Megan Brown’s ‘Woven Collection’ achieves an impressive feat: recreating the gentle, flowing appearance of fabric through the use of metal. This unique idea, brilliantly executed through the weaving of delicate chains, has earned her a place at Shine 2020, our annual talent showcase.
In a recent interview, Megan describes how she pours her past into the act of jewellery-making, her work inspired by a family history in textiles that dates back over 100-years.
What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
Well, I actually started out studying fashion at Edinburgh College of Art, but I’d always been curious about jewellery making, and then I got the opportunity to work with a local jeweller, and that was how my love of jewellery started. When I was studying fashion, I was really missing a sense of craftmanship and just the act of creating. I also loved the attention to detail involved in working on such a small scale; to me, making jewellery is like making miniature sculptures. After that, I started working in the industry as a Goldsmith with a local jeweller, and that’s where I gained a lot of my experience, doing repairs and making bespoke pieces. Then I worked as a bespoke designer with another local jeweller before setting up my brand and really pursuing my own work.
What can you tell us about the collection you'll be debuting at Shine?
So, my new collection is inspired by my family’s hundred-year-old textile mill, which was one of the reasons why I initially thought fashion was the right path for me before I fell in love with jewellery making. I come from a family of both goldsmiths and weavers, so I feel like this collection really comes full circle, it combines two parts of my life and is very special and personal to me.
I love fabric and the way it falls and catches the light; for this collection I wanted to capture that moment of movement. I started by experimenting with weaving different materials, and ended up working with chains, which I loved because of their movement and the intricate weave I was able to create.
The pieces are very textile, very sculptural. The idea is that when they’re worn, they come alive, as you can see how they’re supposed to sit and move. Some are layered, like wearable sculptures. Though the collection incorporates a lot of tradition, I also wanted the pieces to have a modern contemporary feel. They’re dynamic pieces that you can wear every day and anywhere. I’m considering expanding on the work by using designs inspired by Olga de Amaral, a textile artist who uses a lot of different colours and weaving to create what are almost like miniature tapestries.
Can you go into detail about how you developed this idea of weaving metal?
I initially started doing basic weaving with wires and sheets. I did a lot of reading on how to do weaving with metal as it’s such a huge area of making, and then I came across chains, because it occurred to me that they’re so much more like threads. I started playing about with them, and eventually worked out that they could be the frame for the pieces. I initially created the designs almost like a woven loom, and I was thinking of taking the piece off the loom so that it was fluid.
I created samples that were actually able to move, because there is no solid aspect to them, and that’s something that might be interesting to develop at a later date. For now, I chose a solid frame to give structure and shape, giving the feeling of flowing fabrics with the textural element of the weavings. You can get a much tighter weave with the chain rather than the wires, which I found really hard to create a uniform texture from.
Through these experiments, I discovered that you could create the shapes and the idea of movement without having the literal flow of the fabric, and found that really interesting. Testing the different processes was fascinating and also quite endless, I feel like I’ve only just started, and I’m constantly refining it.
What does being chosen for Shine 2020 mean to you - both on a professional level and a personal level?
I was really excited when I got selected for Shine, particularly as it’s new work that I’m debuting, so it feels like recognition, an acknowledgement of my collection. When you’re working on your own, focusing on little pieces, it’s important to have a connection like this. Knowing that an organisation like the Goldsmiths’ Centre wants to promote my work because they have faith in me as a designer, that’s really exciting and encouraging. Also, because there are a group of makers participating in Shine, you get to work with other jewellers at a similar level in their careers, so I’m looking forward to hopefully making new connections through that.
What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?
I did the Getting Started course at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, and that included a talk on how to create a collection, how to develop pieces at a design level and how to find out your ideal customer and what they want. That was really instrumental for me, as I now ensure that I have different pieces to appeal to different customers.
It has been an interesting exercise overall, I’ve thought a lot more before starting to make, and I had more of a vision for this collection, I knew what it would be and the types of pieces that I wanted to create. Some of the designs had been in the back of my mind for a while, or in my sketchbook which I have been drawing in for years, and I feel like by coming back to them in this collection, I’m coming full circle creatively. I feel like it represents a style that I’ve always been trying to find, one that is very true to me.
What do you enjoy most about being a maker - for example, is the joy in the making itself, or in sharing the finished pieces with the world?
There are so many different aspects that I love. At the heart of it, it’s the craftmanship within the piece that I love the most, and the idea that jewellery is something that might be cherished for generations. You pour a lot of time and effort into creating a piece and when you give it to a customer, the knowledge that they could have it forever, that it could be passed down throughout their family, is especially emotive. Recently, I made a piece for a customer and she almost burst into tears, because it had such sentimental value – it was a piece with her dad’s gold ring within the gold, using an opal she already owned. It’s things like that that really make what I do special, and you don’t get that often in life. I’ve constantly got more ideas so I’m not going to stop any time soon.
What kind of person do you think will be most attracted to your collection, and to your design style in general - do you have a target audience in mind?
I gained some experience from my last collection and the type of customers that were attracted to it. With this new collection, I definitely want to expand on my current customer base, to maybe reach someone who just loves jewellery, is very passionate and creative, and who wants something a little bit different whilst also appreciating the craftmanship behind the piece. I’ve definitely got a picture of my ideal customer in mind, someone who I’d love to be selling to - I’m looking for someone like me in a customer, someone who wants something really different, something unique.
I’m always looking for a piece that no-one else has myself, something that you can tell, because of the quality of the craftsmanship, can’t be made again. I love the idea of one-off work. I always test my pieces as well, and I know when something is really good because I end up putting it into my own jewellery collection! If it’s jewellery that you as a maker would wear yourself, then you know it’s the right kind of piece.
What are you most looking forward to about participating in Shine 2020?
It’s exciting, because it’s a big event that will get a large amount of publicity. It’s very prestigious and has connections with the Goldsmiths’ Fair as well, and I’ve always wanted to exhibit there, but because I’m based in the North of England, it’s something that hasn’t been possible for me so far. There tends to be a lot of organised events in London that I can’t get to, so something like this that I can get involved with is really special, an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day. I’m not sure what will happen as a result of it, but so far, everything has been very well organised, especially how the Shine programme supports you as a maker before you actually show your work.
What's next - what are your creative and career goals for the next two years?
I'd really like to work with more larger scale projects, I’m doing a collaboration at the moment with a paper artist in order to create larger pieces and explore that angle to my business. It’s very much a fine art lead, but that’s kind of where my aspirations as a maker and for my business lie. I would ultimately like to be based in London and grow a customer base down there, developing my business as more high-end, fine jewellery centred. I’d like to increase my direct customer service, but also get my work into some select stockists and hopefully apply for more awards, to become better recognised - Shine should help with that.