Artist Hillery Sproatt's blankets feel like no home textile we've ever seen before. Full of color and a childlike wonder at the natural world, this is art that can be washed and dried in a machine(!) We spoke to the artist to learn about what inspires her work and how her mom was a massive inspiration for her future, thriving blanket biz.
Hillery's mom, Debra Weiss, is clearly a huge influence on her — past and present. Debra raised Hillery and her two siblings as a single parent. When Hillery was a teen, mom Debra started her own business — Rebe, a line of extremely cool unisex clothing, all designed by Weiss. Debra sells her goods at craft fairs and at Specks & Keepings, which is a project run by the mother-daughter duo.
It's easy to see the influence of Debra's work in Hillery's. Debra's work melds the functional and utilitarian with the delightfully weird. Weiss loves Japanese design, and it shows in her garments. It also shows in daughter Hillery's work.
"I enjoy color, I enjoy good design and simplicity," she says of her influences. "But I also enjoy old objects, things that have been well used and loved." What seems like a dichotomy between old and newer (think: Scandinavian modern mingled with age-old tapestries) is really very congruent in her designs.
Take her Swiss Fields Blanket in pink, for kids. It's clearly made with children in mind — abstract tree and plant life shapes are rendered in yellow, with outlines of people hard at work that are globulous and delightfully wobbly. The adult-sized Swiss Fields Blanket — in a lovely black-and-white scale — seems almost too lovely to put on a bed or couch; it might actually belong carefully pinned to the wall. These blankets depict a scene we want to live in more than a blanket we would want to cuddle up with (though we will gladly engage in the latter.)
"I love children’s artwork. Paul Klee is one of my favorites as is Suma Maruki, a Japanese self taught artist who started working later in life," says Hillery of her greatest influences. A self-taught theme runs through much of the art she loves. The galleries she visited this past fall, in Heidelberg, Germany, featured really special kinds of art and clearly made a huge impact on her. "The Prinzhorn Collection features the work of artists who were being treated in a psychiatric hospital. Their work was collected and kept safe from the Nazis," she relays. "Meanwhile the Museum Haus Cajeth shows the work of artists with disabilities and features a downstairs gallery and bookshop that highlights the work of self-taught artists."
All of the pieces that Hillery sells have a similar quality and also show her love of this kind of art. They're colorful and fun, bursting with images and shapes that are just slightly abstract — familiar to things we know, but just left of center. It combines a childlike vibe with art-school sophistication. Made for both children and adults, this is art made portable and almost utilitarian. Art can give you warm fuzzies; Hillery's art will actually keep you warm.
Hillery's puts her belief in pre-loved things into action with her own work. Every blanket is made from 80% recycled cotton. This pre-consumer fiber is made from materials discarded during the cut-and-sew process; it's spun into new yards and is ready to be given new life. Hillery works with a knitting mill to whom this kind of recycling is very important — which is perfect, because she feels the exact same way. "I think any opportunity we have to reuse/repurpose material that is already in existence is important and helpful," she says.
For her pieces, Hillery starts with paintings that are then translated to become the finished product, a machine-knit blanket. There is definitely some conflict in this process, she explains:
"I try very hard not to paint for blankets, as my paintings become limited and somewhat simplified. Instead, I try to think of painting as a separate practice that informs the textiles. Some paintings become blankets and others don’t. Each process and practice is separate but connected. I try to honor each part of the process."
Hillery enlisted a textile-designer friend to help her make the move from paper to fabric. And while it's clear that Hillery's forte is definitely designing for these textiles, not all paintings are bound for the knitting machine. And that's OK. "I sample so many blankets that just don’t work for me," says Hillery. "It’s part of the design process; there’s lots of play."
Hillery's work is so effervescent that to an outsider it would seem almost easy to complete. But that's not so — she gets in ruts, too. "Making things for a living is work like anything else," she says. "Some days are enjoyable, other days are difficult, but you show up for it just the same."
Hillery has some advice for those looking to branch out themselves into creative fields and projects: just do it. "It takes time to work up to it, but beginning something is the most important part," she says. "I wouldn’t know that I could make a living from my work had I not tried."
Wise words, indeed.
This article was written by Alison Baitz. Photo credits as follows : Cover portrait by: Rejuvenation. Image 1: Portait of Hillery Sproatt =Matthew Yake, Photos of the paintings = Debbie Carlos and Kate Bek. Image 2: Photos of the paintings = Debbie Carlos and Kate Bek, Lifestyle and product photos of the blankets = David Studarus. Image 3: Lifestyle and product photos of the blankets = David Studarus. Image 4: Lifestyle and product photos of the blankets = David Studarus, Lifestyle photo of a young girl wrapped in Blanket = Michael Newstead. Image 5: Lifestyle photos of the blankets = David Studarus, Photo of the tablecloth = Unison.