In conversation with: Tania Johnson

I am a big fan of Tania Johnson’s custom made, hand knotted rugs. The intriguing, contemporary designs are based on her textural photographs. Here, Tania talks about her design process, the latest Venezia collection and the importance of responsible production.

Where does your love of textiles come from? Growing up, I was always drawing and creating and was very drawn to colour and texture. When I finished school, I originally planned to study fashion before deciding on a degree in Fashion Textiles with Business Studies at Brighton.

In the first year, we experimented with the different textile processes Print, Knit and Weave. Prior to that, I hadn’t really known much about textiles but as soon as I tried weaving, I absolutely loved it. I think it was the creative aspect combined with the technical, mathematical skill required to create a textural fabric that really appealed to me. I specialised in woven textiles and went on to do a Masters at the Royal College of Art in London which in turn led to a Postgraduate placement at a weaving mill in Switzerland. It was an amazing experience and I realised how much I loved being involved in the production as well as the design of fabrics.

Following this, I worked for Calvin Klein Home in New York and during my time there, I designed the brand’s first rug collection which was a fantastic experience. I was used to creating woven and printed designs, all of which needed to be produced in repeat and relatively small scale, and it was wonderful to work on such a big scale – very free and more like creating a piece of art.

Tania Johnson

Do you have a target customer in mind when you create a new collection? When I create a new collection, I tend to be led more by the theme that is exciting me, whether it’s water, light, reflections etc., and figuring out how I can develop a design that stays true to the inspiration but also works well as a rug. I perhaps have my target customer in mind more when I select the colours. Generally we find the more neutral tones sell the most but, as all of our rugs are fully bespoke, it’s always good to show our designs in a few different options to help our clients visualise how they could work in other colours.

You specialise in translating your textural photographs into rugs, are you constantly looking for fresh inspiration? I find inspiration everywhere and take photos constantly.  Whether I am looking at shadows on the pavement while walking to work or opening up my window blind first thing in the morning and seeing the patterns that condensation has made on the glass. It has become quite a joke in our family, my husband has noted after many a holiday that some photos of our family might be nice now and again in between textural close ups of the ground! Although now that my children are older, and both very creative, they have become quite similar and if they see a nice shadow or reflection, they always take a photo for me.

Imprint rug from Tania Johnson Venezia collection
Imprint rug from the Venezia collection by Tania Johnson

Tell me about your latest collection? Our latest collection is called Venezia and it was inspired by a trip I took to Venice a couple of years ago. I went expecting to be inspired by the reflections on the canals but it was the array of textural surfaces and the faded grandeur of crumbling palazzos that really caught my eye.

The collection comprises of six designs: Dapple, Drift, Facade, Imprint, Palazzo and Paved.

Our Drift design is based on a photo I took of an old wall streaked and stained over time while Palazzo is inspired by the crumbling stonework on an ancient palace. For Paved, meanwhile, I looked to the ground to find this pattern of paving stones disappearing into the distance.

Shortly after my trip, I was clearing out my garage and came across an old sketchbook full of photos I had taken years ago. The book had been damaged by damp and after my initial dismay about this (these photos were taken long before the digital era) I was thrilled to discover the textures and patterns that had been created.

The partially disintegrated pages were reminiscent of the textural, layered surfaces that I had been so drawn to in Venice and provided a whole new source of inspiration that continued this theme of surface patterns changing and evolving over time.

The Facade rug design (shown at the top) was inspired by the colours and textures that emerged as layers of torn and dampened paper were peeled back. For the Imprint design, ink smudges its way from one page to another creating a beautifully random border while a partially torn photo of dappled light formed the Dapple design.

All of the Venezia designs are hand knotted in wool and silk and as with all of our rugs, we can change the proportions of wool and silk and each one is fully customisable for colour and size.

Tania’s use of photography is evident in the Dapple rug from the Venezia collection

How can you ensure that your rugs are produced in a socially responsible way? Since starting the business, Tania Johnson Design has been a member and strong supporter of GoodWeave. Using a system of spot checks, GoodWeave facilitates transparent monitoring and verification of working conditions ensuring no child labour is used and campaigning for fair wages and decent working conditions. I have visited GoodWeave’s rehabilitation centre in Kathmandu a couple of times, along with my own daughters, to run art projects with the children there. This has given me a personal insight into the work GoodWeave does and the very tangible results of rescuing children from forced labour.

Rug brands sometimes present themselves to be GoodWeave certified simply because their manufacturer is. This can be misleading as both the manufacturer and the rug supplier need to be certified to ensure the looms being used by the rug brand are being checked. GoodWeave only inspect the looms of the companies that are certified. Additionally, if a brand is not themselves certified then they are not supporting GoodWeave by paying member fees.

It’s always worth double checking if a rug supplier is GoodWeave certified.

What is your favourite possession? My wedding ring. It was made from the same piece of platinum as my husband’s and is very special to me.

Where would you like to visit once we can travel more freely? Nepal. I usually go once or twice a year and have missed it terribly. I started learning Nepali during lockdown so am excited to surprise our manufacturer and try to speak a few words when I next go.

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