Meet The Maker: Holly Picthall from Wilful North
For designer Holly Picthall from Wilful North a career working with textiles was inevitable. As a child her bedroom walls were covered in her own fashion designs and her dolls’ house was filled with duvet sets and cushions she’d sewn herself. Childhood adventures in making led on to a degree in textiles, a full-time job as a sock designer and now her own creative business as a designer and maker of luxury silk scarves, accessories and homeware. Holly talks to fellow colour lover, jeweller Clare Lloyd about her designs and her aversion to beige.
Everything I make is designed, printed and finished by hand in the UK, something I feel strongly about, particularly with the strong textile heritage here in the North West.
Hello Holly! Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do and how Wilful North came to life?
Hello! I’m Holly, a textile designer from sunny Bolton and the creator of Wilful North. I design and create digitally printed silk scarves and accessories from my home studio in Lancashire. Everything I make is designed, printed and finished by hand in the UK, something I feel strongly about, particularly with the strong textile heritage here in the North West.
Wilful North started as an idea in my placement year from university when I was interning with a milliner in Hebden Bridge. Working in the studio every day really cemented for me that I wanted to start my own business. After graduating, I took my final collection and created a small range of silk scarves that centred around subtle colour and hidden texture. I was lucky enough to exhibit these in Edinburgh with Kalopsia Collective & Befab Be Creative, and also stock a few in Hebden Bridge. And that’s how Wilful North was born!
Where did your creative journey start and what led you to work with textiles?
I think working with textiles was inevitable for me. Even as a child I would draw “fashion designs” and stick them all up in my room or (badly) make duvet sets and cushions for my dolls. Throughout school my best subjects were always art and textiles, so it was a natural progression to move on to study textiles and then to start Wilful North.
Can you describe your creative process and how your textile designs come to life, from initial idea through to completed product?
I try to create each element of the design separately, whether it’s a scanned fabric background or watercolour elements. I then layer these together in Photoshop or Illustrator and play with the composition until I’m happy. Each scarf is like a digital collage, which I think gives each piece a real depth that’s sometimes lost with digital printing. I use the same Scottish supplier for all my silk scarves, and these are printed to order on gorgeous silk satin, which gives a lovely pearly finish. I then hand roll each scarf, sometimes taking up to four hours on one scarf.
Where do you get the initial inspiration for your designs?
My inspiration can come from anywhere but normally I start out with a Pinterest board and a few inspirational images. These can be anything from ideas for a whole new collection idea or a one-off piece to add to an existing collection. I always seem to return to British Folklore and traditions, as well as 70s rock icons, which is a strange combination I know! I guess you could say I’m inspired by all things British culture? I also love Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog – the ladies and gents he features are always so bold and creative with their outfits. I’d love to see my scarves on some of those ladies!
How do you balance your fabulous sounding full-time job as a sock designer with managing and running Wilful North?
It involves many early get-ups and lunch-time trips to the Post Office! I have a bullet journal that I keep on my desk so when I’m at my day job designing socks I can jot down anything I need to do for Wilful North that evening. I think when you have two creative jobs your head can get quite full, so I need somewhere to write things down. It can be hard to be creative all day and then go home and be creative for yourself, so I’m always looking for new ways to stay motivated and push myself, whether that’s an Instagram challenge or doing a drawing a day.
As a fellow lover of unusual colour combinations, where do you find your inspiration?
I’ve always had a love for clashing patterns and colours and an aversion to beige. Sue Kreitzman said: “Don’t wear beige, it might kill you.” That’s my favourite quote. But I think you can find inspiration for colour combinations anywhere. I work with colours and trends a lot in my day job but for Wilful North I don’t necessarily follow trends. My colours sometimes just come from messing with my designs on Photoshop until I’m happy with them, whatever those colours may be!
I think working with textiles was inevitable for me
What’s your favourite part of the making process?
My favourite part of the process is definitely when a new design is just coming together and I think: “Yes! That one’s done.” Getting the first print of a new scarf is always really exciting too – the colours always look so different printed on to silk. The silk I use has a special lustre that just can’t be captured in a Photograph.
Getting the first print of a new scarf is always really exciting – the colours always look so different printed on to silk. The silk I use has a special lustre that just can’t be captured in a Photograph.
Are there any new techniques you’d like to develop and try in the future?
At university I did a lot of work with devoré and screen printing over digital designs. I’d like to add this into my work – especially with velvet. Watch this space.
What is your workspace like?
My workspace has just started to develop into a proper space. Before it was computer in my bedroom and a sewing machine on the coffee table, so I’m loving the novelty of putting together a proper office and can’t wait for it to be finished!
My main tools are my hands and a needle, as all the square scarves are finished by hand but other than that I couldn’t live without my sewing machine.
What tools do you use in the process of making your scarves and homewares and what vital piece of kit could you not live without?
In terms of creating a new design, I have an actual tool box with all my art supplies. At the moment I love pro-markers and fine liners but I always go back to watercolours. My main tools are my hands and a needle, as all the square scarves are finished by hand but other than that I couldn’t live without my sewing machine. I’ve had the same one for about 10 years now and it’s still going strong! But if anyone wants to buy me a new one, I wouldn’t say no!
I’ve always had a love for clashing patterns and colours and an aversion to beige. Sue Kreitzman said: ‘Don’t wear beige, it might kill you.’ That’s my favourite quote.
Have you got a piece of work or an achievement that you’re most proud of and why?
I’ll always be really proud of the samples I created for my final degree show. They formed the beginnings of Wilful North and I still use some of the samples to create texture or backgrounds in my new designs.
You’ve got a great presence on social media and a brilliant blog. How would you say social media has helped your business grow?
I’ve connected with so many other makers and like-minded folks through social media. That’s has definitely been the best thing about sharing my business on social media – particularly #folksyhour (Tuesday’s 8-9pm), which is like being part of a big family. I’d recommend #folksyhour to anyone and everyone who has a small business or is thinking of starting one. I love Instagram and it’s really encouraged me to get better at taking photos. I love seeing other people’s behind-the-scenes snaps and stalking interiors pages.
I’ve connected with so many other makers and like-minded folks through social media. That’s has definitely been the best thing about sharing my business on social media
What advice would you give to someone thinking about setting up their own creative micro business?
Price your items properly! Don’t sell yourself short. Lots of people forget to pay themselves for the time they’ve taken to make their items and I think it’s really important to get it right. Also join lots of business Facebook groups and forums – I’ve learnt so much just from reading through posts from Indie Retail Academy, The Design Trust and local sellers’ groups.
Where would you like to go with Wilful North over the next few years?
I’d love start stocking Wilful North in more small retailers. I think there’s still a lot to be said for bricks-and-mortar shops where you can touch and feel things before you buy. Something people always say about my silk scarves and cushions is how lovely they feel, so this is something I’d really like to develop.
For a limited time, Holly is offering 20% off all Wilful North luxury silk scarves, accessories and homeware. Just use discount code MTM20 when you check out >
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Clare Lloyd. Clare creates contemporary, uncluttered and exquisitely beautiful sterling silver jewellery with pops of colour blended to the perfect Pantone shade. All her jewellery is made entirely by hand from her studio in Frome.