meet the makers | Jan 27, 2022 |
This artist wants to be your go-to source for handcrafted textiles
This artist wants to be your go-to source for handcrafted textiles
Paola Melendez inside her studio in Queens, New YorkMarco Vazquez

Paola Melendez says she's always taken a “right-brained approach” to life. Growing up in Guaynabo, a small town in Puerto Rico, her parents encouraged her to pursue her artistic endeavors, allowing her to experiment with everything from painting to pottery. “My late grandfather was a textile engineer in the country's first fabric factory,” she tells Business of Home. “Even though he passed away when I was young, I believe it’s why textiles came to me organically.”

It’s no surprise that when she graduated from high school in 2008, she opted to move to New York to study at Parsons School of Design. “Though my degree is in fashion, I found myself gravitating towards textiles,” she says. “After taking courses on screen printing, block printing, dyeing and embroidery, I realized that fabric wasn’t just a means to a fashion end—it was an end in and of itself.”

Inspired, she took a job as a design consultant at the Dimitrios Design Archive and fully immersed herself in textile history. “I helped designers source archival materials, and was surrounded by museum-quality fabrics all day,” she says. “It felt like a mini–bachelor’s degree in textiles.”

This artist wants to be your go-to source for handcrafted textiles
The woven wicker inspired Bistro Chair fabric in New York, Havana and TulumMarco Vazquez

Two years into working at the archives, one of Melendez’s clients, textile designers Diane Harrison, recruited her to work for her design studio. “I went from working with archival vintage fabrics to digitally designed patterns,” she explains. “I was also acting as a sales rep at trade shows, so I learned a lot about how to be both a businesswoman and an artist.”

In 2019, Melendez launched her first line of fabrics, Americana 2.0, a capsule collection of three designs inspired by a road trip she took through the western United States. “I wanted to reimagine traditional American motifs while paying homage to the beauty of the western landscape,” she says of the series. “For example, one of the patterns, Modern Heirloom, is based on a quilt I saw at a historical museum in Colorado, and another, Painted Desert, is an ode to the sandy deserts of northern Arizona.”

All of Melendez’s fabric designs start with one of her handmade paintings (done with sumi ink, gouache, or watercolor), which are then digitized and screen-printed onto sustainable Belgian linen. “It’s a challenging, messy, complicated and pricey process,” she says. “However, like a photograph, screen printing captures a real moment in time, and that can’t be replicated with a digital printer.”

This artist wants to be your go-to source for handcrafted textiles
The Adobe Casita pillow in Morning Sky, Flora and Yellow-Rose by Paola MelendezMarco Vazquez

For her latest launch, Texture Library, Melendez unveiled a series of linen fabrics with patterns inspired by timeless textures, including woven wicker, pony hide and boucle, in earthy colorways designed to coordinate with her first collection. “I identified the gaps in my offerings, and created some new, easy to layer patterns in versatile hues,” she explains. “As a new company, my goal is to build a body of work that satisfies all of a designer’s needs, so we can be their go-to source for all things fabric related.”

This also meant introducing a line of made-to-order pillows, as well as a “pricing and stock check” tool on her website. “Designers can now check lead times, current stock and pricing without having to go through a showroom,” she explains. “Creatives tend to work erratic hours, and I wanted them to be able to get whatever information they needed any time of day [or night].”

Melendez is currently hard at work on a new fabric and pillow collection called Send Flowers, which draws inspiration from the colorful floral and tropical motifs of her native Puerto Rico. “I look forward to seeing how my art matures and how my vision grows over time,” she says. “Even though your art lives within you, it never ceases to surprise you.”

To learn more about Paola Melendez, visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

Homepage photo: Paola Melendez with Modern Heirloom in Clay | Marco Vazquez

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