Tift Merritt CollectionAugust 23rd, 2021 Written by: Bernhardt Design
New York , NY
Jerry Helling, President and Creative Director of Bernhardt Designs states, “For many years I have been fortunate to work with the most talented people regardless of their primary creative discipline, which has included: photography, fashion, graphics, set design and art. A mix of passion, commitment and a love for creating is more important to me than a design resume. These designers don’t come to the table with preconceived notions of ‘how it should be done or what isn’t possible.’ This fresh perspective often produces unique ideas and concepts.
Tift Merritt has never been one to accept the status quo. After receiving a Best Album Grammy nomination, she moved to Paris to write music with a completely different appeal.Subsequently, she embarked on a new venture to create a new genre of music by collaborating with acclaimed classical pianist, Simone Dinnerstein.Her creative interests have always been diverse, from developing a radio program for NPR, ‘The Spark’, which is an artist-interviewing-artist series, to perfecting her skills as a photographer for gallery exhibitions.Tift and I have been friends for many years, and every time we meet she wants to talk about design and I want to talk about music.
She has always been passionate about craftsmanship, particularly textiles, ribbon, and trim – collecting them from around the world when she is on tour. She started handcrafting bespoke guitar straps for her musician friends, incorporating her assortment of trimmings with leather.When she showed me some of her recent work,I realized she could design an incredible array of striped textiles inspired by her personal collection. Fortunately,she agreed and within two weeks she presented us with more than twenty pattern options.We ultimately edited the selection down to six designs, ranging in scope from woven textural stripes to subtle gradating bands of color.Other than the fact all our conversations are now about design rather than music, I’m thrilled to see Tift transformingher very personal creative interest into a beautiful product that many people will use and enjoy.”
Weaving A Song
Tift Merritt recounts, “People usually seem surprised when someone dedicated to traditional song form with an acoustic guitar is interested in design.However, if I could have done anything, I would have been Cy Twombly’s apprentice.I wish I could distill light with paint and convey my feelings with a brush. Instead, I have an inability to draw, but I have always wanted to master the elusive means by which visual forms communicate.Architecture, space, color, form, and cadence are all structural elements which music shares with most other creative mediums. Although my craft is the written word, I was a design junkie obsessed with visual form before realizing it myself
“Because I could not draw, I turned to a 35mm camera as a traveling companion and writing tool.With my camera, I could walk streets armed only with my eyes and my instincts. I could frame tension and human experience in a spatial way.I was looking for a Tom Waits song in some sense — waiting to see and capture something real.Therefore, my first foray into the design and art world was creating photographs for gallery exhibitions.
“As I began to release multiple records, I had the opportunity to control the creative process in album artwork, promotional material and videos, trying to create cohesion and an understated beauty.I scoured flea markets, art museums and vintage shops for inspiration;I have always been driven by a desire of how to incorporate the elegance of vintage craftsmanship in a modern design vocabulary.
“On the road, I had limited time for research, exploration, and even more limited space in my suitcase.Textiles were portable, lightweight, and became my source of inspiration.Once, in a Midwestern downtown, I found amazing blankets and wool trim. Outside London, I discovered velvet on spools in pale lavender with a centered silver stripe.The thread was real metal.Onestall at the Porte de Clignancourtmarchéwas filled with satin slips and lingerie trim.I had no idea what I would do with these fabrics at the time, but without even trying, I was falling in love with the clean lines and craftsmanship of antique ribbon.
“Boutique hotel maven, Liz Lambert, was becoming a dear friend and a true inspiration.I did the rounds at her hotels a few times, absorbing her eye for detail and discovering what worked and didn’t work from a design point of view.She introduced me to the Round Top Texas Vintage market, a veritable treasure trove.She insisted we drive to her ranch in Marfa, Texas, where I have since spent considerable time and written many songs. She introduced me to the NPR affiliate, which commissioned my radio program ‘The Spark’, a series of conversations with artists on process, integrity, and making one’s work unique and honest.
“In the summer of 2012, on the cusp of releasing a new record, I bought a couple of beautiful old guitars that deserved very special guitar straps. One lovely evening in Marfa,Liz was making guitar straps and it occurred to me that I should make one also and I was immediately hooked.
