Magnificent Creatures | Alice Mary Lynch, Textile Designer
Textile designer Alice Mary Lynch inhabits a world of magnificent creatures. At her Somerset studio she creates intricate dolls – bunnies, harlequins and princesses, all sparkling wonders adorned with sequins and ruffles, and dressed in perfectly fitting waistcoats made with vintage textiles from her vast collection.
In a peep 'behind the scenes at the museum', Alice talks about her work, with Galliano at Dior, her collaborations with Alice Temperley and Anthropologie, and why we need her beautiful dolls now more than ever.
On working from her home-studio
I work from my studio at home in a little village just outside of Frome, Somerset, called Nunney. There are the ruins of a castle with a moat in the middle of the village, which makes the place feel dreamy and full of history and stories.
Though my studio upstairs in our house is not really big enough, I don't think any studio would ever be big enough for me. I will always have some sort of creative chaos spilling out around me! I juggle working with bringing up my two daughters, so the days are busy! I cram as much work as I can into the school window, and then after they are sleeping.
Usually I am working on private commissions for individuals so there are often emails back and forth as I like to involve my clients in the creative process. I sketch out designs, send them images of the dolls evolving along the way, and work on any changes too.
On growing up in Somerset with artist parents
I was always creative as a child, and often on my own, constructing some imaginary world or another. But I never imagined I would be an artist myself. Everyone always asked me, but I felt it was an uncertain career and I didn't want it to seem inevitable that I would go in the same direction. I even gave up art A-level! I wanted to be my own person.
I studied Spanish and was all set to do a Hispanics course at university, but on my return from a year out in Madrid my course got cancelled. I wasn't sure what to do. My mum encouraged me to try out an art foundation course and I just naturally fell into it. That was the beginning of this new journey and it really woke me up and lit the creative spark. Everything started to make sense and I realised and embraced my artistic upbringing.
My parents (artists Kate Lynch & James Lynch) definitely inspired me. I have the upmost respect for how they have managed to make a living and support a family through their own work. It definitely taught me a lot! It's funny how life's twists and turns did, in the end make it inevitable for me to find my place in the creative industry!
On honing her skills…from Somerset to Kingston, to Paris.
I scoured jumble sales as a child and always ended up coming out with piles of cloth. But I wasn't always sewing as a child – that came later.
I learned a lot about the balance between creativity and commerciality on my course at Kingston. I was a constant dreamer at university, and I fought with the system to try to do more creative work. But looking back, it gave me a good grounding and understanding of commercial concerns. I also learned about pattern cutting for clothes design, which does help with making clothes and constructing forms of my characters now.
It was in the Paris studios that I was able to develop more of the practical skills in beading and embellishment. I would work with such wonderful and luxurious beads, crystals and trimmings. It was rich and exuberant. Then I worked for Uniqlo's Paris design studio, and pumping out lots of designs meant I could think about the real world and how clothes work for real people.
I still make things up as I go along. I am sure there are many professional embroiderers who are more exact than me! But I do have little patterns for different characters, different animals in different sizes. I bead the animals myself. It can be very fiddly, but I also find it incredibly therapeutic.
On ideas & creating her characters
I often dream up the themes myself, but I have also worked with clients who have their own ideas. I love being given a theme, it might not initially be my 'thing', but it takes my work in a new direction. I'll explore new areas and it pushes my work further forward. I love that.
Sometimes private clients describe the person who they are giving the piece to. This helps fire my inspiration. Some favourite pieces I’ve made over the years include Arctic Harlequin, a collaboration with Alice Temperley, Whispering Cat, Girl in the Hoop, and Family.
I always have the frames for my dolls made so they open and the characters can be played with, as they are quite tactile. But I like to see them displayed as art on the wall, watching over people. I love that they can sit and change position occasionally!
On working with Galliano at Dior, Alice Temperley & Anthropologie
Galliano was a wonderful whirlwind. Everything, everywhere was an inspiration, everyday something new happened. It was such fun, and probably my most prized and precious time in fashion!
The collaboration with Alice Temperley was lovely because I had just returned to the UK from Paris and we both share Somerset roots, so it was an absolute privilege to be asked to make dolls from her fabrics to adorn the walls of her new Mayfair store.
Anthropologie has been a fantastic client. Designing Christmas decorations and a capsule collection of children's dressing up clothes was a longtime dream come true, as was my Winter Circus exhibition in the gallery at their Kings Road store, in London.
All my clients are so different. Each time they challenge me to keep developing new ideas, techniques, and strength and confidence in my own work.
On hoarding, and her favourite hunting grounds for vintage textiles & trimmings
Paris was truly the best for vintage textiles, trimmings and treasure hunts!! Flea markets always popped up just around the corner. I was like a little magpie!
I mainly come across things by surprise because that is the best way. When you're looking for something in particular, those things are often more difficult to find.
Frome is also brilliant for vintage pickings. Hayley from Lark Vintage (I used to work in a studio above her shop), always calls me when new shiny treasures come into her shop. I found a beaded collar there the other day, and I knew straight away which little character would wear it.
I am less of a hoarder now I have two children. I am usually quite happy to take scissors to anything!! Which I sometimes regret, but when the creative juices are flowing, I'll do anything.
On future projects, and a recent family trip to Japan with her husband Atsushi (a designer), and their two girls
I’m currently working on pieces for a new solo exhibition that will take place at Jonathan Cooper Gallery, London, in December. I’ve also had a screenprint project on the back burner for a while, so I would like to launch this soon. I am definitely at a point where I would like to develop some other strings to my bow.
I’m sure I will use some of the vintage kimono fabrics I found when I was in Japan, and that a Japanese influence may seep through to some new work. But I wouldn't want to restrict myself to one particular influence. It’ll still be mixed. Also, there are so many amazing and mysterious Japanese folkloric stories and wonders, I would find it hard to know where to start!
On motherhood, her children’s minds, life & how inspiration evolves
My children inspire me at every turn. The hours I work are precious and vital, creatively, financially and for my personal self. It's a juggling act, the balance is never quite there. If I have a really good creative flow going, I find it hard to put my work down and put my mum hat back on. Yet reading my girls stories, watching their rich imaginary games, chatting to them and wondering how their little minds work is the MOST MAGICAL thing in the world.
I have lots of continual inspirations such as the circus, ballet, dance, folklore, fairy tales, but I do feel that as my girls get older, I may have more freedom to develop my design work too.
On escaping into her characters’ worlds
I love escaping into their worlds. Of course, that's probably why I make them! But I also love bringing their magic into our world – we need that now, more than ever.
To see more of Alice's work go to www.alicemarylynch.com or on Instagram @alicemarylynch .
Photographs by Stuart Grimshaw at pennleigh.com .
© 2017 Debra O’Sullivan/Where The One Is / All images © Stuart Grimshaw/Pennleigh Ltd. 2017 All Rights Reserved