Oban art graduate wins competition to design new tartan for major flooring company

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‘My grannies are so proud,’ said Oban art graduate Sophie Campbell, after she won a national competition to design a new tartan for rugs and runners.

Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and an innovative carpet mill, Alternative Flooring, joined forces in a project to celebrate British design, British-made, young talent and to support the wool industry by championing wool as a ‘wonder fibre’ and sustainable textile.

The competition asked those studying woven textiles at GSA to design ‘an extrapolation from the traditional tartan to the contemporary’. Eight entries were submitted during lockdown, in spring 2020.

The competition was won by 23-year-old Sophie Anne Campbell from Oban, who has just graduated from the GSA and is about to begin a Masters at Heriot-Watt school of Textiles and Design in the Scottish Borders.

The judges, who included Lorna Haigh from Alternative Flooring, Elaine Bremner, Woven Textiles tutor at the Glasgow School of Art, and Louise Gray, fashion designer and GSA graduate, all commended her lively, colourful and imaginative design.

Sophie Anne Campbell, winner, said: ‘I wanted my own personality and creativity to shine through all my designs, even if I’m adhering to a quite strict design convention such as tartan.’

‘I come from a creative and musical family, and my interest in making and exploring different materials has always been encouraged,’ she said. ‘As a child I was always creating scrapbooks and filling sketchbooks with drawings.

‘When my father came home from his work offshore, I would show him my magazine, The Hillside Times (named after our house) filled with news and illustrations of what we’d all been up to.

‘Being a Campbell and coming from the Highlands, tartan is a design I’ve grown up with. I’ve been living in Glasgow for four years and decided to use my surroundings as inspiration for the competition.

‘Because it was during lockdown, I couldn’t get out much, so I walked around my neighbourhood (Great Western Road) as if I were a tourist, taking photos and looking at the city from a different perspective.

‘I made a note of geometric shapes, different textures and colours, and wove all those influences into my tartan design using six bright colours. I am quite a ‘maximalist’, so I found it natural to come up with a tartan which was cheerful and colourful with lots going on.’

Sophie’s winning design was woven on an Axminster loom, at the Alternative Flooring factory in Hampshire.

Sophie was invited to the Alternative Flooring factory in Hampshire to see her design being created on the looms. She said: ‘It’s great to see my small digital design brought to life on such an industrial large scale. It’s refreshing to see such an ancient technique as weave transforming woollen thread into a modern day tartan which I designed.’

Sophie’s winning design will be produced by UK mills as limited-edition carpet and fabric.

‘Being a Highlander, there’s a lot of tartan to be seen in homes, that I know. You can see tartan carpet in some of the old hotels in Oban. It’s a very traditional look but it can be quite dark. I enjoyed bringing brighter colours and a more contemporary look to my own tartan design.

‘Wool is sustainable, and it works in a circular economy. Both my grannies are great knitters. My grannies are so proud to hear that I’m working with wool to create a new tartan.’