Iseabal Hendry’s work honours both the ancient crafts of weaving and leather craft and the landscape of the Scottish Highlands where she grew up and today creates her beautiful woven bags. Although unlike many artists who translate the beauty of Scotland’s landscapes in a more literal manner, this inspiration seeps into Iseabal’s work in, as she says, a much more “abstract, deeply rooted way”.
“I didn’t realise the impact my childhood in the Highlands had on me creatively until I went to the Glasgow School of Art. While many of my peers were experimenting with digital innovations, I found inspiration from traditional skills that surrounded me growing up. My family home was (and still is) filled with woven baskets and every summer we would spend our holidays in the Hebrides, staying in traditional thatched-roof houses. When I was 17 I studied traditional boatbuilding for a year. The Highlands instilled in me a love for a slow, methodical and hands-on approach to making.”
“I also get perspective from my landscape. When I’m running or walking in the hills I remember what’s important and it grounds me.”
Iseabal’s considered and grounded approach to life and craft has allowed her to invest time into creating her celebrated first collection, where many others might have faltered in the hurried pace of 21st century living. Iseabal's collection, four years in the making, is imbued with such incredible detail and dexterity, you’d be forgiven for thinking Iseabal had practiced leathercraft for a life time.
The Craft Council ‘Top ten to watch 2022’ winner didn’t however have a time frame in mind for her first capsule collection.
“It was a very slow process that took a lot longer than I could have anticipated. Part of that was because I was working full time alongside researching, sourcing and developing my work. Alongside that I didn’t want to cut any corners or compromise my vision.”
There were several challenges along the way, including the task of sourcing all of her materials within Europe, but the results of Iseabal’s dedication are paying off.
“It can be incredibly demotivating when something takes so long to come to fruition, but it has allowed me to produce work that I’m incredibly proud of. I suppose it’s that old adage that ‘good things take time’!”
Alongside her ethical making process, Iseabal also considers her impact on the landscape that she loves. Her striking woven designs, contrasting traditional tans with greens, cobalt blue and hot pink, are not just beautiful but also a clever design decision to reduce waste.
“During my second year at the Glasgow School of Art we were given a sustainability project in collaboration with the Scottish Leather Group. We were presented with a table full of leather offcuts, and while everyone rushed to secure the biggest pieces they could find, I wondered what would happen to all the slivers deemed too small to be useful. With these remnants I started weaving, stitching and plaiting to build something greater than the sum of its parts. Weaving, similar to basketry, roof thatching and even boat-building, allows the maker to combine separate elements to create something whole.”
“Both the circular shapes of my bags and the diagonal weave I designed with allows me to use the smallest strips of leather, even if it’s only a few centimetres long. I also work with vegetable tanned leather and non-synthetic/coated materials so that they can naturally biodegrade at the end of their life.”
With their great complexity of design and detail, Iseabal says it starts at 15 hours to make one of her smallest bags “not including the waiting time for leather edge paints to dry, adhesives to bond” she adds, “the whole process of creating a capsule collection takes months”.
Despite this incredible dexterity and priceless skill, like many other artisans and craftspeople today, Iseabal feels the burden of finding her place in a world where mass production still has its hold on luxury fashion.
“I think the hardest part of that is not feeling the pressure to undervalue your product in order to keep your prices competitive. As a maker I have to recognise that my work is simply not comparable with products made by big brands in factories overseas. Without a significant marketing budget or the know how to reach customers who share my values, I do find positioning myself and my craft really difficult.”
But with the challenges of being a modern craftsperson come many rewards, from working with a material you love to “choosing colours and colour combinations!”
One of Iseabal’s favourite parts of the process is working with her Italian suppliers to create her distinctives colour palettes.
“The Italian vegetable-tannery I’ve worked with in the past made unique colourways for me, as the combination of finishes and colours I wanted wasn’t available ‘off the shelf’. I find colour so joyful and I think accessories are one of the easiest ways to inject some joy and fun into your day to day.”
So if we want to inject some joy into our day to day and slow down our lifestyles, what would be Iseabal’s advice? For a modern artisan like Iseabal, it seems the key is about being open to unpredictability and finding balance:
“When the weather's good - get outside. When the weather's bad - make.”
To view more of Iseabal's amazing work click here.
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