Stormy Weather, Stop by at Etsy

With a Winter storm forecast here for tomorrow, I’ve turned all festive here at unifiedspace and I am unashamedly going to give my etsy shop a little plug…

Tjornin Mug

Tjornin Mug

Tjornin tea towel

Tjornin tea towel

cotton fennel bag

cotton fennel bag

Two tone tjornin mugs

Two tone tjornin mugs

funky apple cushion

funky apple cushion

urban tea towels

urban tea towels

Night Fennel silk scarf

Night Fennel silk scarf

Summer Fennel silk scarf

Summer Fennel silk scarf

…and there is plenty more on the shop and free shipping to uk addresses.

Meanwhile I’m off to listen to Eddi Reader’s beautiful new song I heard her sing here in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Saturday night, ‘Snowflakes in the Sun’.

What are your favourite festive tunes?

The Clothes Our Parents Wore

Having recently embarked upon designing my own textiles, I asked Mum and Dad to look through their photo albums and send me any snaps they had of Mum’s dresses in the late 1950’s. Well I wasn’t disappointed. Mum and Dad appeared looking out of the vintage, slightly crushed photos looking massively stylish…and look at the printed textiles.

These photos were all taken before I was born but I clearly remember the colours, designs and even textures of the cloth Mum and Dad both wore while I was growing up. It made me think how we all subliminally influence our children. The designs Mum and Dad chose are imprinted in my mind and have certainly affected my own taste as an adult (interestingly my eldest teenage son has just bought spectacles which are exactly the same as the ones my Dad, his Grand Father, wore in the late 1950’s).

How clearly I remember interior textiles that surrounded me too. The curtains that hung in our houses tended to be flat blocks of colour in varying but simplistic shapes, something I still crave and indeed base my own designs around. They favoured Danish furniture, something I do too. And then I started thinking a bit harder about my childhood interior and I remember a cylindrical copper suspension lamp shade that Dad (who is a scientist, not a designer) made for the dining room – all before Tom Dixon was even born!

The 1950’s and 1960’s were of course extremely creative decades where people had the confidence to experiment, customise and have fun with clothes and interiors. A time before the dominant big huge brands  that many seem to crave now. However, a wave of bespoke and individual designers which have global platforms like etsy and t.v programmes such as The Great British Sewing Bee have shown the public a glimpse of how much talent is out their and believe me, if you have any spare time, surf through etsy and be prepared to be amazed.

Do you remember the textiles your parents wore? If so, do you think they have influenced your choices as an adult?

January = Creative Time

So, here we are in January scuttering back to work but oddly enough it’s one of my favourite months. Being the first month of a brand new year, January gives me renewed focus and an excuse to try out new techniques (in other words a month where I feel no guilt about spending more time on creative projects and less time on administrative and business tasks!)

clay men by Lawrence Epps

Clay Commuting Men by Lawrence Epps

For those of us living in Edinburgh, another bonus about January is that the National Galleries of Scotland  mount a beautiful Turner exhibition. The extensive collection of paintings was bequeathed to the Gallery with instructions that they must be ‘exhibited to the public all at one time, free of charge, during the month of January’ and this has been faithfully adhered to for over 100 years.

As its normally abstract expressionism that inspires me, I find visiting the Turner exhibition each year a great way of shifting my ‘normal’ way of thinking to considering other ideas.

Butting blocks of solid flat colour against each other is something I will never tire of as the energy that is created between two sparring colours or indeed the harmonious marriage of related colours discovering each other is an infinite source of enjoyment for me. However, the pure romanticism of the Turner paintings with their semi-transparent colour washes capturing stunning moods across the paper, or as Johannes Itten described as “a psychio-expressive medium to lend mood to a landscape” made me think about translucent colours and colour gradation.

air colour gradation

As you know, colour gradation has been a popular trend over the last year and  Danish brand Hay have designed stunning textiles using this technique. You will probably have noticed shop windows filled with clothes in colour gradations and teenagers adorning ‘dip dyed’ hair.

