Nature’s Bounty: Jewellery Designer Catherine Fiabane on Capturing the Scottish Wilderness

Posted by Rae Gellel on

For Scottish jewellery designer Catherine Fiabane, the beauty of nature lies in its unpredictability. Operating from a home workshop in rural Scotland, Catherine need only step out the door to walk among hedgerows bursting with wild flowers, brambles with fruit peeking enticingly amongst the thorns, and vast golden wheat fields across rolling hills. Through irregular textures and soft, flowing forms hand-carved in wax, Catherine then seeks to mirror this sense of something untameable and organic for her brand, The Lane Fine Jewellery.

Although relatively new to the industry after transitioning from twenty years in the theatre to jewellery-making, Catherine’s work is already garnering attention and acclaim. She has been chosen for Shine 2023, the Goldsmiths’ Centre’s annual showcase recognising makers that exhibit a rare and notable talent at an early stage in their careers.

So, can you tell me a bit about what first attracted you to the career as a maker, and how you got started in the industry?

I changed my career late in life. I was a stage manager in theatre before I came to jewellery, and part of the stage management process is creating  props, particularly for rehearsals, but sometimes for shows as well. So, I was used to making with my hands and I really loved it, but it was always to facilitate somebody else's artistic ideas.

When I was looking for a career change, I wanted something that would enable me to express my own artistic concepts. I've always loved jewellery. As a child, I remember going on car journeys with my parents, and stopping at a service stations and buying little tubs of tumbled stones, like quartz and amethysts and Tiger's eyes. I’d collect them everywhere we went, and then make jewellery by wrapping them in copper wire, and give them away to my friends as presents. I’ve always been passionate about  jewellery design, and the idea of retraining and finally being able to make my own pieces to share with the world was really attractive.

When Covid hit and all the theatres shut, I was one of the really lucky ones who got a reasonable amount of government funding to keep me going through that time. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to go back to college, restart, and return to work with a clean slate, for a new beginning. I did the British Academy of Jewellery (BAJ)’s Jewellery Fundamentals course that was condensed into six months. I pretty much came straight out of the course and started making and selling, getting myself registered online with Etsy, and I've been really lucky in that it's just snowballed from there. I'm actually managing to make a living from it, which I love.

Can you tell me a bit about your collection?

Hedgerow is my first collection and making it has been quite an experience. It's based on the wild flowers of Scotland, which is where I'm based, although I'm sure the fauna is similar across the countryside of the British Isles.

I like to investigate the tiny details in the hedgerows around where I live, so brambles formed quite a large part of my collection. I love the way they twist and twine through other plants, how they can survive anywhere, and that whilst they're wild and a bit spiky, they’re beautiful, and their fruit is delicious. I started looking at them and trying to pick out details that are really beautiful, which for me are their thorns, and try to evolve their shapes.  

My collection is made mostly out of wax; I love building and carving wax and setting gemstones in wax. I really like how you don't have complete control of the thing that you're making, it's a very organic way to make jewellery.

What does your design process look like?

I'm really lucky in that, where I live, I step out my front door, and I'm straight into farmland. There's a really big hill that runs up behind the house that forms the boundary line between the highlands and the lowlands. So on this side of the hill, it's all rolling countryside with arable land and cattle, but when you get to the top of the hill you’re looking over mountains. It's so beautiful.

For my design process, I'll go on a walk to the top, I'll take my sketch pad and do lots of drawings. Once I’m home again, I’ll start to see how I can recreate the textures and shapes in wax before casting it into metal - usually gold, because I really love how soft it is for a metal - I can bend and form it to my will.

Has wax carving been a challenging technique to master?

I certainly find it easier to build up the wax than to remove the wax, as I find it quite difficult to think in terms of negative space. That's particularly challenging when you're stone setting in wax, because as part of the process, the wax gets melted away, and the stones have to be held in place. If you haven't thought about negative space properly, when the wax burns off , the stone just falls out and gets absorbed into the gold - possibly somewhere that you can't even see! That can be a disaster, especially if you're using precious stones like diamonds and sapphires - the last thing you want to do is to lose your stones in the gold. So it's a process and a learning curve, but part of the joy is not necessarily knowing exactly what you're going to get.

One of the nice things about the collection is that because each piece is built individually, no two will be completely identical. Each piece that is purchased is a one off, and the client knows that they're never going to meet anybody that has exactly the same piece. That can be tricky when you're also trying to be consistent however, because you don't want somebody to buy something online that they haven't held or seen in person, and then not be happy with what they receive.

What have you learned from planning and creating this collection?

I've learned to try to be a bit more focused. My interests and my inspirations can be quite scattered. Often I'll see something lovely and instantly want to make it, but the collection has to hang together as a whole. Creating the Hedgerow collection has helped me to really focus on drawing my attention to one idea and then making sure that one idea continues across all of the different pieces.

How would you describe your design style?

Organic is probably the best way to describe it. My style is all about textures and shape, and it’s rarely symmetrical, because you rarely find anything symmetrical in nature. It’s the polar opposite of another style that I love, Art Deco, that’s all about precise shapes. That’s not what I make - I make fluid pieces, with lumps and bumps. I find beauty in the unplanned.

Have you explored any new techniques or materials for this collection?

Stone setting in metal. I’ve been setting in wax for a long time, but I wanted to expand the range of stones that I was using. I’ve recently discovered Rhodolite Garnet. This is a beautiful raspberry red stone, which isn't strong enough to withstand the casting process; anything other than rubies, diamonds and sapphires, and cubics will shatter due to the heat. As the gold contracts around the stones, the pressure will make them break.

I really wanted to learn how to use Rhodolite garnets in my work. It involved a lot of trial and error, but thankfully, they're not a spectacularly expensive stone, as I cracked several of them trying to push the claws over the corners. It sounds ridiculous but I have been planning to make a kaleidoscope with a little pot of cracked stones, as I think they  are magical. Stone setting is the next big thing I really need to get my head around though, and I’ve certainly started learning it with this collection.

What do you enjoy most about being a maker?

I think it's the making itself - I find it so meditative. I can just lose hours and all of my worries and cares drift away because the focus has to be so intense. Especially because the pieces I'm working on are quite small and fiddly, so I have to wear magnifying glasses and it means I lose all peripheral vision. When you're using them, you're just so focused on this tiny thing in front of you, and suddenly it's dinner time, and you don’t know where the time’s gone. I think it's really good for me, I love it.

I have recently started getting more and more bespoke commissions, and that's turning into a bit of passion as well. Creating pieces for a particular individual that tells their story at a particular point in their life, and knowing that that piece will be important to them forever because of the story it tells. So that’s certainly part of the joy of it, but I do love the making.

What’s next for you in the next two years, professionally and creatively - what are your goals?

Professionally, I'd like to get my work out into more galleries. I have a jewellers in Dundee, the closest city to me, that stocks my pieces. The effect of being stocked there has been really interesting. The variety of people who have seen my work there, then come to chat to me about having pieces made. I find that with social media and Instagram in particular, that you're only hitting one demographic, whereas anybody can walk past a shop window, so I'd really love to be stocked in more places There are some incredible contemporary jewellers in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and I'd really love to have my pieces in a window of one of those one day.

Creatively, I'm going to just keep doing what I'm doing. I think I'm finding that I'm getting a lot of commissions for wedding and engagement pieces, and I really love working on commissions. So, I'm going to keep pushing forward with these kinds of projects. Working in my home workshop is great, but it’s not ideal, so I’m saving to build a workshop at the bottom of the garden. That’s the big focus at the moment, saving and planning to make that happen!



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