In 2012, just around the time that designer Justine Ashbee began creating pieces for her now established design brand Native Line, which specializes in intricate, hand-woven tapestries, she met her future husband and decided to move across the pond. “It was a move for love,” says Ashbee. It was also a homecoming of sorts, as the creative talent was born in the U.K., but grew up in L.A. and had spent 10 years in Seattle before making the move.
Ashbee's first introduction to weaving was during her time as a textiles student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her elaborate wall hangings—sculptural works of art, really—include graphic, geometric designs that often incorporate metallics and are inspired by Southwestern landscapes. We caught up with the designer to get the scoop on her design process, her stunning studio in the English countryside, and what’s next for her brand.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
"I'm drawn to indigenous craft and ceremony—the use of natural materials for decoration and ornament, and how communities create a visual language that bridges both seen and unseen worlds. I find mysterious folklore rituals and costumes appealing. I'm attracted to the folklorish ideas that elements in nature have a spirit, and that in many ways we can access meaning about and communicate with the natural world through symbolism and intuition."
How does your inspiration translate to the materials you use for your tapestries?
"I choose materials for their luminosity. Light in materials has an ability to refract very different qualities in their color, tone, and texture, and can evoke very different moods as a result. It is important that the work reacts to its environment."
How did you develop your design aesthetic?
"My aesthetic is inherent. I'm not sure it was developed so much as focused. I follow my gut instinct. Color and shape have always been a strong driving force, yet so has aniconic imagery."
Which colors do you gravitate towards when you're designing?
"Right now I cannot get enough of lilac. I want it everywhere. Sometimes I can even taste it. I gravitated towards gold initially because of its symbolism and association with the power of the sun. I read once that the ancient Incas believed gold was the sweat of the sun and silver the tears of moon. I think that is so wonderful. Gold is brilliantly radiant and seems to have represented forms of power throughout history. It is a beguiling metal."
What are you favorite materials to work with?
"I don't feel committed to any one specific material. I like the process of constructing and deconstructing things. I like untangling things. I need exercises to calm my mind and to help release me from my own restless thinking, so to speak. Doing repetitive exercises with my hands and body is very calming for me. In many ways these creative exercises are a form of meditation."
Tell us about your process. Walk us through the making one of your wall hangings.
"My process is quite direct. Any process in which I'm using my hands is enjoyable for me. My hands are my tools. I follow their lead when I am working. Being a gemini, I often find myself paralyzed with the inability to make a decision. My work is an incredible release from that. While I weave, there is no way of seeing what the whole piece will look like. By the very nature of the machine, the weaving itself disappears as it wraps around a winding beam in order to advance more new warp thread to weave into. This offers a very moment to moment approach to my work, where I am making immediate decisions in response to what I am seeing before me. I follow my impulses. I don't stop to have big philosophical considerations of what to do next—it's liberating. Finding ways to alleviate the thinking mind and live in the present moment is a gift of creative work."
Your studio is gorgeous. Tell us about it.
"My studio is in a converted farmhouse in the British countryside. It is surrounded by fields. It's quiet. I prefer to work away from distractions, away from noisy areas. I prefer silent, peaceful surroundings."
Can you give us the inside scoop on future projects that you have in the works? What is next for Native Line?
"The work is in a definite state of evolution, and evolving along possibly very different lines. However, during phases like these I’ve learned that it’s best to give it space to become what it needs to be so you, like me, will have to wait and see..."
Is there something you haven't designed yet that you'd like to create?
"I'd like to one day cultivate a beautiful garden with loads of food plants and gorgeous flowers. That would make me very proud and seems to me a perhaps small but heroic feat."