Shop window, London So with this in mind and with the plan to have some textiles woven by one of our  fabulous mills in Scotland (and there are many with incredible craft men and woman producing staggeringly high quality textiles), I am currently working on designs with gradients punctuated by solid beams of colour. It’s early days and I am still at a messy creative stage in the process but that’s what January is all about.

My etsy shop is now up and running as is unifiedspace on facebook and pinterest and I have an alternative blog, nikispace, for those short on time and  just looking for a picture rather than words – I told you I was having fun in January!

Photo taken in the Rolf Sachs 'Journey of an Ink Drop' exhibition

Photo taken in the Rolf Sachs ‘Journey of an Ink Drop’ exhibition

Hunt, Gather, Design

Design shows are important events in the calendar and the big ones are very often held in London. When attending these shows I am often asked how designers keep current and in touch while living and working four hundred miles north of The Big Smoke. 

Well, walk this way…

We have a collection of secret weapons up here in Scotland. Weapons that fuse together and do the majority of the work for us; our landscape, our light and our space. Without exception, every single design I have produced has stemmed from a walk outdoors. Not necessarily a traverse across rugged moor or a walk on one of our many wild beaches, even the most mundane of walks will produce results. It’s simply a case of looking rather than just seeing. I hunt for shapes, gather what I see and turn them into designs.

Shapes in the city

I shall demonstrate the power of the landscape with the help of the bute fabrics collection. A quick flick through the binder and I come across several fabrics that appear to be a direct abstraction from nature. Intentional or subliminal, the designers are clearly demonstrating a raw and visceral connection to the environment.

Pitted sand and ‘Iona’, fine worsted marl

The fabric of our landscape is literally weaving itself into the very heart of designs emerging from Scotland.

Protruding rock veins and ‘Kilmory’ cloth

Natural materials but a man made wall – look how its structure emerges as an architectural weave.

Stone wall and ‘Braemar’ cloth

Busy docks have long been one of my richest sources of inspiration. I can’t help but notice a similarity of colour and form in my dockland montage with that of bute’s special yarn effect cloth, ‘Skye’. A clean, contemporary cloth that I am keen to specify.

Docklands montage and ‘Skye’ cloth

Blue panels of Hebridean water are reproduced in the interior of this room – the positioning of the ‘Turnberry’ throw on the sandy coloured  felt wool chair looks pleasing because it is a direct translation of a natural landscape. In other words, it  gains an instant authenticity.

Panels of blue sea and Bute’s ‘Turnberry’ throw

Look at the dark Lewisian Gneiss sharply contrasting with the adjacent white sand – a powerful combination. The organic form of the white DSR Eames Chair  is heightened by the dark grey back drop. Our design instincts are influenced by the natural world yet again.

A colour combination in nature emerges in an interior

A detail from an artist’s oil painting and a set of colours and shapes I see at the harbour.

Colours from a harbour and detail from an unrelated oil painting.

So no matter where we live, I am certain we are all deeply affected by the space around us. I am quite sure a primal force exists within us that connects us to the land and appears consciously and unconsciously time after time in the products we are designing.  Nature is the touchstone for truthful design and is one of the many good reasons designers continue to live and work  successfully in Scotland.

And it’s not just the landscape that inspires us, don’t forget about the local flora and fauna. After curing this locally caught salmon in beetroot and vodka, I was spell bound by the colour palette that lay on my kitchen work top.

But I will leave you with a montage of textures and patterns I collected from a recent walk. Textures I plan to work on to produce some new work – not a difficult task when surround by this…

natural textures and patterns

Inside the Mill at Bute Fabrics

Do you find that every once in a while a day comes along that blows your mind?

I am glad to say this happened to me last week when Bute Fabrics kindly invited me to see their mill on the Isle of Bute. It has to be said that arriving at the beautiful Victorian railway station at Wemyss Bay and walking onto the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to sail over to Bute is a pretty good way to start to the day.

