Sheila Bownas: A Life in Pattern

FotoJet CollageSheila Bonas fabric collage (1)

I have a love/hate relationship with Radio 4.  I listen most days in the morning whilst working, generally as a hum of a companion in the background, only occasionally absorbing a programme when the words being spoken pricks my ears and pokes my curiosity.  This was how I discovered Sheila Bownas, a master of pattern design.  

Sheila Bonas fabric collage (4)

Women’s Hour was speaking with Chelsea Cifai, who, in 2008, whilst visiting an auction house to find mid-century artwork as part of her home renovations, ended up leaving with over 200 hand painted patterns by an unknown artist, Sheila Bownas.  This collection spanned over thirty years of work and would spark years of interest and dedicated research into the life and accomplishments of this prolific designer by her discoverer.  

Sheila Bonas fabric collage (2)

This hard work has culminated in the Sheila Bownas brand (, which sells fabric, ceramics and other home interior accessories using these discovered designs, and a brilliant exhibition about Sheila Bownas at the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, which I visited yesterday.  I left the exhibition with a mixture of awe and envy.  I am a hopeless artist.  All my designs sit heavily in my head and don’t ever seem to reach my fingertips.

Putting my own artistic failings aside, these are my favourite designs of the show:

Sheila Bonas fabric collage (3)

This pattern was part influenced by two large ceramic canines that Sheila Bonas had in her own home.  This playful illustration turns the corners of my mouth up and deepens my crows feet in happiness.  

Sheila Bonas fabric collage (5)

I live and work in Tottenham, North London, which has a high Afro-Carribean population.  This culture brings wonderful and brightly coloured fabrics to the area, and patterns that play or even fight against each other, a boldness in textiles that I love.  Although not hugely bright in colour, for some reason (perhaps many people will disagree with me), these fabrics speak an African influence to me. I do not think this was an intention of Sheila Bownas.  It is just what I see and feel.

FotoJet CollageSheila Bonas fabric collage (6)

Striking simplicity is shown in my third and final choice of favourite fabrics.  It’s blue and green.  It’s just one shape repeated and placed at regular intervals over two rows.   It is a beautifully balanced work.

Sheila Bownas fabric collage (7)

If you would like to find out more Sheila Bownas, you can do so by visiting the Sheila Bownas website or, better still, hop on a train/in your car and visit the to Rugby Art Gallery and Museum. But you will have to hurry.  The exhibition finishes on the 3 September 2016.  

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