An interview with new Design-Nation member Hannah White.
We welcomed 22 new members to our portfolio in our February selection, including some fantastic and acclaimed designers with many years of experience. We were excited to receive an application from textile designer Hannah White and delighted that our selection panel approved her submission. We’re thrilled to have Hannah as one of our newest members and caught up with her to ask some questions about her practice, challenges and inspiration.
Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
Hannah White answered: I am a weaver, textile artist and designer with over 20 years’ experience designing and making constructed textiles. My work focuses on reinterpreting handcrafted textile processes through material exploration to create fresh making approaches to textile techniques. I have always been passionate about constructed textile techniques such as sewing, knitting, crochet and lacemaking. When I discovered the process of weaving during my BA (Hons) Textiles degree I was fascinated how it enabled you to construct complex three-dimensional forms using threads in a completely new way. I was hooked!
After graduating from Nottingham Trent University in 1998 with a 1st Class BA (Hons) in Textile Design, I set up my own textile design business ‘Hannah White London’. Between 1999 -2001, I studied an MA in Design for Textile Futures, at Central Saint Martins. I created my own ranges of designs and also worked to commission. My clients included the Victoria & Albert Museum, Selfridges, The Conran Shop, Kevin McCloud and Ammique Ltd. At the start of my businesses I was selected for the NESTA Creative Pioneer Programme and a Crafts Council Development Award, both of which were really influential in helping me establish my work.
Alongside my practice, I was a creative academic for ten years which I found very rewarding. However, in 2014 I decided to leave my role as Course Leader of the Textiles degree course at the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham, which I had held for eight years, to concentrate fully on my textile practice. I felt that I needed time to immerse myself in my work and push the boundaries of my own creative development again.
In 2015, I was selected for the Crafts Council Injection programme which gave me time to refocus my creative direction and I was successful in gaining an AHRC London Doctoral Research Centre scholarship to study a PhD at the Royal College of Art.
I completed my PhD in Textiles at the Royal College of Art in July 2019. My research has expanded my ideas and laid the foundations to develop a new direction in my creative practice. As part of my PhD research I carried out a two-year apprenticeship with a metal company. This research explored the use of weaving techniques combined with and cross-disciplinary collaboration to create original structural materials and three-dimensional forms. My new work explores the contrasts between the pliable, fluid qualities of textiles and the rigidity of metal.
I graduated from my PhD in July 2019 and I have launched ‘Hannah White Studio’ which brings together my textiles knowledge and skills with the new knowledge I have gained through my collaborative research. I received an Arts Council England Developing Your Creative Practice grant in November 2019 to enable me to develop my PhD research and refine my making processes and I am excited about taking the next step in my creative career.
D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
H.W: My maternal Grandma was a very inspirational and talented woman and she had a huge influence on me growing up. She was a hands-on maker and an expert in sewing, knitting and crochet. She learnt her textiles skills from her Aunty who was the wardrobe mistress and costume-maker for the 1930/40’s film actress Greer Garson. Grandma had a range of talents and could adapt brilliantly to different situations. She sewed parachutes in the Second World War, stitched textiles for a local hospital, was a seamstress making wedding dresses and clothes to order, could French polish furniture and worked as an upholsterer for my Uncle’s furniture business to name a few. From a young age I spent many happy hours learning from her and sharing our passion for textiles. I feel like I am continuing her textiles legacy and I often think I wish I could talk to her now about my current work.
More recently I have been mentored by Ross Morgan a metal specialist at the engineering company where I carried out my apprenticeship as part of my PhD research. I remember the day I first met Ross and we discussed how the metal processes he uses works. It was a real lightbulb moment for me to see new possibilities for my work. He has been so generous with his time and knowledge. I have spent many hours working with Ross in the workshop and we have learnt new skills from each other. I have really seen the value in cross-disciplinary collaboration and how it pushes you to create innovative work that is outside your normal scope. I am very grateful to Ross for sharing his extensive knowledge with me and I feel very lucky to have spent time learning from him.
D-N: What inspires you?
