This week Kimberley had the pleasure of catching up with weaving extraordinaire Heather Shields.
First up, can you tell us your name and a wee bit about yourself and your business?
My name is Heather Shields and I am a textile designer and weaver; specialising in vibrant, contemporary fabric and homeware. I work between home studios in both Argyll and Glasgow, designing my cloth using both traditional and electronic looms; hand-weaving samples in striking patterns using carefully selected yarns in punchy colour palettes.
Quality, attention to detail, and working with other UK manufacturers and suppliers is very much at the heart of what I do. The cloth for my latest collection was woven at Bute Fabrics, washed and pressed at Schofield’s finishers in Galashiels then returned to my studio to be handmade into a variety of products. Each item is finished to the highest quality and fully inspected before being packaged and sent to it’s new home.
I started my business in June 2014 after participating in a pilot business programme called Nightriders, run by service design agency Snook. In December 2014 I was selected to participate in the Craft Council’s Hothouse programme, a six month mentoring scheme for emerging makers. I also work part time as a weave technician at Glasgow School of Art.
What made you want to get into the industry?
My family definitely encouraged my creative side from a young age, my mum being a keen dress maker and my dad often taking me to auctions with him; where I would rummage amongst the clutter of textiles, jewellery, odd objects, paintings, and furniture from bygone eras and different countries. It was like a treasure hunt! From this grew a love of pattern and colour, however it wasn’t until I went on to study textile design at Glasgow School of Art that I discovered weaving. The looms themselves fascinated me – huge and intimidating at first but beautiful works of craftsmanship in their own right. Weaving offered endless possibilities for experimentation with colour, fibre, yarn and structure; and the technical constraints challenged and satisfied me in equal measures. For me, nothing is more rewarding than making your own cloth.
Who are the influential figures you look up to for inspiration?
The Bauhaus weaver’s Gunta Stolzl and Anni Albers have always been a huge inspiration for me: not only for the colourful abstract tapestries they created, but also for their determination to succeed at a craft that was initially overlooked by their peers. Recently I attended the Futurescan3 conference at Glasgow School of Art where Reiko Sudo, co-founder and design director of Japanese textile company Nuno, spoke about her innovative use of materials and fine balance of traditional craft practices, new technology and industry. She is a true visionary!
What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline for the near future?
My latest collection of cushions and blankets is called ‘PLAY’ and is inspired by childhood puzzles and games. Woven in 100% lambswool using a traditional double cloth technique, the fabrics are twice as thick and the blankets fully reversible, with a soft and luxurious finish.
For this collection I decided to work with local industry as I wanted to create large blankets and my loom was simply too small. I was determined that the quality and attention to detail of the fabric must remain the same, so Bute Fabrics were an obvious choice, given their reputation for luxury wool interior fabrics. Having previously woven everything by hand, this was a huge step for me, however it has been a great experience to work with such a dedicated and professional team who share the same values.
The collection is currently featured in exhibitions at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle as part of Craft Scotland’s showcase and at Selected 2015 at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. It’s a real privilege to be featured alongside so many other amazing makers and designers.
In January I will be taking the collection to Craft at Top Drawer in London Olympia alongside my fellow Hothouse makers from the Scottish cohort – Ruth Hollywood, Sian Patterson, Catherine MacGruer, Kelly Munro and Rhona McCallum.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
There are lots of perks! Seeing my ideas come to life on the loom, from collages in a sketchbook to pieces of cloth, to final products that people can enjoy for years to come. I learn new things everyday and set my own challenges, which is highly rewarding – with every mistake and wrong turn you gain a better understanding of not only your own practice, but also where it fits into the industry as a whole. Community is key, and I love exhibiting and working alongside many talented designers, makers, manufacturers and creative folks who are extremely supportive and inspirational.
What advice would you give to up and coming designers/makers/manufacturers in your field?
I still have a fair amount to learn myself, however I’d say stick to your gut instincts and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – sometimes it is essential for moving forward.
What are you looking for from the textile industry currently?
In general, more communication and collaboration, I firmly believe that as a collective we have a stronger voice. Better platforms and selling opportunities for small, high quality designer makers that attract the right customers and are inexpensive to participate in/don’t charge huge commission fees.
If you would like to know more about Heather Shields and her work:
Visit her website
Send her an enquiry.