Hi Helen, please tell everyone a bit about yourself and introduce your brand & products.
Hello everyone, I’m Helen, the designer and maker behind Helen Ruth Scarves, a luxury accessories brand based in Aberdeen. I studied textiles at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, where I discovered my love of applying my illustrations to fabrics and turning them into wearable art works. Scarves make up the main part of my brand, I like them the bigger the better with loads of colour and detail, but lately I’ve been experimenting with new product ranges that help me cut down on waste cloth – notebooks, sleep masks and hair bands have been really popular. When I’m not working on my scarves, i love to get out and about exploring Scotland and it’s amazing landscape. My partner and I recently bought a van we are planning to convert to a camper so we can scoot off and experience new places.
What was it that made you want to start ‘Helen Ruth Scarves’?
When I graduated from Art School I really wanted to find a way that I could continue my design work, and I had gotten hooked on scarves towards the end of my final year. I loved the idea of being able to tell a story through my artworks but making them wearable and tactile. One of my favourite things about scarves is the impact they have from the colour and pattern, but only the wearer knows all the hidden details and stories they contain. It’s hard to say what made me want to start the business initially as I don’t think I really knew that’s what I was doing, I just wanted to find a way to fund myself to carry on creating and printing textiles. The business has sort of grown naturally from there.
How would you describe your style and where do you take inspiration from?
I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and draw a huge amount of inspiration from the wild landscape, creatures and stories from the area. My designs are recognisable firstly for the impact of colour and intricate patterns, but on closer inspection I like to hide unusual elements of surprise, like little skulls or insects. A bit like Scottish fairy tales that are set in our beautiful landscape but have subtle sinister undertones or a bittersweet message to tell.
We love how your designs tell a story, is there a particular design that is your favourite or means more to you?
It chops and changes depending on the season and my mood, but the one that does hold a special meaning to me is the Theory of Flight scarf. It’s inspired by a story my Grandad made up for us when we were little. He was a keen hill walker and would go out exploring the landscape around my parents house when he was up visiting, often taking a lot longer than expected causing a lot of worry for my Grandma! He would make little treasure maps and take us out on hunts to landmarks which he gave new names to – Lost Lake and Striggly Stream. In the Theory of Flight story you can see a couple of Aberdeenshire land marks – the Maiden Stone at Bennachie and the Mither Tap hill which the Princess has launched herself from.
Can you tell us about any bespoke projects you have worked on?
There has been a few over years, I love it when someone asks me to create a special design for them – as well as bespoke scarf designs I’ve created designs for wedding dresses, curtains, and even a cycling jersey. One that really stands out though was being asked to create a bespoke scarf for Glenfiddich Whisky for their visitor centre gift shop. I really enjoyed getting to translate their story into my illustrations and create something really special for this iconic Scottish heritage brand.
Where do you like to create your work?
I work from my studio in my house, I’m very fortunate to have this space to escape to and work away whenever the mood takes me. I’ve got a big work table where I do my drawing, designing, cutting and hand sewing, and various sewing machines set up for any machine work. It’s such a great space to go and make creative mess!
Can you tell us a bit about the process behind making your scarves?
All though I use a lot of digital processes in my work, it all starts with hand drawn illustrations, I draw out the motifs for my scarves with pen and paper. Sometimes I’ll have a really clear idea of a finished design and set about drawing that up, or others I’ll have a general idea and just start sketching and let the design evolve naturally. Once I have my drawings prepared I scan them onto Photoshop and use this to create the composition of the design by mirroring, repeating, scaling and layering the imagery. It’s almost like creating a digital collage. Once i’m happy with a design they are sent to be printing in Glasgow at the Centre for Advanced Textiles – they digitally print my designs on to high quality silks and wools. I’ve worked with them right from the start of my business as I wanted to keep my production as local as possible and therefore be able to say my scarves are Made in Scotland.
What is your favourite part of the process?
This is a tricky question, obviously I love the drawing stage as that’s when a design is new and exciting and I’m getting to put the ideas from my head down on paper. I also really enjoy when I get to the colouring stage and start playing about with unusual colour combinations. Getting the balance just right and finding the perfect highlight colour to compliment everything else going on, sometimes it takes me ages to get it right. It’s also amazing how adjusting the balance of colour can totally change the mood of a design.
Can you tell us a bit about the area you live/work in?
I’m based in Aberdeen, which is the city I studied in and the city closest to where I grew up, I’ve never moved away so I can’t really compare, but I do love it here. The fact that we have access to such varied landscape – mountains, lochs, forests, wild coastline and beaches all within a short drive away. The city itself has in the past maybe been considered as ‘just an oil town’ but there is a lot more to it than that. The creative community here is so supportive of one another, and since I left Art School I feel like it’s been growing and thriving more and more. The newly refurbished Art Gallery in the city centre I feel has had a big impact too.
What would you recommend doing/seeing in your area to someone visiting?
The Nuart Festival is an annual festival that has brought amazing murals to the streets of Aberdeen and I would definitely recommend taking a tour round the city centre hunting them all down. There is a sister project Painted Doors, where local artists have painted murals on little side streets dotted all over the centre. This is such a great way to get to know the city – even for me living around here all my life it took my off the usual path and discover new parts or notice things I hadn’t before.
Are you working on any new designs at the moment?
Yes in fact I’m working on something a bit special. This year Helen Ruth Scarves turns ten years old and I’ve been working on a celebration scarf to mark the occasion. Any kind of physical celebration with actual people probably won’t happen for a while, so I’m putting it all down on paper, and hopefully have these ready later in the year. I’m thinking it will be limited edition and have them numbered, so each one will be totally unique.
Can you pick out 4 or 5 things in your working space that you can’t live without?
Pens and paper
whether that’s for scribbling down ideas or lists of things I need to do, both are definitely essential
My sewing machine
I use this almost every day – i love being able to turn flat fabric into something
I’m constantly taking photos of work in progress, documenting what I’m up to. Probably have to admit I’m a bit addicted to Instagram.
Charlie the cat
My studio buddy who pops in to visit me, falls asleep in my chair, or lets me know when it’s 5pm and it’s time for his dinner.
endless tea refills to keep me going.
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR WORK?