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An Interview with textile artist Margo Selby

DN Fellow member Margo Selby was one of the selected artists at Collect Open this year and we were delighted to hear that she won the award for the best Collect Open project.  We asked Margo a few questions about her practice, inspiration and forthcoming events.

Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.

Margo Selby answered: I am an artist working with colour and geometrical form in thread. Hand weaving is absolutely central to my practice – I primarily work on a 24 shaft dobby loom, using the lampas technique.

I established my design company from my home in London in 2003, progressing to a small studio/shop in Bloomsbury (2007-2012). Since the move to Whitstable my team has grown a little, and we are busier than ever, taking on projects of all sizes – whatever we do, from industrially produced commercial projects to bespoke artworks, the process always begins with sketches, yarn-windings and weaving on the hand loom. We collaborate with global manufacturers and retailers (including Habitat, John Lewis, Osborne & Little and Alternative Flooring) as well as institutions such as Tate, the British Museum, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and London Transport Museum, to make bespoke textiles and products.

I studied at Chelsea College of Art & Design and the Royal College of Art in London. Before setting up independently, I worked as a designer for industrial mills – this is where I developed an interest in uniting a hand-woven approach with industrial machine production – a relationship that still fascinates me.

D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

M.S: I am hugely indebted to so many of my teachers, at Chelsea and the RCA – and the Atelier National d’Art in Paris where I spent 3 months during my time as a student.

Ann Sutton gave me a place at her Foundation when I first graduated from the RCA. This was a tremendous opportunity to explore the possibilities of my practice. I was the first of 3 fellows and we worked on projects together, alongside developing our own work. Ann has also been a key inspiration for treating my woven textiles as art, as well as using them for practical purposes.

It is wonderful to now pass this on – I lead occasional weaving workshops, in my studio, and elsewhere including West Dean College, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and now Turner Contemporary in Margate, and contribute to various mentoring programmes. I have taught at art schools including Central St Martins, the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths.

 D-N: What inspires you?

M.S: I am inspired by the weaving process itself – I have quite an active and chaotic mind, and the discipline of the loom is a wonderful thing for me, I love the rhythmic sound and the repetitive action.

I love colour – my studio is full of cones of yarn – I love placing them next to each other and observing the visual effects. I love mathematical pattern, symmetry, and rhythm created by abstract form and line. I love graphic design, typography and architecture. I love historical textile design from all over the world – a great inspiration has been Japanese Boro textiles.

Recently I have been thrilled to see the Gee’s Bend Quilts at Turner Contemporary in Margate – part of the wonderful exhibition ‘We Will Walk’ – I have always admired these works from seeing images online and in books, but this is the first time they have toured to the UK – to see them in the flesh was mind-blowing – they are so beautiful! I am thrilled to have my ‘Tesselation’ works on show at Turner Contemporary accompanying them as a tribute – to be able to make that connection.

D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process.

M.S: All my designs are developed through a process of sketching on paper and by winding coloured thread around card to experiment with combinations and proportions of colour. I then work on a handloom and also on screen. I like to explore technical constructions on the loom, combining fibres and structure to create new fabrics and patterns.

I’m always interested in exploring new materials and techniques both in hand weaving and industrial production.

D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?

M.S: My most exciting project recently has been weaving VEXILLUM for Collect Open – it was the cherry on top to win the Collect Open 2020 Award! I LOVED working on a larger scale – and have ambitious plans for the future.

My practice as an artist feeds back into my design work, and the studio’s production. I am very proud of some of the commercial partnerships which I have developed including those with Osborne & Little and Alternative Flooring. Having these commercial partnerships in place allows me to spend more time at the loom developing and creating.

D-N: What is your workspace like?

M.S: I have a lovely open plan studio in Whitstable. Cosy, messy, busy, colourful – and always open – we welcome visitors throughout the week. There are 8 of us including me and I’m lucky to have a very special team (all women) who help me to keep the studio running smoothly. We are surrounded by looms, yarns, books, archive textiles and development work. It’s a lovely place to work and I always feel happy going into the studio.

D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?

M.S: For several years I have worked with Elizabeth Machin PR. They have been really supportive, and having someone else promoting the work I do allows me to focus on the design, making and brand direction.

D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?

M.S: One of the current challenges is getting the right balance between commercial design and textile art. They are intrinsically linked and symbiotic, the work I do with industry informs my ideas for my art practice and my art practice enriches and deepens my commercial design. It is challenging to communicate these two sides of my practice so that they support each other without losing clarity.

D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

M.S: I hope to continue pushing the boundaries of woven fabric, embracing collaboration and innovation along the way. Sustainability is becoming of greater concern to me – I would like to work more with local producers of sustainable yarns – and focus on making valued things that last (as opposed to contributing to a throwaway culture).

After VEXILLUM I have ambitions to scale up my artworks further – I so enjoyed the impact of the Collect 2020 installation.

I love seeing my fabrics being produced and distributed internationally and I enjoy the creativity and diversity required to put together collections for my partners.

D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?

M.S: I would love to collaborate with an architect to make something really big, in a public space. I would love to work with innovative manufacturers or fabricators to make something free-standing and out-of-doors.

D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?

M.S: I have often wondered what alternative career I would have liked. I have recently been working with the social enterprise scheme ‘Love Welcomes’ supporting female Syrian refugees in Greece, teaching weaving skills enabling them to earn money. It has been so lovely to be able to contribute to this project and I think I would have liked to devote more of my life to this type of work. I love my practice though, so no regrets!

D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?

M.S: Design Nation has been an instrumental part of my career development over the past 15 years. It has proved to be a great source of networking with other designers who are a fantastic community of supportive people to share problem-solving and ideas with. It has also enabled me to showcase my work on new platforms and bring my work to a wider audience.

D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?

M.S: We have a lot coming up – but not much I can talk about just yet! We are looking forward to London Craft Week.

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Clare Edwards


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