Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Everything you ever wanted to know about red carpets – the carpets that is, not the people on them

Although Creative Matters’ carpets are produced and installed all around the world, we actually design in Toronto, home of North America’s most important film festival.

During the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), way too much attention is paid – in our opinion anyway – to what is happening on the carpet and not to the carpets themselves. In fact, back in 2010, knowing the success of the Festival is dependent on volunteers and sponsorship opportunities, we offered to design and produce all the red carpets at no cost to TIFF. In return, we hoped to add "official supplier of red carpets" to our resume. 

As with any highly successful festival, such offers have to go through a lot of "red tape" and so far, our carpet proposition has not reached fruition. However, we would like to share our thoughts behind the red carpet, so here is our first design and a Q&A with Ana Cunningham who is our Creative Director and the designer working on the project.

Speculative design in 2010 for a TIFF red carpet ©Creative Matters

You created this design four years ago. Obviously styles change. How might you modify it if CMI has the opportunity to supply carpets for TIFF 2015?
The original design created four years ago was a quick concept and most likely would have undergone several iterations and refining prior to production. As for 2015, I think our approach would be much more subtle and sophisticated, while appropriately highlighting the sponsors. Old Hollywood glamour is still on my radar as inspiration, so perhaps a design with a modern deco edge in subtle shades of red would work.

Speculative design in 2014 for a TIFF red carpet
Designed by Leah Phillips, based on the Orchestra design from XXV Collection ©Creative Matters

What influences your design decisions for a red event aisle runner carpet?
The carpet design itself would need to be subtle enough so that it doesn’t clash with the movie stars, while still being a promotional tool for the show and their sponsors. 

The most important question on any well-heeled woman’s mind is surely about the materials required to ensure the highest and pointiest of celebrity stilettos do not get caught?
Our first choice for quality would be nylon goods, especially if we were asked to supply for both indoor and outdoor venues. We would manufacture it in either solution dyed tufted or printed, in the lowest pile possible, so as not to disturb any Louboutin heel which will float across its surface.

And are there materials to avoid so that a dress with a train does not create a static nightmare?
If a nylon carpet is not treated with an anti-static solution, then yes, nylon would be a problem. In this case however, the products we use have all the bells and whistles to stand up to such elements.

Would you have to produce an indoor red carpet and a different outdoor red carpet made from materials that can handle rain?
For a continuous look, we would use the same carpet for both the indoor and outdoor venues. Nylon would stand up to the outdoor elements, for the short amount of time required for these events.

Is there a specific red for movie red carpets - vermillion, scarlet, ruby, crimson, magenta, fire engine red, Ferrari red, cherry …
The official red carpet that we know of, specifically for the Oscars, has a proprietary blend of several red shades. This is to ensure the carpet appears as the appropriate red on a digital screen, which I’d say resembles a scarlet red.

Do dress stylists know what colour to expect and how to coordinate outfits?
Yes, and the red carpet will come into play when stylists select wardrobes for their clientele.

As someone who works with colour every day, which colours would you choose for a red carpet appearance and which would you avoid?
Whenever I watch a red carpet event I just swoon over the pale, crystal studded dresses. The red carpet is a perfect backdrop for these shades - you can see what I mean at this link: 

A colour to be wary of would be certain shades of orange, which could quickly clash with red and look sort of drab.

Are there official dimensions for red carpets?
Typically, if you were to search for a red carpet runner online, they come as 4’ x 20’ however, for an event like TIFF, we would customize to the size required. The carpets can be made in up to a 15’ width and 100’ in length. If a larger or wall-to-wall piece is required, our talented installers use the latest hot-melt bonding tapes to seam the carpet together. Interesting fact - the Oscars use 16,500 square feet of red carpet which takes two days to install!

Outside the entertainment industry, in what situations do designers call for carpets that feature a lot of red?
Traditionally red was very much a prominent colour in handmade rugs due to its
symbolism which varies throughout the history of various cultures. Today, if a designer requests a rug that features a lot of red, one would assume it has been selected to be a focal point in the space. It’s admittedly a little more daring to order a red rug, however, undoubtedly bold to do so.

What are some of the non-entertainment-industry red carpets CMI has designed?
One of my favourites is the dining room in the St. Regis hotel in Mexico City, but if you want to practice walking a long red carpet, the lobby rug at the Gowlings law office in Vancouver is a good one.

Elevator lobby rug at the Gowlings law office in Vancouver
 Designed by Leah Philips and Sylvia Anderson with Group 5 Design ©Creative Matters

In Toronto, there's an interesting piece at Fraser Milner Casgrain - because the red shades are offset by a golden streak, the eye doesn't realize it is looking at what is essentially a red carpet.

