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Scottish lampshade designer tells us her business story

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A bright, shiny light-filled Hello to you!

I am Kirstie Seonaid MacKay, owner/designer/maker at UrbanRebel Design, a dynamic new design studio based near Glasgow in the West of Scotland.

I started the business of making lampshades in November last year after attending a workshop on a dark, wet November Sunday in Glasgow. My first shade was a stunning cerise pink, tartan, Harris Tweed which I named “Happy Harry” because it was lighting up such a dark day!

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My life long obsession with textiles, design, colour and light was kick started in childhood. One Grandfather was a consultant for “House of Viyella” textiles and brought us home gorgeous clothing samples.  I loved the textures and designs. My Granny was a skilled seamstress who made her own lampshades, clothes and doll’s clothes. We would spend afternoons in fabric departments choosing new fabrics and prints from the reams of beautifully coloured fabrics. I loved sorting through the piles of materials in the “Glory Hole” cupboard!

Light, colour and textiles were everywhere as I grew up. Holidays on Hebrides Islands entrenched a love of the wide expanses of white shelled beaches studded with “Machair“, wild meadows of tiny jewel-like, brightly coloured wild flowers that cover the landscape under the huge light-filled skies.  The way the landscape colours contrasted with the natural materials of the buildings, boats and wildlife was mesmerizing…

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On the islands nothing was ever wasted so consequently, drawers would be filled with scraps of leftover materials, wool and ribbons that would be re-purposed into rag rugs, cushions, pillow fillings, quilts or bags. The colours would filter through the fibres of fabrics pieces were being made by the fire. I was fascinated by the way the light changed the colours on the fabrics and made them shine.

One cloth was always prized above all others in The Hebrides, Harris Tweed or “Clo’ Mor” (The big cloth in Gaelic). The amazing story behind the industry of Harris Tweed was something I grew up knowing all about. Every family on Lewis and Harris was involved in some way in the production of the woollen tweed. All hand spun, dyed and woven by hand from the wool of the black face sheep of the Hebrides. It held a magical quality to us and items made from it were much treasured!

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During the boat crossings to the islands my aunties would wear fabulous silk head scarves which they would drape over lamps at home to change the lighting in a room. Cushion covers or make up bags would be made from last seasons designs.

I lost my Mum in 2012 and while clearing out her home I found piles of the silk scarves, vintage Viyella, Liberty and Laura Ashley fabrics and some of the King of wools, Harris Tweed! I knew I could use the mid-century wood and brass table lamps along with the gorgeous standard lamp bases with new shades. The quality of the fabric was so good it seemed a waste not to re-purpose it in some way.

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It was a bit of a light bulb moment really, thinking life is too short so give it a go! I had been wanting to work on developing my creative skills into a small business for a while and had some savings so I decided to take the plunge.

I came up with the idea of using the vintage fabrics along with new Harris Tweed I had bought to create stunning, unique and luxurious shades for the bases I had inherited. I left my job as a teacher and used my savings to live off while I cleared workshop space to make a home studio. I felt that by using the interests I had developed in childhood in a creative way might be a bit of a testament to the skills and resourcefulness I had seen in my family growing up.

What started as a way to brighten up a dark Glasgow November day has taken me in six months to being invited to exhibit my shades at The Ideal Home Show Scotland 2015, take part in a design showcase in the iconic Lighthouse Design museum and lots of artisan craft markets.

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The quality of the Needcraft kits, parts and tools has enabled me to produce a varying range of sizes and styles of shades of a consistently high quality. The safety standards the kits have met and the fact that parts are made in the UK is an added factor in making Needcraft the only supplier to use!

I quite literally have started a business in a box!! I love making the shades. When I started UrbanRebel Design it was exclusively Harris Tweed shades I made but as my confidence has grown I have bought vintage Japanese wedding kimono silks from Kyoto and African waxed cottons from Rwanda.

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I am completely self funded and have spent the bulk of my money on buying the lampshade making kits, from the rolls of PVC, the rings, tools and fire-retardant I have never used any other supplier. I have phoned to speak to Needcraft staff to ask about the products and have been impressed with the support and encouragement I received! The staff are really well informed about their products and it feels more like a local business than 100’s of miles away. The information about health and safety testing supplied on the website is very clear and concise so I’m  confident in being able to explain the glow wire tests etc carried out on the parts. The rings are so well made that they stand up to the production process of rolling the linings and fabrics onto them. Delivery is prompt and can be tracked. The kits are easy to store, so you don’t necessarily need lots of space, just a table and a few chairs, a kettle, cakes and hey presto, you’re doing a workshop!

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Advice I would give anyone thinking of starting a business lampshade making is, “Go for it!!” its fun, really satisfying, creative and there’s nothing quite like switching on a lamp that’s been handmade! Do your research and buy kits from tried and tested suppliers, hence I only use Needcraft. It can be stressful at times but mostly fun, rewarding and really useful!

In the spirit of re purposing, recycling and sustainability I would encourage anyone with the inclination to do something useful, creative and inspiring to have a go.

I did!

Find Urban Rebels:

facebook.com/UrbanRebelDesign

Twitter.com/UrbanRebelDsign

Instagram.com/UrbanRebelDesign

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