Theobroma design origins in friendship

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Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley

The Theobroma design origin story

The Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley collaboration has its seeds in a friendship in a long-ago time in a far-away place.
It was summer, some 30 years ago, in the historic port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. Two young people waited tables together and became friends. Wayne and Susanna. The restaurant was Crooks’ Corner, serving sensational Southern cuisine by Bill Neal: shrimp and grits, jambalaya, hoppin’ john and ooo the chocolate black walnut poundcake…
Wayne was tall and elegant, with manifestly wonderful hair and luminous Celtic colouring. Even in those early days, he had an outstanding talent for presentation… of food, tables, flowers… with flair and meticulous attention to detail.
While Susanna was somewhat less elegant, and certainly less physically coordinated (she once spilled not one but two bottles of expensive red wine at the very table where the owner was dining with family) she did have a better tan than Wayne, and a cheerful demeanour which was well-suited to customer service.
While folding napkins and polishing cutlery for their evening shifts, the two used to discuss their plans and dreams. Susanna planned to pack the money she was saving, her biology degree, and her blank notebooks, and migrate south like a bird, maybe to Mexico or the Andean cloud forest, to draw and study wild beasts and generally get her boots muddy. Wayne aspired to a more refined, design-related future involving travel but altogether less mud.
When the two parted ways, Wayne gave Susanna a pop-up book which told the story of the Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. No one was quite sure why: either why she swallowed the fly, or why he gave her this book, but it provided some delicious foreshadowing for what was to come many years later.
Wayne and Susanna lost track of each other for 25 years or so until one day while scouting the internet in his role as Head of Product Design for Williams Sonoma, Wayne’s eye was caught by a nature-themed textile design called the Carolina Tree of Life. It turned out to be by his old pal!
The design was all about the extinct Carolina parakeet and other precious flora and fauna (including insects) from that state where they met, and which they both pined for, her from England where she now lived, and him from San Francisco. Reunited, at least by phone and email, the idea for a collaboration was born…
Highlighting WS’s commitment to sustainability, she would create one of her tree of life designs all about chocolate and the species with which it is interconnected.
Returning, briefly, to the old lady who swallowed the fly, the key challenge of the design was how to render the Ceratopoginid midges that waft around pollinating the tiny cacao flowers. Frankly, no one wants to look at midges, no matter how vital an ecological function they may perform. Susanna dealt with this problem by not exactly swallowing the fly, but she did sort of hide it, abstracting its microscopic form into a strange and beautiful flower…
For Susanna, as a long-time worshipper at the altar of chocolate, researching and creating the design, collaborating with Williams Sonoma and reconnecting with Wayne has been an absolute treat.
It all goes to show: you never know what seeds planted long ago will bear delicious fruit in your life.

Cast of characters in the Theobroma Tree of Life

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Following are some details about the design elements in the Theobroma Tree of Life, an ode to the tree that gives us chocolate, and some of the many species with which is it interconnected in nature.

Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley: Theobroma Tree of Life

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Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley

Newton Paisley x Williams Sonoma

It has been my great privilege to work with Williams Sonoma, truly one of the best-loved brands in the USA. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water. I grew up with their chocolate peppermint bark as the great treat of all treats.

My goal for this collaboration with Williams Sonoma was to depict the complex web of life surrounding the crop that gives us chocolate, Theobroma cacao. No species exists in isolation and the “food of the gods” is grown best in natural agroforestry systems, where diverse trees provide shade and fallen leaves create microhabitats, enabling a great multitude of species to thrive. 

The design celebrates the Cocoa & Forests Initiative which is all about this approach: agroforestry, environmental stewardship and the prevention of deforestation. Wiliiams Sonoma chocolate is affiliated with this wonderful work.

I spent so long researching and thinking about chocolate for this design. It was heaven! Especially when Williams Sonoma sent me some of the products to put me in the right mood for creation. To learn more about the species in the design check out this companion blog post.

I love to think of my illustrations of wild species existing beyond the confines of frames on walls, or the pages in books. I like them to be touched and felt and thought about. As a passionate lover of chocolate (and Williams Sonoma chocolate especially), I am delighted to be inviting people to wild and mindful chocolate feasting!

Newton Paisley x Fine Cell Work

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I had been an admirer of Fine Cell Work for many years, and it was the highlight of my first ever exhibition at Decorex, in 2016, when they approached me about designing some products for them. Fine Cell Work feels to me like the best of this industry – I love their ethos, how they form a community and change lives, and I was (and still am) star-struck about their fabulous designers. If you don’t know Fine Cell Work, they are a wonderful charity, founded 25 years ago, which works with prisoners and ex-prisoners. Through embroidery, they develop work skills, self-reliance, and they earn and save money so that when they leave prison, they are ready to set off on a good path.