Reception area rug at the Fraser Milner Casgrain law office in Toronto
Designed by Ange Yake, Erin DeMille and Daniella Savone with IBI Group, Toronto ©Creative Matters 

We also have a number of designs in our collections that demonstrate both the splendour and the versatility of red shades.

The Rory design in the Aerial Collection
Designed by Ana Cunningham ©Creative Matters

The Scratch design in the Aerial Collection
Designed by Ali McMurter ©Creative Matters

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Trade show here we come

Just like fashion designers, we have our custom pieces (haute couture) and our collections (ready-to-wear). However, we don’t walk our carpets down the runway, so trade shows are where we present our collections “in the wool” to current and potential retailers.

We are shortly off to NYICS – the New York International Carpet Show - taking place this year from September 7 – 9. It’s been interesting to see this relatively new fair (10 years) steadily growing. Domotex in Germany and Forza Tappeti in Italy are longer-running and among the ones we have attended regularly during our 25 years in the business.

While a show is always a special time to connect with trusted retailers, friends and trends, two particularly exciting things are happening for us this year. After XX years of introducing collections, this is the first time we will present a collection made with natural dyes. And, it’s also the first time we will host a draw at our booth when, in collaboration with our fair trade endorser Label STEP, we will draw the winner of a stunning (if we say so ourselves) handknotted rug.

The Natural Dye Collection was only set into motion during Carol Sebert’s spring trip to Nepal when she finally discovered a dye master with the requisite skill in natural dyes. Once the design “Percolate” was established, then came the inevitable of  toing and froing with samples in various colourways. We finally settled on five for the launch of the collection but only one of them has made it off the loom in time for the show. Mulberry, which will take pride of place at our booth, thankfully arrived in Toronto last week.

Unlike fashion, our collections are not tied to a particular year and season. While rugs within collections continue to be popular with our retailers, we continue to add designs and colourways.  Consequently, also up front and centre in the booth, will be Drift and Shale, two new designs for the XXV Collection released in 2013. Within that collection, we will also premiere three new colourways of the highly popular Dream design, and a blue version of  much-loved Suspension.

In our Toronto office, Abigail Williams is the chief logistician for trade shows because - in addition to her design work - she also manages CMI’s relationships with retailers. In order to have the new designs in time for the show, she is in constant communication with the different mills. She, more than anyone, breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Shale left Nepal on Monday headed directly to New York via Fedex.

Last week, Abigail was busy was selecting all the rugs she wanted for the show and physically  loading them up on a skid. In New York, she will unload them and make them all pretty with the input of president Carol Sebert who is naturally an essential member of the trade show delegation.

Abigail still has to finalize the details of the draw with Reto Aschwandan who will travel to New York from Label STEP’s headquarters in Switzerland. The rug raffle has an interesting history dating back to our anniversary celebrations last November when many visitors were invited to take part in the design process. From the 60 designs that emerged, six were selected for online voting and “#58” was the design that headed off to Nepal. No doubt, Abigail is looking forward to making the call that tells someone they are the lucky winner of a one-of-kind rug valued at $5,000.

And when business moves from the trade show to somewhere more comfortable, our favourite place to entertain clients in New York is the Soho Grand hotel where many of our rugs can be appreciated in situ. Nothing is more apt than discussing floorcoverings in the bar area while gazing upon a splendid sweep of our woven axminster.

Abigail doesn’t know it yet, but once the trade show business is complete, there’ll be a quick trip to the Park Hyatt. The hotel only opened last week, so it will be the first opportunity to inspect our lobby carpeting. And thinking back to our collections, it’s interesting to note that although the Park Hyatt was a custom project, the designer at Yabu Pushelberg actually chose to use the Glow design from our Aerial collection which was remastered in an exclusive colour combination.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The unbearable perfection of binding

The New York City designer chose the ultimate in simplicity – a one-coloured grey rectangular rug with no pattern. She also chose the ultimate in luxury fibres – 100% silk.

She was only willing to trust the simplicity of the design and the luxury of the fibre to the finest production processes. For this she came to Creative Matters. No detail was to be left unperfected in the painstaking production of this rug. And that included the lesser-documented process of binding.

The easiest, most economical way to finish off the edge of raw carpeting is to sew tape over the edge of a carpet with a high powered sewing machine. Obviously, this was not our vision for the grey silk rug.

The Nepalese artisans to whom we had entrusted the production of the rug, take incredible pride in their work and for them binding is a three-step process.

First, the loose threads from the warp and weft were folded back and encouraged to grip each other tightly with a high quality adhesive. After it had dried, the artisans worked their way around the rug perimeter with a special stitch that anchors the threads securely. Finally, they took the same grey silk thread and closely bound the entire edge with an overcast stitch. 