H.W: I love the way textiles can be constructed to create architectural structural forms. One of my textile heroines is Anni Albers, who was an influential weaver from the Bauhaus. Her paper ‘The Pliable Plane’ written in 1957 explores how the flexible and adaptable characteristics of fabric can be exploited to create large scale architectural forms. She was ahead of her time and her work is so relevant to textiles created today. Peter Collingwood’s 3D woven Macrogauze wall panels also inspire me, as he took woven textiles into three-dimensional sculpture through the making process. A key to my creative practice is using cross-disciplinary materials and processes to bring new life to traditional textile techniques through the cross-fertilisation of ideas. The design-thinking and construction methods of architects and engineers such as Richard Buckminster Fuller, Frei Otto and Ove Arup fascinate me and inform my sculptural work.
D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process.
H.W: Texture and form are central to my creative aesthetic. As a weaver, I instinctively think about how to create the visual aspects and the construction of the fabric at the same time rather than sequentially. This allows me to create fabrics from scratch that are very specific to my needs which means that I am not as restricted by the properties of bought fabrics. I describe my process as ‘engineering with thread’. I use my knowledge of how to create three-dimensional structures through textile techniques, such as weave and smocking, to produce unusual fabrics and metal sculptural forms.
D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?
H.W: Receiving funding from the AHRC/London Doctoral Research Centre to study a PhD at the Royal College of art was a real turning point in establishing my new creative practice after choosing to leave my role as an academic. Without the funding I would not have been able to take my place on the course and I would have not had the freedom and the time to fully explore my new ideas. It has really taken my design thinking and making processes into a new creative place.
D-N: What is your workspace like?
H.W: I have a studio at home which is where I do my initial research and some of the craft developments for each project. I also spend time in the workshops of my collaborators such as the metal workshop and at the weaving mills that I work with when developing my fabrics.
D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?
H.W: I am in the process of launching my new work and I have been building my own website and marketing myself. I am a member of The Design Trust Business Club run by Patricia Van Den Akker and I find their webinars and online training really helpful when thinking about PR and marketing from an individual creative’s perspective.
D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?
H.W: I was about to launch my new work as the Coronavirus pandemic caused major changes to the way we live and work, both now and in the near future. The impact it has on my creative practice is something I will have to wait and see as time progresses. At the moment I am reflecting on ways to develop new work which I can create solely from home as the weaving mill and metal workshops I use are currently closed. My focus for my practice is to find ways to keep creative and use the problem-solving skills I developed during my PhD to find a way through for the future.
D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
H.W: I would like to be working on larger scale projects with architects and designers using my specialist knowledge as a weaver to create extraordinary textile forms. It would be fantastic to see some of my textile making methods being used to create three-dimensional structures that can become canopies for buildings, or retractable walls inside buildings. I would love to be continually pushing myself to innovate and take on new challenges using my textile thinking.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?
H.W: I find collaborative projects with cross-disciplinary partners really inspiring and I would welcome discussions to collaborate on projects from a wide range of disciplines. If I was to name two particular collaborators I would choose Professor Achim Menges and Professor Dr. Jan Knippers from the University of Stuttgart/ Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design. Their work creating architectural structures through material research is extraordinary. I would love to spend time with them to see what the combination of their technical expertise and my textile approach could create.
D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?
H.W: I think I would like to be an engineer. After my apprenticeship at the metal company during my PhD I have become increasing fascinated by the thinking process behind engineering research. The way I instinctively think as an experienced weaver when constructing three-dimensional structures using thread relates to the type of problem-solving that is required in engineering. I think I would find it challenging and rewarding.
D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
H.W: I have recently been selected as Design-Nation member and I am looking forward to being part of a very talented design community. I’m excited to get to know my new community of makers and see if there are opportunities to develop collaborative creative projects with fellow Design-Nation members. I am hoping Design-Nation will provide a platform for me to promote my new work and to learn from the valuable professional development support available.
D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?
H.W: I am currently working on launching my new work, which will need to be done online at the moment. I have recently uploaded my profile to Design-Nation and I plan to work on my website during this time. I have a few commissions/projects which are currently on hold due to the current social distancing restrictions and I am looking forward to taking these forward when the restrictions are lifted.