As much as fabric designer Christina McLean loves her work creating fashion prints for the likes of Ginger & Smart, Sass & Bide and Willow, she’d yearned for a project that was entirely her own, something which she could linger over and get her hands dirty with.
“I’ve been working in the fashion industry for quite some time, which requires a lot of work to be done on computer,” she explains. “I was craving to get back to the handmade, and rebalance my life a bit.”
So in her spare time, Christina began painting directly on to linen, finding the process so satisfying that she launched Trade the Mark, a homewares line of textiles, ceramics and works on paper. “I make marks,” Christina explains, of the inspiration behind her business name. “Yes, I’m an artist and a designer, but basically it comes down to me making marks on things. It’s a combination of everything I do pared down.”
The textiles might be a relatively new string to her creative bow, but Christina’s stunning ceramics represent a return to her early design roots. After completing her arts degree, she and a friend started Chowk Ceramics, a successful creative venture, but after 12 years, Christina was keen for a change.
“I felt stuck,” she recalls. “Then a friend asked me, ‘What’s your dream, your passion?’. It was the best thing, because it made me stop and think.
The answer was textiles. Whenever I’ve travelled, I’ve always bought textiles. Hand-woven, hand-dyed … I just have a love of them. I didn’t know what being a textile designer would involve, or if there were jobs out there, but I knew I wanted to go in that direction.”
One post-graduate degree in design later, Christina now divides her time between her work for celebrated fashion designers and her own creations, which she produces from her inner Sydney studio. Here, lengths of linen, dripping in tones of rich cobalt, indigo, navy and black and white, with bursts of orange and pink, come vibrantly to life.
With paintbrushes and dyes at hand, Christina climbs up and down a ladder, transforming the fabric into works of art. “Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to do but the fabric basically leads me,” she says, surrounded by freshly coloured linen hanging from the ceiling. “It’s the same with clay.”
Blue in its deepest hues is the constant in her work. “It’s always indigo, but with pinks or oranges,” she explains. “I’m obsessed with this colour palette at the moment. It’s fresh, it’s steeped in tradition, it’s calming in your home. I work with all different hues, from bright ultra-marine to the dirty-black indigo as well.”
Her hand-thrown ceramics work the same colours. “I love plants and couldn’t find any pots that I liked, so I started making my own,” explains Christina of her revived love for clay. She has since added other vessels and platters to her range. “They’re all one-off pieces. Opening the kiln at the end of a firing is amazing!”
Fashion remains the main event in her body of work, yet Christina relishes the challenge of creating her own pieces. “While I love developing prints with fashion designers and I always beam when I see one of my designs on the catwalk, that side of my work involves a lot of staring at a screen,” she says. “Trade the Mark is a lot more organic, more free, nothing to do with trends. I can completely sink my teeth into doing exactly what I want to do.”