It’s true. When creatively talented women come together, wondrous things happen!
These stunning hand-thrown ceramic vessels have been created by Francesca Hague of Grey Suit Clay and Heather Gilberthorpe Pell of Lit, who have joined forces to produce an exclusive collection of sculptural homeware candles. The beautiful ceramic pot encasing the wax has specifically been designed to be reused long after the candle has finished burning, as a stand-alone piece, a setting for the dinner table or simply holding house plants.
The two Sheffield-based brands felt the time was right for two independent female entrepreneurs to come together and create something special for people to enjoy in their homes. Made with tinted clays of peach and olive tones, the ceramic vessel is filled with the naturally scented rapeseed candle, featuring top notes of clary sage and a blend of base notes, including lavender and frankincense, made specially for the collaboration.
Franky came to pottery initially as a means to work herself out of a funk. “Prior to creating Grey Suit Clay, I was an art school graduate with an extensive and various career in waitressing, gardening, and even the odd bit of portrait painting,” she tells me. “In 2014, I found myself managing a small gallery, and feeling fairly unhappy and creatively stunted. To try and remedy both these things, my boyfriend bought me a spot on an evening class ceramics course at Hillsborough College, and that really was that! I fell in love with clay completely. Within a couple of months, I’d picked up a beaten up old kiln from eBay, a workhorse of a wheel that a friend was selling (the same wheel I still use every day), and turned my little painter’s studio into a highly impractical ceramic one.”
I think at the start of this year we both were feeling a little flat maybe, and so the opportunity to work with a friend on something a little different and fun just seemed like a great idea!
Heather’s pathway to Lit was facilitated by the pandemic. “After studying Fine Art at university, I worked in the cultural sector and events industry,” she says. “ I thrive on creative change and value opportunities to develop, so when all event work stopped during the first lockdown I began re-assessing my life values and priorities, and found myself thinking about the candles that I’d really enjoyed making as presents the year before.”
“I really value aromatherapy in my day-to-day and wanted to create high quality, sustainable products that I would appreciate at home. I began making candles again and formulating the ethos and building blocks of Lit, at the beginning of lockdown 2020. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to create a sellable brand; it began as a means to be positive and productive, but I really enjoyed the process and with the help of talented friends, Lit developed and our sustainable candle brand was born.”
“My inspiration was always to make functional ceramic work,” says Franky. “Timeless pieces with a contemporary feel that people would use everyday; valued but not precious. There’s been a whole lot of trial-and-error, but my core palette from the start has been a nod to my Welsh homeland; rich slate blues, sea toned greens and soft, sandy gold. Ceramics is a constant study in play though, and I’m forever experimenting.”
“I’ve not yet gotten to the point where I’m digging my own clay – though that’s definitely another thing I’m keen to explore – so I currently source the majority of my materials from a local company in Doncaster,” she tells me. “Ceramics as a medium is labour intensive, both mentally and physically. You could learn about it forever. It’s also a practice that consciously works with a finite resource, and I’m careful to not waste the materials I work with. The majority of the time, I make-to-order. If and when I have work remaining from experiments or sales, I’ll offer these up in Open Studio or Seconds Sale situations.”
“Quality and sustainability are at the core of the Lit brand,” explains Heather. “Our candles need to smell amazing and be made and packaged using sustainably sourced materials. The beginning of the creative process (and my favourite part!) is imagining and developing the scents. A lot of time is spent researching, mixing and trying different blends before pouring burning trial candles – they smell quite different once set. It’s an all-engrossing process and one that I love.”
“Our candles are 100% natural and made from GMM-free rapeseed wax sourced from the UK & EU, giving them a much lower carbon footprint than soy-based candles,” she tells me. “They’re scented with 100% pure essential oil blends, that release a full and pure scent with no carcinogens or soot, additives or parabens. All our packaging is recyclable and reusable, and totally plastic free. We also aim to work as locally as possible; our design work is with AW-AR Studio and print with ASAP, both based in Sheffield. Our labels are made from GF Smith papers, manufactured in the UK and printed with vegetable ink. We also donate £1 from every candle sold to the WWF.”
“I’ve really admired Heather for setting out on her own and launching a new business, especially during this last strange year,” says Franky. “To forge ahead with something unknown and have been able to create such a strong brand and a beautiful product – that’s the kind of energy I want to collaborate with! At Grey Suit Clay, I spend the majority of my day-to-day practice working alone in my studio, and sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated. To have the opportunity to work alongside a friend – a woman I admire – and bring both our ideas to the table to create a product we both feel so completely in love with, it’s a creative joy!”
“The collaborative process is an exciting opportunity to learn,” says Heather, “it challenges thought processes and pushes you to question every step. We’ve been great friends for years and I’ve always loved and admired Franky’s work; she creates beautiful pieces that I instantly want to use and appreciate at home. The opportunity to develop something together has been really exciting and quite a privilege to witness Franky throwing on the wheel!”
“I think at the start of this year we both were feeling a little flat maybe, and so the opportunity to work with a friend on something a little different and fun just seemed like a great idea!” continues Franky. “I love to collaborate – it’s a treat for me to step out of the solo maker mindset – and ceramics and candles were just such a classic fit. It also works out well that I’m a huge fan of Lit, and have at least one of their scents burning at any one time – in my home or studio! A collaborative scent? A ceramic candle vessel? That was just too good to not do!”
When I ask them both why they feel traditional crafts have seen such a resurgence in recent years – even before the pandemic took hold – they both feel that slow making provides an active counter to the fast pace of day-to-day modern life. “It’s become quite ‘normal’ to be continually busy,” says Heather, “but I think it’s healthy to make a concerted effort to slow down and take the time to enjoy something, to relish a process and be proud of the outcome. Making with our hands is so natural; we enjoy it as children and it’s still a natural thing to enjoy as an adult.”
Franky concurs. “The shift in people investing more into locally sourced and hand crafted work has been a palpable one. We’re all becoming far more aware of the issues with over-consumption and the message of ‘Buy Less, Buy Well’ has really come to the fore in recent years. I guess in many ways the surge in popularity has a huge amount to do with social media. Instagram in particular makes studio environments so accessible, and when you can watch every stage of something being made by a pair of hands and understand it – perhaps even feel involved with the process of it – then it can really change your mindset to the value of things.”
Looking ahead, Heather is feeling ambitious. “We’re still in our first year after launching but I’m currently working to develop our signature range of scents, as well as a few other creative collaborations. I really enjoy working with others; it excites my own creativity, broadens my thinking and helps to nurture our brand. I really want Lit to continue growing while holding our core values, quality and sustainability, to heart.”
Franky is keen to explore working more sculpturally with ceramics, possibly with a view to an exhibition. “Expanding the studio and experimenting with different ways of working is definitely on the cards for this year,” she tells me, “along with another collaboration or two, although I’m still in very early discussions on these so will have to get back to you…”
All photography © Helena Dolby, used with permission.