Monday, December 22, 2014

"Pragmatic, organic, happy and timeless..."

Meet designer Lotta Jansdotter

Halfway between Sweden and Finland, where the Baltic Sea meets the Gulf of Bothnia lies the Åland archipelago, a group of nearly 7,000 islands. This is where textile and print artist Lotta Jansdotter grew up surrounded by the calm beauty of the rugged Scandinavian landscape. This is where she returns every Summer to take a break from her fast-paced life in New York and get back in touch with the natural elements that have inspired her as a creative throughout her life. And, next year in July,  she will host a four-day creative retreat there at Silverskär, a boutique hotel on its own 40-acre private island north of the main Åland island. Through this workshop, Lotta hopes to “explore creativity, share stories and experiences and create special items and memories.”
Lotta’s designs are simple, clean and modern. She defines them as pragmatic, organic, happy and timeless. They are inspired by nature and have a distinctive affiliation with Japanese aesthetic. The patterns she created 20 years ago when she first started her business continue to be fresh and relevant even today. All 300 of her original patterns, the old and the new, the floral designs and the geometric patterns all co-exist in a harmonious way like a happy family, she says. Coming from Sweden with a strong tradition of incorporating textile items such as napkins, cushions and throws into everyday life, Lotta saw a lack of modern and simple Scandinavian designs in the market and decided to fill this gap. Having fallen in love with screen-printing at her college in California, Lotta used her exceptional skills to design, screen-printed and stitched her first collection of cushions.
From the very start, she knew how to build her brand right. She carefully selected stores that matched her aesthetic and where she knew her products would fit in well. Armed with two designs screen-printed on cushions in a see through carrying case and a catalogue made from photographs, Lotta walked into Zinc Details. They became her first clients and continue to work with her even today.
When she first started out, Lotta was designing and making everything herself. Through craft fairs and trunk shows she gathered a large following. From her first pair of cushions to now, Lotta’s designs can be found on an impressive number of various paper, textile, ceramic and metal objects. To grow her business, Lotta had to make the important decision of figuring out what elements of her business she wanted to hang on to and what aspects she could delegade. “Some things you have to let go, in order to grow and change. And you must hold on to the things that are important to you and the brand.” It means constantly checking in with the people are working with, but also understanding the value of your time and spending it in the best possible way. In recent years, she has chosen to produce the artwork and designs which are then licensed to makers around the world who put her patterns on stationary, household items and textiles.
While she currently does not engage in production work herself, Lotta is a maker at heart. She enjoys teaching other people the basics of design and printmaking and sharing creative ideas with like-minded people. She hosts workshops every Saturday in her Brooklyn studio where people from different professional backgrounds and geographical locations come together to share her environment, through process and creative inspirations.
This very urge to share her process with others and learn from their creativity took her to India last year where she took a group of people to learn traditional block printing techniques in Jaipur. Her love for educating others has seen her in a role of a consultant for artisans around the world to help them understand the color and design aesthetics to produce for global markets. And, it is this desire to engage in design conversations, to grow, to learn and to reflect that has inspired her to create her Åland workshop.
Click here for details on Lotta’s workshop in Åland ~ July 15-19, 2015.

Knockando Woolmills

Keeping A 200 Year Old Tradition Alive

This past Summer, my husband and I took a road trip through the northern most parts of Scotland. One of the stops on our itinerary was the 200 year old Knockando Woolmill deep in the Spey Valley. The mill continues a centuries old unbroken tradition of producing woven fabric on its historic looms. Central to the life of the local community, Knockando Woolmill was listed as the ‘Wauk Mill’ in parish records from 1784, and has since maintained its traditions of spinning and weaving through generations of families. Walking through the mill and meeting with the people who work there, we couldn’t help but feel like we too had become a part of this historic tradition, even if for a brief while.
The history behind the mill’s survival through the ages is fascinating and best told in the words of the mill’s Trust:
Knockando Woolmill grew gradually as the mechanisation of textile production developed elsewhere in the UK. This is not the large industrial mill of Yorkshire or the Scottish Borders but 18th and 19th century farm diversification. When times were good, the Woolmill tenant would buy a new (usually second hand) piece of machinery. He would extend the Mill building just enough to keep the weather off the machine; being a thrifty farmer, he reused doors and windows from elsewhere. This has resulted in the surviving tiny, ramshackle building stuffed full of historic machinery and redolent of the labours previous generations. Spinning and weaving went hand in hand with agriculture at Knockando. There would be little work carried on in the Woolmill during sowing or harvest time but after shearing, local farmers would bring in their fleeces to be processed and take them away as blankets and tweed cloth. Many communities had their own local district woollen mill, but the majority of these disappeared between the two World Wars. Somehow, Knockando survived. Using expertise passed down through generations, the last proprietor, Hugh Jones, learnt the craft from his predecessor, Duncan Stewart. For thirty years he continued to produce tweed, rugs and blankets on the old looms. Knockando Woolmill Trust, formed in 2000, stepped in to raise the £3.5 million needed to restore the buildings and machinery. This was completed in 2014, It now owns the mill building, leasing the rest of the site from Knockando Estate. The Woolmill is now open to the public and continues to sustain the manufacturing traditions of the UK’s oldest surviving district wool mill.