Meet the Maker: Ciara McGarrity of Waffle Design

I first met Ciara McGarrity, the Irish designer behind Waffle Design, at HOME last year. The strong graphic quality of her grey and white cushions drew me to her stand and on closer inspection, I loved the intriguing combinations of woollen threads running through the textured cloth. Later, over tea at The Albion, we chatted about Ciara’s childhood in Ireland, a conversation which inspired her to design the Burren Waffle cushion exclusively for Decorator’s Notebook. I recently caught up with Ciara again to talk colour, fabrics and social responsibility.

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Decorator's Notebook meets Waffle Design

Waffle design cushions

When did you first start working with fabrics?

Everything I’ve done has involved fabrics in some way, although I only started Waffle about a year ago. I studied Display Design at the Dublin Institute of Technology and then moved to London to create window displays for retail stores.

Then about 10 years ago I jumped into freelancing and set up my own company specialising in displays for shops, exhibitions and events; everything from windows for Liberty to visual merchandising at the Science Museum. Fabric nearly always played a part… although back then it was usually just fixed with a staple gun!

How did you make the transition from displays to making your own cushions?

I was asked to work on an event for the British Chamber of Commerce, which involved creating a Bedouin tent inside one of the rooms of a listed building on Belgrave Square. There I met a lady who adored the tent and approached me afterwards to recreate something similar in her garden. She became a kind of mentor to me, encouraging me to make curtains and drapes for her super house just around the corner from Harrods.

I taught myself to sew at first, but later went back to college at the Cass Faculty of Art in Whitechapel to learn how to make soft furnishings properly. I now combine making bespoke curtains with my new project, Waffle.

Waffle Design cushions at Decorator's Notebook (720x800)

Roll of fabric Waffle Design at Decorator's Notebook (719x800)

Why the name ‘Waffle’?

It comes from the woven waffle fabric that forms the basis of all my designs. It’s made from organic cotton and produced by a fairtrade community group in Kerala. Hand-weaving in India is a fading industry and I like that I can play a small part in keeping it going. The cushion designs came from playing around with the grey and the white fabrics and exploring the possibilities of the waffle weave.


Talk us through your design process when you start work on something new…

The inspiration can come from anywhere – an image or a place – but the design process always revolves around combining colour. I spread out lots of samples of fabric and try them with different combinations of yarn. Once I’ve chosen which colours work together I sketch out pattern ideas and embroider small samples. I can easily lose hours testing out colours this way!

Dyed fabric swatches Waffle Design at Decorator's Notebook (533x800)

Pegs with coloured yarn Waffle Design at Decorator's Notebook (748x571)

What colours are you drawn to?

I really enjoy clashing colours and unexpected combinations, but I think part of the appeal of Waffle is that they’re used in quite a restrained way. While I was back at college I worked in the furnishing fabrics department at Liberty for a couple of years. I saw that while people were naturally drawn towards bold colours, more often than not, they would opt for the safer options in the end.

I kept that in mind when creating Waffle – I let people have fun with a little splash of colour but on a neutral, adaptable background they feel comfortable with.

Exclusive Burren Waffle Cushion Decorator's Notebook

Burren Waffle Cushion exclusive to Decorator's Notebook

Tell us about your inspiration for the Burren Waffle cushion (above), which you designed exclusively for Decorator’s Notebook?

I grew up in Ireland and The Burren is somewhere we used to visit on school trips. It’s a vast rocky plateau in the West of Ireland and I remember stepping off the bus and feeling like I was on another planet. The slabs of rock are criss-crossed all over with cracks and all the kids would play jumping over the gaps.

From a distance the landscape looks rather bleak but, if you look more closely, you can see all sorts of rare wild flowers growing inside those cracks. The colours the flowers inspired the embroidery and there’s an echo of the texture and tone of the rock in the fabric.

How did you find wool in exactly the right colours?

I use tapestry wool, which gives me access to a fantastic range of colours. My supplier has just sent me a new shade card with more than 400 options so the colour combinations are almost endless!

Reclaimed carpet yarn Waffle Design at Decorator's Notebook (723x800)

{Photographs Yeshen Venema and Decorator’s Notebook}

What’s your next creative milestone?

I’ve recently started experimenting with other materials for the embroidery, like coarser reclaimed carpet yarn and thin strips of leather. Because the waffle fabric is so versatile there are lots of exciting things I’d like to try. I’ve also begun working with a social enterprise in East London to outsource some of the simpler edge sewing, although I’ll always do the embroidery myself. They employ people suffering from anxiety and depression and help them build their independence by providing non-pressured working environment. It’s hard to let go of any element of what I do, but working with them is going to make it easier for me to grow and keep doing what I love best.

Thank you Ciara for the lovely insight into your designs. You can find Ciara’s Burren Waffle cushion (£60) in the Decorator’s Notebook shop and blog readers can order one with FREE UK DELIVERY* using the code BURREN at the checkout.

* Free Standard UK Delivery (£4.95 discount) when you purchase a Burren Waffle cushion at Decorator’s Notebook. This code must be used at the time of ordering and cannot be used in conjunction with other offers or applied to other products. Usual terms apply – please visit our website.

Bethan - Decorator's Notebook
Bethan - Decorator's Notebook