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Origami birds and textile bouquets

Inspired by origami, Edinburgh-based textile artist Hannah Ashwell creates beautiful works of art – from bridal bouquets to fabric flower crowns to bespoke jewellery. No two days are the same, her business, bY Mi was even commissioned to create origami birds for 30 clothing stores in Australia one Christmas. If your hands are itching to get creative, then something tells us you will love her story…

Tell us more about yourself. How did you become a textile artist?

I came to textile origami in a round about way. My childhood was very creative, my parents are artists and designers by profession, however I lacked the confidence to do a costume design degree and so studied History of Art and Architecture.

On graduating I felt a real need to be able to use my hands and be creative, so enrolled in evening classes in costume and garment making and got a job in a fabric shop in order to learn everything I could about textiles.

It was during this time that memories of making (and tearing) origami models as a child came back to me and I was keen to discover if textiles could be used to create more permanent and usable origami pieces. It was a lot of trial and error, but I eventually developed a technique which captured the clean lines and crisp folds of traditional paper origami. Some of those first models still inspire me.

Over the last 9 years there have been many challenges and each time I have relished being able to develop my craft. I am not one to say no to a project, no matter how daunting it seems, because the opportunity to learn something new is too appealing.

Who/what inspires you?

As my business has grown I have met some incredible artists and continue to learn and be inspired. Origami techniques are being used for everything from fashion and architecture to satellite and furniture design. I love finding out about new ways the traditional art form is being used.

However, I am most inspired by the women I meet who are able to manage and grow their businesses whilst also managing and growing a family. I would love to have my son and daughter playing in my studio whilst I worked, absorbing everything I do but I am far too scared that the iron and scissors would end up in the wrong hands!

What do you love most about your work?

Making bespoke pieces is such a privilege and definitely the best part of the job. I love to hear my clients’ vision for the day and then feeling the excitement build as the final design is decided, made and delivered.

Every time I finish a bouquet I always think, “Wow! Why didn’t I do this for my wedding bouquet?” Time is the answer. I was one of those brides who thought she could do everything herself! Origami buttonholes were planned but instead the wedding party got foraged sweet peas, assembled by my step-mother on the morning of the wedding. But they looked and smelled amazing and I love going back to pick more each anniversary.

Any highlights so far?

A highlight so far was being approached by an Australian clothing chain to make origami birds for the Christmas displays of 30 stores. It was wonderful to think of my work flying around the world and being seen by so many people as they did their Christmas shopping.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am always excited about the possibilities of my art and hope that in the coming years I will be asked to make some beautiful, amazing and crazy pieces. Particularly, I would love to collaborate with dress designers and milliners to create some head turning outfits.

Tell us a secret…

I must confess that as a teenager I poured over the weekend papers, carefully cutting out pictures from the fashion pages and collecting them in a scrap book, dreaming of a day when I would be wearing and hopefully designing such pieces. The embarrassing thing was, at the back of the book there were cut outs of the handsome men and palatial palaces I also hope to acquire too.

On a day off, we’ll find you where?

Days away from work are spent with the kids and outside if possible, exploring the beach at our home in Portobello, spotting trains with my son and grabbing coffee on the way to the park. If I strike lucky and get a day to myself, I love visiting the National Galleries of Scotland and pottering in the design shops in Stockbridge and Broughton Street, filling my fantasy home with all the wonderful objects.

Confession time, did anyone else have a scrap book like Hannah’s? Christina x

Photos by Jo Tennant, The Gibsons, Paul Santos.