Zeena Shah is a talented London-based textile designer who is passionate about screen printing. Her journey to doing what she loves began in 2009 when she quit her day job to launch her own brand of hand printed textiles. Fast-forward a few years and not only is she running her own successful business, she’s inspiring others to follow their creative dreams too.
- What’s your story?
I began my journey at Chelsea school of Art & Design many moons ago now where I studied Textile Design. I specialised in print design and I soon fell in love with everything print and pattern. After art school I worked with lots of different companies; I guess I wasn’t entirely sure where I fitted in so tried a bit of everything. I worked for an illustrator, a pattern cutter, an interior designer, a fashion start-up, and a print design studio. In doing so not only did I learn about the design world and how to become a designer, I realised that I really wanted to create my own designs and products. Heart Zeena was born in late 2009 and my business has been growing organically ever since.
- What do you love about printing by hand?
I have always loved the immediacy of printing. My favourite part of the process is lifting up your tools and seeing how a block of colour, a shape or a pattern has formed.
- Was there ever a point where you questioned whether you could make a living by creating hand-printed textiles? How did you get through it?
Gosh, this happens all the time. The market can be so volatile that it’s normal to have a real high and then a real low. I’ve learnt to be very careful with my cash flow and, knowing that there will be peaks and troughs, I always plan for quieter months. I also make the most of busy periods, like Christmas, by creating seasonal limited edition pieces. I’ve also learnt to choose what makes me happy and to always trust my gut instinct.
- What was the first piece of work you ever sold?
I sold a cushion that I’d made from two pieces of screen-printed fabric finished with an embroidered heart on the back. It was a one-off – and a real labour of love. It went to a lovely lady who adored it so I was over the moon.
- You’ve featured on a number of prime time TV shows – can you tell us more about these?
A-ha, yes! They came about just by chance really. I had a phone call from the BBC show The Apprentice asking if they could come by my Shoreditch studio. Before I knew it one of the contestants and a film crew turned up and bought some of my goods – only to try and undercut me later!
The team from Channel 4 gave me a call too, as they’d seen my work online, to ask me if I’d appear on Kirstie’s Vintage Home. I featured in two episodes and had fun showing Kirstie Allsopp how to lino print and stitch up a mini cushion.
- You source your materials from all over the UK. How do choose suppliers? Can you talk us through your process…
I feel it’s really important to make use of the wonderful manufacturers we have here in the UK and finding the right ones can be a time-consuming process. I’ve spent many hours researching, getting in touch and sampling products to make sure they are the right fit – but it’s totally worth it.
There are some really great directories out there now and these can dramatically reduce the time you need to spend looking fir the right suppliers so I’d recommend doing your homework and talking to people in the industry. I am all for sharing knowledge. As small business owners we need to help and support each other wherever we can.
- You run a range of printmaking workshops. What can people expect from them?
In my most popular workshop you come up with your own design and then I teach you how to get it print-ready. It’s great fun and you leave with your very own screen-printed tea towel or tote bag. I also teach workshops on lino printing, drawing, mark making and sewing. In the sewing one you make a lampshade or sew a cotton cushion.
- You’ve now got two awesome books under your belt – congratulations! For anyone who hasn’t seen them can you tell us a bit about them?
It feels incredible to be the author of not just one, but two books! I still can’t quite believe that I’ve written one and illustrated the other. I was lucky enough to be approached by two different publishers and offered one deal very soon after the other. Both books were a labour of love and I put all of my energy, passion and ideas into them. I really hope they are enjoyed.
My first book, How to Print Fabric, is a collection of 20 printmaking projects and 20 sewing projects. It guides you through the printmaking process from beginner level to advanced. I also show you how to sew your fabric onto objects in your home to give them a new look, and share some great ‘no sew’ projects too. My second book, Scandia: A Colouring Journey is the mindful colouring book I illustrated. It has my signature folky feel and the 48 illustrations will see you relaxing as you roam the wilds of a Scandinavian wonderland.
- What inspires you?
My inspiration always comes from the things I see around me, and nature and animals have a huge influence on my work. I admire pattern designers such a Vera Neuman and Celia Birtwell and I especially love Yayoi Kusama. I highly recommend a visit to her London exhibition.
- How would you describe yourself in three words?
Creative, Ambitious, Positive
- What kind of team do you have around you to support you and your business?
- Can you tell us something that most people don’t know about you?
I am a total neat freak, I hate mushrooms and my favourite flowers are peonies.
- What are you working on at the moment and what’s next?
I’m working on a collaboration with the fabulous sew & sew at the moment. We’ll be launching some embroidery kits using some of the illustrations from my colouring book Scandia and you’ll soon be able to colour with thread as well as colouring pencils!
- What’s the big dream?
I’d love to create a printmaking hub; somewhere creatives can drop in, meet up, collaborate, share ideas and generally just have a good old chat.
ZEENA’S 10 TOP TIPS FOR PRINTING BY HAND
- Never hold your inky squeedgee over your freshly printed work… it causes so many accidents!
- Masking tape is your friend.
- Don’t throw anything away – even rubber bands are a printing tool.
- Always keep baby wipes to hand.
- Think about the negative space as well as the positive.
- Layer up colours and experiment with different techniques to get different effects.
- Techniques work across both fabrics and paper so try making a coordinating set.
- Printing shouldn’t be perfect. Part of the charm is the unusual line/ texture or grain that is a product of printing by hand.
- Press firmly when applying pressure to a tool.
- Getting messy is part of the process!