The Simple Joy of Cloth

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A renowned Blue Mountains fabric designer is reviving old textile traditions – and inviting you to take part.

By Julie Miller

It’s not hard to recognise textile designer Julie Paterson’s inspiration – life on Gundungurra and Dharug Country permeates every aspect of her work, from exquisite designs of eucalypt blossoms and Wollemi pine cones, to her desire to leave as light a footprint in her Blackheath home and studio as possible. Shades of the Australian bush - olive greens, delicate golds and waratah reds - splash across her finest quality, heavy-duty linens and hemps, designed and hand-screened in her bush studio before being draped over vintage chairs or bespoke lampshades to create one-of-a-kind contemporary furnishings.

Conceived in the Blue Mountains 25 years ago, Julie’s design company, ClothFabric, elevates the concept of hand-made. Her desire is to capture simpler times in her work, championing local and sustainable practices, and reviving textile traditions threatened by the digital age.

And though her creations are beloved by top-end hoteliers, architects and interior designers, her work is increasingly becoming more rustic, with a focus on not wasting a scrap. Quite literally.

“The emphasis is a little less on new designs and fabric and using new resources, and more about making the most of scraps,” she tells me, holding up a bundle of artfully curated, colour-coordinated fabric strips, ranging from large patches to slithers of cloth. “I use ex-sample books, anything discontinued – we sell the tiniest of scraps.”

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Utilising these off-cuts, Julie has rediscovered the art of patchwork, sewn together with coarse stitches in contrasting thread.

“I held an exhibition last year in the Shoalhaven, which was about repair and the longevity of a fabric. Rather than reupholster an old piece of furniture, for instance, I can patch it using my old sample books; or stitch around an old tea stain on a curtain to highlight its story. It’s about honouring the history of that piece – you stitch it into the pattern and make a map of time.”

Extending that idea, Julie’s most recent exhibition – called Thrifty - focussed on the beauty of visible mending, the joy of repair and the spirit of creative community, showcasing salvaged and mended furnishings enriched by personal history.

Rough Track gallery

After the completion of Thifty in August, Julie’s exhibition pieces had a home waiting for them – in two rustic cabins nestled into bushland on Julie’s property adjoining the Blue Mountains National Park. Resounding with the call of mating lyrebirds, the Rough Track Cabins - hand-built from locally-hewn ironstone by the property’s previous owners - are rustic and cosy, warmed by combustion wood fires and decorated with furnishings upholstered with Julie’s fabrics.

Hand-printed doona covers, curtains made from old blankets and hand-painted ceramic splashback tiles baked in the community kiln adorn the interiors, creating a homely feel; while guests are encouraged to immerse themselves into the creative vibe, bringing their sewing kits along to stitch their own stories into the furnishings.

“Customers can come and live amongst my artworks, and add to them. They can stitch on the curtains and write poems, that kind of thing,” Julie says. “I’m going to have a big bag of scraps, and they can bring their sewing and mend their jeans. It’s an immersive experience, and encouraging people to be mindful.”

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A stitch in time

Meanwhile, Blue Mountains locals are invited to collaborate on Julie’s most recent passion – the Community Garden Art Project. Participants are encouraged to forage in their own gardens, then send Julie drawings of collected plants and twigs. Julie will then

create a cohesive design from the drawings, make a stencil and print the fabric, before returning a patch to the original artist, inviting them to embellish the cloth with lush, palpable embroidery.

“I’ve never done embroidery before,” Julie says. “I’m learning from the ladies of the NSW Embroiders’ Guild – they know so much about traditional embroidery. All these traditional textile crafts are dying off – generally, they are produced by older women around the world. I want to get the knowledge from these ladies, and target it towards the contemporary, younger market.”

After a successful inaugural Community Garden Project held in Sydney, Julie plans to run future workshops in the Blue Mountains, with the ultimate goal of creating a group exhibition.

To register your interest in the Community Garden Art Project, email Julie Paterson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the website www.juliepaterson.com.au. To purchase fabric and offcut bundles, visit clothfabric.com. Rough Track Cabins can be booked at roughtrackcabins.com.au.

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