Sonya Winner’s bold and colorful rug designs have taken the interiors world by storm since they were first introduced. With a strong emphasis on quality hand crafting and unmatched artistic designs, Sonya Winner rugs are wonderfully unique and have the ability to change the mood of any room in an instant. The LuxPad interviews Sonya herself to discover where her creative inspiration comes from and the extensive production process each rug goes through…
What first inspired you to embark upon a career in the rug making industry?
I was invited as one of 40 artists and designers to design a rug for the 40th anniversary of a store in London. As a designer, to see my vision initially created on an A4 page translated into a large 3 dimensional wool rug was amazing. When I came to place it in my home I was astonished to find how the rug totally changed the room. Not only was the injection of color transformational but the rug with its dense tufted New Zealand wool fibers changed the acoustics of the room, soaking up sound and making the room inviting and cozy. Since creating this first rug I have fallen in love with creating vibrant contemporary rugs.
To my delight, this first rug was picked up by the press and featured in magazines such as Wallpaper, Times Bricks and Mortar, Elle Decoration, Times Style Magazine, Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms and short-listed for an Elle Decoration Award. I started receiving rug commissions and my career as a rug designer was born! Designing rugs is a fantastic way to express your creativity – there are endless possibilities of color combinations and shape.
Where do the designs for your beautiful rugs come from? What most inspires you in the design stage?
My starting point is color. I love the effect of juxtaposing color and experimenting with how colors blend with one another. My design process involves layering colors by hand. I think of these rug designs as color experiments that continuously evolve and I never tire of experimenting with color.
In my design I like to be playful, spontaneous and not restricted by convention. For inspiration, I regularly visit art and design shows seeking out interesting and unusual new artists and designers. I record everything that excites me from food, nature, art, crafts, textiles, new products and designs so that I can refer back to these for inspiration. Looking at these inspiring images frees me to be relaxed, curious and playful allowing and accidents to evolve – experiments to happen. When I am designing I find a calm place and put on some peaceful jazz and immerse myself in my library and sketch books full of ideas I’ve jotted down. This helps to eliminate all other distractions and allows the creativity to flow. Disturb me at your peril!
Can you describe the extensive production process carried out for each handmade rug?
All our rugs are handmade which means all processes involved in manufacturing the carpet are done manually. This adds another layer of beauty to the final product and also means each piece is never identical to another. There is something special about buying something that involves craftsmanship. These skills have been passed down through generations giving a handmade piece true value. This knowledge is lost in mass production and I believe it is our duty to keep these skills alive.
Many of our rugs are hand tufted which involves 5 main processes:
1) Yarn Preparation: New Zealand wool is used for the majority of our carpets. The wool is sorted by hand and washed and dried removing impurities. It is then carded and spun using a hand wheel.
2) Dying: The dye master then prepares the dyes using Swiss powder dyes to achieve the vibrant clean flat colors which are characteristic of my designs. These dyes are free from Azo-based compounds that can be harmful to human skin and have a very good light fast rating which is not possible to achieve with natural dyes. After the yarn is dyed and dried in the sun, it is spooled into balls which are then ready to be woven.
3) Weaving: A full size diagram of the design is drawn on a stretched canvas giving the weaver a detailed plan of the design to follow. The hand held tufting tool loaded with yarn which is woven into the canvas backing to create the design. Once the design is woven the rug has a jute backing attached by adhesive.
4) Washing: Once woven the rugs are washed this brightens the colors and brings out the shine in the fibers. The rugs are then dried on the rooftops in the sun and dried rugs are then stretched to bring them back to the specified size.
5) Finishing: The front-side of the rug is then “carved” with giant scissors to accentuate the designs within the rug.
You are dedicated to supporting ethical manufacture – how does your brand support the local communities in which your rugs are made?
It is always great to have the opportunity to give back, and every small bit helps. A percentage of every rug we sell from Nepal goes to the Helpless Children’s School on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We also ensure our suppliers are members of GoodWeave.
Can you give us an insight into the GoodWeave mission?
The first GoodWeave Standard, in force since 1994, and last updated August 2012, requires producers and exporters to ensure no child labor is used in the production of rugs and to allow unannounced random inspections by local inspectors. GoodWeave has now developed and piloted a new, expanded standard for the carpet industry to address issues inter-related to child labor that include adult labor working conditions, fundamental human rights and environmental impacts.
Your rugs have been described as ‘Matisse like’ how do you transfer the painterly designs you are inspired by from paper to wool?
The translation of the design on paper into the 3D wool design specification takes quite a bit of time. I first scan my collages and sketches into the computer, then each part of the design is allocated a color and a tuft height reference. I’m very precise about color and the individual wool color systems available never have all the colors I am looking for so I use a combination of 3 different color systems. This allows me to design with all the colors I’m looking for. Samples of wool colors from the various systems are then sent to my weavers in Asia. They then mix their pigments to dye the desired shade – this wool is then sent to me to be checked and once approved the then weaving begins.
I enjoy the process of creating new designs and experimenting with color and shape, but above all I get excited about seeing the finished product.
What other sources inspire your work?
Color and bold shapes are my inspriation. I love the effect of juxtaposing color and shape and am fascinated by the effect color has on mood and space. I am excited by colors in warm sunny climates for example the rich pinks, purples and blues of the Mediterranean landscape when the sun starts to become low in the sky and bathes everything with a golden light. My interest in art and especially Matisse comes from this idea that color has the ability to bring sunshine into any space.
Do you have a favorite design?
My favorite designs from our collection are our new Jelly bean and Rothko-esque rugs we are launching at The London Design festival, which Amara will be exclusively selling. Whereas my favorite piece of design is the Viviana Watch by Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube the Swedish silversmith who was a brilliant and very original silver sculptor. Her jewelry broke with tradition, was completely ahead of her time and is still considered innovative today. She designed the first watch sold by Georg Jensen – the Vivianna bangle watch. When I first saw this watch aged 17 it struck me as the purest most simple and elegant thing I had ever seen. Vivianna’s fans included Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman and Billie Holiday, who all were fascinated by her innovative designs.