I personally find that hand work, like knitting or embroidery, is very positive for my state of mind. Like Louisa May Alcott, I think busy hands are key for keeping your heart sweet and your head sane.

These first cushions I designed for FCW feature a beautifully embroidered ‘bouquet’ of ferns, in a gradient of luscious greens. (We took a lot of time to choose the greens for this project.) This fern is the Appalachian bog fern, Coryphopteris simulata, a rare, elegant fern found in the mountains of North America from my Carolina Tree of Life collection. It emits a sweet-smelling scent in its marshes of sphagnum moss, under the shade of cedar, spruce and larch. 


This project reminded me of the earliest days of my design career when I was a biologist, illustrating informally my field notes. Ferns and bracken were always great favourites for their gentle, repeating, almost fractal, forms. Such a meditative shape to dwell on and doodle. (Doodling is, of course, another form of hand work – keeping me sane on long sleepless nights of activity monitoring when I was studying bears.)

The experts at Fine Cell Work helped to translate my 2-D designs into 3-D embroidery – it was really interesting to get a glimpse into that process. In the end, the stitchers are using pretty complex stitches to bring out each intricate detail of the fern leaves. 

Appalachian mountain ferns
Ferns in the Appalachian mountains

I think a lot about what it means to be inside versus outside. I hope that the wildness of these ferns will bring happiness to the stitchers as well as the people who support Fine Cell Work by buying them. And I really look forward to developing more designs with Fine Cell Work in the future.

By the way, the cushions accompany my Carolina Tree of Life designs, both the Carolina Parakeets and Carolina Posies, available here in printed linen and wallpaper. You can purchase the embroidered cushions directly from Fine Cell Work.

Carolina Parakeet Forest Linen

( the beatrice edit )

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“Hi! I’m Susy.

I am a biologist, the designer of Newton Paisley and the mother of Beatrice.  

I am a maximalist.

I love using colour, layered textiles, bold pattern, and objects from nature, to create wild biophilic design.”

Susy and Bea


“Hi! My name is Beatrice.

I am Susy’s daughter.

I am training to be an interior designer.

I am a minimalist. 

I prefer a more pared-back style. 

I love using natural materials, gentle pattern, earthy palettes to create serene, simple interiors.”

blog stripe Madidi gold

The concept

One day, in a conversation about our different tastes,

it occurred to us to do an edit of Newton Paisley designs

for people who, like Beatrice, think less is more in their interiors. 

The beatrice edit is the coming together of two generations, two sensibilities,

but with a shared love for nature and the home.




In creating the patterns, we found ourselves inspired by the beautiful folk motifs of Ukrainian embroidery.

We will be sending 10% of our profits to a charity called Rebuild Together in Ukraine. 

Ukranian embroidery patterns

Ukrainian embroidery patterns

Original cushion photo

The original Venus flower fabric styled and photographed by Beatrice with some of the lovely muted tones she favours.

When Newton Paisley was just beginning, seven years ago, one of the experiments was a simple geometrical rotation of the flowers of Venus flytrap. Beatrice always loved that forgotten pattern and has been advocating on its behalf for years. That became the inspiration for the botanical repeats in the collection.

The beatrice edit includes two components:

  • Airy geometrical repeats of favourite botanical details (Lucky bean, Venus flower, Maddidi gold, Lizard orchid and Atra flower),
  • Toile de Jouy-style reimaginings of Mercia Vines and Carolina parakeets.

Bea says, “I’m all about embracing the intricate details of NP designs in ways that can be styled for a simple pared-back aesthetic – bringing delicate pattern into serene spaces.” 

All of the designs are available as wallpaper and printed linen.

To learn more about the collection, please visit the linen page and wallpaper page.



Hand-painted tiles

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Now offering hand-painted tiles

One of the joys of the slower days of the past year has been experimenting with ceramics. Because it is so lovely to do, and because we have had various requests, we decided to make them available to customers.

The idea is that they pick out design elements from existing Newton Paisley designs, but we are open to other commissions. Please consult with us about your project. The basic cost is £35 / tile but we will ask you to order a minimum of ten. Talk to us though…

The tiles pictured here were for a commission to coordinate with the Mercia Vines collection. Every tile is unique, and if multiples are ordered of the same design, each one would be slightly different. The ceramic bisque tiles are made from white earthenware low-fire clay in Stoke-on-Trent and painted, glazed and fired in Whitstable. The tiles are 4 inches square (10.16cm). We can also produce 6 inch square tiles – please enquire. Lead times will vary, but average 4 weeks.

We hope you like them as much as we do. You can learn more about our tiles here.

Apple blossom and bumblebee tile

Blooming Up

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Blooming up website

Collaborative pattern creation

As a contribution to 2020 as a critical year for conservation, we are launching ‘Blooming Up’, a collaborative art project that invites people to make art depicting wild species. This artwork will be crowd-sourced from all over the world, from children, indigenous people, nature stewards, and nature lovers of all kinds. The artwork will be combined into a giant repeating pattern as one flowing, interconnected fabric of life. The project is in early stages, but we are very excited about it and will have more news to report soon. To learn more, go to  where you can sign up to follow or participate.

