Agnis Smallwood is a designer, maker and educator who makes beautiful hand woven textiles from her home studio in Leeds, West Yorkshire. 

Textile designer and maker Agnis Smallwood freely admits that she is her "own harshest critic". However, she is quick to point out that she doesn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. I see it as a positive quality really. It means that I am always questioning what I am doing ... It keeps me engaged, wondering what I could alter in a future piece of work to result in a different outcome.  This constant pursuit of change and progression in her work is very important to Smallwood, who chose to return to academia part-time in order to explore and develop her craft further; an action which, she says, is having a "big impact" on her practice. We sat down with her to find out more.

What attracted you to your craft? 

It was while I was studying an Arts Foundation course that I discovered the constructed textiles department. It was there that I explored rug tufting and felting, but it wasn't until I was weaving on the looms that I became totally absorbed. So much so, that I changed from my initial thoughts of wanting to study Graphic Design for my degree and instead studied Contemporary Applied Arts. What draws me most to weaving is being able to construct a physical structure, a fabric, out of spools of fine threads. The simple process of using a warp and weft interconnecting allows for unlimited possibilities when colour, texture and pattern are introduced into the equation.

What Is your creative process?

Most ideas begin with daydreams and a slow thought process, often whilst weaving something else at the loom, before drawings and sketches. Then an exploration of threads and sampling, and only afterwards a final product. I love discovering what happens when I do x or y and experimenting through sampling. Sometimes the results are not that great, but that's ok, I have found out for myself the answer to my question.

Photo: Francis John Contreras for Crafts Council - Design Days Dubai 2015

What are you currently interested in & how is it feeding into your work? 

At the moment, I am about half way through studying part-time for a masters degree. This is definitely having a big impact on my practice and making me question my work. For me, passing on my skills is really important, as well as manipulating traditional skills and techniques to create contemporary work. So currently, I am questioning how I can facilitate the learning of skills and techniques whilst working collaboratively with others on projects.

What part does colour play in your work?

I love colour, it forms a huge part of my work. I am always amazed at the endless shades and tones that can be found. Grasses and plants have been an inspiration for many pieces of work over the last few years and I am always truly fascinated by the many shades of greens that exist, from rich emerald green and turquoise tones right through to vibrant lime and mustard yellow tones.

My favourite part of making is the physical process of weaving. Throwing the shuttle, beating down the yarn, changing the shafts, repeatedly and methodically, over and over again.
 

What is your favourite part of the making process?

My favourite part of making is definitely the physical process of weaving. Throwing the shuttle, beating down the yarn, changing the shafts, repeatedly and methodically, over and over again. It is the reward after much counting and threading up of the loom. It is also the moment when ideas and concepts are realised.

You've described yourself as your "harshest critic". How have you learned to use this in a positive waY?

Yes, I can see how it could appear negative, but actually I do see it as a positive quality really. It means that I am always questioning what I am doing and it allows for a progression of thoughts, ideas, concepts and momentum. It also keeps me engaged, wondering what I could alter in a future piece of work to result in a different outcome.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day? I don’t have one. That’s one of the things I love most about what I do! They are genuinely all different; some days are spent at home weaving, or designing, or catching up on some admin. Others I spend out in the community running a project, or within a school, or a gallery space. The variety and diversity is what I really love.

Which textile artists do you particularly love?

That’s a difficult one! There are so many interesting textile artists, from Ann Macbeth to Freddie Robins to Betsy Greer. There are also many weavers whose work I love, from Ann Sutton to Ptolemy Mann who both use colour confidently within their work. As well as Ann Richards, Sue Hiley Harris and Hiroko Takeda.

What does success look like to you?

Success to me is evident when life and business fit together harmoniously; when I have spent a busy day working hard but have also been able to do something for myself or with friends and family. I am really lucky that I truly love my job and often life and business come together. When you work on a fun project with inspiring people it can be pretty hard to work out where life and business begin and end.

Which women do you admire and why?

I have always admired the women in my life who are strong, independent and have decided to go out and ‘do it’, whatever ‘it’ may be for them. Women who have had dreams and ambitions and have made them happen, for themselves.


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