As I mentioned in my last post, production is something I find completely intriguing and walking into the mill at Bute fabrics was no exception. The mill has a similar feel to a whisky distillery in that it is made up of a series of long low buildings and the tour involves dashing outside from one building to another between wind, rain and the odd deer. However, there is no disguising the fact that this mill is making miles and miles of crafted fabric because the constant clack clack of the looms emanates around the site.

A quick glance around and you ask the question, how on earth does this complex set of odd looking machinery mean anything to anyone? How on earth does a single piece of yarn fed in at one end become a bale of highly prized designer cloth at the other? But cloth woven in this very room on this small Scottish island is being shipped off to customers such as Bank of America, Chap Lek Hok airport Hong Kong, the Sheraton Hotel in Moscow and Royal Festival Hall, London. Well the process can happen because the mill employs passionate people who have real skills. There was a tangible feeling of pride and heritage amongst the people I spoke to. Quite simply, they know they are producing something very good indeed and they are proud of it.

For me, discovering that Bute not only have their own range of cloth but can weave bespoke cloth in virtually any Pantone colour was the icing on the cake (I hope to visit the dyers in the Scottish Borders next). Can you imagine the possibilities this can open up? I firmly believe that designing home wares with a high quality raw material one needs to add very little embellishment at all. A simple form in the perfect colour in a natural material is hard beat.  Finding the perfect ingredients and then setting out to design something with it, in my mind is a pretty exciting way to start a project. Good raw materials speak for themselves.

This mill is only two hours away from where I work, which is quite far in Scottish terms but in reality is ridiculously close. The point I would like to make in this post is to encourage anyone reading this to find out what is being produced in their own area (and sometimes its not always very obvious) and just think of the opportunities it could offer. Embracing what we do well locally I am quite sure will help restore national pride. I for one am very proud to be from a country with mills such as Bute fabrics. What does your country or area produce that makes you feel proud?

How a 1960’s Children’s TV Show Shaped My Life

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with factories and more specifically, production. Oddly enough this stems from a 1960’s children’s television programme.

More than forty years on, I can vividly recall scene by scene the Mary, Mungo and Midge series. At the risk of  sounding over dramatic, I would categorically say that one episode alone, The Crane (it’s on u tube) has shaped my life. The episode involves the characters watching a crane on a building site construct a new tower. Very simple but watching something being  made, produced,  built felt incredibly exciting, exotic and full of infinite possibilities.

Couple that with images of the Bunglebung Bridge in the crazy landscapes of Dr.Seuss books, countless children’s documentaries showing the inside of factories with production lines and conveyor belts… (flash back to a moving belt full of glass milk bottles having their foil caps attached by a machine), followed by the arrival in 1971, of the film, Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory and you have a very powerful set of reasons to want to produce something in a factory.

Fast forward to 2009 and I was being shown around the Tikkurila paint factory in Helsinki. Pure heaven. A place where colour is made. Pigments are blown from machines which could be straight from the pages of Seussville. It’s a building filled with conveyor belts carrying empty cans queueing up for their fill of paint. Ingredients in one end and a finished product at the other. Fantastic.

So, 2011, I take the decision to produce something. Instead of designing something and then looking for a manufacturer, I decided to go about the task the way I cook. I decide what I’m going to cook after I’ve looked to see what ingredients look tasty in the shops. In other words, I buy ingredients then decide what to cook (unless I am lured by a delicious recipe from Food To Glow which uses seasonal ingredients).

What I discovered well and truly opened my eyes. Unknown to me (and bear in mind I have spent 20 years in the interiors industry) we have mills on our doorsteps producing world class products. I really didn’t know this and I think if you ask fifty random people in the street to name a Scottish textile mill I doubt if they could name one either. But we do have them and the worlds top designers know this. Just like our best shell fish which is swifty taken abroad, it seems that products from our world class cashmere and textile mills are being snapped up designers in New York, Tokyo and Milan.

