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Wearing a thread

Words by Hannah Tapping.

Working collaboratively to explore an understanding of textiles, creating unique, meticulous garments along the way.

Amelia Pemberton started her first company at the tender age of 12. DoobyDolls were handmade, embroidered and bespoke, designed to look like their recipients. “I made them for the likes of Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michel Roux and Roger Federer for Nike’s press office. This led to some crazy trips when I was really young; meeting fashion journalists in New York, working at the British Fashion Council and selling them on Polyvore and Farfetch. I also collaborated with a Japanese fashion label making 300 gingerbread-like dolls for Eley Kishimoto. I think it was from then that I knew I ultimately wanted to have my own company,” explains Amelia.

With a textile designer for a mum, growing up in the family home was like a textile explosion: “I was basically born out of a quilt! I’m a twin and my four siblings all followed a creative career. As the youngest, I started out really wanting to do something different to them. I did try to rebel but it didn’t really work out as I ended leaving my photography course to study fashion at Falmouth University. I loved being in Cornwall so much, even now I can’t be away for long as I start to feel a bit weird!”

After graduating, Amelia worked in London on a placement for print designer Orla Kiely: “I was really fortunate that she created a role for me. I was responsible for all of her jersey collection and I also assisted in knitwear, print research and photoshoots/art direction – I was super-keen and ended up getting involved with a bit of everything. I then went on to work with bag designer Ally Capellino as her assistant. It was mainly bags and knitwear alongside photographing for their interviews for her journal series entitled ‘What’s your bag?’. After this, I spent some time working with Donna Wilson. She went to university with my sister and I had always been a big fan of her designs. I was her ‘right-hand woman’ and fortunate enough to design a large proportion of each collection during my time there, as well as doing some photography and lots of sampling in the knit room.

“It was soon after that I decided I was in need of some me-time. I knew I wanted to do something different for myself, but wasn’t really sure what that looked like. My mum’s house had always been full of clothes and many became moth-eaten. This was an idea I had explored in my womenswear collection, DARN, for my BA at Falmouth, incorporating laser cut holes and using darned vintage fabrics and linens I had sourced from visits to France. I began an MA in Textiles Mixed Media at RCA and I naturally gravitated towards the idea of DARN again, although this time the textile and mixed media elements gave it a more playful and experimental edge.”

On completion of her MA, studios were an expensive investment in London, and so scarves were the easiest thing to launch as her first collection: “I would basically draw huge designs, then scan, resize, collage and colour them – it would take me such a long time. The designs were then sent off to be printed and hemmed, followed by a photo shoot and creating an accompanying story that would normally be weaved from those I’d been working with. My first collection was based on the people at the Royal College who had really helped me out and they ended up modelling for me as well.” This has been an ongoing theme in Amelia’s designs, each one echoing newly developed relationships. The latest scarves, which feature chess and backgammon boards, are dedicated to old housemates. “I was living in Camberwell in London when I started DARN,” she explains, “working as a freelance embroiderer for Alexander McQueen, but then during Covid the work dried up. So, I moved to St Ives. I had my own studio space and that’s where it started to take off, including a wonderful collaboration with the clothing brand, Toast.

“There’s always some element of playfulness and friendship in my pieces. While I work solo, I’m very extroverted and need to have people around me, so I’m always trying to work out ways of keeping the momentum up by doing fun photo shoots and design games.” Amelia’s talents also extend to running supper clubs; she’s recently returned from one in Greece, taking guests on a boat to a secret location before playing drawing games and feasting on local produce.

Amelia started these supper clubs in Cornwall: “I’m basically always hopping around Cornwall. I’ve got so many different groups of friends but I also love bringing everyone together in one spot where they can’t move. The drawing element of these events is really fun. We have pattern paper laid out on the table and I get people to look at each other while drawing on the table and then, because they’ve had that eye contact, the whole atmosphere changes. These are really simple games, but so effective, and it’s wonderful to observe how the whole dynamic of the room changes. By the end, everyone’s just beaming and laughing. And it’s just so simple. They’re no longer even intimidated by drawing. Then the food is passed around; I work with chefs that I’ve found or friends I think are really talented.

“I also really love collaborating and that sense of supporting each other, because we’re kind of all in it together. A lot of people I studied with have moved back down, like Ali from Francli Craftwear and Sarah Johnson who creates small batch, hand-made garments from natural cloth and dyes. We now have a little network and it’s good to keep together. I’ve also met people at Royal College and other places who I’ve done homeware collaborations with and up next is a womenswear collection with Finisterre which will launch in March next year.”

While the names of Amelia’s pieces are inspired by people – Quillie, Dan, Tor, Pei-Chi – the drawings themselves come from her love for flowers: “I went to Great Dixter Gardens and was blown away by the tulips, so I became obsessed with drawing them. Inspiration for the Ariane dress came from playing a game at the RCA called Pleats, Shapes and Tape. I would put basic shapes on a wall and then invite people to come in and they would then put the shapes on themselves to make an outfit.” This unique design process is led by the invitee, leading to unpredictable pattern cutting and textile combinations through play; the work is underpinned by a sense of engagement that is elegant but not graceful, playful but not silly.

“I am part of such a rich community and I would like DARN to be able to grow enough to employ people, and become a fun, playful textile studio in Cornwall – mixing it all up a bit! I don’t think there are enough textiles down here; there’s a lot of love for pottery and craft at the moment, but textiles and print design is often overlooked.” For Amelia, the design process is just the same as being an artist or a potter, she just uses a different medium as a canvas: “I create things with the idea of them being passed between generations, mended with love when they tear and cherished throughout time.”

After Amelia’s first, hugely successful pop up last year held in St Ives, DARN X FRIENDS is back for a day’s takeover at 45 Queen Street in Penzance on Sunday the 3rd December for festive Christmas shopping and workshops; DARN LOVE FEAST will take place on Saturday 18th of December at LOVEDAY distillery, DARN Fundraising for the FOOD CO OP on Monday 27th of November and DARN X ROMA XMAS PARTY on 15th of December.


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