• Alive with colour and energy

    Get the Inside Stitch from famous Scottish designer Jilli Blackwood on her career, including highlights such as turning tarmac tartan and the part she played in Scotland's Commonwealth Games legacy.

    Image credit: Ken Millin

    Why did you start working in the textiles industry?

    Gosh, the word “industry” doesn’t feel like it really relates to me although I do, of course, work in the textile medium. I trained as an artist and designer in the department of “Embroidered and Woven Textiles” at The Glasgow School of Art in the 80s. I feel I stand alone, self-employed.  I am a micro-business - for the moment.

    Though, in answer to your question, I have always been surrounded by textiles and pattern throughout my life from a very young age. I was inspired by The Glasgow School of Art fashion show at the age of fifteen at which point I turned my attention from drawing and painting to textiles.

    What do you think is so special about the industry?

    I just love the textile industry in Scotland. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with many of the mills and manufacturers. What struck me about the industry are the wonderful characters - the personalities of the people in it. They go “above and beyond” and are prepared to stretch their capabilities to the limit to satisfy some irritating idea which I have brought along - that’s what makes it special for me.

    Name one (or more!) Scottish designer/manufacturer that you admire?

    You need to believe me when I say - I don’t have any favourites. I have worked with so many, although nowhere near them all, and so I can’t single anyone out. They all bring different talents and specialties to the table and so I admire them all.

  • How did you become involved with the Commonwealth Games and what was that experience like?

    It started in 2010 when I was selected as Director of Costume for the “Flag Handover Ceremony” in Delhi. I dressed 350 Scotsmen and women for the 8-minute performance in an embroidered red tartan which was digitally printed. “Scotland Stole the Show” read the headlines in all the major Indian papers the following day - the performance’s reception was really quite remarkable.

    Although I didn't know it at the time, the knowledge I gathered from the experience was going to prove invaluable to me a couple of years later. Encouraged by my Delhi success, I had been turning over in my mind for quite some time how I could be involved in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games but could never quite figure it out. I played around with lots of ideas and then, one day, I had a light bulb moment - “what about dressing the Scottish Team?”. But, I was busy at the time and so left it at that - just an idea.

    Then, completely out of the blue, I received a telephone call from Commonwealth Games Scotland inviting me to meet with them and to bring along some ideas. Wow, I thought, they were at the point of selecting a designer! They really liked my concept and the rest is history.  I knew that my designs were pushing the boundaries, as did they, but then what do you expect when you engage with an artist? Let’s not forget that the Scottish team had to take the “opening ceremony gold medal” and I think that we can safely say that they did just that!

    The whole experience was a fantastic learning curve. Because of my Delhi experience it was less about the design and manufacture and, instead, much more about how to deal with a media maelstrom of the kind I experienced after the uniform’s unveiling. Don’t you just love the way life throws things at you, and on this occasion right at the correct point for personal development!

    Image credit: Jeff Holmes

  • What was it like to give Heathrow its tartan hue to celebrate Scotland?

    Absolutely brilliant. It came at a busy time for me, out of the blue and with a very quick “flash to bang”! I loved the concept and the challenge of doing something contemporary with Heathrow’s corporate colours (black, purple and silver) that had to be successful across the broadest range of products one could imagine. There were silk tartan sashes for the Heathrow Ambassadors, cash dispensers and telephone kiosks wrapped in tartan and billboards of the design on the tarmac.  The design was even applied to the menu in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant - so clever! 


    Image credit: Heathrow Airport Ltd

  • And finally...

    Do you have any other interests besides textiles?


    And finally, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

    Oh, this old question… to be alive and still in demand would be a good start!

    What is the most valuable thing youve learned along the way?

    That’s easy - persistence!

    What advice do you have for the next wave of up-and-coming talent?

    Be brave, don’t worry about making mistakes (we all do it) and, importantly, be persistent!