Updated: May 22, 2020
My name is Sarah Hilditch and I am a hand weaver, using sustainable local fibres to create bespoke rugs and other textiles. The rug and smaller samples featured in the student house are from my final year HNC project, in which I explore images of space and planets taken by the Juno space probe. These digital images are taken in black and white, and the colours are added using special filters for elements such as oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, which all have different wavelengths.
The rug is made using a technique called 'double corduroy', which is a special weave in which the weft yarn is allowed to run over the warp in long floats, which are then cut to form the pile of the rug itself. This creates a 'shaggier' rug than would be achieved using knots. To give an idea of the difference, I have also made a series of smaller samples using the rya knotting technique.
Q. How do you feel that your family heritage and local environment inspired your choice to work with wool?
I grew up on a smallholding in the Pennines, surrounded by over 1000 acres of grazing moor, so sheep have been in my life from a very early age. My mother initially ran a riding school, but when she retired from that we needed something to graze the land, and sheep were the obvious choice. She started with Cheviots and Black Welsh Mountain, both of which have lovely fleece. Not fine like Merino, but still good 'knitting wool'. Mum was both a knitter and a rug maker, and over the years she had our fleece spun up partly into 3-ply knitting yarn and partly into 4-ply rug yarn. This gave four natural colours – white, grey, fawn and dark brown/black – which we used undyed or dyed to create knitwear and knotted rugs. Some of the wool used for my HNC project is from this heritage “stash”, while the rest has been sourced locally. Going forward I would like to continue spinning up our own wool, both to use in my own rugs and to sell for knitting, particularly given the increased interest in products with a guaranteed origin.
Q. You say you lived in Italy before returning to Bradford to pursue a HNC in Contemporary Constructed Textiles - what prompted your decision to pursue an arts practice in the U.K?
My decision to return to the UK was all about family. My mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2016 and I decided to return to the UK to look after her. Once here, I started getting back into wool, and while visiting Yarndale in 2016 I came across the Bradford College stand and realised that there was still an option for me to make something more of my love of textiles. Because the course I am following is a distance learning one, I was able to combine it with caring for Mum and working from home, so everything came together beautifully!
Q. Can you tell us a bit more about your practice as a whole?
For me, the use of ethically sourced and environmentally friendly fibres plays an important part in my weaving practice. On returning to the UK I was shocked to discover how little sheep farmers are receiving for their fleece, and how little of that fleece is actually being processed in the UK. In a time when the abuse of man-made fibres is causing such devastation to the planet, I want to return to more traditional methods and raw materials.
This lead me to take a particular interest in rugs and floor coverings, which require the use of a material that is both hard wearing, fire-retardant and non-toxic. Many of the sheep bred on the moorlands of Lancashire and Yorkshire produce fleece that is ideal for that purpose – stronger and rougher than the wools used for clothing, but equally beautiful.
Q. How has the current Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on the creation of your work, and what are your plans following your studies?
Because I am doing a part-time, distance learning course, there has not really been an enormous impact on the way I work as a result of Covid-19. If anything, I have had a bit more time for my weaving practice, as my 'normal' work has been much less during this period. The only significant change is that I am now having to prepare for a final assessment on line, which has been rather a steep technological learning curve!
On completing my HNC I would like to take a year in which to work at my weaving, to see whether or not I can achieve enough interest (and customers) to take the next step and make it my main job. I have also thought about continuing my studies at Bradford, possibly joining the Foundation Degree course and taking my qualifications one level further.
Our HNC final year students also intend to continue to work together as a textile collective, under the name Gathered Threads. I am really looking forward to working as a group with such a set of lovely and talented people!
To see more of Sarah Hilditch's work click the link below