Helen Abson, who trained as an architect, is an Australian designer. She pursued architecture for five years; founded ZAB Design, designing fabrics that exhibited a preoccupation for texture achieved through pattern and colour. Helen and Ken Abson started Zab Design in 1972 when they released their first printed cotton upholstery fabric in bright colours.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Zab’s bold, vibrant textiles offered an inexpensive alternative to the iconic Finnish products of Marimekko. Zab prospered, exporting to the United States and attracting international press coverage.
Helen Abson was born in Melbourne in 1942, and the University of Melbourne gave her a degree in architecture in 1965.
She went to Japan, then returned home and worked for five years in the office of architects Eggleston, McDonald, and Secomb. Abson went on to travel in Europe, the UK (where she worked for the London firm Austin-Smith/Salmon/Lord), Scandinavia, and South-East Asia. It was in Asia that she became interested in designing and making textiles. Like Robin Versluys’s Bolda fabrics, which were started a little later, Zab’s “orange lamps” and “lime green laminate” were influenced by the time they were made.
Arabia and Finel enamel homeware in bright, primary colours and bold fabrics like Finlandia and Finland’s amazingly bright and bold Marimekko, which everyone loved. Marimekko was very expensive in Australia, but Zab was able to make similar fabrics at competitive prices. These fabrics did well as curtains, blinds, bedspreads, pillows, wall hangings, and clothes.
In 1973, Zab Design started making a wide range of flat-pack furniture that people could assemble at home. The supports were built into the chair’s structure, and the backs and seats were made of rubber-backed canvas that was held in place with rods that could slide in and out.
Jenny de Nijs, who used to teach design at RMIT, says that by the 1980s, Zab Design had become known worldwide and was sending fabrics to the USA (New York, Boston, and San Francisco). In 1985, American architect Robert A. Stern put together the International Design Yearbook 1985/1986, which included several examples from the company’s “Shimmer Collection.” These examples were printed on Japanese cotton imported and dyed in Japan.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL
Thames and Hudson. (1985). The International Design Yearbook 1985/1986.
RMIT Design Archives Journal. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.rmit.edu.au/content/dam/rmit/documents/about/design-archives-journal/rmit-design-archive-journal-vol-2-no-1-2012.pdf
Books| Textile Design
North American Indian Design Coloring Book (Dover Native American Coloring Books)
Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories
Silk and Cotton: Textiles from the Central Asia that Was
Off the Wall: American Art to Wear
Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period
Navajo Textiles: The Crane Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
A Visual Dictionary of Decorative and Domestic Arts (American Alliance of Museums)
More Australian Designers
Grant Featherston Australian Designer – Encyclopedia of Design
Grant Stanley Featherston (October 17, 1922-October 9, 1995) was an Australian furniture designer whose chairs in the 1950s became the symbols of the Atomic Era. Grant and Mary Featherston He was born in Geelong, Victoria. In 1965, he married Mary Bronwyn Currey, an English-born interior designer, and the pair worked closely as interior designers for many decades.
Australian Fabric Designer – John Rodriquez – Encyclopedia of Design
John Rodriquez became well known for his textile designs in the early 1950’s. He introduced a unique Australian Style. His abstract textile designs included everyday household items tea towels and curtains. The materials were sunburnt Australian shades, “deep and muted, sometimes almost three dimensional”. Greys, yellows and greens were the prevailing shades.
The Chevron pattern – a Popular motif for Designers
The chevron, which can be seen on pottery and petrographs all over the ancient globe, is one of the oldest symbols in human history, with V-shaped markings dating back to the Neolithic age (6th to 5th millennia BC) as part of the Vinca symbols catalogue.