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Textile Design students explore the hidden details of Saltram House

Arts University Plymouth, Green Minds & National Trust collaborate to communicate the importance of green spaces

First-year BA (Hons) Textile Design students from Arts University Plymouth were given access to one of the South West’s most loved National Trust properties, Saltram House, in a Green Minds project that saw them create a collection of unique textile designs based on their exploration of the hidden details of Saltram House and gardens.

In partnership with Green Minds and the community team at Saltram, the students were asked to take inspiration from inside and outside of the house in order to create a collection of textile designs inspired by Saltram's rewilding work, and the importance that the environment and wildlife has on our wellbeing. Using print and knit techniques to create their designs, students were encouraged to incorporate methods including tufting and stitching to bring their concepts to life.

Students in Saltram House

Students on their visit to Saltram House

Emma Gribble, BA (Hons) Textile Design Subject Leader at Arts University Plymouth, said: “This project and our visit to Saltram enabled the students to gather inspiration from both the carefully crafted and managed gardens as well as the exquisite house and its decorative features and fascinating stories. Our students used this visual inspiration to create individual textile collections that not only represented what they saw at Saltram, but also gave them the opportunity to develop their own design personalities through lots of textile play and experimentation. Collaborating with the National Trust and Green Minds on this project was an excellent opportunity for students and led to some equally-inspiring results.”

The landscape around Saltram has historically been used to provide a place of sanctuary and play for visitors, with the gardens harbouring an extensive array of planting and wildlife. More recently the National Trust has partnered with Green Minds to create a large rewilding area on the estate. Students were asked to consider how they could use self-seeding and wild plants as inspiration. They were given access to the digital database of floral images held by Saltram to get them started and asked to highlight the importance of preserving nature as a source of design through their work.

Boo Crispin

Boo Crispin's work

First-year BA (Hons) Textile Design student Boo Crispin used shades taken from a rug in Saltram House, combined with hues from the garden, as inspiration for the colour palette in her “Floral Meander” collection. “I picked up on lots of Greek key style motifs which represent infinity and unity and have a long history of use in design going back thousands of years,” Boo explained. “It's been suggested that the designers of the house and gardens had been asked to incorporate exotic and continental elements in order to show how well travelled the owners were. I liked the idea of combining florals from the garden together with the geometric lines and layering these together.”

Saltram House is home to a wealth of crafted historical textiles, carpets, upholstery and wallpapers, all rich in storytelling. These historical textile collections mirror what can be found growing in the formal gardens, with many design elements connected to the plants and wildlife that can be found in the grounds outside.

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Students' work on display in The Orangery

The work of British architect and furniture designer Robert Adam can be seen throughout Saltram House, in everything from the door handles to the huge plasterwork ceiling. Adam’s work is on show alongside furniture made by Thomas Chippendale and ten paintings by Joshua Reynolds, making it easy to see why Saltram was once called “the show-piece of South West England”.

The samples, drawings and mood boards created by Arts University Plymouth students were originally exhibited in The Orangery at Saltram during May 2022, before being shown as part of the Lord Mayor’s celebrations on Plymouth Hoe and later displayed in the Lift Gallery at Arts University Plymouth, where students, staff and visitors can view the work until the end of July.

Green Minds Project Coordinator Chris Smith at the Lord Mayors Festival

Green Minds Coordinator Chris Smith at the Lord Mayor's Festival

Student Ruthie Holmes called her collection ‘Sitting Pretty’, named because the decorative benches and ornate decorative metalwork at Saltram caught her eye.

Ruthie said: “A contemporary interpretation of Art Deco design with its sleek geometric triangular shapes and sweeping curves combined with the stylised decorative elements of botanicals informs my collection.” For Ruthie, the project was a great chance to learn new techniques. “It's great fun experimenting in the Dye Lab at Arts University Plymouth and becoming confident with my technical abilities, especially preparing screens for printing and producing acetates, as well as mixing new colours and dyes.”

Tech Dem Sophie Minshall L and Senior Lecturer Emma Gribble R in the Lift Gallery

Technical Demonstrator Sophie Minshall (left) with BA (Hons) Textile Design Senior Lecturer Emma Gribble (right) in the Lift Gallery

The project helped students to develop a greater awareness of how important greenspaces are, creating opportunities to better understand the importance of preserving and developing them.

BA (Hons) Textile Design student Fiona Bennett said: “Being involved in a project where so many designers are working to the same brief has really helped us cross-pollinate our ideas. This project has taught me that so much inspiration can be found in even the smallest detail.”