Combining elements of art and design in her tactile work, Talking Textiles founder Deborah Mckellar crafts beautiful conversation pieces that tell a story about Singapore’s rich multicultural heritage
Deborah Mckellar, founder of Talking Textiles
“I wanted to create a brand that would speak of Singapore and tell stories of Singapore—I wanted to create fabrics that are conversational, fabrics that told a story,” says Talking Textiles founder Deborah Mckellar, who started her studio here 13 years ago.
Specialising in textile design and mixed media pieces, the multidisciplinary designer and entrepreneur combines photography, hand-drawing and screen printing techniques to create beautiful artworks and fabrics inspired by the rich cultural heritage and landmarks of Singapore.
River City Canvas Limited Edition Art Print from Talking Textiles, available at Tatler Homes Curates
Trained in both textile design and glass art, Mckellar combines motifs inspired by the multicultural heritage of Singapore, while incorporating modern elements influenced by the city skyline and historic architecture. Each art piece is a tactile tapestry of fabrics such as batik and silk, with several pieces even incorporating gold leaf or velvet flock for a plush touch.
Her first collection was retailed at the gift shop at the Raffles Hotel Singapore over a decade ago, and was well-received, inspiring the founder to continue her work. While Mckellar began the business with the intention to create beautiful souvenirs for travellers, the appeal of her work quickly grew, garnering praise from locals and expatriates alike. The studio’s selection currently encompasses textile products such as tea towels and placemats, as well as glass trays and fine art prints.
Tea House in Black Glass Trivet by Talking Textiles, available on Tatler Homes Curates
Here, she tells us more about the studio’s early beginnings and the inspiration behind some of her recent work.
What influenced your decision to start your art and design studio Talking Textiles?
Deborah Mckeller (DM) When I had just graduated from Fine Arts school (Lasalle College of the Arts), I worked in a glass design company, which is quite an interesting type of business to be in—a little different from your normal office setup, but the work environment was still in many ways very much like an office. I sat at a desk and there wasn’t a window or anything nearby and the job had very set hours. And I decided at the time that there was something missing.
So I decided after six months of working there that I would further my studies; I moved to Sydney to do a Masters in Textile Design, which was something that I’d always loved and I hadn’t had the chance to fully pursue that. While I was in Sydney, I was exposed to a lot of independent art and design studios; there was just a really creative entrepreneurial atmosphere there and I decided that this was an area that I wanted to move into.
When I moved back to Singapore 13 years ago, I decided that I would start my own textile design studio, although back then, I didn’t see how it was going to fully integrate into my fine arts background. But that was what motivated me to get the business up and running.
I realised that there was a bit of a gap in the market. There were trinket items for tourists to buy in Chinatown that were not made in Singapore, they were certainly made in China. But there wasn’t really that much around that was made by the designer locally and handcrafted in Singapore.
China Red, a print from the Singapore Shophouse series by Talking Textiles
So I wanted to create a brand that would tell stories of Singapore. I thought the easiest or the most interesting stories to tell would be the everyday environment here in Singapore. I started to look at what is uniquely Singaporean in the multi-cultural society here. I wanted to explore these ideas, find patterns in motifs that could go into my textile creations to create products that tourists in Singapore could really love, that were not tacky, cheap or mass-produced in China.
When I started the firm, I was focusing mainly on the tourist market. This soon grew to people who live in Singapore that appreciate my work. It was a good development. As my business grew, I started to move away from textile products and I went back into creating artworks, specifically mixed media artworks. I incorporate fabric into the artwork themselves—fabric like Indonesian Batik, or Chinese Silk. I cut the fabrics out and stitched them into the canvas. The motifs are often inspired by patterns that came from materials and fabrics.
Talking Textiles founder Deborah Mckellar adds hand-painted details to an artwork
Could you share more about your creative process?
DM My artworks are mixed media pieces, which basically means they are made up of many different techniques and different surface applications. I take photographs and create hand drawings that are then made into silkscreen blocks. I use these silk screens to print and transfer the images onto the canvas. Over these printed layers, I add hand-painted details.
Finally, I cut out layers of fabric such as batik or Chinese silk which are incorporated into the piece and stitched onto the canvas. Some of the artworks also contain other textures such as gold leaf and velvet flock. Overall the result is an artwork that is rich in both colour and texture.
Bamboo Breeze, an artwork from Talking Textiles
Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind some of your artworks?DM For Bamboo Breeze, I had been looking through Instagram posts, and was drawn to a number of interior spaces that had these beautiful emerald greens. I started to create a Pinterest board of these images. It was all about the colour palette as a starting point; I put together an artwork based on the shades of emerald and peacock green that I love most and created a story around that. I found motifs that I thought would work well with those colours; for example, a ceramic bamboo window. And I started to create the composition from there.
The result that came together was about creating a feeling of this exotic place in the Southeast Asian jungle, made up of these lush beautiful greens and rich emeralds.
Ming Dragon, an artwork from Talking Textiles
Ming Dragon was inspired by two different factors. There’s a place called Pottery Jungle in Singapore. It’s deep in the jungle where there is an old dragon kiln where they are still firing beautiful ceramics in a traditional way. Much of the ceramics that they make are these beautiful Chinese blue and white ceramic pots and I wanted to create something of a story of what I had experienced when I went there.
It was also inspired by the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Besides the red room, I also walked through a blue and white room which was both a powerful and peaceful space to be in. It was focused on Chinese blue and white porcelain. I felt for this piece I wanted to keep it classic, just working with blue and white. In the image of the house there is a little pop of green which is a reference to Pottery Jungle surrounded by beautiful green foliage.
Which types of work tend to be the most popular so far?
DM The Shophouse series and prints of black and white bungalows are the most popular; the Shophouse prints are especially popular with people who visit the studio and buy off the walls, while prints with black and white bungalows, it’s more popular as commissioned pieces.
The Jungle Fantasy artwork from Talking Textiles features the iconic black and white bungalow
I found that a lot of expatriates in Singapore were drawn to my work, who had a similar love for things that were Asian, exotic and different from their home country. They come asking for an artwork from my studio that speaks of Singapore and represents, almost like a visual diary, something of what they’ve experienced while living here.
It could also be a commissioned artwork from someone living in one of the heritage homes which I love to paint, it could be a black and white bungalow or a shophouse. And they ask me to create a piece as a memory of their home, and their time in Singapore.
Selected pieces from Talking Textiles are available exclusively on Tatler Homes Curates; shop the selection here.