Featured Artist – Helen Ruth Scarves

Textile designer Helen Greensmith has built up a successful scarf business [Helen Ruth Scarves], since she left Grays School of Art in 2008. Her colourful, unique pieces always make me smile and she is to me, and many others i’m sure, an inspiration as to what artists can achieve in a life outside of Art School!   

I like to have that element of surprise. On the surface, at first glance they look to be pretty colour and pattern, and then when you take a closer look you’ll find something slightly sinister lurking in there


All images curtesy of Helen Ruth 


Hello Helen! You have been successfully selling your beautiful scarves for 8 years, how easy was it to build up your business? (for all those aspiring designers out there!)

Hello Anna! thank you, it’s been quite a journey, and definitely not an easy one. I think it’s a case of being really committed, loving what you do and grabbing every opportunity that comes along even if it seems a bit scary.


So, how did you settle on scarves for your textile line?

After I graduated in print design at Grays School of Art (Aberdeen, Scotland) I wanted to continue my design work, and scarves naturally appealed, as they fulfill my love of colour and illustration, while also being a functional wearable art piece. I love the versatility of scarves as an accessory.


All images curtesy of Helen Ruth


Your work is often inspired by fairytales and folklore, I love that pieces can have an element of the disturbed about them but are represented in such beautiful illustrations! Is this an element you try to bring to every piece of work?

Yes, I like to have that element of surprise. On the surface, at first glance they look to be pretty colour and pattern, and then when you take a closer look you’ll find something slightly sinister lurking in there. Most scarves have a hidden skull or something that gives it a darker edge. I think this comes from my love of nature – there is so much beauty in the natural world but with a cruel side too, and Scottish folklore has lots of dark elements to it as well.


As your art practice is within the fashion world, do you find that you are restricted to certain colour palettes for different seasons or trends?

Although my scarves are fashion pieces, I tend not to work too much towards trends and seasons, as I feel that they should be enjoyed all year round and are investment pieces or wearable art works rather than trends – some collections do have a more winter or summer feel about them but I think that’s because when I have been designing them I have also been inspired by colours and feelings around me.


All images curtesy of Helen Ruth


Can you explain the process of creating your work? The finished pieces look so complex!

So each design starts as hand drawn illustration, pen and paper, which I then convert to digital images and use photoshop to add colour and then create the design layout. I’m essentially creating digital collages. once I’m happy with the layout and overall design they are sent to the digital printers in Glasgow to be printed.


You are a real advocate for not outsourcing materials and for keeping the “product” local. The scarves are printed in Glasgow and you hand roll the edges yourself (I bet you’re a dab hand at that by now!). How important is it and what does it mean to you as a designer and brand, that you utilise resources locally?

Right from the beginning I wanted my brand to be as local and as ethical as possible. I did attempt with one collection, having it hand-finished overseas but I felt I lost all connection with the production of the scarves. Since then everything has been printed and hand-finished in the UK. I think this is part of my story, and customers really value this. It means I can call myself a truly Scottish brand.


All images curtesy of Helen Ruth


I love your use of colour, do you plan out a set scheme for each piece beforehand, or does it evolve organically, as you create?

A bit of both, sometimes I see a colour palette that inspires me and I set out to create that right from the start, or sometimes it evolved organically. I think it must be slightly intuitive to know what colour is lacking or doesn’t work when I’m putting them together.


How long does it take to make each new collection? Do you have ‘fashion calendar’ deadlines to work to?!

Initially when I started my brand I felt pressure to keep up with the fashion calendar and have a new collection for summer and winter, but more recently I’ve decided to set my own pace. Some collections I’ve been less pleased with as I rushed them, and I think that also showed sales wise too, so I’d rather take a bit longer and get it right. I also only do one collection a year now, and maybe introduce the same designs in different fabrics, for different seasons.


Was there a favourite piece (or pieces) that you worked on? Why?

My ‘Lore of the Land’ collection is probably the one I’m most proud of as I love the stories behind the scarves. I was inspired by my friend: singer songwriter Jenny Sturgeon, who writes a lot about Scottish folklore – lots of mermaids, selkies, and Pictish standing stones.


All images curtesy of Helen Ruth


Is owning a scarf empire everything you thought it would be? What advice would you give yourself at the start of your journey if you could travel back?!

To be honest I never thought I would get as far as I have, I’ve had some amazing experiences through my scarves that I never would have imagined happening: meeting the MD for Liberty’s, designing a scarf for Glenfiddich Whisky and being asked to teach printing classes – to name a few! I think if I was to give myself any advice, it would to be more confident in my designs, to not sit back and wait for people to contact me but to put myself out there more.

So, whats next for Helen Ruth Scarves, what do you have in the pipeline?

I’ve been working on a few bespoke projects and I really enjoy that side to my business, getting to know a brand’s story and interpreting that into a scarfs design is really cool. I’ve also just finished a business mentoring session which has given me a boost, and has inspired me to work more on the planning side of my business, so I feel optimistic about where I’m going!


All images curtesy of Helen Ruth


See more of Helen and her fabulous scarves in Edinburgh this summer at the Craft Scotland Summer Show and Cloth18. Can’t wait?… use the following links to get an immediate fix!






If you like what you see, leave a COMMENT and FOLLOW OiOi Arts for MORE!

**All images are owned by the artist; Helen Greensmith (Helen Ruth Scarves). They have granted permissions for their use in this interview. They retain full copyright.

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