The stitches may look simple but the ability to anchor the stitch to a weft thread is key. A poorly executed stitch will lead to a tension inconsistency and eventually knots unraveling from the rug. Search Google for rug binding and most of the entries will be from companies who specialize in this oft-needed repair.

This splendid grey silk rug is currently in shipment - we look forward to presenting it in its full splendour shortly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The dyeing process for our first natural dye rug

Following Carol Seberts’s discovery of some incredible natural dyeing expertise in Nepal in March, we are excited to announce our first natural dye collection. We’ll be bringing the first rug to show off at NYICS in September and rolling out the full collection quickly thereafter. And here is a sneak peak at the design of the first rug.

Percolate in mulberry
Designed by Ange Yake ©Creative Matters

The rug itself it is still in the weaving process, but here are some incredible photos of the wool at the dyeing mill. The dyeing stage alone, can take as long as two weeks.

The dyeing process starts with the preparation of the colour. The dye master tests and mixes the natural dyes making up a batch for each colour required in a rug. Tibetan dye masters have acquired a deep knowledge of the natural dyeing materials over many generations but due to the popularity of chemicals dyes, this traditional art came close to being wiped out.

When the dye master has achieved the correct colour, the yarn is placed in the hot dye where it is cooked for shorter or longer periods of time and at higher or lower temperatures, depending on the dye and the shade desired.

Once the dye master is satisfied with the tones the wool has taken on, s/he pulls the steamy bundle from the pot. Over 170 plants have been short-listed for dying use in Nepal, including: indigo, mulberry, saffron, turmeric, rhubarb roots and walnut. Madder root is often used for red hues.

Smaller quantities of wool are dyed in the pot and handled manually. Heavier quantities are loaded onto a spindle which is turned by hand to dip the wool into the dye time and time again.

When natural dyes are handled correctly, even in skeins of yarn not yet woven, the colours are simply beautiful.

Here the dye master in Nepal is showing us in Toronto how the dried wool now matches the colour specified in our design.A dye master - like a good winemaker - must be a chemist and a microbiologist with a working knowledge of botany, geology, meteorology and plant physiology. We’re delighted to have finally found a dye master who can meet the exacting standards of Creative Matters.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our latest discoveries from India and Nepal

By Carol Sebert, Principal

Even though our design hub is based at our head office in Toronto, an equally important part of our work takes place in the countries where our carpets are physically produced. We regularly visit India, Nepal, Thailand and now China to liaise with the skilled artisans who bring our creations to life.  

In March, I was back at the “temporary field offices” in India and Nepal. After 25 years of touring these beautiful but challenging countries, you might think I’d have reached a been-there-seen-that attitude. Actually, the reverse is true – every trip is still full of new discoveries.  Having toured so many production facilities, talked with so many local artisans and developed an ease with the cultural differences, I now experience it all on a much deeper and more detailed level.

Of course, with every trip, I’m looking for new inspiration: something that will really fit for a particular client; something that will take a new carpet trend just one step further; something that will honour fair trade practices even more …

Two important discoveries this year concerned knots. First I came across a mill which can achieve a perfect low tight loop pile. This has always been the domain of the Thai mills, so finding a similar quality in India means we can offer it to our clients at a better price point.

Then – oh joy! – another facility with a particularly extensive (over 100) collection of hand looms and remarkable expertise to go with them, including the Persian knot. Persian rugs aren’t our specialty at Creative Matters, but we see an opportunity here to offer our clients the remarkable quality of this knot in non-Persian designs. FYI, a 9 x 12 (2.75 m x 3.75 m) carpet takes six months of knotting.

The most exciting discovery of the trip was the potential of vegetable dying. I had previously discounted it because I didn't know of a master dyer who could get pretty well any colour under the rainbow but now I do! It's pretty special - talk about eco friendly - and we are thrilled to bring this opportunity to our clients in 2015. The photo shows an example of the range of colours that are produced (by talented hands) with the skin of pomegranates.  

Traditionally the fringe of the rug is left at the colour of the neutral wool used to assemble the warp and weft, so it was interesting to visit with artisans who are perfecting the art of pre-dyeing the warp and the weft to create a variety of blending or contrasting effects.

The art of weaving goes back centuries in these countries and the range and ingenuity of the equipment never ceases to amaze me. Here the weaver is using his foot to work the warp threads – like a pipe organ.

Abrash is a naturally occurring dye variation that creates subtle colour change - or a stronger contrast - within a rug. At Creative Matters we often find that such natural irregularities can add to the charm and authenticity of a hand woven carpet. In this photo, a mill owner was showing me his control of gradations with abrash – it’s useful for our staff to know we have a partner who can control the contrast so skillfully.

No CMI carpet gets to the loom before our designers have carefully examined multiple carpet squares. They arrive almost daily in our Toronto office in sterile-but-reliable Fedex packs, so what a pleasurable change it is to check samples in pure sunshine, under the proud and watchful eyes of the mill owners amid the smells and bustle of daily Indian life.

