TEXTILE designer Belinda Fraser was once banned from using an entire colour range in her designs.
During her university days, a design lecturer noticed Belinda's liberal doses of blue - one of her favourite colours at the time - and, in an attempt to rein her in, asked her to do her next project without using a daub of it.
- Belinda's designs can be found at The Potted Cumquat at Tallangatta. Visit belindafraserdesign.com.au
It proved to be quite a challenge.
"I love colour and I have to try to tone it down a bit, but I just love it," she says with a laugh.
"I love the way certain colours mix and how important it is to get them right. You can have a great design but if you don't get the colours right, or the tones right, then it won't look right."
The lecturer's advice appears to have been largely ignored - and it's a good thing, too: Belinda has built her brand off the trademark primary colours explosion on her cards, tea towels, bags and furniture.
Out of the rustic shed on her Tallangatta property, in North East Victoria, Belinda designs and prints the ranges destined for private clients, exhibitions and the stores in the region.
The property is a wellspring of inspiration for Belinda. She grew up on the 2500ha cropping, beef and fat lamb operation, which is now managed by her husband, Tim, her brother and her sister-in-law.
While the colours of the valley she calls home have long stopped her in her tracks, it was a while before she translated it into design. Belinda travelled and worked mainly as a waitress after she left school, before taking up a three-year visual arts degree, majoring in textile design, at Charles Sturt University's Wagga Wagga campus.
"When we graduated we were encouraged to take our work to the design houses in Melbourne," Belinda says.
"I ended up being quite disillusioned because they would only hire one or two people and they would then source their designs from overseas.
"There was no one representing Australian design. I decided I would do it myself."
Belinda's sister, Sarah, was keen to help out and left her teaching job to join in the textile business Heatherlie Handprints.
In the early days of the business, they worked out of their parents' garage, regularly taking over the family kitchen when some silk scarves required steaming.
It wasn't long before the orders followed. At one of their first markets, at Beechworth, their work was seen by a buyer from David Jones who placed an order for 40 cushions featuring one of their bush gum nut designs.
"We were just lucky to be there in the right place at the right time," Belinda says.
A design featuring the Sturt Desert Pea was woven at the Macquarie Textile Mill in Albury and sold to Qantas to cover the seats in the airline's club lounges.
Large international orders rolled in, including 250 hand-printed silk scarves for a jewellery exhibition in Bahrain and 500 scarves for the Fine Food Exhibition in London.
"It was hard to keep up, to be honest," Belinda says.
"And we were working in some fairly primitive conditions."
About four years in to the business, Sarah left to raise a family and Belinda assumed full responsibility.
"It was extremely labour intensive as all of the stock was hand-painted," she says.
"It is very hard to wholesale a hand-painted product.
"I learned that very quickly, and it wasn't long before I was burned out."
Belinda gave birth to her son, Archie, not long after and figured it was the end of her design venture.
"I just loved being a mother so much, I didn't think I would return to textiles," she says. "I even sold some of my equipment."
Several years ago fate brought her back into the fold when she took on a job teaching design at Wodonga TAFE.
Her love of design flashed afresh before her and last year she relaunched her textile business under the name Belinda Fraser Design.
Realising it's impossible to go up against cheap Chinese imports, Belinda has focused on using natural fibres with strong Australian themes.
To keep pace with orders, about 80 per cent of her work is printed fabrics, and she reserves hand-painting for commissions.
This year she has created a range of Christmas cards that offer an alternative to the wintry European scenes of conventional cards.
"We have such design talent in Australia and just as Italy is renowned for high-quality leather products, we have such a potential to have a great reputation for producing Australian images," she says.
"We really need to get our own identity with design."