Staff profile: Zoë Hillyard

Zoë Hillyard is the Senior Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Textile Design course. 

Take a look at her career highlights so far and her tips for students studying BA (Hons) Textile Design.

Zoe Hillyard blog primary

What did you study at university?

I studied Textile Design in the late 1990s, specialising in Embroidery. Creatively, it ignited my interest in structure, craftsmanship and culture, but it also inspired me to teach.

What are you career highlights?

There are many! My career has had many chapters…An early highlight from my initial fashion industry days, was seeing my embroidered scarf collection on sale in Liberty’s, sharing a table with those from Armani. Later it was seeing the knitwear garments I designed for Marion Foale being showcased at Paris Fashion Week. As my career focus changed and my interest in craft based livelihoods strengthened, spending a year as a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteer developing textile design education in Mongolia was an incredible experience. It went onto inform my MSc in Applied Development Studies and led me re-establish my own practice again. I now work as a textile artist creating textile/ceramic pieces that are made for exhibition and to commission. I am represented by a London gallery and this year exhibited at Collect Art Fair, Summerset House, showing alongside some of my creative idols! I love the range of people and places my practice has enabled me to reach. 

The academic side of my career has also had many highlights - becoming Course Leader in 2020, for one! BCU’s Inspired Festival and Graduation are annual highlights. New Designers in London is the key showcase for new Textile Design graduates. It is always a highlight when BCU wins a key award – and we have done so regularly over the years! It feels great to know that the course is doing its job in developing industry-ready graduates and I share the excitement they have for their futures. I get to know every student really well and am so proud of the journey everyone takes. Lenny Henry’s hilarious Graduate Ceremony speeches in Symphony Hall as Vice Chancellor will stay with me forever! 

What are your specialist areas?

A cross-disciplinary practice and approach to craft and design which involves a broad spectrum of textile specialist skills including; hand stitch, hand knit, yarn making and biomaterial design, combined with design and industry awareness. Sustainability can be traced back to my own graduate work and continues to be the driver of both my practice and research. Nurturing creativity in others and seeking to develop confident, resilient humans is also my focus.

What are your research interests?

I have always been interested in the role that craft plays within livelihood strategies, whether that is abroad understanding the dynamics of a culture that is very different to my own, or in the UK developing industry-ready graduates. My research focuses on circular and slow design approaches, exploring how material waste streams can be revived and utilised and materials kept in use for longer. Through materials I explore ideas of fragility, resilience, resourcefulness and regeneration. My work questions our relationship to possessions and seeks to encourage a culture of care. With colleagues I’ve helped establish a Growth Garden and MAT_er.Lab centre for the creation of biomaterial development at Parkside and I explore new ways of teaching that places nature at its heart of everything we do. I aim to nurture the skills and mindsets necessary to drive the significant changes that are needed within our industry. 

What is your favourite part about working at Birmingham City University?

I am so lucky to work with an incredible range of dedicated, creative and playful people – staff and students! I value the relationships that I build and feel privileged to be part of the journey everyone is on.

Do you have any tips for students studying Textile Design?

Seize every opportunity to learn – miss as little of the teaching as is humanly possible! Be a sponge, soak things up. Take full advantage of the incredible array of technical equipment on offer, but also the ‘extras’ – visiting speakers, competitions etc. Do things that build your confidence. Recognise your comfort zone and challenge it. Above all be a ‘curious octopus’ – reach out in many directions to feed your creativity and translate this into material-based action. 

Lastly, do you have any advice for working in the industry?

Gain as much experience as possible to work out what works for you. Initially, be brave and say yes to everything that is feasible as getting a foot in the door is key. Later on, work out what you really want, then identify the small steps you need to take to nudge you towards that direction. Always maintain your integrity in how you design and interact with others. Don’t be frightened to pick up the phone… be in it to win it. Say Yes. Make things happen!

To see more of Zoë’s work head to her website or Instagram @ceramicpatchwork to stay up to date with her work.