Getting to know Heather Shields June 01 2017
We dive in to the richly woven world of Heather Shields! A former student of The Glasgow School of Art, Heather now works as the School's weave technician and runs her own business, creating beautifully woven homeware and accessories.
The GSA Shop stocks products designed by students, staff and alumni of The Glasgow School of Art…Can you tell us a bit about your time studying at GSA?
I studied Textile Design, graduating in 2010. I have really fond memories of my time as a student at GSA, I specialised in weaving and the weave room was on the eighth floor of the Newbury Tower. I loved looking out of the huge panoramic windows at the Glasgow skyline. In terms of influencing my work, what I have taken away from the experience is a determination to keep experimenting and learning through my work and to be instinctual in my approach to design.
Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your designs?
I agree with Paul Smith’s philosophy that inspiration is everywhere and doesn’t necessarily need to subscribe to a particular theme. I record anything I find interesting or that catches my eye - this could be everyday domestic scenes, objects out of place, colours that clash, hidden pattern etc.
My dad took me to auction houses when I was little so that seems to have developed a magpie like instinct in me and I am naturally drawn to pieces from different periods or cultures or things that don’t belong together – unusual juxtapositions and contrasts.
Modern art also informs my practice and I enjoy going to see exhibitions, my favourites in recent years being Georgia O’Keefe and Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern and the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican.
Can you tell us a bit about the kind of processes and materials you use?
My design process begins with a collection of photographs, objects and materials from which I build a theme. I develop these ideas using collage and drawing techniques with painted and found papers and from here I start to match colours and textures to suitable yarns. Wool is my favourite fibre to weave with as it is so versatile and has many amazing properties that make it suitable for both interiors and fashion purposes.
Weaving is a lengthy process, although the majority of the work is in the preparation of the warp and setting up of the loom. The warp refers to the threads that are prepared before weaving can commence, these run vertically through the loom. During weaving, combinations of warp threads are lifted up, creating a space between the lifted threads and the ones left stationary. The weft, a length of yarn held in a shuttle, is passed through this space and beaten into place with the reed. This process of inserting the weft is repeated over and over again until the desired length of cloth has been woven. These processes require patience and concentration but there is something very meditative and rewarding about them - creating a colourful, highly patterned and compact cloth from lots of threads.
My designs evolve again during the weaving process when experimenting with different structures and techniques, the loom acting not only as a means of manufacture but as an integral design tool.
How long have you been trading for and what led you to start your business?
Whilst working at Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Clyde College in 2013 I was still designing in the background. I had sketchbooks of designs that I was itching to weave, I was restless and wanted to use my textile design degree to the full. Scottish weaving is well known for tartans and tweeds but I wanted to break away from that as it wasn’t my style and I knew my designs could offer something different.
In June 2014 I decided to set up my business and for a year I balanced three jobs whilst being a participant on the Craft Council’s Hothouse programme for emerging makers. Hothouse gave me the confidence to leave my job at the college in June 2015 to devote more time to growing the business alongside working as a weave technician at GSA.
What are the hurdles you face as a maker in starting and running your own business?
Starting up and finding my feet was an exciting yet daunting experience and having my own business continues to be a learning curve. Personally, financing my business in terms of buying equipment and materials was challenging and a huge commitment, but I feel very fortunate as for many graduates it is impossible. Graduates desperately need access to affordable spaces and facilities to continue to make work after leaving art school. Finding the right platforms for my work is also an ongoing challenge as well as trying to find a balance between creative practice and keeping on top of everyday business tasks.
And tell us about the high points that make it all worthwhile?
I’m always pretty amazed when customers contact me from overseas. I have recently sold some pieces to American customers for special gifts for weddings and family friends – it is lovely to know that someone has searched for your work from so far away!
What advice would you give to makers starting to design products for retail?
Think carefully about how you will set your work apart from other designer makers out there. Stick to your values – integrity is credibility. Keep testing and trying, you will make mistakes but that’s how we all improve and grow.
How are you finding the independent retail scene currently?
It’s always a very changeable market but I think right now there’s a healthy demand for thoughtfully designed, handmade pieces that are both beautifully made and functional.
How long have you been supplying us?
My work has been stocked in the GSA Shop since August 2016 and as the school attracts visitors from all over the world the shop has introduced a new international audience to my work. The displays are well designed, cohesive and minimal to show each product at it’s best and the staff are friendly, knowledgeable and incredibly enthusiastic both about the work and the makers they represent. They ensure each maker is championed through selective marketing campaigns, the Christmas advertising campaign in particular, which saw a huge billboard in Buchanan Street subway station. For an independent maker to gain that quality of exposure from a stockist is invaluable and hugely beneficial.
Give us a sneaky taste of things to come, what are your big or small plans for the future?
At the moment I am designing some fabric for upholstery pieces for Autumn/Winter 2017, as well as introducing some new cushion designs to my current interiors collection. I am also really excited to be showing my work at some amazing exhibitions this year including London Design Fair as part of Scotland: Craft & Design Pavilion from 21st – 24th September and as part of the Dazzle showcase at the Dovecot Gallery in Edinburgh from 4th – 28th of August.
What’s your favourite new material to work with or colour combination just now?
Usually my favourite colours to work with are orange and blue, however I’ve been experimenting with lots of pinks and greens at the moment so I would say they are my current favourite... although orange still makes an appearance!
Which other designers or makers products impress you?
There are so many talented designer makers whose work I admire – Silvia K Ceramics, Emily Forgot, Kate Trouw, Jude Gove, Ruth Hollywood, Emily Kidson, Heather Woof, Woven in the Bone, Andrea Walsh, Sian Patterson, Fun Makes Good and Kate Colin to name a few!
Shop our selection of Heather's designs in store and online.
Find out more about supplying The Glasgow School of Art Shop here.
Photography by Susan Castillo