Cath Derksema: Child of the 70s
Cath Derksema is an Aussie legend in textile art. Fibre Arts Take Two loved hearing about her storied career in the art world.
Cath Derksema’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
After graduating from university, Cath Derksema embarked on a career as a textile designer, landing a position with John Kaldor, a prominent fabric maker renowned as part of the thriving rag trade in 1980s Australia.
Seeking to carve her own path, she ventured into a partnership known as Art Park, a pioneering endeavour in niche design, crafting hand-printed homewares that beautifully captured the essence of sunny carefree Australian days, with products gaining popularity locally and internationally.
Her next collaboration, known as Prints Charming, produced stunning fabrics adorned with bright saturated hues and striking graphic patterns that sang on the surface.
It was in 2016 that Cath really and truly did her own thing when she founded the Happenstore, an extraordinary multifaceted space in Sydney’s Inner West, combining retail workshops and events. Unlike anything seen before, it was a haven for creativity, learning and inspiration. It became an authentic destination to celebrate artistry and friendships.
Fibre Arts Take Two loved learning about Cath’s career, her past and her inspirations.
Cath can pin her early artistic inspirations directly on one decade, “I am undoubtedly unreservedly a child of the 70s,” she says, “My mother walked around in kaftans and was highly into Marimekko. We always had the sewing machine on the kitchen table. It was that kind of world. She was into pottery. It was a beautiful time, and I couldn’t help but be involved. And that’s probably where the passion ignited. And then I just knew that that’s where I wanted to go. I just knew that textiles were for me. And that’s all I’ve done. And I’m so grateful. And it’s been an exciting road. But I’ve stayed true to my heart.”
Cath considers herself a ‘bespoke maker.
“Being a textile designer,” she says, “as I was officially trained many years ago, has just evolved into a way that I’ve made it work for me as such in survival. I’m not computer-driven, and I’m very much by the hand. I like to use tools to make my fabric, so that’s where the bespoke making comes into play in what I do. There have been times in my life when I’ve had to be a commercial designer to survive and make money to pay the mortgage. But there are other times when I’ve been able to divert from that and use other areas of knowledge. At the moment, what I’m doing is combining all of those things, and I’m making fabric to inspire myself and others as well.”
In her early days as a designer, Cath was creating over 25 designs a day.
She explains how she achieved this level of productivity, saying, “A lot of it was generated from the energy within the studio. It was always a studio full of other designers. I would say there would have been about five or six designers when I was doing that, so there was a lot of bouncing off each other. We had an incredible library, and my business partner and I would travel three or four times a year around the world because this was pre-internet and pre-being able to get information as quickly as you can get it these days. So we would travel around the world, go to all the shops and galleries and come back with suitcases full of inspiration. It was an amazing time, I have to say!”
Being Aussie designers, Cath and her compatriots had to find inspiration from all over the world, “It was driven by fashion.” she says, “so the people we were designing for were fashion houses, and if not fashion homeware, so in those days, there were companies that would come out of Europe that were forecasting companies. That’s also where we would generate a lot of information in order to create the designs for the oncoming trends that were happening. We had to be trend forward; we couldn’t fall back on things that we would see here in the local market that’s why we would have to travel overseas and also subscribe to these forecasting systems.”
Her own business
In the early nineties, Cath co-created Art Park.
“My business partner then was Louise Bickel,” she says, “She and I met, and immediately it was like, ‘Yep, we’re going to take on the world, we’re going to be the Australian ESPRIT studio’, ESPRIT and Benetton were our inspiration in those days. And we worked, we worked so hard. We just had the most incredible time. We had lots of fun, we travelled a lot, we had great women working for us, and we made it very vibrant. There was nothing quite like it at the time. Marimekko had been a major influence in our psyches as such. Marimekko is now high in everybody’s mind. Everybody knows who Marimekko is. But in those days, only those textile crazies knew about it here in Australia.”
Cath and Louise’s hard work paid off, “We would work for the rack traders,” Cath says, “working from all sorts of people from Nike through to Seafolly, Woolworths, Target, Kmart, all the big manufacturers, and then on the side, we would print our own range of fabrics and develop them into homewares. And that really took off.”
After a storied career with Art Park and her subsequent company, Prints Charming, these days Cath shares her wealth of experience by running workshops through her outstanding facility, the Happenstore, “I like to evoke joy and freedom in my work,” she says, “and I like to give forward that feeling to everybody out there. Because making is such a joyful process.”
“I’ve known since I was tiny that the mental health benefits of making are enormous. And that’s what I want to bring forward in this time of my life. And that’s what I do through the workshopping process. That’s why workshopping is so important; people can feel the joy and understand that by making something, they can alleviate so much tension and thought processes that may be negative. By focusing on making, you’re completely transported into another world. You’re not thinking about anything else but the beautiful stitches evolving in front of you or the beautiful marks you’re making on your fabric. It’s a really powerful process.”
About the artist
From John Kaldor in the 80s to Art Park in the 90s to Prints Charming Original Fabrics original in the 2000s, Cath Derksema has been a textile designer for a long and wonderful time!
Today she shares her passion through commissions, workshops and bespoke fabric and artisan projects.
Cath also runs the Happenstore, A multifaceted creative space for genuine like-minded people and makers where each week brings new ideas, products, and new happenings. A place to come, to make, to learn and become inspired.