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Many Hands Make Light Work: Myra Hutton & Nick Rawcliffe

A recurring theme throughout Design-Nation’s history is collaboration and working together, within and beyond our network. We launched our very successful Buddy Scheme in part as a reaction to the March/April 2020 lockdown, but also because we knew  it was a model that can work very well: to expand creative makers’ support circles and give them fresh perspectives on their practices. The scheme was always intended to be informal, friendly and helpful,  and definitely with no pressure to produce any kind of object or project, especially considering the limits that Covid has placed on many designers’ practices.

But Design-Nation welcomes the unexpected , and so in early autumn we were delighted to hear that buddies Myra Hutton and Nick Rawcliffe were creating a new piece together. Myra trades as Barley Bay and is known for her felted imagery, celebrating nature and landscapes. This illustrative work is also available as greetings cards.  Nick’s brand is Raw Studio: he is a product designer with a particular talent for innovative chairs and lighting, plus many other products. Their joint project harnesses Myra’s textile knowledge to design a new felted surface for one of Nick’s iconic Luna Lights. Of course we wanted to know more about this intriguing idea and how it came about, so Design-Nation interviewed the collaborators.

Design-Nation: What motivated you to join our buddy scheme and what did you hope to get out of it?

Myra Hutton: I thought the Buddy Scheme was a really great idea, partly to get to know another maker within the DN family and partly because I needed a new focus or kickstart for my creativity. It came just at the right time for me. I had spent well over a year before lockdown sharing the physically and emotionally draining role as carer for my ailing elderly Mum and so my creative journey was pretty much on hold. Not long before lockdown I both lost my Mum and gained a new granddaughter within 2 days which was bittersweet. As I couldn’t then spend time with my new granddaughter either I took solace in the peace and quiet of our allotment allowing myself some freedom to just think or not, waiting for fresh creative inspiration. So when the buddy scheme came up I thought why not?

Nick Rawcliffe: I joined the Buddy Scheme because I thought it a great opportunity to learn about someone else’s craft. And there are a lot of totally niche super specialists in the Design-Nation network so it was like a lucky dip …!

DN: Did you already know your assigned buddy or her/his work? What were your early conversations like?

NR: Nope I didn’t know of Myra. And to be honest I didn’t know that there was such a deep craft in felting…

MH: Not at all! When I’d been paired with Nick I did a quick search and was very impressed with his work. I did however wonder how we could find some common ground, him working at amazing large scale creating pieces in wood and metal, versus my own work with textiles. We got off to a slow start and exchanged a few emails over time, mainly getting to know about each other (Nick has young children similar in age to my granddaughters) and how we were coping in lockdown.

DN: You’ve worked together on new felting by Myra for one of Nick’s Luna Lights. Was collaborative working an objective for you generally, or did it specifically come out of this buddy relationship? What triggered this project’s start?

MH: I had no pre-expectations of what might come from the buddy scheme so the collaboration was a great outcome. When I had looked at Nick’s work I had been struck with how his Luna lighting could possibly work with the textures of my feltwork. After a few emails Nick suggested a collaboration using his lighting, I was really pleased with the idea as the thought had crossed my mind.

NR: I really like to collaborate, especially with experts in their own fields. I’ve worked quite a bit with graphic artists, using my work as the surface for graphics etc…. Our early conversations were about family and the weirdness of lockdown. At first I didn’t think there’d be much scope for collaboration but after asking about Myra’s interest in pushing the boundaries of felt, we got on to discussing textures. It got me thinking: I wonder what the surface texture [of felt] looks like when it’s lit like one of my Luna Lights?

DN: How did you develop the work: what conversations did you have? Did you jointly plan what you made, or was the work done quite separately? Please tell us about the materials and processes involved.

NR: With light pieces there is no real way of knowing how it will look until it’s actually made, so I sent Myra one of my LED hoops and asked her to try it, to see what it looked like held over some of her existing pieces.

MH: Nick had mentioned sending one of his Luna Lights but then one Sunday I happened to pick up a message that he was passing by on the M1 within the hour and could drop one off! All done very safely on the doorstep…..

I then played around with various pieces that I already had (none of them big) to see its effects with the lighting. It was interesting to see the fibres of the various pieces showing up and I was mainly looking at shining the light through from behind, it really did take on a whole new planetry look. This was a change of focus for me as it was making me think purely of textures and shade rather than colour (I normally think of both combined) I sent some images over to Nick via whatsapp and he suggested placing the light on top, he also assured me we’d somehow find a way to fix the two together. I then embarked on creating a large piece of felt that would be big enough once shrunk to be stretched behind the light.

I was thinking lunar at that stage: I’d done a little research on images, looking at the shading, shaping and textures of the moon’s surface and I was thinking of natural colourings. There were lots of photos and messages flying back and forth on whatsapp as I tried to keep Nick up to date with each stage and ask his opinion as the piece progressed.

I used mainly a natural creamy/white merino wool which I layered giving more depth and shade in places. For the surface texture I added in more natural creamy colours of various fibres, Shetland gave a slightly buff/brown look in places, I teased out the curly textures of Wensleydale (again with tinges of beige) leaving some felted in and some protruding above the felt surface. I added some silk fibres (throwers waste) to give a sheen in places and scatterings of little wool nepps.

Once the piece had been felted I needed to tweak some fibres slightly as my felt is always worked for its artistic feel rather than a practical sense. I then stitched into the surface: as a circular moon it lent itself to circular motion so I free-machine-stitched to create tiny puffy circles and finished off by hand with some tiny French knots.

I then sent the piece over to Nick for his wizardry.

DN: How do you feel about the end result? And what about the process of working together? Do you have any further plans for collaboration?

MH: I have to say when Nick sent the images of the finished piece over I was speechless. It turned out so much better than I imagined. I’m so pleased we did this as I would never have thought about using my felt in this way before, I enjoyed just thinking about the surface textures and plan to maybe explore the possibility of textures on soft ‘vessels’. Nick displayed the piece as part of his recent exhibition which was unfortunately closed to the public but he subsequently sent me a picture of it in a prime position in the Oxo Tower as he’s taking part in another exhibition* there, it’s created some interest and we’re thinking of doing more….

NR: I had thought it may just look amazing, an opposite to the textures I normally use for my Luna pieces that are meant to look like spherical rocks. Luckily it did come out fantastically well. A completely different texture, like a cloud planet with all the random nuances of texture from the work by my super-skilled buddy.

I was keen that the piece concentrated on texture and that colour was left out of the equation, but maybe we can look at that for 2021…?

Interview by Laura Jacometti & Liz Cooper.

* Nick exhibited with the Design-Nation London Cluster as part of a Christmas 2020 window pop-up at Oxo Tower on the South Bank.

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Liz Cooper


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