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In the next of our Meet the Maker features, looking at contemporary Shetland craft makers showcased in our current ShetlandMade exhibition, we talk to the team at Nielanell about their work.

Where do you do your work?

The Nielanell studio is situated in the small village of Hoswick in the south end of Shetland. The studio/shop was once Niela’s garage and has grown organically into the colourful oasis of knitwear you’ll find today.

What is your background?

Nielanell was established by designer Niela Kalra 14 years ago. Canadian-born to a Scottish mother and Indian father, Niela worked for many years as a defence lawyer in Scotland before discovering Shetland and retraining in textiles. The idea of following your own creative path is reflected in the Nielanell team where a wide variety of backgrounds and experience is valued.

Who or what do you draw inspiration from? What motivates you to do what you do?

Niela’s designs are very often motived by questions and abstract concepts. The process of making the intangible, tangible, is at the heart of many of our collections. In the Marlet collection for example, ideas of camouflage and the art of being seen and unseen were explored - there are times when we may want to blend into the background and times when we want to stand apart. These considerations were translated into the Marlet textile by Niela through the use of patterns found on the ear of the Indian elephant.

How do you work, what is your process? What's your favourite part of the process?

Concept led ideas are translated into tangible things by generating imagery and ideas through other mediums such as printmaking and glass. The outcome (in 2D or 3D) is then further distilled and materiality is considered, i.e.whether the final object will be knitwear. If so, rigorous prototyping is done and relevant colour ways are decided. The process continues once the item is sold and worn by the wearer and the garment becomes a part of their own story.

Do you have a favourite piece to make?

Niela loves making Marlet wraps and the way the colours mingle on the piece when it is worn. She loves the shape and the influences. It was the first garment Niela made in the Marlet collection and from there she developed the process she now uses all the time when developing a collection.

What are your most popular pieces?

Our Rigg capes and Vaarie jackets were some of the first pieces Niela made when she started Nielanell and they remain some of our best sellers. This is testament to the fact that nothing at Nielanell is trend or fashion led - we hope people can choose things that they can truly enjoy wearing for a lifetime. Many people have several pieces of the same garment in different colours.

How long does it tend to take you to complete a piece?

Each of our pieces takes several weeks and several pairs of hands to complete.

What does your craft mean to you?

The craft enables Niela and team to earn a living whilst creating, something we all feel passionate about.

Do you make your craft full time or do you have another job?

Nielanell is a full-time plus job! Between us we manage the studio and website whilst squeezing in studies in art and textiles too.

Art aside, what do you like to do in your spare time?

We all love making, outside of Nielanell you will find the us on various ventures with paint, knit, weave, print and glass.

If you could own another artist’s work, who would you choose? Why?

We have paintings by many Shetland painters on display in the studio and in our homes - we are lucky to be surrounded by too much inspiration to choose!

What constitutes a successful piece for you?

It is the wearer that makes a piece successful. There is nothing more rewarding than when a person pulls out and tries on something that just works for them. The process of choosing a garment is very personal - we all have our favourite shapes, textures and colours but the ‘right’ piece can still come as a surprise. There is no bigger success than watching someone put something on that makes then feel good about themselves. If a customer puts on a piece and looks into the mirror and smiles, it is very rewarding.

How has your practice changed over time?

Niela’s designs have become more a bit more refined in both process and outcome over time, though the relationships between garments old and new is still evident.

What is next for you?

We want to extend the brand to include other art forms - we all enjoy working in a variety of mediums and we would like incorporate some of these into Nielanell.

You can see Nielanell's work as part of the current set of ShetlandMade exhibitions at Bonhoga Gallery during opening hours Wednesday - Sunday, 10:30am - 4:30pm until the exhibition ends on Sunday 4 September.

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