“I was soon in production from my apartment when not on the road. I cut hides, dyed and stitched; my apartment had ribbons all over the floor and sadly I even ruined my hard wood floors trying to dye leather red by hand. Making guitar straps was a perfect way to slow down, listen to music, and work with my hands. It was better than cooking, but similarly, it was just a matter of putting good ingredients together in the right way. My ribbon collection had found its purpose.
“The missing link in my story is Jerry Helling. I met Jerry in 2002 when he approached me at a concert and asked if I would be a part of a Bernhardt Design advertising campaign. We have been wonderful friends for many years and through our friendship I’ve been able to meet and have conversations with some of the most accomplished designers in the world. This was my formal introduction to commercial furniture and textiles and I was fascinated with the industry. I would attend ICFF with Jerry and I was always disappointed there weren’t more fabrics on display, because that is what I really wanted to see.
“When Jerry recognized the potential to create commercial textiles based on my guitar straps and ribbon collection, I was over the moon. As a devotee of craftsmanship and the human hand, I wanted to do this the old-fashioned way rather than trying to recreate the special feeling of materials using a computer.I went to work at a Xerox machine with a huge box of colored coils.I poured a jar of red vintage buttons on the glass. I concentrated on inverting, subverting, reversing, and trying to determine scale and repeat sizes.Placing ribbon next to ribbon, I played with chunky and smooth textures and experimented with the supple shadows of folded leather. It was important to give voice to the seams, the knots, and to amplify the spatial difference in a velvet and lace stripe. This experience seemed so familiar to me, because this time I was writing a visual song.
“There is a particularkind of happiness one feels working with beautiful raw materials and creating something that transcends the nature ofeach individual material.I hope these fabrics speak to the pleasure of this rich process, the feeling of being a thread in a thread”
The collection consists of six designs in 51 colorways, ranging in scope from vibrant stripes to complementary solids. Pattern names Cadence, Forte, Reverb, Solo, Swing and Verse are derived from a variety of musical influences.
Defined musically as the rhythmic sequencing of sounds, Cadence follows the same description in textile form for this densely woven ombré chenille. Inspired by an antique ribbon from Paris with a variety of ascending and descending stripes, Cadence is available in four multi-colored options.
The prominent dimensional quality of Forte mimics the structure of grosgrain ribbon. Offered in eight solid textures, Forte is constructed of a unique, multi-color boucle novelty yarn.
Reimagining the vibrations of acoustical frequency in the form of a visual color gradient, Reverb reflects the texture and shadowing of layered leather strips. Available in seven colorways, Reverb is woven from an intricate structure of soft denier yarn, accentuated with a defining stitch.
Colorful enough to stand alone, Solo is a solid texture offered in a wide range of sixteen hues, which complement the overall collection. Constructed of a hefty single-ply acrylic yarn, Solo is a non-directional textile effective for any upholstery application.
Inspired by the close interaction between musicians, Swing is a bold multi-color stripe with a contrasting underlay of organic texture. Available in ten options ranging from bright to neutral, Swing is woven from an intricate mix of specialty yarns.
Similar to the words and phrases joined together to develop a verse in poetry or song – a variety of vintage ribbons in multiple sizes, colors and thicknesses were used in the design of Verse. Many different yarn types were woven onto a recycled nylon background to create interesting textures within the stripes of the six colorways
ABOUT TIFT MERRITT
The New Yorker has called Tift Merritt “the bearer of a proud tradition of distaff country soul that reaches back to artists like Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry.” Upholding that high standard began in earnest with Bramble Rose, the 2002 solo debut that put her on the map forever.The Associated Press called it the best debut of the year in any genre. Her Grammy-nominated sophomore album,Tambourine, was followed by Another Country, See You on the Moon and Traveling Alone, where Merritt found acclaim coming not just from critics and awards organizations but her own heroes, like Emmylou Harris, who marveled that Merritt “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch.” In 2015 “Bramble Rose,” the song from her eponymous debut, was covered by Don Henley (featuring Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert) on his critically acclaimed solo album Cass County. Merritt recently released her latest album, Stitch of the World, to which BUST raved, “Stitch of the World resonates like a book you just cannot put down,” and NPR wrote, “Stitch of the World contains some of her best writing.”
