Inspiring and connecting women makers

As a student, Hattie Speed ’18 set up This Girl Makes to celebrate and connect craftswomen, and it continues to go from strength to strength. Hattie studied BA Furniture Design and Make at Ryecotewood Furniture Centre in the City of Oxford College, one of Oxford Brookes’ partner colleges.

On 27 March, This Girl Makes won the Creative Design Award at Oxford Brookes’ FUEL Awards 2019 – earning Hattie’s social enterprise a £3,000 grant. Both the prize and the process are proving valuable.

“The money from the FUEL Awards is really going to help,” explains Hattie, “but they also gave me a reason to take the ideas in my head and write them all down in a plan. That was really beneficial. And explaining it to the judges helped me get a clearer idea of where I wanted to go with it.”

Oxford Brookes has been supportive of This Girl Makes – with a Student Impact Fund grant paying for the publication of a book in 2018 as well as the recent FUEL Award. But studying in Oxford, or anywhere else, had not been part of Northumbrian Hattie’s original plan.

One of three women on her course

“I wasn’t keen on going to uni. I applied for a cabinet maker’s apprenticeship but didn’t get it. In the rejection letter he said I should be designing, not just sanding, and recommended studying at Ryecotewood – where he studied.”

His advice proved sound. Hattie took an immediate like to Oxford and enjoyed studying alongside a diverse group of students at the City of Oxford College. She worked hard and deservedly won awards.

“I was putting so much effort into my studies, so when I won an award it felt like a real honour. It was nice to be acknowledged for all the effort I was putting in.”

In her first year, she was one of only three women students on her course which is typical for craft and design courses. And this prompted her to find a way to do something about the gender imbalance. So she set up a blog: This Girl Makes.

From writing a blog to running workshops

“I had this idea that we should be celebrating the women who were working in craft and design. It was partly for a selfish reason – I wanted to meet the other women who were doing it and also connect them together.

“At the beginning of my second year I went round a craft fair in London and chatted to different craftswomen and designers, and told them about my idea for a blog. They were positive and said nobody had really done something like this before. They liked the idea but didn’t have the time – so I thought, ‘okay, I’ll do it.’”

And what started as a blog developed into a multi-strand project – both celebrating craftswomen and encouraging more girls and women to become makers.

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“I ran practical workshops at Oxford Brookes’ Outburst Festival and they went down really well. I promoted it on Instagram so more people heard about it and I got commissioned to do more workshops. It snowballed from there.

“I’ve run over ten stool making workshops, where we provide the components and tools and show people how to assemble it. As part of my final year project at Uni, I developed a toolbox workshop which is aimed at younger children. And I’ve started running more reflective workshops – discussion-led but creative, using collages.”

Craft, feminism and inspiration

Even though Hattie has graduated, one of her tutors from Ryecotewood continues to provide mentoring and advice.

“All the teachers were great but one in particular, Dr Lynn Jones, was completely on my wavelength. She has been really helpful, being my on-going mentor for This Girl Makes even though it wasn’t part of the course.”

And the need for more women in craft is a cause that unites them.

“We’re working on a project together about feminism and workshops. Lynn is thirty years older than me but nothing’s really changed in that time. I’d like to do a PhD on women in furniture and craft. It’s a topic with hardly any research at the moment. If I can get funding, it would be an important piece of work and raise the profile of the issue.”

In the meantime, This Girl Makes is bringing craftswomen together and inspiring the next generation – driven by Hattie’s ideas, energy and commitment, with a little financial help from Oxford Brookes along the way.

Words by Sirius Gibson
Illustrations by Hattie Speed

When this article was published, Hattie was working at Ercol as a Design Engineer. She has subsequently left Ercol to pursue her career through This Girl Makes.

Check out Hattie’s blog: This Girl Makes

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