for quite a while! I juggled numerous jobs and I’m ashamed to say none of them in textiles.  I gravitated towards commercial sales after graduating, working for some fabulous furniture and design stores and in the end running the contract department for a well-known design company. This then lead on to project management work, working with architects and designers.

Returning to Auckland in 2001 I started working for a small furniture company which included a bit of custom designing of contemporary one-off pieces of cabinetry.  This really ignited my love for interior design, especially the project management side of things. I still love a good floor plan!  I particularly loved the textile rep’s frequent visits to show us the new ranges all the time. This might have inspired me to apply to be an account manager at Mokum in later years.

Before Mokum, I was working alongside an interior designer for a few years which was so much fun. And yes, I was definitely dealing with some pretty fabulous textiles then.Hugely inspiring.

mixing teh colours for kim
The colour matching process to create the custom colours I asked for


ME:  You’re now a textile designer with your own range of products and you regularly take workshops in the Auckland area.  What led you to starting Smitten Design? 

KATIE: Smitten Design has been evolving in the background of my life over decades!  I decided on the name Smitten from a friend suggesting it would be a good ‘take’ on my last name Smith. That was a conversation back in 2003.

I have always been printing in one way or another in my garage, basement or old sheds and have done so alongside working in the textile and design industry, and more recently being a mum.

It has always been more than just a hobby, as it was an area I chose to study in, both here in N.Z. and the U.K. I graduated with an M.A in Textile Art from Goldsmiths University of London, in 1995, and prior to this I studied textiles at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin.

The timing felt right to give it my all a couple of years ago, and I have been developing my textile practice and the Smitten brand gradually.  The workshops have added another dimension to my practice. I have the ongoing opportunity to get amongst a community of textile enthusiasts, it is quite a buzz.


Kims fabric colour mixing
The paint samples I provided alongside the dye colours

kims fabric 3


ME:  As well as being drawn to the patterns you create, I also love that you use natural fibres and water-based inks.   Can you talk a little about this sustainable approach?

KATIE: The core to my business is about small scale, limited edition production.

I only print on natural fabric and I use waterbased solvent-free inks.  I particularly love linen and hemp. I have also sourced some really beautiful organic cotton base cloths.

The sustainable approach comes down to wanting to produce work that has a long life, and not get thrown out to be replaced by something next season.  There is so much cheap out there, and it’s cheap because its mass produced under less than desirable conditions. The documentary the True Cost had a huge impact on me.  (Me too!)

Each cushion is individual due to the pattern and hand printing process

ME: What inspired the Painterly collection?

KATIE: Possibly artists like Rothko, Len Lye and Gretchen Albrecht. I wanted to create a range that was quite tactile and down to earth, where I could play with different colour combinations to suit different interiors.  I wanted these designs to be quite flexible to work back with a client’s colour palette, wall colour, sofa colour, bedding etc etc.

A softer colour palette that I see working particularly well with lighter Summery colours

ME: Hand-painting vs hand-printing; I assume the Painterly design is hand-painted and the Twig design is hand-printed?  Can you elaborate a little for us novices?

KATIE: Ha! Come and do a workshop!

The painterly effect is layered and uses an open screen (i.e no stencils). I use a really large open screen so I can get a 50 x 150cm panel painted and printed. I use squeegees and paint brushes and often dry the layers before doing a 2nd or 3rd print over the top.

The twig print started as a sketch, then I scanned it into Illustrator, and after manipulating it so the design will repeat, I got it printed onto a clear film. This gets put on a screen coated in light sensitive emulsion, then it is exposed under a 200-watt bulb. Where the black lines are, the image washes out, as the light has not been able to penetrate this area. Where the light hits the rest of the image, it stays on the screen permanently.  (Ummm, having read this, yes I think a workshop is needed!)  

Twig print: available in black and in deep forest green


I hope you’ve enjoyed this ‘meet-the-maker’ chat!  I love knowing a little about the people behind the goods I buy, and am sure you do too.   If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section below.  And if you’re interested in purchasing a cushion or two, head over to my Facebook shop or message me below.

In my next post I’ll give you the lowdown on linen and why I love it.  If you like, subscribe so that my posts go straight to your inbox.  Till next time and thanks so much for reading….


Author: The Coastal Creative

Living close to the beach encourages a relaxed way of living and this influences my work as an interior designer. I am drawn to the eclectic, faded colours, rustic timber, the imperfection of things hand made, and objects that tell a story.

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