Emma Bridgewater’s name is synonymous with cosy, cheerful English kitchens. Here, she shares with us the inspiration drawn from her relationship with the late textile designer Pat Albeck, who sadly passed away on 2 September 2017…

I met Pat Albeck before I met her son, my husband Matthew Rice. It was very early in the life of my business and I was designing mugs for the National Trust. Ray Hallet was in charge of design and suggested that I might like to come and visit his friend who had, even 30 years ago, become an institution as prime tea towel designer-general at the Trust.

Pat’s studio was at the top of a tall Victorian house in Chiswick Mall and took up the whole floor of the house. Her desk, and that of her assistant, filled half of the room; there were smart rosewood plan chests, a slick 1950s drinks cabinet and a shiny Bechstein grand piano. Hidden behind this was a small low sofa – the only sign that, in a house where work came first, this was also the sitting room. The walls round her desk were clear except for a calendar and, at the other end of the room, two large Mary Feddens and a mauve rhinoceros by Julian Trevelyan.

I was struck by this diminutive and forceful woman whose robust opinions of my mugs were boldly and immediately expressed. I suppose she was the first real designer I had met. Her experience was so unlike mine. I read English Lit at university and was working with what now feels like the wild optimism of one's early twenties totally untroubled by any knowledge of the grammar or practice of design. She had trained as a textile designer at Hull Art School followed by two years of postgraduate work at the Royal College of Art. By 1985 she was halfway through a freelance career that continued into her 9th decade.

Those plan chests proved to be full of decades of designs: fashion prints from the fifties, colourful furnishing from the sixties turning browner in the seventies and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of tea towel designs that recorded in a most idiosyncratic way the National Trust's extensive estate. Her desk had lush bundles of felt pens in various Victorian mugs, jam jars full of the best sable brushes, and drawers and trays of paint: gouache, watercolour, coloured inks and dozens and dozens of pencils.

Since meeting in 1985 we became mother and daughter-in law. She has been the most attentive and engaged of grandparents; providing exemplary and unexpected service of school runs, baby sitting, teas and cakes and always a high spec art project on hand…

This is an edited extract of Emma Bridgewater’s article 'Cleaning Up' which first appeared in Selvedge issue 65. To read this article in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 65 here.

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  • Patricia Armstrong on

    So enjoyed reading this bit of writing by Emma Bridgewater having just heard the repeat of her mother-in-law on BBC’s Radio 4 Extra’s “Desert Island Discs Revisited” – the late Pat Albeck. I knew the name not at all, but the welcome array of her designs on Pinterest proved familiar indeed. She was a most fascinating and charming castaway. Nice to learn something totally new. How apt that her son, Matthew Rice, found Emma Bridgewater.

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