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14 Jun 2024

Meet the Makers: Helen Ruth from Helen Ruth Scarves

Meet the Maker: Helen Ruth Scarves


One speaker: Helen Ruth

My name's Helen. I've got a small textile design brand called Helen Ruth Scarves.
I'm based in Aberdeen and I've been running my business for close to 15 years now.

When I was approached by the National Trust for Scotland to work on this project for the Pink Castle, it was really exciting.
I grew up around here; I went to Craigievar primary school and we'd come and visit here when we were on little school trips.
I think it's a really iconic castle in the North East of Scotland, where I've lived my whole life.

I came out and visited John, who looks after the castle.
He gave me a bit of a tour around and we had a look round the main hall.
So, I got a lot of inspiration and ideas from that and then I just have a lot of memories of being in the grounds of the castle as well, as a child,and doing tree rubbings and looking for lichen and things like that.
So, I wanted to bring that element into it as well.
I did collect the lichen and monkey puzzle and things like that, away with me to draw.
One of the things that John told me that I wanted to include was he said that house martins nested in the windows of the castle,so I wanted to include those in the story.

We've gone for a small neckerchief size on silk, which is about 42cm square.
Then we've got a classic silk scarf, 90x90cm, which is a classic silk scarf size.
And then we went for a big oversized wool scarf,which you could wear as a big chunky scarf for the winter or like a wrap over your shoulders.
And the other piece that we did was an A3 art print of the castle.

The Trust has teamed up with five talented local makers to produce the Pink Castle collection of products in celebration of the re-opening of Craigievar Castle.

The creation of the Pink Castle collection was inspired by the reopening of the iconic Craigievar Castle after the 18-month Pink Again conservation project. Here, we speak to Helen Ruth from Helen Ruth Scarves, who has created some very special designs for us.

Hi Helen, tell us a little about yourself and your business.

I live and work in Aberdeen, and my design studio is in Deemouth Artist Studios in the Torry area of the city.

I studied Textiles at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, specialising in printed textiles, and in my final year I designed a range of scarves using my illustrations. After graduating in 2008 and carrying out several placements in design studios, I wanted to start my own brand so I could have the freedom to design things I love. I now design and make printed scarves and accessories. I create all the hand-drawn elements of the prints, and hand finish the scarves in my studio.

I design illustrative textiles that have a narrative element to them, which is very much influenced by my upbringing in North East Scotland, being surrounded by wild landscape and creatures. I aim to present a contemporary take on traditional Scottish themes and motifs through my textiles, all the while creating covetable accessories in joyful vibrant colours.

How did you approach the creation of the Pink Castle collection?

This was a very exciting project for me to work on, as I grew up very close to Craigievar Castle and attended the primary school just along the road. So I already have lots of wonderful memories and a personal connection to the castle, which immediately gave me ideas to get started with.

But I also wanted to include historical references, details from the interior architecture and significant artefacts from inside the castle – so I arranged a site visit to gather imagery and ideas. I particularly loved the ceramics collection and the incredible carved fireplace surround in the main hall. This gave me loads of ideas, and I started sketching out an idea for the scarf, drawing detailed motifs to use in the design. The colours were really important too, as part of the brief was to work with the shades that had been carefully selected for the newly designed Pink Castle tartan. I wanted the silk scarf to sit beautifully alongside this in the whole Pink Castle collection.

The main challenge was the fact the castle was still closed for restoration when I went to visit! There was scaffolding around the castle and we could only access a small part of the building, which was also very dark. It was difficult to get good photos of my own but fortunately there is a huge library of images in the National Trust for Scotland database and I was able to use those.

A man and a woman stand in a dull-lit room in a castle room, with wood-panelled walls. The man is pointing to a detail on the wall.
Helen with John Lemon, Visitor Services Supervisor at Craigievar Castle

Can you describe the journey of taking the designs from concept to finished product?

The design started with my hand-drawn illustrations using pen and paper. I sketched out a rough idea of the design in pencil, and then set about working on it with fine ink pens to create all the intricate detail. I’ve lately been working in large scale, drawing onto a roll of paper roughly the size of a finished scarf, so I can see how the design will look when complete. I like to work in a collage style – for example, some imagery was drawn on separate pieces of paper, cut out, repeated using a photocopier, and then assembled on the larger sheet of paper. This allows me to have some flexibility over the composition.

Once I was happy with the drawing, I had it scanned to create a digital version of the design. At this stage I used Photoshop to add the colour, make tweaks to the composition and collage in other drawn elements. The finished files were then sent to my printers, before being sent back to me as rolls of fabric to be turned into scarves.

All the printing is carried out at the Centre for Advanced Textiles, who are based at Glasgow School of Art. Although the designs are digitally printed, this is still a very ‘hands-on’ process and involves a lot of human interaction with the cloth and the machinery. It’s definitely a very skilled process that requires a huge amount of knowledge of the fabrics and dyes involved.

What materials did you use in the collection?

We’ve created scarves printed on two different fabrics: a gorgeous soft silk crepe de chine which has a slightly matte suede feel to it (it’s one of my favourite fabrics to work with!); and a larger wool scarf printed on a lightweight, fine wool twill, which is beautifully soft and warm to wear.

Do you use any eco-friendly initiatives or practices during production of your scarves?

The main way in which my production is eco-friendly is in keeping waste to an absolute minimum. I design the size of my scarves to maximise the use of the full width of the cloth, so the mini silks print alongside the bigger silks for example. There is really very little scrap cloth left at the end of the making process.

Digital print is also considered a sustainable method for printing fabric as you can be quite precise with ink and water quantities, therefore not creating excess waste. It also allows for small print runs, avoiding mass production.

How did the collaboration between you and the Trust unfold during the creation of the Pink Castle designs?

I was initially contacted by the Trust in the autumn of 2023, and at that time the re-opening of the castle in spring 2024 seemed a long time away! But those months flew by. I was given some initial guidance on the preferred colour palette but very much had free rein to work on the design. It was wonderful to be trusted to create something in my own style and vision. After the first draft, I tweaked some of the colours and small elements of the imagery, before having a sample scarf printed to be approved for production.

Somewhere along this timeline, I was asked if the design could be adapted for the label for the bespoke Pink Castle Gin that’s part of the collection. This is something I’ve never done before, so that was an exciting challenge and an unexpected bonus to the project!

It’s been a fantastic experience working with a big organisation, particularly with providing the graphics for the gin label. I feel I have learned a lot in the process.

A smiling lady holds up a bottle of the Pink Castle Gin, standing in front of Craigievar Castle.
Helen with the Pink Castle Gin

Can you talk us through the finished range of products?

We have the scarf in three different variations:

  • a classic 90x90cm silk scarf
  • a mini silk scarf, which can be worn as a pocket square or neckerchief
  • an over-sized wool shawl-style scarf with a fringed hem

Also in the range is an A3 art print, printed on textured linen fabric with a fringed hem – the idea being you can frame the print for your walls.

Two scarves are arranged on mannequins on a pink table standing on the lawn outside Craigievar Castle. Beside the scarves are a framed print of the castle and a bottle of pink gin.

What were some highlights of working on the Pink Castle project?

I really enjoyed getting to know Craigievar Castle better. It’s been years since I have visited – the classic thing of the exciting tourist attractions on your doorstep being overlooked! It was great to have a reason to do a deep dive into the history of the castle and the people who lived there, as well as study some of the architectural details and decorative elements inside the building.

The range of Helen Ruth products are available in selected properties and in our online shop.

Pink Castle collection

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