Famous for bold and painterly floral designs, the engagingly named Bluebellgray label has become one of Scotland’s most vibrant and exciting textile producers. Designer Fi Douglas is at the creative helm, having started the business in 2009. “It all began off my kitchen table, with £300 in my back pocket and the invaluable support of my husband, Phil,” she recalls.
The ensuing success of Fi’s designs – first seen at John Lewis in 2012 – means that the company is now full steam ahead. “We’re lucky enough to work from a studio in a Georgian townhouse in the west end of Glasgow,” Fi says. “My roots and family are here, so it feels right to have my business here, too.” The growth of the company has allowed Fi to employ a small team to help with the demand. “Five people work for me now, which means I’m freer to work on the designs and be the creative director and, of course, it’s lovely to be able to give talented designers work.”
Fi studied painting at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, but it wasn’t a wholly enjoyable experience, as she explains. “‘It was at a strange time in the late nineties, when they didn’t want you to actually paint!” She changed courses to textiles and soon became immersed in texture, pattern and colour. “I was an 18-year-old kid from the Highlands, confused by it all, but when I discovered painted textiles, I knew I’d found my métier. It was as if a light bulb had flashed on.”
Her philosophy adheres to the ‘eclectic mix’ school of thought, so her pieces work equally well in traditional and modern interiors. An antidote to mass production, they are increasingly sought after by those looking for something unique for their home; something that has a sense of provenance and of the designer behind the product. Each design is hand painted before being printed on to quality natural cottons and linens. The printing methods used mean every brushstroke is captured, enhancing the feel of the hand-painted design. “I want people to feel they are getting a piece of art on textile,” Fi says.
Travel plays an important part in releasing Fi’s creativity. A recent trip to Japan – where she was overwhelmed by the welcoming nature of the people she met, as well as the architecture, traditions and colours – inspired her cherry blossom designs, which see a profusion of watercolour pinks adorn fabrics and cushions. There is also a sofa and chair upholstered in an abstract fabric, and a number of rugs – an exciting development, as they are the only ones in the world to be digitally printed on to 100 per cent wool.
With every new collection, flowers are Fi’s starting point. “Their variety and beauty never fail to amaze me; inspiration comes from strolling past my local florist and the blossom tree that blooms outside my window in the spring,” she enthuses. “Flowers are incredible things, put on the planet to look beautiful. My favourites are bluebells, of course – there’s nothing prettier than a woodland full of bluebells – but I have a weak spot for peonies, grape hyacinths and cornflowers, too. I tend towards summery shades of blue, turquoise and pink.”
Childhood memories also define her work. “‘We were the type of family that got dragged off to National Trust properties instead of Disneyland. We went on holiday to the west coast of Scotland and I grew up in Fort William, with its white sandy beaches, wild flowers and turquoise water. These things were definitely big influences.”
Fi finds inspiration in artists that have gone before her. “I find it thrilling going to see exhibitions. I love the Scottish colourists: Fergusson, Peploe and Cadell. What they were doing back then was so new, fresh and brave. Their loose brushstrokes really resonate with me. I hope this new collection has a similar effect on people today.”