Merritt is a North Carolina native who wanted to be a writer until her father taught her guitar chords and Percy Sledge songs. Since starting a band while a creative writing student at UNC, Merritt has released a unique, critically acclaimed body of work including seven full-length albums of original material, three live records, and numerous collaborations.In her nearly 20-year career, she has toured around the world, performed with the NY Philharmonic, and shared the stage with bands as varied as Iron & Wine, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Gregg Allman. Her numerous television appearances include Austin City Limits, the Late Show with David Letterman and Jools Holland.
Merritt’s reputation as a musician’s musician and a writer’s writer is earned in part by the impressive cast she curates for her albums. Continuously surrounding herself with the who’s who of music, she has worked with producer George Dracula’s, The Heartbreakers Mike Campbell (Tambourine), Ethan Johns (Bramble Rose) to Dylan’s right hand man, Charlie Sexton (Another Country), guitarist Marc Robot (Traveling Alone, Stitch of the World) and Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, who helped helm Stitch of the World.
In 2013, Merritt partnered with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein for an experimental song cycle, which began at Duke University. The ensuing album,Night, was recorded for Sony Classical.Throughout 2014, Merritt played harmonic foil and rhythm guitar for Andrew Bird on his recording,Things Are Great Here, Sort Of…Most recently, Merritt joined Hiss Golden Messenger in studio and on stage for their much-loved record, Heart Like a Levee.
While Merritt worked to create her own brand of southern music, never settling for the status quo, her creativity and curiosity have similarly refused pigeonholing. Merritt developed The Spark, a conversation about process, integrity, and creative curiosity for Marfa Texas Public Radio. A cross-genre interview, which Merritt hosted, edited, and produced; guests have included Kiki Smith, Roseanne Cash, Nick Hornby and poet CK Williams.
Often found with a 35 mm in hand while traveling, Merritt uses photography as a writing tool and has shown her black and white photographs in a solo exhibit, Other Countries. Merritt is currently writing for the Oxford American series The Bye and Bye. Most recently, she designed a textile line in collaboration with Bernhardt Design inspired by the bespoke guitar straps of vintage ribbon she sews when off the road.
Merritt, with her young daughter, recently relocated from New York to North Carolina.
ABOUT BERNHARDT DESIGN
Bernhardt Design was founded in 1980 by the 128-year-old Bernhardt Furniture Company and continues to be a leader and innovator in furniture design and production. During the past 15 years, President Jerry Helling has assembled an extraordinary creative team that has positioned Bernhardt Design as one of the leading international design companies with a roster of talent that includes: Ross Lovegrove (London), Arik Levy (Paris), Jaime Hayon (Barcelona), Yves Béhar (San Francisco), Patrick Jouin (Paris), Fabien Baron (New York), Monica Förster (Stockholm), CuldeSac (Valencia), Suzanne Trocmé (London), NoéDuchaufour-Lawrance (Paris), Jeffrey Bernett (New York), Charles Pollock (New York), and Claudia and Harry Washington (San Salvador).
Setting a precedent for leadership within the corporate community, Bernhardt Design founded and annually sponsors an interdisciplinary course with the world-renowned ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, challenging students to create world-class designs for mass production. The company also sponsors the ICFF Studio, a scholarship program that provides emerging design talent exposure to manufacturers, retailers and media from around the world. In a collaborative partnership with creative consultancyAruliden and The School at Columbia University, Bernhardt Design initiated the Tools at Schools project introducing design into the school’s 8thgrade curriculum
American Design Honors, an annual award to recognize the most noteworthy American designers, was established by Bernhardt Design in 2010. Internationally, Bernhardt Design supports young designers through their sponsorship of The Carrot Concept, a cooperative conceived to advance the design profession in El Salvador, and America Made Me, a program to promote new brands and young American design talent abroad.
As a founding member of Be Original, Bernhardt Design is committed to the importance of preserving original design through education and informational programming.