Heather Shields takes a little time-out from her wonderful weaving to talk to us ahead of the Selvedge Fair in Edinburgh...
What made you start working with textiles?
I’m not sure exactly, however our house was always full of interesting textiles and my mum was a keen dressmaker. When I was little one of my favourite games was dressing up and I remember being fascinated by my parent’s old clothes. My dad loves going to auctions and used to take me with him - this introduced me not only to unusual textiles from different cultures and eras but to paintings, antiques, furniture and odd objects. I’m sure everyone has a memory attached to their favourite jumper or their grannies curtains or tablecloth. Textiles can be much more than adornment for the home or body, they can be used to convey identity or to tell a story about a particular period or time.
What is it about your craft that captured your attention?
I was amazed at what could be made from strands of yarn and the limitless design possibilities. There is so much to explore within weaving – I struggle with having too many ideas that I want to weave so I never get bored! I hope I’ll still be learning and developing my skills for years to come – which is a pretty satisfying thought. The technical nature of weaving really appeals to me – it feels like working out a code or learning a new language. The loom itself is a wonderful piece of engineering, I love working on such beautifully designed machine.
What inspires you?
I agree with Paul Smith’s philosophy that inspiration is everywhere. The inspiration for my latest design Vector was from photographs I had taken of the shadows created by window shutters in an Italian town I visited last year – so it can be very random! I record anything I find interesting or that catches my eye - this could be everyday domestic scenes, objects out of place, colours that clash, unusual combinations, hidden pattern etc. 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.
Who inspires you?
The Bauhaus weavers Gunta Stolzl and Annie Albers are a great source of inspiration for their championing of weaving and textiles to be considered a serious art form and more than just “womans work”.
What is your favourite part of the process of weaving?
Weaving samples for new designs is exciting as you can see an idea or a sketch start to come to life as a woven cloth. A large part of my design work happens on the loom, as it’s just so different to designing on paper or screen. Physically weaving the samples allows me to test how the colours and yarns interact with one another, which can affect everything from the scale and shape of the pattern, to the texture and finish of the cloth.
What’s the hardest part, what do you dislike?
Having my own business inevitably means paper work too and some days I spend completely on my laptop, which makes me restless. On these days its especially important to get out in the afternoon for a walk just to shake off the cobwebs and refresh my brain. I enjoy writing but I find it difficult at times - I need at least 4/5 rounds of tea and biscuits.
Where do you live and why have you chosen to be here?
I’m very lucky to work from my parent’s house in Kilcreggan, a village in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland. My parents moved here some years ago and I enjoy the idyllic views and peace and quiet. It’s the perfect place to focus on the task at hand, but also gives some respite in form of a walk to the beach when I need it.
What’s your ideal Sunday?
A slow start, a big delicious brunch, a long walk in the countryside/by the seaside followed by a visit to an exhibition or gig in the evening.
If you could fly anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go and why?
I think I would choose Japan – it’s a part of the world I’ve never been to but would love to visit for all sorts of reasons. Particularly because they have some amazing weaving traditions so I would love to go and meet some Japanese weavers.
Heather Shields will be exhibiting her work at the Selvedge Fair in Edinburgh, Saturday 19th of August. To find out more and to book your tickets, click here.