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Meet the Maker - Silversoles Felted Textiles

A master of felt making, Emma of Silversoles uses her talents to make unquestionably beautiful and tactile lampshades, that bring both modern and traditional textures into her customers homes. With a background in textiles, Emma immediately fell in love with the hands on nature of her craft and it's sustainability, leading her to develop and play with a wide range of felting techniques and patterns. We chat to Emma in this month's Meet the Maker interview to find out more about how Silversoles began, how she makes such stunning lampshades and where she her inspiration comes from.

Hi there!

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

I’m good thank you, hope you are too. I’ve been making up cosmetic bags for upcoming events, cutting leather for the tabs. I’m using one of the felt fabrics I make for my lampshade designs and hand dyeing the fabric. The idea is to diversify and complement the product range by introducing a new collection with a subtle colour palette.

How do you start your felting process and where do you get your inspiration?

I like to experiment with my chosen materials to ask ‘what if’ and ‘is that possible’ to create surfaces with texture. I’m intrigued by how we perceive tactility and how we are drawn to surfaces that engage our sense of touch.

All sorts of objects with texture and pattern inspire me; the form of fungi and corals, architecture and after a recent holiday, the landscape and geology of Iceland. I’ll draw on photographs or sketches I’ve made and then see if I can emulate the textures and patterns with felted wool. I make small felt samples and if these work I experiment with upscaling the design and decide what product they might suit.

Why is felting your chosen craft?

I stumbled across felt making about 24 years ago at an evening class when on maternity leave and had an instant affinity with the process and end product. Many of the textiles techniques I studied at art college involved applying processes to existing fabrics or processed yarns, whereas felt making involved actually making a fabric from scratch. I love the holistic and symbiotic nature of the relationship between the materials, process and maker - its so hands on; the smell of the wool, the physicality of the process and the satisfaction of making a new fabric from the raw materials. Wool is an amazing material with incredible properties and felted it can produce 2d fabrics and 3d objects by simply massaging wool, soap and water together with your hands.

How would you describe your felted lampshades in terms of style?

Tactile statement pieces in luxurious natural fibres that complement modern and traditional interiors.

How do decide what will work for a lampshade?

Trail & error! I hold my samples up against different light sources to see how they interact with the light. This way I can test how translucent the design is and what hidden textures are revealed when its illuminated. Felt making is labour intensive, so I also do a cost analyse to see how practical it will be to produce in terms of material and labour, against realistic retail pricing.

When and why did you start making lampshades?

I began making lampshades about 8 years ago. I’d been making scarves, bags and cushions and was looking at ways to complement my cushions. I further developed my felt for lampshades during my recent MA, focusing on creating a new devoré felted collection.

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

Attaching the rings and seeing the shade begins to take shape is very satisfying, but my favourite part has to be when a finished shade is illuminated for the first time and reveals all the textures in the fabric.

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

The ivory white merino wool Nuno Silk Spots and Pebble shades. I chose this colour as it’s versatile and the neutral palette suits a wide range of interior colour schemes. It also emphasises the textures hidden within the felt structures when lit.

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

Approximately 70:30 ready made:commissions. I have a range of ‘off the shelf’ table lamps and lampshade designs and sizes made to order and sold directly or online but welcome commissions. Commission tend to be for bespoke sizes, different colours or specific wools from native sheep breeds.

Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?

Be unique, find your USB and practice, practice, practice to hone the skills to obtain professional finish.

You mention on your website that you like your pieces to be functional and have a sense of koeslig. Can you explain more about what that means and why it’s important to you?

I like to make for a purpose, so making objects that are practical, useful and beautiful is important to me and a cornerstone to the sustainable ethos of my business. As well as being functional I want my lampshades to evoke a sense of cosiness, intimacy and warmth to the interiors they are placed in to help foster feelings of happiness and contentment. Koselig is rooted in Norwegian culture and a word that sums all of these feeling into one. There is no direct translation into English, but it is similar in meaning to the Danish hygge.

We can’t fail to talk about the giant 70cm pebble shade you recently made. How was it making such a big shade and what did you learn?

I learnt how much postage of larger items costs now! It’s the largest I’ve made with the Pebble design, so it was a challenge. I had to upscale the calculations to accommodate the shrinkage of the wool that happens in the felting process, to arrive at the correct fabric length for the shade covering. Fortunately I was able to refer to my development design calculations to get it right first time, which was a relief as I didn’t fancy felting over 5 metres of wool and hundreds of pebble forms again! Although felted wool is remarkably light, the strength of the shade backing to support the size of the structure and wool was a concern, so after a bit of research I settle on using the Stick-it Extra Rigid to provide extra strength to support it.

How do you fit in your shade making around your other commitments?

Keeping a diary & ‘to do’ list is key to juggling the different strands of my life and work, I’d be lost with out them. I combine lampshade making with the other areas of my felt making business; making and teaching with working as an adult education textiles tutor. I have days of the week when I’m in college, doing admin, making in the studio, and delivering workshops. As I make to order there are peaks and troughs in production, but it helps make my practice more sustainable and reduces the amount of storage space needed.

When are you at your most productive?

I’m not a morning person - so it has to be in the afternoons. I work from my home studio in the garden and find that once I’m in the studio I can focus on my work without distractions, helping to make me more productive. Having the studio at home, means I can be flexible about when I work, so when I’m busy or a deadline is approaching I can work into the evenings and weekends too.

And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?

Radio 4, audio books and Yorkshire Tea…intravenously!

Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?

It’s a bit of a mess at the moment….creative mess?!

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Hopefully still making and teaching. I’d also like to do some collaborative work with other makers and interior designers.

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

Remembering to factor in time and space for research and development. Equally how important it is to give myself time off to recharge and have space to allow new ideas to develop.

Find out more about Emma's beautiful textural lampshades and products and give her a friendly follow.

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