How Belfast designer Jennie Harvey created a special Ulster Weavers tea towel for the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations
Belfast designer Jennie Harvey tells Karen Ireland how she created the commemorative Ulster Weavers tea towel, which is part of our giveaway to mark another great royal landmark.
Jennie Harvey says working on the special commemorative Royal tea towel has been one of her all-time favourite projects. The 30-year-old textile designer with Ulster Weavers was tasked with creating a print to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday - one that would be reproduced thousands of times and find its way into homes across the UK and beyond.
Some might find such a prospect daunting but Jennie, who used to design clothes for high street favourite Warehouse, brims with enthiusiam. "I love working on projects like this from scratch as there is so much freedom to express yourself and put your own mark on a design," she says.
Jennie, who studied fashion and textile at university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, says working with textiles was always her dream job and describes her latest commission as an honour.
As part of her research Jennie got the opportunity to delve back into the archives of the famous textiles company and made some interesting finds, dating back to previous royal weddings and anniversaries. Indeed, some of the archive material has outlasted the event it was produced to celebrate.
Jennie reveals: "The Ulster Weavers' archives go back to the early Seventies and I found a tea towel which marked the wedding of Princess Anne to Captain Mark Philips in 1973.
The design featured a conjoined 'A and M' to represent their first initials.
"And then there were also other items in Irish linen to mark the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh's silver wedding anniversary in 1972."
Jennie is all too aware, though, of the responsibility of creating a design which relates to royalty and will be memorable - for the right reasons.
"My design had to be tasteful and something that you'd want to keep long after the event. Working on something which involves our royal family is a tremendous privilege and I wanted to get the design just right. I knew it had to have a classic feel as fans of the royal family are quite traditional, but I wanted to off-set that with a contemporary look as well as injecting some of my own creativity. I went through the archives of work we have done previously for the royal family from the Coronation to the royal weddings and the birth of Princess Charlotte and Prince George and took inspiration from some of that."
She says the opulent nature of the Seventies design she chose for the Queen's 90th birthday tea towel, with its floral and swirl patterns, makes it distinctive from most contemporary tea towels, with their clean lines and blocks of colour.
Yet keen to mix heritage with modernity, Jennie incorporated some retro features while giving it an up-to-date twist.
"The border is traditional and ornate, and is rich blue with golden tones worked in. I then brought in a more contemporary feel with mixed fonts in the wording," she says. "I love the designs of the Seventies which are currently enjoying a renaissance, and I think we are appreciating just how good they were again, but I wanted to incorporate current trends too."
The Belfast designer says she has given the tea towel design a layered feel to the point where it almost looks 3D, with lots of colours associated with royalty, such as blue, purple and gold all drawn into the template.
And she hopes people will enjoy the end result for years to come. "The tea towel is something to commemorate the Queen's 90th birthday, but I hope it will be kept and then someday in the future someone will be looking through their linen drawer and take it out and remember what it symbolises."
Jennie fondly recalls as a schoolgirl, receiving a commemorative mug to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee so she understands the significance of such items to people here.
"Giving someone a physical item, like a tea towel, is important. And I love the idea of people buying it, using it and then rediscovering it and reflecting on this occasion years from now," she says.
Having joined Ulster Weavers when she returned to Northern Ireland from London, Jennie is always searching for style inspiration for her next project.
She says: "My role in the company as one of the textile designers is to research new styles. I look through magazines and books and get ideas from what is happening in fashion as well as past trends.
"When I am working on a project I then create a mood board and bring my styles and colours together before I start drawing on the computer using different programmes. Or sometimes I will hand draw different designs." Jennie says that her work is mainly with kitchen accessories such as tea towels, oven gloves, aprons, door steps and draught excluders.
"This is a fantastic and innovative company to work for and we are very forward thinking," she says.
After leaving university, Jennie had an internship with High Street label Warehouse where she worked as an assistant designer before getting a full-time job as a designer.
"I loved living in London and working in such a fast-paced environment as fashion," she says.
"I got to work with prints and designs, and everything had to be quick reaction time to get those clothes out onto the shop floor. I learnt a lot and I loved the variety of the job and working in fashion, but I realised that textiles was my strength."
Jennie moved back to Belfast to follow her passion, but found getting a job in the textile industry was difficult.
"I worked in various jobs for several years including working as a technician in a school, which involved working with the teachers and students and teaching them about textiles and different styles and patterns."
At this time Jennie considered a career in teaching and was going to take up a PGCE course before she was offered her dream role at Ulster Weavers.
She adds: "There didn't seem to be many job opportunities in textiles and so I thought about taking up a career in the classroom, but then I got offered the post here and it's been a fantastoc opportunity."