This Girl Makes… An Impact: Harriet Speed and Furniture Making

Firstly, could you tell us in only 10 WORDS about This Girl Makes?

An initiative that celebrates women in craft and design.

Now is your chance to expand with a more in-depth description of your project…

It started in October 2016 as a blog that posted every week, including interviews with a variety of designers and makers, notes from exhibitions and events and articles reflecting on the industry in general.

Alongside the blog, a Facebook group was set up to try and connect designer-makers and create a sense of community where everyone, not just women, could share their thoughts/projects and not be afraid to ask questions.

How did you begin?

I started the blog at the beginning of my second year at Rycotewood Furniture Centre (Oxford) where I studied Furniture Design and Make. In September 2016 I worked as a steward at London Design Fair and took the opportunity to speak to all the women that were exhibiting as part of the show. I pitched my idea of starting a blog that focused on women in craft and design, specifically furniture, as that is the industry I am entering into and is one that is historically very male-dominated. The feedback was really positive and it was as a result of that encouragement and networking opportunity that I had the resources and confidence to start THIS GIRL MAKES.

Who inspired and motivated you?

As a young woman studying on a furniture design and make course, it was my own experiences that motivated me to explore this subject further, because I knew that it wasn’t just me who must feel that the situation should change. Throughout my furniture education I have the majority of the time been in the minority, with very few female course mates. This wasn’t so much an issue for as I have always got on well with men and quite enjoyed being the only woman sometimes (although maybe that’s not something to brag about haha). But after becoming so inspired by the subject of design and realizing that furniture is just as creative and engaging as art and sculpture, I couldn’t understand why so few women were not going on to study product design at A level and after school.

Through my research as part of THIS GIRL MAKES, I have found that so many young women pursue art, but eventually realize how difficult it is to make a career within the creative sector when you don’t have practical skills. This is something I was quite fortunate to be astute about early on, and as a result won’t have to worry about being financially able to support myself, because my making skills are something that will always be sought after. I realized that by encouraging and inspiring other women to pursue pathways into making and furniture design then it would enable them to be more independent and autonomous; not just in terms of money and job security, but also in terms of building their confidence up and being able to fend for themselves when it comes to DIY around the home and so on.

How has your work developed over time?

After establishing the blog and Facebook group, I was looking for further opportunities to expand the blog and what THIS GIRL MAKES had to offer. I put forward a proposal to Oxford Brookes University (which my college is affiliated with) to lead a workshop for women and children. They said yes and I hosted my very first making event that offered beginners a fun and accessible introduction to woodworking and furniture making; allowing them to try simple processes, and use basic tooling to create their own three-legged stool. It was a success, and following that I was commissioned to do several more, meaning I have now delivered 10 of these workshops to date, with a variety of different community groups: Syrian Family Group and Her Space (Oxford) are two examples. I then developed another workshop, offering a new project for participants to work on, a ‘build your own toolbox’ session. I have trialled this project a few times and it is something I am hoping to develop further, not only as an interactive workshop, but also a ‘build at home’ kit that would be available as a mail-order service.

What’s your proudest achievement?

I set up the blog and all of its related initiatives honestly with the intention of trying to do good within the industry and help pass on some of the lessons I had learnt, so seeing how well people have responded and engaged with it is definitely my greatest achievement. However, in addition to that, I have received lots of recognition from people in industry, and been rewarded with several amazing opportunities – some of which are still in the pipeline! For example, receiving a place on the 2017 LINLEY Summer School, invited to Nottingham Trent as a guest lecturer, being awarded funding from Oxford Brookes to create a printed version of THIS GIRL MAKES, being able to deliver workshops through Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum and being showcased in several magazines and blogs. This recognition is a huge confidence booster and massive compliment for all the work I have put into THIS GIRL MAKES. It also helps spread the message further and hopefully make more of an impact by encouraging more women to get into making!

…and your biggest (silliest) embarrassment?

I can’t really think of anything too embarrassing, although reading back through old blog posts can be incredibly cringey! It’s sometimes like reading your teenage diary… I have a habit of being ultra positive and emotional in my writing. I will admit that I make mistakes ALL the time. But I am happy to, because not only does it prove that I am human but it also teaches me a lot. Lessons in pricing, methods of marketing, best ways to communicate… they are all things I have made mistakes in and I am definitely improving on.

How do you hope This Girl Makes will evolve in the future?

I have secured a job as furniture design engineer from September, which will teach me a lot and ensure I keep improving my technical design skills, and will be full-time. So I hope THIS GIRL MAKES can continue to be a rewarding side project that will allow me to apply all the new knowledge I will be gaining though this job opportunity. Continuing to reach out to other designers and makers for the blog posts will continue to develop my network and help me feel supported as I enter further into the industry. I have two exhibition opportunities in the pipeline, so they should be a great way of showcasing the project and recruiting new members/followers. The first THIS GIRL MAKES printed publication is currently being worked on, and will be printed/available in October 2018 (get in touch!) And I really hope I will have some time to develop a mail order service that offers ‘build at home’ projects that encourage people to be more craft and get making. It is such a rewarding skill and outlet for people to have, especially young women!

Follow Harriet on Instagram to find out more: @harrietpoppy

Website: this-girl-makes.com

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