Ptolemy Mann is a textile artist whose hand dyed woven designs have established her as one of the UK’s most diverse textile designers. She is a member of the Global Colour Research UK’s colour trend prediction panel and contributes to textile magazine Selvedge. Ptolemy’s work encompasses fashion, furniture, architecture and art, and most recently has created a range of home accessories for John Lewis.
When did you realise you wanted to work with textiles? About age 18… I went to Tanzania for a 3 month voluntary aid trip and the African textiles just blew me away. I then went to Maidstone College of Art to do a Foundation course and before I knew it I was doing Textile Design BA at Central Saint Martins… Weaving then turned out to be the perfect channel for my creative use of colour. I’ve never looked back since.
How did colour become so central in your work? During my time at CSM we did one day a week colour theory in the first year, it was very detailed and quite complex and I really became aware of the dynamics and interaction of colour from a technical perspective. It then became the cornerstone for everything I did. Also the yarn store at college only had white yarn, so if you wanted to use colour you had to dye it yourself; a brilliant way to get students to really learn about colour! When I started doing Ikat, the ONLY way to achieve the technique is to hand dye so I’ve been doing it ever since.
Describe how do you research for predicting future trends in colour? I look at absolutely everything around me… architecture, fashion, food, graphics, photography and I filter everything through my blog, Significant Colour. A lot of what I do is based on the colour theory I learnt all those years ago. Colour is a wonderful topic because pretty much everything has colour in it, it’s an endless subject! I’m more interested in colour combinations really than specific singular colours although I often get obsessive about certain colours at certain times. Often it’s the tone and saturation of a colour that becomes important rather than the colour itself. Recently I’ve been using Pinterest a lot, it’s a great tool for collating visual ideas.
What trend in colour will be coming up in the next few seasons? I have a big thing right now about Batik. Not hippy, messy, rainbow batik but the really sophisticated, monochromatic (in the true sense of the word; one colour, not black and white), elegant vintage batiks. I just got back from Indonesia and I had never before quite realised how exquisite they were, full of finesse and intricacy. Often they have a myriad of tones of one colour like Indigo, from dark inky blue/black to the palest, softest, duck-egg-aqua. I also think the African wax resist batik’s made in Holland have a great way with colour. Shameless, contrasting, graphic madness. I think we are all over our ‘Chromophobia’ for now and people really want colour in their lives…not everywhere but in key places at key moments…. and with elegance.
You’ve worked across lots of different disciplines, which has been your favourite type of project to date? I adored working with the fashion designer Eloise Grey on our Ikat dresses for her Omega Collection last year. It was totally different to think of wearing my fabrics for a change, she has a great eco philosophy and the organic silk satin was heaven to work with. At the moment I’m designing my own range of bed linen, throws and cushions which I also am really enjoying. Sleeping is such a personal, intimate experience and designing bed linen is very exciting and challenging. I think everyone’s a bit tired of florals and there is a real gap for something new; still sexy, elegant and feminine but just a bit more dynamic and timeless.
Bill Amberg was your mentor – what was the most crucial thing you learnt from him? He was wonderful about encouraging me to keep craftsmanship and artistry central to what I do. No need to compromise or hide it but more to celebrate it. He showed me it was possible to be both commercial AND true to great craft; to keep both my work as an artist and as a designer running in tandem with each other. We are now working on a range of handbags together…
What or who would you like to work with next? Ceramics are next… just at the very early stages of a collaboration with someone. One day I’d like to do a full-on Ikat dinner service. I’d also like to work more with fashion, but with the right brand. Dries Van Noten or Hermes… they both understand the value of the ‘hand-made’ and excellent craftsmanship…. watch this (chromatic) space!
Ptolemy will be exhibiting her textiles at the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery from 6th September to 6th October.