How did you start?
As a small child I was taught to knit and sew by my mother. My first career was in teaching but I always hankered after design training. Eventually I got the opportunity to go back to university and did a silversmithing degree in London. I ran a small business designing silver tableware which I had made for me in workshops in London and Edinburgh. Then I began to apply my design training to textiles in a return to the fabrics and wool I had enjoyed working with as a child.
What do you love most about what you do?
I particularly enjoy the beginning of the design process – taking a concept like, for example, the Fibonacci sequence in maths and making a personal exploration of designs based on that, then gradually eliminating ideas until I’m left with something really strong – that’s a good feeling. I love model-making – using paper, card and other materials to work up an idea in three dimensions. I also love dreaming up contrasts of colour and texture.
What inspires you?
I like to think about early people and how they must have reached out into the environment for objects and materials to use as tools and utensils – shells, twigs, clay, leaves, acorn cups... I also love combining materials in a design to emphasise the special properties of each – the hard glint of silver, the softness of silk, the warmth of knitted and felted wool, the tactile textures of rubber and wood.
What makes Susan Chaplin designs different?
I exploit the reflective nature of the surface of polished silver. I ‘loan’ colour and texture to the surface of the metal by incorporating other materials in the design which reflect in the silver. In my textile pieces the combinations of materials and textures are unusual, plus I’ve knitted items on walking sticks, chopsticks, bicycle spokes...
What are you most proud of? I’ve been proud of the exhibitions which I’ve put on in my own home, a solo exhibition at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, and exhibiting with Corymella Scott in Northumberland.
Is there such a thing as an average working day?
Not really. I spend masses of time working through designs in my head. Sitting on a bus is always useful time for me! But like many designer-makers I teach part-time for a regular income, so working up designs happens in bursts. However, that’s OK because I always work better with a deadline.
Where do you hope to see your business going in the future?
I would love to exhibit with a group of other textile artists in the North East – group exhibitions can have a great strength when the works complement each other.
How would you spend your perfect weekend in the North East?
A perfect weekend would have to include walking in the Ingram Valley, picnicking on the beach at Ross Sands, cooking for family and friends, and in the evening coming into Newcastle for some culture – a great show at Live Theatre or at the Tyneside Cinema.