I work with colour every day but vibrance of colours in Indian street life never fails to astound me.  

Finally, what a joy it is to discover a precious moment like this. It perfectly captures my love of textiles and every little labour-intensive stage of producing hand-woven carpets.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Art Day Project (and we're 25!) Part 2

As exciting and glamourous as our Art Day Project launch and gala event were, we thought we would add an exciting little twist into the mix in the form of a rug giveaway! That's right, a GIVEAWAY and if that weren't cool enough we also asked for you, loyal CMI fans, to help us design it. As we mentioned in the previous post, visitors and press were invited to participate in the real-deal Art Day process, getting down and dirty and making their mark in celebration of our 25th. We cannot tell a lie, it was FANTASTIC. Watching journalists, men in suits and art school pre-grads rub elbows around our work table was downright inspiring. It showed us here at CMI, again, that this process is so amazing and universal and encourages such creativity in everyone. 

The deal was, visitors create some beautiful marks and patterns and our crew works them into lovely finished designs, created for the sole purpose being voted on and for one lucky little artwork to be woven into a luxurious handmade rug. During the event we encouraged our creative friends to take a minute to chat with Label-Step's Reto Aschwanden and make a donation in support of their (and our) mission towards fair, safe and healthy working and living conditions for weavers. In total our team produced upwards of 60 designs from the marks made at those workshops and of those, 6 were chosen as semi-finalists. 

A month of voting produced the winner - a sassy number titled, quite simply, #58. The #58 artwork made the 17 hour trek to Nepal at the end of January (and is probably just getting over her jet-lag) with Reto and was handed over to our Nepalese partners to begin production. #58 will make the transformation from 2D to 3D and a winner will be drawn by Label-Step, in the Spring. 

Meanwhile, somewhere between the Art Day exhibition and the first day of Spring, Carol was lucky enough to speak with Katie Loux from UK carpet and textiles magazine Cover, about our big event, creativity, future Art Days and what to expect from us next. It was so lovely to see us in print (we're not gonna lie) and especially flattering since we've been swooning over every issue of Cover, and her sister publication Hali, for as long as we can remember.

Speaking of future Art Day workshops, a few weeks ago we participated in POSSIBLY the most exciting one yet. It was so great and we can't wait to tell you all about it.


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Art Day Project (and we're 25!) Part 1

You'll have excuse us for the radio silence - It's been a whirlwind here at Creative Matters and we're just starting to catch our breath! They say that 50 is fabulous but what about 25? We've just nicely entered our 25th year at CMI and we have to admit, it feels pretty great. Rewind a few months to November 26 2013 to our amazingly fantastic exhibition and gala, The Art Day Project, launched at Toronto's own, Textile Museum of Canada (TMC). Our team (see below!) worked on the event for an ENTIRE YEAR, designing, plotting, preparing, choosing the perfect outfits and finally the day arrived and we couldn't be more thrilled with how it turned out. 

The four-day event began with a lecture by our fearless leader Carol Sebert, entitled Responsible Rugmaking: The Fair Trade/Quality Connection. The theme of our event was centred around celebrating and demystifying the art of rug design and fair trade weaving and Carol spoke to that alongside Reto Aschwanden (who flew from SWITZERLAND), the Commercial Director for Label-Step, the incredible fair trade carpet production organization that we work with to ensure fair, safe and healthy conditions for all of the weavers who make our rugs. 

Apres the lecture we ran some Art Day workshops, not unlike our own marathon art sessions, created to inspire and generate fresh new marks, patterns and designs. The namesake of our exhibition and gala event, Art Day, involves rolling up your sleeves and throwing your inhibition to the wind. Through a series of exercises that vary in length, we use different drawing and mark-making materials on an assortment of surfaces that, in turn, get refined, combined and enhanced into the beautiful hand-made custom and retail rugs that we produce each year. We were also lucky enough to capture the process of one of our Art Days on film (check it out here) and the final cut arrived just in time to premiere the night of our gala event.

This event also marked the North American launch of our latest line of handwoven rugs, The XXV Collection. It was noted by Carol, amidst the planning process "I think what our designers have captured in this exquisite collection is so Gatsby-esque. The silver and golden hues and simple yet intricate patterning is a perfect reflection of how delighted we feel as a team to be celebrating 25 years of creating luxurious fair trade floor-coverings for interior designs, architects and clients”. (We had to quote that…it gave us a little chill :) And how true; as a team we couldn't be more excited to be part of this tremendous milestone and this fantastic company. We're so grateful and moved by all of our family, friends colleagues who came to support us and our Art Day Project. 

If you thought this little recap was exciting, stay tuned for part 2 of this post!