Meet the maker: Sally Gilford

Fascinated and inspired by the patterns and colours produced by organisms, artist Sally Gilford creates unique screen printed textiles from her Salford studio. Photographs Jesse Wild

Sally Gilford

Artist, maker, collaborator, educator – Sally Gilford wears a variety of creative hats. Based at Islington Mill studios in Salford,
a hub of creative endeavour (where she co-founded screen print specialists One69A almost 10 years ago), she specialises in textiles.

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Currently working with researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research (WTCCMR), she uses microscopic biological images to create the vivid designs that adorn her fabrics, clothing, cushions, bags and other products.

But that’s by no means all – she’s a member of >Thread { } collective, creating print designs using analogue and digital processes and human bio data, and teaches screen printing courses. She is also a creative practitioner, working with collections
and exhibitions alongside internationally recognised galleries and museums.

Sally Gilford

What’s your background?

I already had an existing interest in textiles from previous study at college and university and, although I went to art school in Manchester, it wasn’t until after I graduated that I started screen printing. A close friend from university wanted to do a fanzine for another friend’s cafe. He built a set up in the cafe’s basement using outdoor security lights, taught himself how to screen print and published the ’zine – full DIY style! 

I had started working as a freelance creative practitioner and thought that screen printing could translate really well into the work I was doing, so we both pretty much taught ourselves and things progressed really quickly from there.

Within a few months we needed a bigger space. We moved into the basement of my rented house, but quickly outgrew that too, so we decided to quit our other jobs and go for it – that’s when we moved into Islington Mill. Since then, screen printing has pretty much been a way of life.

Sally Gilford

What inspires your designs?

Humans and nature. I find patterns and colours in biology fascinating. I’m very interested in using textiles and print to tell stories in unexpected ways.

Tell us about your process

My base design originates from a photographic image captured by the researchers [at WTCCMR] using a powerful microscope. I digitally manipulate the design to change scale, colour and pattern, then separate it into layers to use for screen printing by hand on fabric. I enjoy using both analogue and digital processes as it allows for much more diversity.

Sally Gilford

Which other designers or makers inspire you?

I love pretty much anything by Timorous Beasties, particularly the recent collaboration with Bill Amberg at the Tom Dixon studio, which I went to see at the London Design Fair in September. I was pretty blown away by all of the work there – the hyperreal printed leather was incredible.

What is Islington Mill like to work in?

Historically a textile mill, it’s now home to over 100 artists working in a wide range of practices, continually evolving and creating together. I’m lucky to work with some fantastically inspiring people.

Do you have a proudest moment of your career to date?

There have been so many memorable moments over the past 10 years – the most recent achievement has been the launch of Salford Makers. Since founding the collective last year, we have a full programme of public workshops and courses, and have also recently opened a pop-up shop just around the corner from our studio.

What are you currently working on?

A heritage project for the Bridgewater Canal called Who’s That Girl?, uncovering the hidden stories of the women on the waterway.

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Any plans for the future?

I’m launching a social enterprise with Salford Makers, working with local communities on the design and making process to share skills and practices, and create new products focusing on collaboration, inclusivity and wellbeing. And I’m also working on some new fabric designs that feature parasites – yes, gut worms!