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Introducing the first of a programme of maker focus blogs featuring the artists, designers and makers exhibiting as part of ShetlandMade 2019.

Yala – Coleen Thomson

I come from a creative family, and have always been creatively minded. I studied Art at school as well as doing additional pottery and printing modules. I have always had a keen interest in learning new techniques and skills.

I was involved with the Yell Crafts project years ago which brought together artists and makers from the isle of Yell to promote and sell their work. A research trip to Orkney proved very inspirational and I became more and more drawn to silver jewellery making, attending several jewellery workshops to gain specific skills and knowledge, however, it took many more years before I had the opportunity to put my passion for making into action!

In 2014, my main place of work closed and this became the catalyst for me to finally start my own jewellery practice. This also coincided with the fact that my family were growing up and beginning to leave home, allowing me the time I needed to develop my business. Since then I have set up a small workshop and studio in East Yell, Shetland and have invested in basic equipment, incorporating a soldering kit, mandrels, bench polisher, hammers, rollers, pliers, etc. I work with sterling silver sheet metal as well as silver art clay and have invested time in learning how to work with each raw material to create my pieces.

I have lived in Shetland all my life and my work is inspired by Shetland, its history and culture. I love the diverse landscapes and seascapes, the dramatic coastlines and the ever changing light and I try to capture an element of this in my jewellery. During my childhood many a day was spent playing at the beach below our house and I can remember my Granny blowing a whistle when it was time to come up for mealtimes.

I was born and brought up in Yell and wanted this to be reflected in the name of my venture. ‘Yala’ is derivative of the old Norse name for Yell.

I am always experimenting with designs and there is always more to learn. I intend to develop my skills and knowledge further so that I can expand my business and create more new exciting pieces. I have also attended Business Start-up and Marketing courses which have which have all been helpful.

I exhibited my first ever piece of Fine Silver jewellery at the Open Exhibition in Bonhoga in 2014 and since then I have seen my business grow…

I exhibited at the Shetland Arts & Crafts Fair in 2014 for the first time and was amazed by the response I got from the public. I won a trophy that year for the best stall design which was a huge honour. I have since attended the Fair every year. This is my main selling event and a fantastic opportunity to meet customers and gain feedback on my pieces, although I still find the event slightly nerve wracking.

2015 became a busy year as I began selling work through Ninian gift shop in Lerwick and the Shetland Gallery in Yell as well as exhibiting in the Old Haa, Burravoe. I then supplied work to Shetland Museum and Sumburgh Lighthouse. As my business has grown I have been able to supply outlets off Shetland, including Orkney, Aberdeen, Oban and Culross.

In 2018 I had the privilege of designing and creating all the jewellery for the Lerwick Up Helly Aa Jarl Squad. I was delighted with the outcome and the feedback from the squad.

More recently I have set up “Yala” Facebook and Instagram pages in response to customers asking where my jewellery could be viewed. The Facebook page has had an amazing and immediate response and continues to be a successful platform for me to communicate about my work and sell it.

Long term I hope to keep building my customer base in Shetland and out with and keep creating jewellery that others want to wear. I will also continue to work on my skills to enable me to develop new ranges. As I gain in confidence this allows me to be braver with design.I use mainly sterling silver (either in sheet or wire form), but also use Silver Art Clay, this is a fascinating material which consists of tiny particles of silver mixed with organic binders and water. It can be moulded like clay, and then fired, the binders burn off and the finished result is 99.9% pure fine silver. After firing it can be drilled, polished, burnished, enameled, just as you would with sterling silver, but it also has the benefit of being more malleable and so is able to be shaped easily. I also use various materials and texture plates to give the silver a variety of textures before shaping into various forms and shapes. I particularly like using texture hammers to create interesting surface designs.

So far my Shetland collections include: Peerie Crofthoose, Shoormal, Mackerel and Shetland and I have a small range of pieces using simple heart and star shapes.

Peerie Crofthoose: this range is probably my favourite so far. I have developed this collection to include pendants, earrings, brooches and cufflinks. The inspiration comes from the abandoned crofthooses so easily spotted in our landscape and I think about the stories they could tell.

Shoormal: incorporating a Beach stones pendant, Seaweed pendant, Mussel pendant and Wave bangles. The Beach stones pendant incorporates three different sized/textured stones and the new Seaweed pendant on a sterling silver neck wire is my newest piece. I love looking at the huge variety of shapes, colours and textures of seaweed and this is a range I am hoping to develop! I also like gathering mussels and have added two new Mussel designs – a spiral and a linear design.

Mackerel: I love going off to the eela - and also love mackerel! I make 2 sizes of the mackerel pendant (big and peerie) and a brooch incorporating one of each – and have recently started making earrings to complement them.

Shetland: this collection includes pendants, earrings and charm bangles and I intend to develop matching cufflinks. I have lived on the East side of Yell all my life and love walking around 'da banks' and the Shetland range relates to this. All of the 'Shetland' pendants are individually made by hand and reflect the 'banks' and the sun twinkling on the sea!

I love making jewellery and especially love seeing others wearing it!

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