Glasgow School of Art and Alternative Flooring joined forces in a competition to celebrate British design, British made, young talent and to support the wool industry. The brief was to design a tartan carpet as an extrapolation from the traditional tartan to the contemporary. The design had to embrace the Alternative Flooring brand – to inspire people to express their personality in their homes where different feels good. We are glad to tell you that this wonderful winning design will be part of Alternative’s new Quirky Tartan collection launching spring 2022.
One of the judges fashion designer and former GSA student Louise Gray, who pledges individualism commented that this was ‘a great result with some brilliantly opinionated work as your winner. ‘
Here our worthy winner Sophie Anne Campbell, shares her side of the story.
Tell us about yourself…
I’m 23 and come from Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. I’ve just graduated from Glasgow School of Artand loved developing my interest in textiles. I come from a creative and musical family and my interest in making and exploring different materials has always been encouraged. As a child I was always creating scrapbooks and filling sketchbooks with drawings. When my father came home from his work offshore, I would show him my magazine, The Hillside Times (named after our house) filled with news and illustrations of what we’d all been up to.
Sophie’s final tartan design and mood board
What was the inspiration behind your entry?
Being a Campbell and coming from the highlands tartan is a design I’ve grown up with. I’ve been living in Glasgow for four years and decided to use my surroundings as inspiration for the competition. Because it was during lockdown, I couldn’t get out much, so I walked around my neighbourhood (Great Western Road) as if I were a tourist, taking photos and looking at the city from a different perspective. I made a note of geometric shapes, different textures and colours and wove all those influences into my tartan design using six bright colours. I am quite a ‘maximalist’, so I found it natural to come up with a tartan which was cheerful and colourful with lots going on.
Detail of Sophie’s tartan design
Is tartan a design you are familiar with?
Oh yes. Being a Campbell and from Oban our family will always wear kilts made from our own tartan for special occasions. I’m very aware of how tartan is loaded with historical and emotional importance. But I didn’t feel intimidated by all the history, I felt confident in my own style that I could create a brand-new design which reflected my personality.
Sophie looking at Alternative’s Quirky B Geo being quality checked at Wilton
Any highlights of your day at the carpet factory?
It was really great to see and compare my digital designs, to the small square samples, to seeing it being woven at such an industrial large scale. Something I have never experienced before. It is also amazing to see the craftmanship that goes into these carpets. The time and skill is important to recognise and appreciate. I think it is also appropriate to appreciate the woven craft and techniques. Especially in this day and age where things are so consumed and produced, it is refreshing to see such an ancient technique as weave and transforming into modern day tartans. During the generations of mass textile production, it is important to step back and admire the trade in action. These novelty pieces are created and the skill, craftsmanship and attention to detail is important to admire.
Making the axminster carpet
What did you learn about the making process?
The stages in between the carpet being woven and sitting on a shelf or in a display book is a lot more tedious and hand crafted than I had imaged. There are so many different elements, from having maintenance for the looms, to the weaver checking every thread, to the finishing, and the threading and fixing of any mistakes the looms have made. Most of these jobs are done by hand and skilled hands at that! It was a real honour to be able to walk about the factory and be introduced to the real designers!
Making the axminster carpet – detail of coloured threads
As a textile student, what attracts you to wool?
Wool is sustainable, and it works in a circular economy. It’s very satisfying to work with an ethical material and not feel that I’m doing damage to the environment in any way. Both my grannies are great knitters. I grew up wearing those scratchy woollen sweaters they knitted for us and feel great fondness for those clothes. My grannies are so proud to hear that I’m working with wool to create a new tartan.
How do you feel about interior designers incorporating tartan into their concepts?
Being a highlander there’s a lot of tartan to be seen in homes that I know. You can see tartan carpet in some of the old hotels in Oban. (I think the Queen’s Scottish home in Balmoral has some tartan carpet). The tartan picnic rug or throw is familiar to so many people. It’s a very traditional look but it can be quite dark. I enjoyed bringing brighter colours and a more contemporary look to my own tartan design.
Sophie Anne Campbell, winner of the Glasgow School of Art & Alternative Flooring Design Competition observing her tartan design made into carpet
Can you describe your personal design style?
As you’ve gathered, I love colour, texture, and content and like my designs to feel busy. I like a sense of narrative too. I’d say that I create designs which promote a positive atmosphere – bright and cheerful.
How did you feel about winning this competition?
This was just the news I needed. It was a real confidence boost and so great to have a positive reaction to all the work I’ve been doing for the last four years. It just confirmed to me that I’m on the right track.
Alternative’s little people campaign – Wool
What are your views on Alternative Flooring?
I really like Alternative Flooring’s branding. Those films with the tiny, model people in the carpets are visually fun and convey that narrative element I like. Alternative embraces so many styles; they’re as happy with geometrics and quirky patterns as they are with plains and simple textured flooring. They have a real authenticity and that’s a quality which I really admire.
What are your plans?
I’ll be based Galashiels for the next year doing a Masters in Fashion and Textiles at the Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design with an industry placement. I’ve been working at Hallmark through the summer and have the promise of some theatre design work which I’m looking forward to. It’s going to be a busy time with more opportunities for work experience which will be great.
Sophie’s tartan carpet design being woven on the axminster loom
Do you intend to remain based in Scotland?
Yes, I’m very happy in Scotland but I’m not going to limit my potential by feeling I should stay here. If the right opportunity comes along somewhere else in the world, I’ll be prepared to move.
How do you feel about with COP26 in Glasgow?
I have lived in Glasgow for 5 years and I have always loved the city. COP26 being held in Glasgow is going to bring a lot to the city for many different reasons. One being that Scotland as a whole will be on the fight to stop climate change and potentially use the landscapes and facilities to show that we are moving in the right direction. It is a chance for the people to get out on the streets and make it known that change needs to happen, Glasgow is a city where the people are important, I think it is the right location and I think it is obvious we need to see real measures taken after this conference.
Sophie’s final tartan carpet design mood board inspired by Glasgow
Finally, how does climate change impact your work?
I am very aware of the industry that I am entering, I am also aware of the impact that textile waste has globally which is why I am taking it within my design process to make sure I am well educated. I like to focus a lot of my designing on waste materials, so what can you do with the waste pieces of yarns that are all different sizes and cut offs? I then ask myself, could I make that into a rug? Or better yet some sort of garment that has fringing made from scrap yarn running down the seem. I think it is important to stay imaginative, be creative because it is possible to turn waste into beautiful textiles. You just have to design the process you’re going to follow.
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