Zen of Business podcast interview

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Chatting in a room full of cushions

It seems an age ago that I travelled on the train up to London to record this podcast. In fact it was just over two years ago. The world has changed so much but the approach of the Zen of Business of taking time and taking care seems more relevant now than ever. Shamash Alidina and Yvonne Fuchs were great to chat to about my circuitous journey from biologist to designer and small-scale entrepreneur. Yvonne has a lifetime of experience in the world of textiles and a deep creative practise of her own and has been a great mentor to me. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Paisley Zen of Business
Yvonne Fuchs, Susy Paisley and Shamash Alidina in the recording studio at the Museum of Happiness in Camden Town.

Newton Paisley is British and also passionately European

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When I started Newton Paisley in September 2016 I was really excited about ‘Made in Britain’.  Doing all of the printing and the weaving for my products here in the UK felt like just the right thing to do. I was concerned about sustainability, loved buying local and I had visited fabric shops all over Europe where nearly all of the fabric they had was made in China. I knew that the proud traditions of textile manufacture had been nearly wiped out by the systematic poaching of technology and experts and the ability to undercut in price – I wanted to do what I could to push against that. 

But as I learned more about linen, the more I realised that “local”, at least to me in Kent, England, actually crossed national borders…

Newton Paisley is based in Whitstable in Kent. In 2 hours we can be in London, or we can be in northern France or Belgium. Early in my explorations of setting up this business, I began learning about linen, a textile I had always loved. I discovered that though it only makes up 1% of the global textile market, 85% of the world’s fine linen comes from Europe.  I realised across the Channel from me was the real linen heartland, a unique band of coastal land, stretching from southern Normandy through Belgium around to Amsterdam, with the perfect cool damp climate and ideal soils to grow the finest flax in the world. 

I sketched out a map to show you the basic local geography of my business these days. I also make wallpaper (printed in the UK), but on the printed linen side, production reaches across the Channel. The flax, the plant from which linen is made, is grown in the green band, that “linen heartland”, where it is then harvested, retted, scutched, and combed. Learn more from the excellent website of the The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC). Then the fibres are  spun into thread in Europe (often in Italy) and then woven into the cloth I print on, in several independent mills in France, Belgium, Scotland and Northern England. My printing and finishing is all done in the UK. 

As you can see, several essential stages of this process are closer to me across the Channel than in the UK.

(By the way, it is true that flax can be grown in the UK though it is a very minor crop here. Lovely Francesca Baur is doing a lovely project called Kent Cloth in which she is encouraging people to grow and dye and work with linen here.)

Newton Paisley map

Four years ago, when starting Newton Paisley was just a tender bud of an idea, I took a train to Lille and went to visit Lemaitre Demeestere, founded in 1835. It is one of the oldest extant textile companies in France and the only one to work exclusively with flax fibres that are entirely processed in Europe. Olivier Ducatillion is the owner and was an extremely charming host to me with his excellent English before I spoke any French. This lovely very short (90 second) film I found was made in their factory. Turn up the sound.

I had never seen industrial production before and wasn’t at all prepared for how beautiful and moving it was. Every person and every machine working finely in tune with each other. There was even a cat, equally committed to his essential mousing patrols. Olivier is passionate about the natural environment and showed me his own personal experiments in the natural dying of his linens. It was in summer and the train back travelled through farmland growing flax with its beautiful blue flowers… sigh…

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that day really changed my life. I decided I had to work with this noble, natural, ancient product and print my designs on it all about the wild species I love. The tender bud of an idea for Newton Paisley sprouted leaves and flowers that day in northern France. 

Carolina Posies Sarsaparilla

A Newton Paisley pattern called Carolina Posies printed on medium weight linen

Susy Paisley in a field of flax in northern France

A Newton Paisley pattern called Carolina Parakeets printed on heavy weight linen

One day soon I will write more about the environmental benefits of this fibre and its incredible European cultural heritage. But today is March 29, 2019,  the day the UK was scheduled to be leaving the European Union. Today I mainly wanted to say how much being European means to me personally and to this business. 

Newton Paisley benefits greatly from the working relationships we have with our local French and Belgian suppliers and European clients. This whole industry depends completely on European collaboration. At this moment of advancing nationalism, protectionism and isolationism, I just wanted to set down in words how important close ties with Europe are to me and my small independent business. For me, caring as I do about issues like nature conservation, world peace, and human rights (and also being a linen nerd), European unity means the world.

By the way, if you want to geek out on linen, this is another lovely film. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a joy. It is 15 mins long but really worth watching.

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