On a visit to a studio to select pieces for our girls dressing room my eye fell upon a pile of beautiful soft sumptuous blankets with wonderful colours all wrapped up in vintage bags. I wanted to fall into the pile immediately, snuggle down and...well, I fell in love. The range of blankets was by Mini McGhee and the woman behind these creations - Nicola is a creative wonder in her own right. Infected by the welcoming charm of tradition and the inspired use of a more contemporary colour we want to know more about Nicola McGhee
Graduating in 1995 from Glasgow School of Art having achieved the schools most prestigious award the Newbury Medal, Nicola was awarded with a place at Central Martin’s College of Art and Design where she pursued a Masters in Fashion Knit.
It wasn’t long before Nicola’s creative talents were noticed and she was recruited for a knitwear designer in New York.
Moving quickly up the fashion career ladder Nicola’s job would take her around the world but with her heart still drawn to her home of Scotland she returned in 2007, bringing her baby daughter and architect husband with her.
SG: We understand you worked in the New York fashion industry. What was it like returning home to Scotland?
NM: It was a huge culture shock, and also we were returning with a new-born baby! As most of my friends had moved away from Glasgow we were starting from scratch again. It took me a long while to slot back in but being around our families again was wonderful and made it all worthwhile. I am now very happily settled but still miss NY and our friends a lot. But I don’t miss the constant travelling I had to do with my work there at all!
SG: When did the idea of Mini McGhee first emerge?
NM: It actually began in NY. I was looking for a gift for a colleague who had just had a baby. I wanted to buy something Made in Scotland, preferably a baby blanket that was modern and eye catching but couldn’t find anything that I liked. So the seeds were sown...... Upon my return to Scotland, just as the recession started, I couldn’t find a job in the textile/fashion industry here– there just were no jobs available. Manufacturers and yarn mills were closing all around and although I could have gotten a job in London I didn’t want to uproot my family yet again and my husband had just accepted a good job in Glasgow.
So I had to create my own job and took a chance following my gut instinct by returning to my textile roots after mass commercialism in NY and started being creative again which I loved. I wanted to fill that gap in the market that I had seen in NY. I dusted off my old knitting and sewing machines and set to work creating a range of baby blankets, shoe bags, cushions all intended as gifts for baby/home. I tested products on friends and family, and found my passion again for textiles especially touchy-feely knitwear.
SG: What's your work space like and how do you get inspired and motivated?
NM: I work from home at the moment, but have outgrown my space there and am currently looking for a studio. My ‘cubby hole’ is my creative/making area and is crammed with cones of yarns, knitting and sewing machines, inspiration tears on the walls, boxes of ribbon, vintage fabrics, baby blankets, ½ made and finished new developments. Bits and pieces and a large desk, but everything has its place. I keep my ‘office’ area separate and have the computer and files in another room, I like to keep them separate and not be distracted by the computer.
I have a lot of family heirloom textiles around me at home which I love and inspire me. It’s easy to be inspired by things you love and the emotions they evoke. I get inspired by old family photographs showing the hand-me down christening outfit my sister wore, the knitted slip-over my granny was wearing, looking through my mum’s old knitting patterns. I’m inspired by the care and love that went into the traditional handcraft skills of knitting, embroidery and crochet, yet they all had a purpose and a practicality. I also regularly go vintage shopping and love browsing car boot sales, I always come back with great finds that will inspire me. I often visit my factory and seeing all the knitted off cuts/bits and pieces they have lying around is a great inspiration, it’s a real treasure trove for me.
I am motivated because I love what I do and find being self employed so much more rewarding thus motivating me further. My husband’s support motivates me.
SG: As a fellow mum, any tips on getting the work and family balance?
NM: It’s hard and a constant juggle. I don’t think there is any right or wrong way; it whatever works for you at that moment of time. Grandparents are a huge help for me and my daughters’ nursery is very accommodating on my ever changing work schedule!
Whilst working from home is a squeeze it’s extremely convenient, I can interrupt the working day with the nursery run knowing that I can pick it up again after the evening routine is finished. It doesn’t bother me anymore if someone comes around and there is washing still to be put away, it happens in a busy life.
My husband also does his fair share (I’m very lucky!!) and as I quite often find myself working on a Saturday he’s takes over at home then. But we always keep Sunday as a family day – no home chores, maybe go away for the day and just have fun together.
SG: All your pieces are handmade in Scotland and you use local yarn as well as local craftsmen to create each piece. How important is it to you to support this industry and to achieve the ‘made in Scotland’ label?
NM: When I was working on the concept of Mini McGhee I felt strongly that I wanted to keep it all ‘home-grown’ and made in Scotland. It’s a key factor in the business and I will never walk away from that. As the textile industry is in such decline here I wanted to support it even though I know I can get things at a much less expensive price in the Far East. We have an extremely high skill set within Scottish textiles that should be capitalised on, skills that are handed down through generations but are now being forgotten.
Also consumers are not so interested in mass produced foreign products anymore. I find in the current economic climate people are now more careful in spending their hard earned cash; they don’t want to waste it on throw away cheap goods. My customers are looking for something more individual, more considered, things that could be heirloom pieces and to be cherished. And the ‘made is Scotland’ label is as important to them as is it is to me, as they know they are supporting local industries.
SG: What are your favourites in the Mini McGhee collection this season?
NM: My favourites this season are my new McGhee Stripe Throws and matching Cushions. The throws are perfect for cuddling under on the sofa watching TV. Oh, and I also love my new hand knit baby collection especially the hand knit baby socks.
SG: With Christmas slowly creeping up on us how do you plan to celebrate this year?
NM: Christmas is always spent dashing around visiting our families across the UK. We’ll spend Christmas with one side of the family then New Year with the other side. But we always make sure we get in a couple of days to ourselves. My daughter will be 4 this Christmas so I suspect it will be quite excitable. I always accidentally leave Christmas shopping until the last minute and I’m sure this year shall be no change!
SG: What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
NM: I love leaving out Santa’s ‘whiskey’ (at Santa’s request of course!) and Rudolph’s carrot with my daughter on Christmas eve then seeing her reaction in the morning when she realises that Rudolph doesn’t like the carrot stock and Santa drank all the whisky. I love the first rush of excitement in the morning after finding out that Santa’s been. I love Christmas morning bucks fizz. Snow at Christmas is magical, snow balls, snowmen, then clothes drying on the radiators whilst having Christmas dinner.
SG: What can we expect from Mini McGhee in the future?
NM: I am developing a range of cotton baby blankets for summer babies and I plan to expand my baby hand knit collection. I am also investigating baby/kids printed bed sets and home accessories that will co-ordinate with my knitted throw and cushion range that shall also be expanding. Exciting times ahead.