Recently events such as Scotland re designed have been showcasing these mills and Scottish designers such as Timorous Beasties and Belinda Robertson are using them to great effect with their high quality contemporary designs. I think if you ask the same question in ten years time, many people will be able to name these mills.

You only need to watch the short film on the MYB Textiles site (please do watch, it’s incredible) to see the deep rooted passion, skill and heritage that exists in these places.

If you want the softest cashmere, look what Begg Scotland can make for you. I have samples from them and the quality is staggering. This is why I want to design and make. It might be a ‘back to front’ way of designing but going out to see what’s possible and then designing something is intoxicatingly exciting.

I haven’t added cashmere or woven products to my range yet (although my designs are well under way) as I am starting with small products which I shall  slowly build upon. However,  I did receive my brand new range of botanical linen yesterday which I will be showing you on my next post .

I am also having a tour of Bute Fabrics, a mill on the Isle of Bute, next week so I hope to have some images from that too.

If anyone reading this shares my love of cranes,(?!) you will be interested to know that sound artist Bill Fontana is currently recording of the sounds of the Finneston Crane which he will showcase along with images in 2013 – I for one cannot wait!

….and one last thing, my favourite book which contains stunning illustrations must get a mention here, surprise, surprise it’s called The Crane which is about a man who loves his job.

Have you been influence by any childhood TV programmes or books? I would love to know what has shaped your career.

The Colour of Shadows

As we head towards the Winter Solstice, our rather limited daylight here in Scotland has rather surprisingly been a source of colour inspiration to me.

In June 2010, philosopher and art historian, Dr.George Roque read his paper, Chevreul at the Gobelins: The discovery of the law of similtaneous contrast of colours and its consequences, to the Colour Group (GB) in Paris.  Unfortunately I missed the presentation but have been sent a publication,  Chevreul’s Colour Theory and its Consequences for Artists,  written by Dr.Roque which is based on the paper he presented in Paris.

He writes at length about the French chemist, Michel Chevreul who famously published Chemical Researches on Animal Fats in 1823 before being appointed Director of the dyeing department at Gobelins Manufacture in Paris.

Dr. Roque explains that it was due to queries from the weavers at Goblins about the intensity of certain black wool samples that led Chevreul to discover perceived colour, say grey for example, varies depending on the colour it is placed next to. He realised this change in colour was not a chemical change but a psychophysiological change. After intensive research into contiguous colours Chevreul came up with his famous Law of Simultaneous Contrast.

I’ve redrawn the illustration that Chevreul and Dr.Roque used to demonstrate this point. The two grey rectangles on the left are exactly the same colour and the two greys on the right are the same as each other. However, you will notice that when the two different greys are placed next to each other the light grey appears lighter and the dark grey appears darker. Our brains are exaggerating the difference between the two greys.

This demonstrates that colours change their perceived lightness but Dr.Roque goes on to explain that Chevreul also noticed that when two hues were placed next to each other, their hue appeared to change.

Chevreul was aware of complementary colours so he applied the same logic – if the brain exaggerates the difference of lightness between two contiguous shades then  two hues will also strengthen their differences and look as different as they can. Below you will see the red and green in the centre look stronger than they do when they are isolated.

Chevreul’s discovery was of huge significance to artists, textile designers, wallpaper manufactures and artists. Artists such as Delacroix, Monet, Pissarro, Seurat, Van Gogh now had a psychophysiological “tool” to use to help them to strengthen the colours in their work.

If you wish to read more on this fascinating subject, you may want to read Art et Science de la Couleur by Dr.Roque but for now I will get round to the point I was initially going to make about our winter light (or lack of it!).

Artists armed with this new knowledge were able to use colours in completely new and exciting ways. It also led on to the understanding that shadows were not actually normally black or grey. We now know that shadows are the complementary colour of the light source hitting an object so in outdoor landscapes, the yellow sun light will cast a violet shadow (yellow’s complementary colour) – the French Impressionists were the first to really take this on board.

