Ella Merriman is an artist, designer and craftswoman based in East London. She works predominantly in rush, a traditional basket weaving material, to create pieces that she describes as being ‘love letters to Mother Earth’.

Her process of creation is a collaboration between the artist and material. As no human is the same, neither are the rush stems and Ella chooses to respect each one, working symbiotically with the plant to craft her pieces.

As a Londoner with minimal access to the great outdoors, she believes that her practice reunites her with the land and she finds a deep sense of belonging and grounding within her making process.

She has worked in a range of materials since graduating from a BA in Furniture and Product Design but has found a passion for working with natural materials in recent years.

Since discovering rush basketry on a short course she has become fascinated by the history of basketmaking and loves to research and explore traditional weaving techniques.

Where are you based?
My current studio is in Clapton, North London. It has wonderful windows but gets rather chilly in winter.

Do you have any morning rituals before arriving at your studio?
I always have a notebook with me wherever I go and I start the day by writing and sketching in my studio. I often feel like my head is full of new designs and ideas, and I have to get them onto paper before I lose them. I'm always trying to do too many things at once, so sitting down with a coffee for half an hour and getting everything onto a page is really helpful first thing in the morning.

Where do your source your materials from?
This summer I’m going to harvest my own rush for the first time and I can’t wait! I love that I can experience my material in so many forms - as a growing plant, a dried stem, mellowed weavers and a functional product. I believe that designers, artists and makers have a huge responsibility to create in a sustainable and ethical way and I try to make all of my creative decisions with this in mind.

How long does each handwoven piece take to make?
It varies from piece to piece but anywhere from a few hours to several days.

How does your design process work from idea to finished product?
I see my process as a collaboration with the material and so I try to make intuitively, working with the rush stems that are available. I am really enjoying researching the history of rush basketry and have discovered that my local library has several incredible books on the subject. The last book I found hadn’t been taken out since 1979 which made me a bit sad. I like to try and integrate the traditional techniques I am learning about into my pieces whilst designing with a more contemporary aesthetic.

How would you describe the ethos behind Studio Merriman?
I’m not sure it is an ‘ethos’ but I have finally accepted that I create my best work and am at my most imaginative when I am feeling happy. Of course it isn’t possible to be permanently happy but trying to maintain a balance between making, family, friends and exercise generally makes my work so much better.

What do you listen to or watch while you work?
I am a massive fan of BBC Radio 4. I love the variety of programmes and feel like I learn so much from a day of listening. My favourite programme is Desert Island Discs, particularly the episodes with Kirsty Young and my all time favourite from the archive is her interview with Dustin Hoffman.

Who inspires you?
There are several artists who I always look to when I am in need of inspiration and they are Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse and Barbara Hepworth. Agnes Martin in particular as I have a slight obsession with squared paper. My boyfriend gifted me a notebook last christmas which has hundreds of different types of grid paper within it and I can’t bear to write in it because  I think it is so beautiful. I am also very lucky to have some incredible creative friends who constantly inspire and encourage me. Being able to discuss your work with people who know you well is such a privilege.

How do you overcome creative lulls?
As I have a restricted amount of time to weave and be creative, I feel guilty if I do not maximise my time. However, I am beginning to realise that forcing the process rarely creates my best work and I end up snapping a lot of stems through carelessness when I am not enjoying the process. I am slowly learning to deal with my creative lulls in a kinder way and I generally find taking myself for a walk for an hour can completely change my headspace and I can go back to a piece with fresh eyes and renewed energy.

What is your favourite material to work with and why?
Rush! I have worked with a lot of other materials over the last decade but finding rush feels like coming home. I love the fact that the stems are so delicate and yet have such strength when woven together. I also enjoy the circularity of working with rush and find comfort in knowing that my pieces can biodegrade and return to the ground from whence they came.

Do you have other projects in the pipeline?
I am about to begin working on a lighting collection which has been in my head for a while. I have a lot of messy sketches to work from but I am prepared for the designs to change and develop as I start making.

What are you reading at the moment?
The most beautiful and joyous book called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was gifted to me by a lovely friend, the artist Celeste McEvoy and it is teaching me so much about the relationship between humans and plants. I find it very moving.

What dream would you still like to fulfil?
That is a secret but I will let you know if it happens.

Do you have any tips you'd like to share with other artists?
I once read a book that explained how creative time isn’t linear and it is a concept I return to a lot when I am worrying about getting enough ‘creative work’ done in the studio. Remembering that being creative is not a 9-5 job and that you are in fact constantly taking in inspiration and coming up with ideas really comforts me - especially on an unproductive studio day.

Find our curated collection of Studio Merriman's beautiful rush woven pieces here.