Rosy Heywood is a Research Associate at The Centre for Print Research (CFPR) at UWE. In this interview, she discusses her work as a sustainable textiles designer & researcher, and her role in the Healthy Waters research cluster.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work in your current area?
I studied a MA in Design at UWE, during the pandemic. I started in 2019 and graduated last year, and my tutor, Dr Laura Morgan, was working at CFPR – the Centre For Print Research – which is the department that I’m working in now. She hired me as a Research Associate on a natural dyeing and laser engraved biomaterials project because my MA project was very relevant, I had focused on textiles and sustainable materials and specifically natural dyeing. So, when this project came along with Healthy Waters, it overlapped with the natural dyeing work that I did; you can’t get away from the amount of water and the toxicity of water that synthetic dyes use, so sustainable water management was an area that I was already very interested in.
So, about a month after the project with natural dyes finished, Tavs [Dr Tavs Jorgensen, Associate Professor and AHRC/RCUK Innovation Fellow] got in contact with me about the Healthy Waters project. And I thought, ‘Wow, this sounds exciting’. Ceramics is a slightly new area for me – I did do some on my Master’s, because when you first start you have to do a lot of different workshops in different areas of design – but it’s been really great to be picking up a new skill and starting to become a bit more of an expert in it. Sonny [Sonny Lee Lightfoot, Research Assistant and Product Design Technician] and Tavs have been brilliant, I’ve been able to pick up lots of skills in ceramics. For me, I’ve come into this with my design training and my design thinking, and it’s been amazing to apply that in a new, fresh area.
It’s been really interesting to hear how the arts and science departments have been collaborating on this project. What’s the experience been like for you, leaning further towards the technical scientific elements of the project?
Sadie, a MSc student who has been using our ceramic beads to test for biological filtration, produced a chart of how well our ceramic media did during filtration and it was great to see the results from our combined work; it’s made me really interested in how I can ‘science-ify’ my research and improve that aspect of it. I’m looking into doing a PhD and I’d like to move towards a material science or textile science direction – that’s something which is happening in the CFPR anyway, we have the graphene lab and the researchers based there have great expertise in material sciences.
Sometimes when you’re creative, you get so embedded in the design or art of something, it’s easy to forget other aspects. So when you’re able to merge it with science, it opens up a new way of thinking around design – going forward, this project is definitely going to change the way I think about designing.
You mentioned earlier that you did your masters throughout COVID lockdowns – what was that experience like for you?
It was difficult because it’s a very practical course. A lot of it was things we’d have to be on campus for, to use the workshops. Initially I was doing a lot of digital embroidery, for example, and that had to be done on campus – I can’t just buy a digital embroidery machine at home! So that definitely changed my path into a different area for my Master’s; I came into it thinking I was going to be doing digital embroidery and art installations, which became increasingly more difficult. So, I chose to do something I could do from home: natural dyeing. My work organically grew into more of a research project. Dyeing was something I could do at home and I was really interested in learning more and experimenting with it. I think in a way COVID kind of made me realise a different path that I wasn’t expecting to go on and brought me to where I am now – even though it was a very difficult time to be stuck at home, it forced me to think a lot more about what exactly I enjoyed doing and what I am good at.
It sounds like the new route you’ve been taken down is pretty great – the Healthy Waters project seems to have a lot of potential to make a big difference in the world!
Definitely. At the beginning of my Master’s, I hadn’t thought much about the importance of the work I was creating. I was only thinking, ‘What do I want to create’ rather than considering the bigger picture. But in research, you have to think about an important question that you want to solve and the solutions often involve other people and everything going on around you; I found my focus in sustainability because it’s so important today. What we’re doing now on the Healthy Waters project is creating a very sustainable method of cleaning water and my work with the CFPR is creating ceramic vessels and media for biological filtration.
Your MA focused on sustainable design as well, do you think you’ve always had that drive to protect the environment or has that grown as you’ve encountered a more scientific angle to work?
It’s hard to avoid it – you see so many statistics, and real-life instances, like this heatwave we’re having, and you see the need for sustainable solutions and change all around you. I think before my MA I hadn’t really thought that I could merge that into my design practice but in the project that I did, about natural dyeing, I started trying to create a more circular method of production. I worked on techniques to use plants to dye biodegradable materials. In essence, they could be buried back into the soil to break down, and the dyes could be naturally disposed of since they’re plant-based and non-toxic to the environment – it’s essentially diluted plant waste returning its nutrients to the ground. That research flowed really nicely into what I’m doing now, creating clean water. It’s been fascinating to hear how they test the water, what they find in the water, and how to deal with it – especially biological filtration, which I didn’t know much about as a method of cleaning water before I joined this project.
One of the Healthy Waters project’s aims is to support low-middle income countries with the technology you’re developing – does that add an extra source of motivation for you?
Definitely. It’s those things that are the most motivating in your work; that’s something that I’ve discovered recently in my professional experience as a researcher, but also in my MA: having motivation is so important in your work and working in such a crucial and important area only motivates me more. It’s inspiring, really.
[You can read more about the goals of the Healthy Waters project on their blog post here!]
You’ve mentioned you’d like to go on to do a PhD. What do you hope the future has in store for you in that regard?
That’s something that I’ve been trying to work out for myself because often to get further in academia, you need to do a PhD. I’m working with a few people at CFPR to figure out what I want to do, what I’d want my research question to be – what I’d want to discover, because a PhD is really all about learning and finding something that needs a solution created. It’ll definitely be in the sustainable materials or sustainable textiles range related to that circular economy I mentioned earlier. But the experience I’ve had now on Healthy Waters has been really great, getting to hear from scientists and work alongside them, to have that new experience for my PhD where I can relate scientific backing to my work. I haven’t got a solid answer but my goal is really to stay at the CFPR, to work on more research projects – there’s always more stuff coming up! I’d love to work with more people at UWE, there are so many people with so many different skills and areas of expertise, and I’d love to branch out and work with people from different departments.