Finally, I arrive at my point. I have been looking at shadows in the past week and capturing some of the violet-greys which are cast. I plan to use some of these natural violets in some textiles I am currently working on. I will also be thinking a lot about Chevreul’s Law and attempting to create some “accidental” colours which are only visible due to psychophysical reasons –  an area that really intrigues me as it gives colour a whole new dynamic……and I’ve not even mentioned colour vibration yet…..its hardly surprising that so many people are fascinated with colour around the world is it?

Shapes from an Industrial Landscape

Someone asked me a pretty valid question yesterday, “why is it that you often write about the colours you find on beaches, hills and forests on your blog, yet your textiles are highly chromatic and inspired from an industrial landscape?”

Actually, the answer is pretty simple. Shapes emerge from industrial structures  which are bold and graphic – shapes which look comfortable in highly saturated hues.

It’s difficult to walk past such obvious patterns, especially during the Winter months when our low sun creates such long and obvious shadows.

The tangle of pipes and tubes look precious not ugly in late afternoon sun,

and the facades of warehouses look like a complex weave,

Living in a city, I see shapes like these every day but I also know that we all must escape the constant city shapes and immerse ourselves in the organic patterns and broken hues of the natural world, equally inspiring but sometimes less obvious for translating into textiles but an environment I am having fun with for my next range.

What landscapes inspire you?


Made in Britain

How important is it to you to buy products which have been grown or manufactured in your own country? Surely it’s a good way to get people back to work, instil some national pride and cut down on our carbon foot print?

Earlier this year I decided to produce a range of home wares and I was determined to design and manufacture them here in Great Britain. The first designs are a set of kitchen textiles which I think have architectural overtones. I am well aware that the market is awash with decorative kitchen textiles but I was keen to produce something for the contemporary kitchen – my designs can’t be described as pretty, and a friend actually thought they were quite masculine but I was pleased with that, it’s what I intended!

The designs are all screen printed – a long process but the best process for obtaining vibrant colours and colours that stay truer for longer. Digital printing is fine for some things but as it’s strong flat colour that interests me, screen printing was the answer (all the inks are water based causing minimal environmental impact). I decided to print onto linen union because the texture and slubs you find on linen gives the product more character.

So, they are designed and printed in Great Britain (including the brand label which has been woven) but I have paid the cost of taking this route. I hope it works out (I could have had them printed abroad for a fraction of the cost) but it gives me immense satisfaction having them produced here in Great Britain – I hope it is important to buyers too. I thought it was interesting to see that a new Made in UK  logo is set to appear in our shops next year.

My retailers would prefer me not to display the textiles until they have the stock (by the end of the month) which is why I have only inserted a tiny image of my proofs above.

Below are some of the reasons why I like living and working in Scotland. Where do you live and why?

Smelling Colours

There is nothing more energising that a sudden, clean cut change of season – as we have today. Summer gone, in comes Autumn and with it a real sea change in colours. Even the air smells different – earthy, smoky, mossy and woody.

So today I am testing a theory. I’ve sliced some heady seasonal fruit and vegetables, all of which display highly saturated colours. I am asking a sample of friends to smell the veg blind folded and then choose an NCS colour from my colour index fan which best represents the smell they have just been exposed to. I am pretty certain they will choose fairly saturated colours and probably pick a great Autumnal palette, but we shall see (results in next post).

Below are the fruit and vegetables in the experiment. I’ve chosen to photoshop the images purely because it simplifies the colours in each photograph.


Turmeric root



Selection in experiment

If you are interested in other ways to describe scent, you may enjoy yesterdays Culture Cafe programme on BBC Radio Scotland where two poets were asked to write a poem inspired by smells they were exposed to by Erika Duffy, Scent Technician at Lush.

Meanwhile, I am going to take some of these raw juicy colours and start designing my next range of textiles – first collection currently being screen printed and should be ready early November…..more on that shortly.