A fascination with pteridomania, or 19th century fern fever, has resulted in a winning rug design for UNSW Art & Design student Avie Stokes.  

The third-year student chose the popular textile trend which she describes as the “Pokémon Go of its time” to become one of six UNSW students to have their design hand-tufted in India by custom rug manufacturing company Designer Rugs.

“From the 1830s to the 1890s, the British were obsessed with breeding ferns. They made the botanical gardens and put ferns in them… They put ferns in the orchestra pits and so people would go to see the ferns and not the music concerts necessarily,” the 28-year-old said.

The rug-up competition was part of a Semester One project involving third-year UNSW Art & Design students, Designer Rugs and textile print studio Karolina York.

For the rug-up part of the project, students needed to create a collection of four designs for an interior rug which related to a not-for-profit organisation.

“I picked the Carolyn Simpson Library, which is a textile furnishings library which gives gardening and textile trends from the 1800s,” the Fine Arts/Education student said.

“The library has textiles from that time (1830s to 1890s) because that fern craze migrated to Australia with the British.

“In fact, the first exchange of ferns internationally, successfully by ship, was between Sydney and London.”

Designing a rug may have been “a lot of hard work” but it paid off for Miss Stokes, whose rug will be available for purchase at the retail price of $1560.

She was taken through the design process by Designer Rugs staff, including colour choices and designing on a 1:10 scale, and received her first designer’s fee.

“It’s important to see how it actually works and (the project) gives you a good idea about what would be involved in pitching designs, and having that on my resume increases my ability to get an internship or pitch to a company,” she said

Invalid Scald ID.

Xenia Taylor holding her Blue Fern Forest design for Karolina York


Students involved in the Karolina York commercial print design project were required to design four prints for a selected brand or market in the fashion or interior industry such as Zimmermann, Bec and Bridge, and Coco Republic.

Third-year student Xenia Taylor said it was hard knowing when to stop designing her Blue Fern Forest print for the textile project.

“I enjoyed going crazy with watercolours and making all of these different patterns, it was just hard mentally critiquing your own work – which things work and which didn’t work,” the Fine Arts/Arts student said.

Her design is one of 16 student designs chosen by Karolina York to go to the Premiere Vision-France textile design trade show in Paris in September.

If the design sells, the 22-year-old will receive a designer’s fee.

“I really benefited from putting myself on the line and just doing it and trying new things,” Miss Taylor said.

“I didn’t realise how creative things like this involve so much of your time.”

It is the first time that Karolina York has been involved with UNSW. Karolina York creative director Bronwyn Ferguson says she loves seeing the work of up-and-coming textiles students and it’s a great opportunity for students to get an insight into the industry.

“It’s a fantastic way to show students how a beautiful piece of art can translate into a commercial design in the retail market,” she said.

“We loved seeing the variety of creative approaches to the brief.

“Judging the students designs was a very tough decision here in our studio as we were very impressed with the creativity and diversity of the designs that the students produced.”

Designer Rugs senior designer Christine McDonald says the diverse nature of the student designs brought an interesting and exciting mix to their in-house collections.

“These young, up and coming designers are relating more to our environment in Australia than ever before,” she said.

“We can see a trend emerging of not looking to the rest of the world for design influence, they are designing for our own needs and that is more than exciting.”

Designer Rugs managing director Yosi Tal says it was important for the company to support the next generation of designers and give them the tools and opportunities to start their careers.

“This year actually marks 10 years since the first rug-up competition with UNSW, which is a great milestone,” he said.

“The competition is about providing valuable experience to our next generation of designers, exposing them to the realities of the commercial marketplace, while discovering new talent.”

UNSW Art & Design textile convenor, Associate Professor Liz Williamson, says both projects challenged students to extend their design expertise and market knowledge.

“The opportunity to engage with two professional design companies and to see designs translated into actual outcomes, offers a great learning experience,” she said.

“To see a rug design printed on A4 paper return as a 190 x 280cm hand-tufted rug, is an amazing experience.”

UNSW Art & Design sessional academic in textile design, Emma Peters, says the industry partnerships are often the first opportunity for students to apply their accumulated knowledge of textile design to real-time projects with tangible outcomes.

“I see a dramatic shift in their approach to their textile design work during this time, from one of a student to fully-fledged designer.”

The six selected rugs chosen by Designer Rugs and the 16 designs for Karolina York will be exhibited in the Textile Design: Future Design exhibition in the AD Space gallery at Paddington from Tuesday, August 28 until Saturday, September 1.