Industry recognition a milestone in super student Sam’s incredible journey

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IT’S been an incredible month for Jedburgh’s Samantha Fenn-Johnston, writes Andrew Keddie.

Last month, she graduated with a first- class honours degree in textile design from Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels, winning the prestigious Dr Oliver Award for earning the highest marks of any fourth year student.

And just last week she displayed her unique range of printed digital textiles at the prestigious New Designers London show, where 200 UK design schools enter their top students.

On the opening day of that event in Islington, where new talent gets the chance to meet media and industry movers and shakers, Sam, pictured left, was awarded the Harlequin Award, which carries a £1,500 cash prize, by the eponymous market leaders in decorative interior design, from wallpaper to bed linen.

The famous-name firm also purchased four of Sam’s fabric designs and have asked her to help develop a new collection.

The prize also includes a two-week, all-expenses-paid work placement at Harlequin’s design studio at Loughborough and a year’s membership on the the New Designers London website.

The judges believed Sam’s work represented a new interior direction and praised the “inspirational use of colour”.

Sam’s collection is inspired by Vorticism, the short-lived modernist movement in British art and poetry of the early 20th century, growing out of Cubism and more closely related to Futurism.

In a Vorticist painting, life is shown as an array of bold lines and harsh colours drawing the viewer’s eye into the centre of the canvas.

“I am fascinated by lines, shapes and angles sourced from industrial and architectural constructions and I develop my designs by manipulating images into hand-drawn graphic artwork,” explained Sam of Castlegate.

“I then enhance these designs by layering techiniques within screen and digital print and, in this year’s collection, I’ve been using eco-friendly wool for fashion interiors.”

The journey to industry recognition has been a long one for Sam, now 36.

Educated at Stirling High, she studied graphic art and design at Falkirk College. She enjoyed some success as a freelance, supplementing her income at a call centre where her employer allowed her to work part-time while she created a porfolio at the famous Glasgow School of Art. This led to an unconditional offer to study at Heriot Watt’s School of Textile Design in Galashiels – and she has never looked back.

“It’s been a fantastic journey and the team at Heriot-Watt, particularly my tutor Mark Parker, have been a great source of inspiration and guidance,” said Sam, who today funds her studies by working at the Woodside Walled Garden cafe and nursery on the Monteviot estate near Ancrum.

She is now looking forward to taking a Masters in fashion and textile design at Netherdale which she hopes to fund through sponsorship and sales from her own website: www.samfenn johnston.com

Sam’s mum Jan told us: “Sam has a great gift and her family, who moved to the Borders when she won her place at Heriot-Watt, is enormously proud of what she has achieved. Her style, like her personality, is unique.”