Molly's World of Making

When my efforts to interest interior and fashion designers in my burgeoning collection of mineral scans fell on deaf ears, I decided to make some ‘test products’ for my own home. Wall linings printed on linen were complemented by a digitally woven rug; tiles that followed the outline of a specimen of Crazy Lace Agate, used at an exhibition by the first UK company to print ceramics digitally, were turned into a novel display table; moonstone curtains appeared at my front window, and a roller blind in the kitchen, printed with a level-bedded agate, offered ‘the only sea-view in my village’ (below); finally, an ageing sofa was reupholstered with a print from another agate. They still surround me and, to my eyes, form an harmonious whole.

A venture into fashion and an architectural breakthrough

Convinced about the fashion possibilities of the mineral images, I decided to sponsor a project called ‘Frocks from Rocks’ at a local fashion design school. This enabled the students to experiment with unique mineral designs printed on luxurious silk satin, and yielded encouraging results:

In the architectural world, an old friend, Andy Taylor of Patel Taylor Architects, finally succumbed to my mineral temptations. A house in Camden, just north of the Royal Veterinary College, was fitted with a screen of glass louvres, and subsequently won the Sunday Times ‘Small House of the Year Award’. He then chose four images to create two-storey-high screens in the entrance lobbies of a block of apartments in the London Olympic Village. Being indoors, the latter could be printed directly onto the glass, but for the house, the louvres were laminated with printed silk. Thanks to the UV-resisting qualities of the laminating films this protected the silk from damaging sunlight.

Not long after the London Olympics, a German chemist patented materials that enabled UV-proof images to be printed directly onto glass and ceramics – and the latter, unlike those on my table, could also be walked on. I was keen to exploit these new possibilities at home and so, newly armed with my ‘pension pot’, decided to re-tile my kitchen floor: the image is a fragment of a Jurassic sea floor, rich with ammonite-like creatures.

More ambitiously I resolved to create a pond in my front garden, which receives sunshine from morning coffee-time onwards. The neighbours were taken aback when a small backhoe arrived, and even more bemused when large sheets of rusty steel followed! Happily the shock of the new quickly wore off, and I now enjoy many happy hours on a sunny patio edged and scattered with prints from an Hungarian agate, while my cats love skipping across ‘stepping tiles’ printed with greatly magnified images from 1-2mm wide features in a Moroccan agate.

Digital design and production

Venturing outside my comfort zone of architecture made me realise that the digital revolution – which has so far, for most people, been about new forms of consumption and social media – could also enable them to become designers and producers. And where better to start with this alternative vision than with young children, who would approach it without prejudices born of familiarity and conditioning by advertising.

The ‘creative’ elements of the first version of Molly’s World were therefore geared to making personalised goods, such as mugs and tee-shirts, and – more ambitiously – designs for fabrics and wallpaper. The children, as I expected, had little difficulty mastering the various tools – which, in the hands of a young textile designer, Francesca Di-Lella, can produce thoroughly professional results like those below.

A beauty of digital production is that it can handle infinite numbers of colours (like those from the minerals) and also enables you to make one-of-a-kind products: no expensive silk screens are required. The downside is that, with many products still under patent, it is still expensive compared with mass-production. Despite this I thought that some parents would be willing to afford a special birthday dress or unique bedroom wallpaper, and found a co-operative manufacturer who was prepared to take small margins on ‘intermittent’ orders in the belief that the business would grow. Or rather was happy until he sold his company to a much larger concern, who wanted no part of on-demand production.

This experience prompted me to go ‘all digital’ by bringing forward the animation app to buy time to find other producers. I have no doubt that the original vision for Molly’s World as a means of producing everyday goods is viable, and will be returning to it once the drawing/animation app is running well. In the next blog I will turn utopian and sketch out ideas for a radical alternative to business-as-normal in the world of fashion.

Richard Weston
27 March 2020