Soraya Shah is a textile designer and weaver living in New York City. She creates and produces a collection of handwoven fabrics for one of our favourite fabric studios, Temple Studio. Join us as we find out more about how Soraya got into textiles and what inspires her incredible creations in this week’s Meet The Maker.
When did your love of textiles start and where did it come from?
When I was nine my family moved from Brazil to Ecuador. We’d spend the weekends driving up to the mountains and I’ll never forget my first time at the Otovalo Market. I was in awe of the stalls stacked with bright woven textiles. They looked like drawings made of yarn that told stories. The memory of the tapestries and smell of wool has stayed with me all these years and definitely had an impact on my textile journey.
Did you study textile design?
After graduating high school in Bogota, Colombia I moved to the US to study illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design. My work was very textured and influenced by textiles, so when a counsellor suggested I try a fibers class, I did and never turned back. I fell completely in love with the processes of screen printing, felting, sewing and especially weaving. It was a small department back then but the professors were incredible, the curriculum was challenging and the community was energetic. I was immersed in all things fiber and was even co-president of the department club, aptly named Fibers Force.
Does travelling play a part in your inspiration or creativity?
I’ve lived in five different countries and ten cities, so I’d say travelling does play a part in my creativity because it’s an integral part of me. I was born in Brazil, then moved to Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and finally moved to the US when I was 19.
My family is from Trinidad and Tobago so even between moves we spent as much time there as we could with my grandparents and extended family. It wasn’t easy moving around so much as a kid but I’m so grateful for the experience. I got to learn three languages and meet people from all walks of life. Some of my fabrics are named after places I’ve lived, and some after the people that left impressions on me.
Where do you draw inspiration?
It’s often an unassuming moment that evokes the sudden need to make something. I made two patterns after watching an outer space documentary, they are named Nebula and Nova and are my woven interpretation of those things. I made a series of patterns inspired by one of my all time favourite Bollywood movies I used to watch with my dad growing up, Gumnaam. The colours in that movie are fantastic. It’s really an accumulation of moments, people or experiences.
I recently made a mural in our showroom, it’s a giant weaving draft made entirely out of bingo cards. Weaving is mathematical and structured but I wanted to convey that it’s also a game of chance. I’m not trying to reinvent the diamond or the stripe, I’m honouring a centuries old art form and adding a piece of myself to it. To me, weaving cloth of any kind is really about telling a story.
When did you start working on a loom?
After college I moved to NYC in 2005 and got a job assisting a weaver. I’ve worked quite an assortment of jobs in my time here, everything from food delivery to drag and burlesque, but weaving has always been a constant. I’ve found my home in the interior design industry and love working closely with designers to make custom textiles for their projects. Either creating a fabric needed to tie their scheme together or creating something the room will be designed around. It’s incredibly satisfying to collaborate with other people.
The weaves you create are so luxurious and deep. What are your favourite materials or textures to work with?
No matter what I’m making there’s always going to be at least three colours in there. It’s a way of making even the most simple pattern rich. Picking a favourite material would be like a parent picking a favourite child, I love them all! Each fiber has its own personality. Cotton is reliable and durable, but forgiving and plays well with everyone. Wool takes on colour unlike anything else but can be a little unruly and demanding. Silk has the ability to take any pattern from casual to decadent in a heartbeat. Linen is strong and beautiful but has no interest in accommodating anything else.