AT THE STUDIO
Introducing her medium as textiles, Rowley explains how she works with textiles from an experimental angle, incorporating existing techniques, which she often develops, as well as her own techniques, such as in the khadi Fray. She explains how a lot of her work is created from more modest materials which is strives to transform, from plane everyday materials to something more valuable, through the time taken to create and the processes in which she employs.
Her khadi Fray technique is a technique developed while she was living in India, it is made from Indian fabrics named Khadi, Khadi refers to hand spun and hand-woven fabric, inspired by the Khadi Spirit, an Indian term which describes the state of illimitable patience. The technique itself consists of several layers of fabrics which form a material block, instead of building up a weave through adding threads, she removes threads one by one, which leaves an intricate texture behind, forming the surface of the tapestry. The differences in weight and tension of the warp and weft lead to subtle variations in shade and dependent upon the perspective angle, reflections on the surfaces occur.
"Khadi refers to hand spun and hand-woven fabric, inspired by the Khadi Spirit, an Indian term which describes the state of illimitable patience"
Through this technique simplistic and modest materials were transformed into intricate arrangements and elegant wall pieces, endeavoring to give a modern twist to textile craft. She describes how “the technique is also about, very organised destruction” and “a very gradual process”. She describes how the shapes she uses are geometric and bold, but it is in fact the material itself that is of the most important, and which inspires experimentation and evokes ideas.
Sophie Rowley has been represented by Side Gallery since 2019. She made her debut with the gallery at the Casavells 2018 edition and since then has toured with the gallery participating at various art fairs including PAD London 2019, Salon Art + Design 2019 in New York and Collectible design fair 2020, where the gallery presented a spectacular piece three meters long. At the time of the studio visit Sophie had recently prepared a series of nine brightly coloured pieces from the Khadi series for the 2020 summer exhibition at Casavells. The originality of her work and her constant desire to innovate corresponds with Side Gallery’s mission to discover and promote the new sensations of the design world, whose techniques and material investigations are representative of the next generation of designers.
New Zealander born designer Sophie Rowley (b. 1986) obtained her B.A. in Fashion and Textile design from HTW Berlin in 2011, and, having interned with Alexander McQueen and Diane von Furstenburg, completed an MA in Material Futures at Central Saint Martins in London in 2014. After graduating she worked for British designer Faye Toogood in London then for and Godrej and Boyce in India. In 2017 she returned to Berlin to set-up her own design practice.
In her work Rowley reveals hidden aesthetics of everyday matter through the experimentation with process, craft and material. She collaborates with the industry by developing bespoke studies and concepts for targeted applications of new materials. Through research and experimentation, she pushes the physicality of materials to their limits, revealing new features and hidden unexpected aesthetics. Using a wide range of techniques, her approach focuses on sustainability and innovative material development.
Her most iconic collection is her ‘Khadi Frays’. The series of textile wall pieces were developed by the designer during a one-year residency in India. They are inspired by the Khadi Spirit, an Indian term which describes the state of illimitable patience. In ‘Khadi Frays’, the repetitive actions of conventional handweaving techniques was reversed. Instead of building up the material thread by thread, a solid block of multiple weaves forms the starting point. Each layer undergoes a carefully calculated destructive process, during which over 10,000 threads are patiently removed, leaving a frayed finish behind. Through eating into these material blocks, multi-dimensional textures are created, gradually dwindling down to the base layer. The differences in weight and tension of the warp and weft lead to subtle variations in shade and dependent upon the perspective angle, reflections on the surfaces occur. Through this technique simplistic and modest materials were transformed into intricate arrangements and elegant wall pieces, endeavoring to give a modern twist to textile craft. The experiments with stencils led to different design outcomes made from natural canvas cloths, rough linen fabrics and cottons hand-dyed in Indian turmeric. Rowley and her ‘Khadi Frays’ series were selected as finalists for the renown LOEWE craft prize in 2019.
Another important collection by Sophie, was her Material Illusions series. The concept brought together a collection of conventional waste materials which, having undergone a range of craft and experimental techniques, came to appear “nature-simulating”. With these bespoke material studies and concepts, she helped brands repurpose their own waste in unique and experimental ways, which look beyond the standard aesthetics often associated with recycled materials.
A continuation of her Material Illusions series was her Bahia denim collection. Rowley was commissioned by Nissan in 2014 to develop her Bahia material into a dashboard, which was showcased in a Tokyo as part of an exhibition focused on innovative materials. Material Illusions won the Surface category of New Design Britain Awards 2015, and in the same year, Rowley was commissioned by David Chipperfield Architects to create bespoke material study for the Water Bar at Selfridges department store, London.
Her work is featured in Radical Matter: Rethinking Materials for a Sustainable Future, published by Thames & Hudson in 2018, and was exhibited as part of Poème Brut at Design Museum Gent in the same year.