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Meet the maker – Jo Hill

We’re feeling very privileged this week to meet artist and designer Jo Hill of www.johilltextiles.co.uk, who’s talented creative eye translates her love of the British Countryside and wildlife into beautiful stitched homewares, including lampshades.

With over 30 years experience in the design industry, Jo has taken her already accomplished artistic skills and combined them with the technique of free machine embroidery. By drawing with the needle of her sewing machine, and adding colour and texture onto a blank canvas she creates stunning designs, that bring the outside in!

As a regular Dannells customer, we find out more about Jo and her thriving textile homewares business.

Hi there!  Hello!

How are you today and what’s on your workbench?

I’ve just finished stitching a commission for one of my Hare Lampshades and this one is a large (40cm diameter) shade so it’s been a full day of sewing. But that’s always a good day!

How do you start the design process and where do you get your inspiration? 

All of my work is inspired by British wildlife and I love to get out and about in nature with my sewing machine. You can see me stitching on location in this short video: https://www.johilltextiles.co.uk/videos

Often, a particular bird or colour of a landscape will inspire the design. I usually find that after creating one design, a new one will follow naturally and I’m always aiming to improve the shapes and colours of the design.

How would you describe your style?

Ooh good question! I try to recreate the birds or animals I stitch fairly accurately in design and add interesting elements by using floral and hand-dyed fabrics. I try not to be too ‘cartoony’ and prefer subtle colours in my work. Everything is created by me on my sewing machine using hand-dyed, appliqué fabrics and free motion embroidery. 

You’re clearly an avid sewer. When did you learn to sew and where does your love of textiles come from? 

I have always created things in textiles, from a young age, beginning by making little clothes for my teddies! I then went on to do a degree in Woven Textiles and after graduating I had a weaving business and went on to sell rug designs to Habitat, amongst other places. I have since completed many City and Guilds courses where I learnt a lot of other textile techniques, many of which I have incorporated into my work. Over time I have refined those techniques; I think you have to persevere and be a bit obsessive to get really good at anything!

What’s your favourite creative technique? 

It’s what I do every day – appliqué and free motion embroidery.

When did you start making lampshades? 

About 5 years ago.

What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process? 

I love turning over the shade after I’ve stuck down the backing onto the finished stitched design, and seeing how it looks when all of the bumps have been smoothed out of it.

In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?

Definitely the March Hare. Those little characters are certainly very popular!  

What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of your business? 

We sell more of the shades in the Printed Homewares range, in particular small shades and I always have a steady stream of lampshade commissions for the Handmade Originals which is exciting, especially when the commission has a story behind it. It’s nice to be able to create special lampshades for customers which are destined for gifts such as birthday or anniversary presents. I love knowing that there are original, one-of-a-kind lampshades being used and enjoyed in people’s homes every day.

What’s the best part about teaching lampshade making workshops?

Students always produce great results, often surprising themselves with how well their shades turn out!

What other workshops do you run?

Ooh lots of other workshops, all focussing on free motion embroidery. The Flowers and Grasses course is the most popular and is ideal for beginners. Students then progress onto making birds such as garden birds or wading birds. The Landscape Workshop is very popular and I also run a course in fabric painting and free motion embroidery. As well as those I teach cushion workshops, bag making workshops and lantern making workshops. The workshop programme runs regularly throughout the year. 

Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?

I would say the most important tip is to push the fabric well under the rings.

What are the values that you base your business on? 

I create unique, original designs and quality products. This is supported by great customer care – we always include a hand-written note with every order, and being a small business we can take commissions for originals shades according to customer’s colour schemes. Everything that we make is designed in my studio, and most of what we sell is also made in my studio, too. Where we have to outsource the manufacture (such as printing fabric and greetings cards), we always use UK manufacturers, supporting British made and keeping it as local as possible, too.

When are you at your most productive? 

Definitely in the mornings!

And your favourite sustenance when you’re working? 

Barley Cup – a coffee substitute. 

Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would love to have the chance to create stunning, large scale lampshades for interiors, such as hotels and restaurants. It would also be great to be stocked in more interior shops, too. And of course, to carry on being asked to create original lampshades and textiles for customers which is such a privilege and makes me happy to know that people are choosing to shop independent!

What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?

Practise, practise and keep practising! Try and develop your own techniques and refine them. Don’t copy because it will never be ‘you’ and you won’t develop your own creativity – create the designs which come from you!

Jo Hill Textiles was also successful in winning the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award in 2018 which is open to any small business. To enter find the details here.

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