Rosa Harradine is one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout the year. Based in Wales, she creates brushes from natural fibres; the bristles are made from tampico and arenga, which are wrapped with hemp cord and finished with a cotton strap, making them completely biodegradable.
“For me, slow production is a grounded form of craft,” says Rosa Harradine, who only turned to brushmaking last year. Now, she has a signature style with hemp cord running asymmetrically down the natural bristles. Having graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London with a music degree, she was unsure of what to pursue, and began spoon carving, willow weaving and bowl turning before settling on brushmaking. “I wanted to find a new way of being creative,” she says. “I found I really enjoyed the process of creating tangible things.”
Her workshop space is at the end of her garden in Carmarthenshire, west Wales, shaded by tall pine trees. “Honestly, it’s a little bit ramshackle,” she says. “I’m sharing the space with all of our garden tools, but I am so grateful to have it.” It’s a peaceful place with the rain pattering against the old slate roof. “I can work without interruptions, apart from my neighbour’s cat who often tries to play with all of my string!” She plans to move into a new studio space next year, so there will be more room to work on new projects. Having lived in cities for eight years prior to moving to Wales, Rosa enjoys the varied scenery it offers, from forests and hills to beaches. “I find it beautiful and wild,” she says.
To create the brushes for TOAST, Rosa begins by dividing her bundle of fibre into equal sections, and wraps thread around the first section. The thread is wrapped around a rolling pin held in place underneath her feet, creating tension. “The repetition, attention to detail, and focus required to keep the thread under constant tension brings me to a meditative state of calm and reflection,” she says. Then the other bundles are added, with more thread wrapped around each. The handle is wrapped, and the cotton strap added. “The thread is pulled behind itself to lock it into place,” Rosa explains. Finally, the brush is trimmed. “It’s surprisingly physical work,” she says, and is planning to create a kind of guillotine for the trimming.
The natural brush fibres Rosa uses are arenga, from the arenga pinnata palm tree, tampico, from the agave lechuguilla cactus, and broomcorn, a type of sorghum. One of Rosa’s long-term goals is to grow her own fibres on her land, such as broomcorn. “I want my business to be as sustainable as possible,” she says. “I’m passionate about growing and sustainable land management.” This year she planted a small patch of broomcorn, but it was a little too late in the season so didn’t fully mature. These learnings Rosa will take into the future. “The fibre can be used for both brushes and full-sized brooms, so will allow my business to diversify.”
As well as larger brooms, she plans to create dustpans to go with her brushes, made from wood responsibly harvested from her small woodland, and learn about natural dyeing, so she can begin to dye the hemp thread she uses herself. “I’m really excited by people being more connected to the items they buy,” she says. “I feel such a deep connection to handmade pieces, and I hope others can have that feeling when using one of my brushes, or simply looking at them hanging on the wall.”
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Photographs by Suzie Howell.