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Studio Insight : Bute Fabrics

This Earth Day we are taking a closer look at the landscape surrounding us on the Isle of Bute: how it inspires our design process and provides a rich resource for our customer collaborations and bespoke projects. We spoke to our senior designer Kirsty Neil about how she finds living and working on the Island a daily inspiration:

A little bit about our design process . . .

Our process changes depending on the brief: whether it’s for a bespoke project for a customer or our own collection - often it begins with a meeting of our Sales and Design teams, alongside the client to understand exactly what they require for the end-use, their expectations and timeline for the product launch.

Thereafter meetings involve colour, trend & pattern swatch boards (often using inspiration from the island for colour and texture), and fabric samples in existing qualities, sometimes taken from our archive, to help outline the direction the development process needs to take. At this stage, we would always encourage our customers to visit our Mill on the Isle of Bute where possible and if not, we try to give them a sense of the surroundings by way of the mood boards we create.

Our designers can then create CADs of the Dobby or Jacquard designs to give the customer a clear idea of layout, scale and colour. We often create handwoven samples of dobby designs in our studio as the customer can sign off an initial development in fabric form rather than just paper, a fantastic advantage. We have the option to create multiple colourways of a design and this is where ‘chance happenings’ can occur - unexpected variations arise from the multiple colour crossings which may well make the final selection and this is always great fun!

After they have made their selection, we can then proceed to weaving full width, production woven cloth on our power looms. The fabric then gets a specialized finish applied to meet the customer’s exact requirements and the fabric is dispatched from the island to any destination worldwide.

How does the island play a part of your design process?

Inspiration can come from so many sources and when you least expect it! Whilst out for a walk with the dog you can find the most beautiful shell or driftwood or experience the most beautiful vista inspiring natural colourways - the landscape on the island is so diverse from moorland, beaches, lush farmland, beautiful details on ancient buildings in Rothesay town, fishing boats in the harbour to name but a few….

How important is it that our surroundings inform design development?

The island surroundings are so varied they offer a rich source of colour, texture & pattern as an initial design concept for many of our new collections. The landscape, views and island details also offer a unique resource for us to convey the story of the mill, our location and of course design inspiration to our customers to give them a sense of who we are as a company.

Where is your favourite spot on the island?

There really are so many to choose from! I would have to say Tee 15 on Rothesay Golf course on Canada Hill as the views are outstanding! A truly breath-taking panoramic view taking in the Ayrshire coastline, Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran – amazing to see in all weathers!

What impact does a visit to the mill have on clients, both existing and potential?

A visit is hugely important - we have a detailed fabric archive ranging back to the mill foundation in 1947, which is always a key element in initial design discussions. This combined with our continual new fabric trials and developments allows us to illustrate the diverse breadth of fabric types that Bute Fabrics can create and the versatility of our design capabilities.

We recommend customers new and existing come to visit the mill - the Mill is on a beautiful island and that in itself is indeed a unique travel experience! We also love to have our first design meeting face to face and we will be continuing to do this digitally in the coming months. This is truly invaluable to the process, offering the ability to show a broad range of qualities available in our studio and as the meeting evolves there are usually some surprises with unexpected hidden gems that become the focus of the project!

A tour of our Mill always leaves visitors impressed with the amount of skilled work and attention to detail required throughout the many stages of production involved in creating our woven fabrics, from beautiful sheers for drapes, luxurious silk/wools, traditional tartans and textured boucles. We are currently in discussion as to how we can present this virtually while travel restrictions are in place.

What recent projects has the island provided the source material for the project concept?

Our recent collaboration with David Irwin – 4 jacquard collections directly inspired by the history & heritage of our mill and the island.

If you weren’t on Bute where would you go to find inspiration?

I previously worked within the fashion industry, so I particularly enjoy researching luxury fashion brands as they are a constant source of ideas and inspiration. At the moment the design team are focusing in on vintage Chanel for a bespoke project we are starting, so that’s very exciting!

Exhibitions are also a great resource – Anni Albers at the Tate Modern has been one of my favourites! Due to the current situation, I’m finding online exhibitions that are fantastic – Dior and the newly refurbished V&A Jewellery Galleries are a must see.

A brand/company we find interesting/aspirational . . . .

Tom Dixon – our current project has been a fantastic journey of collaboration.

My top 3 to follow on @instagram for inspiration. . . .

Li Edelkoort

Trend Union

The New Craftsmen

Photography by Gordon Burniston & Mark Slater