Design Collaborative: Out of the Shadows

Feb. 23, 2007
By Robert Nieminen

Editor's Note:
Design Collaborative is a new feature to Interiors & Sources that tells the 'story behind the story' of new products introduced to the market and the designers who inspired them.

If you've never heard of a cyanotype before, you're probably not a photographer—and you're certainly not alone. But the vintage photographic process known as cyanotype, which is achieved by coating paper with a solution of iron salts, then exposing to sunlight, turning the image blue, is exactly what brought the Shadowgraphs Collection of fabrics from Pallas Textiles to life.

Designer Lori Weitzner has long admired the work of fine artist,Zeva Oelbaum, having visited her gallery and purchased her most recent book, Blue Prints: The Natural World in Cyanotype Photographs. Upon viewing the striking botanical images, Weitzner's creative juices began to flow, and she soon realized that she had discovered the inspiration for her latest textile line.

"Zeva's book pays homage to these beautiful photos, and when I looked at these, they were just so alluring and gorgeous, and sensual and ethereal at the same time. I thought this would make a fabulous inspiration for a textile collection," recalls Weitzner.

What is perhaps most interesting about the photographs is that they are not exactly photographs, but rather images of actual plants that have been exposed onto the paper, giving them an organic quality that translated beautifully into the finished textile product—which proved to be no easy task, according to Weitzner.

ABOVE Strands of a vine, gracefully and sinuously intertwined, are captured in diaphanous monotones.

"I would say the biggest challenge of the project was how to take these very refined images to create a textile that has to be suitable for the contract market, and retain that elegance and refinement," she explains, "because we're not working with silk. If I could do silk, it would have been very easy. We're working with heavier yarns so we can get all the durability needed in a contract fabric." Notably, all of the products offered in the Shadowgraphs Collection meet or exceed ACT Standards.

Fortunately, Pallas Textiles was up for the challenge and wanted to launch a fabric that filled a gap in their current product offering. "We needed a product that was on a little higher end of the scale of design—not a commodity, performance-type fabric— but something that has higher-end appeal with higher-end design," says Dean Lindsley, vice president of operations and product development for Pallas Textiles.

Once Pallas had developed a design brief to outline the market and identified the design and performance characteristics it was looking for, the company approached Weitzner, who worked with Pallas Textiles for nine years to develop the collection. "We felt [Weitzner] was best suited to develop this particular collection for us," explains Lindsley. "Once she was provided the design brief, she came back to Pallas with an outline as to her direction of where she wanted to go." It was then that Shadowgraphs began coming to life. With the green light from Pallas, Weitzner began the process of sorting through all of Oelbaum's photographs. The challenge was to find the right photograph that would be interpreted well in a textile, explains Weitzner, because of the bulky nature of the fabric itself, as well as finding an image that would repeat well.

"I wanted to maintain the integrity of [Oelbaum's] images," says Weitzner. "I wanted to take her images and keep them as faithful as possible into a commercial product. Collaborating with Zeva and going through her files was definitely the most fun."

Despite the fact that the project was on somewhat of a fast track—it took just nine months from concept to its introduction at NeoCon World's Trade Fair in 2006—it has been well received, not only in the corporate and healthcare markets for which it was designed, according to Lindsley, but in some university and hospitality settings as well. "Ultimately, this ended up being a product that's just a hit across the board in all markets," he adds. "We hit the design spectrum, we had the color range we needed, and again, it tended to cross migrate across [multiple] markets."

ABOVE Savannah: Spring begins to bloom in Oelbaum's hushed photograph of ornamental grasses. Weitzner pulls the awakening colors and tentative, gossamer-fragility into this two-tone fabric by layering the yarns to create a subtle, watercolor-like ground. .

When asked about the success of Shadowgraphs and what makes the product stand out from other products in the market,
as well as within the Pallas Textiles line, Weitzner points to the fact that the collection is carving out a niche for what she calls "organic design."

"At the moment, I think organic design is not that important, and I'm not seeing much of it in the market," she explains. "When I say that, I mean nature-felt, and nature-inspired, and [something that] has movement and an organic feeling to it that is gentle and not hardcore geometric, or 60's modern, yet at the same time is timely and not out of fashion."

The fact that the Shadowgraphs Collection is being well-received in the workplace is equally important to Weitzner because it helps to evoke a soothing, calming environment for people to work in. And, she asks, what better place is there for a product of this nature than in the workplace, "where it's desperately needed more than anywhere else?"

For more information or to view the Shadowgraphs Collection, visit

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