After seeing  her textiles or wool carpets, it is not difficult to see that Bev Hisey has a finely tuned eye for composing intricate patterns, colours and motifs.  The Toronto-based designer is the creator behind a growing series of remarkable floor coverings, textiles and objects.

Recently converting her studio on Toronto’s Dundas West strip into a retail space, we begin to see how design, craft and retail seamlessly merge.  Mason Journal had an opportunity to speak with Bev to learn how Canadian culture influences her work, how her studio space forms her process, and hear her personal perspective on the Canadian design industry.

Mason Journal: Describe your craft/discipline.
Bev Hisey: I design and produce hand-­‐tufted/knotted wool carpets in India. I also design and produce a textile collection. The Wool/nylon fabric I use to make my cushions, table runners and blankets is milled here in Canada. I use numerous surface manipulation techniques, such as, die cutting, silk screening, embroidery and applique. I also produce a small collection of 3 and 5mm die cut woolen felt carpets and divider panels.

MJ: Can you tell us about yourself and how you evolved into your current discipline?
BH: I originally started off in fashion, designing and producing here in Canada. During those fashion days I sold my collections through my own retail operation. This was when Queen West of Bathurst was just beginning to burble. It has taken Queen West of Bathurst 25 plus years to reach its present incarnation. I like to think of myself as being “a well-aged bottle of balsamic”. I stopped doing fashion after the birth of my daughter in 1990, stayed at home for a couple of years, and then went to George Brown and did the Upholstery programme there. That evolved into doing soft furnishings. I expanded my work in 1996 with the addition of hand crafted carpets and cushions. I then joined the Goodweave Foundation in 2005, to ensure that no child labor would be used in production, and started my line of tufted and knotted hand crafted carpets.

MJ: Are there underlying concepts or perspectives you maintain across your products and projects?
BH: I try and maintain some level of inventiveness, either in the design, or in a production method. I find working with and discovering new disciplines very inspiring. I also like producing pieces that surprise people or that they might find humorous. Coming up with ideas is always the fun part, learning how to edit yourself is an on-­‐going exercise. I will usually have a number of projects going at the same time, some of them never make it to fruition, and some of them inspire me off in another direction. For me, I think good product design is all about the process.

 

SARS Rug

E. Coli Rug

MJ: Can you tell us a little bit about the studio space in which you work? How does this space influence your work?
BH: I have been reworking my studio space this year to accommodate a showroom/retail operation. I have been working in a storefront for the past seven years, but have not been open to the public. The entire storefront was primarily my production facility where I would also meet with private clients, architects and designers. I have also been selling to retailers. When I opened the store up to the public in May 2012, my workspace was downsized and squeezed into the 10’ x10’ space in the back of the store; very small, but workable. I have just spent the summer moving my workspace further back into the converted garage behind the store. There is a small kitchen there, so I can make myself a cup of tea. The space is more private now so I can blast music and dance around if I want to. At the moment there is absolutely nothing even mildly glamorous about it.

MJ: Do you ever collaborate with other designers or artists?
BH:I have collaborated a great deal with my photographer friend Donna Griffith. We have worked together photographing my product since the beginning. We collaborated on a Lath and Plaster project during the renovation of my home. I participate regularly in group shows and continue to work with designers on custom projects.

MJ: What led you to open your own retail venture, Everyday Housewife?
BH: I wanted to be able to offer up all of my different textile work as well as showcase and sell my vintage finds.


MJ: How has Canadian culture and context influenced your work? How is it represented in your process and design?
BH: Some of my work has definitely been inspired by Canadian people, landscapes or objects. One of my earlier cushion collections was entitled “The Bay”. I used simple stripes that were reminiscent of Bay point blankets, but I reworked colors into a more modern palette. My Arbor carpets are very Group of Seven, and my In The Woods series of carpets are based on landscapes that my grandmother had painted. Blue gold was a carpet I produced for the Radiant Dark Design show. The theme we were working with was Assets and Values. Blue Gold is a topographical map of the Great Lakes and surrounding rivers and bodies of water. It takes its title from Maude Barlow’s book “Blue Gold” about the commodification of water. The lakes and rivers in the carpet were hand-­‐knotted with gold silk

MJ: Do you feel your work is received differently when presented on an international platform compared to a Canadian platform?
BH: I am not quite sure how to actually measure that! Over the years, I have exhibited in the U.S. the U.K. and Canada While the last few years have been spent close to home, I think my work has been received about the same. I think those who appreciate it often appreciate it for the same reasons, regardless of platform location.

MJ: How would you describe the state of the Canadian design industry compared to the beginning of your career?
BH: I think there is probably more of a demand and appreciation for design. It is probably easier to produce from afar now however. Thank goodness for the “inter web”. Now it is pretty simple to follow what is new and exciting in the design world. I think Canada has a lot of gifted designers and I think Canadian design schools have done a lot to inspire them.

MJ: For the budding designers, do you have any suggestions or advice on how to make a mark on the Canadian design industry?
BH: “Get your hands dirty”. Making drawings is a good discipline, but knowing how to put things together has greater benefit. Don’t be afraid of taking risks.

MJ: Can you tell us what we can look forward to seeing from you next?
BH: I have just released a set of ceramic tapas/desert plates, modeled after my Dirty Dish Carpet Collection. I have been experimenting with flat weaves combined with hand knotting. These new carpet designs will be available mid-November 2012. I am working on an installation at the shop on Dundas St. during design week in January 2013.

 

To learn more about Bev or to see more of her designs, visit bevhisey.com or everydayhousewife.ca

All photos courtesy of Bev Hisey.