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New Scots: textile artist and fashion designer Francia Boakye

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After a childhood spent in London and Ghana, Francia Boakye moved to Scotland to study, falling in love with the storytelling power of tartan in the process

as told to Olivia Simpson

I was born in London, but I spent my formative years in Ghana. I came back to London at eleven and lived in Streatham, in the south of the city.

I didn’t set out to be a textile artist. The original plan was to study to become a barrister, and I do actually have a law degree from Liverpool John Moores University. In my final year of study there, I realised I had a passion for all things textiles and decided to do a masters in International Fashion Marketing at Heriot Watt University.

When I moved, I didn’t know anyone in Scotland. I only chose Edinburgh because the course looked good. It really was a leap of faith – when I arrived, I had £150 to my name! But Scottish people are nice, and while I did have some issues, it all worked out.

A selfie of a woman

a blue and green tartan bow tieI soon came to see some similarities between Ghanaian and Scottish culture. In Ghana, different tribes and families have distinct patterned cloths, much like a Scottish tartan. When I first encountered tartan when I moved to Scotland, this similarity really struck me.

I really fell in love with the pattern, colour and vibrancy of tartan. Growing up in Ghana, people really embraced bright colour and bold patterns, but people in the UK tend to stick to darker colours. Tartan is the one big exception to this. I learnt more about tartan, and even went to the Edinburgh Kiltmakers Academy, founded by Gordon Nicholson Kiltmakers, where I learnt to make traditional kilts.

When I started my business, I became well known for my tartan bowties and tartan capes, and I soon moved on to bags as well. I’ve diversified, and now spend a lot of my time teaching sewing classes covering home interiors, clothing and accessories for open, community and corporate groups.

a woman cuts a pattern for sewing A group of women participating in a sewing workshop

Teaching people to sew brings me so much satisfaction. I love helping people learn how to be creative: it’s a wonderful feeling for them, and endlessly inspiring for me.

I take part in a lot of fairs and pop ups, especially over the Edinburgh festival and the Christmas period. These periods get really busy and people love to chat, wondering how I ended up working with tartan when I’m not from Scotland. To cope with my hectic schedule, I’ve learnt to jealously guard my Saturdays, as otherwise, it could all get too much!

It has been such a blessing to work with other artists and galleries on different projects. For example, I recently facilitated a project as part of the Alberta Whittle: create dangerously exhibition at National Galleries Modern One, which is running until 7th January 2024. For the project, I had the opportunity to work with a group of ladies from Project Esperanza, a charity that supports women of African heritage in Edinburgh, addressing social isolation, migration trauma, and racial trauma. Under my supervision and expertise, I facilitated the project, drawing on their lived experiences, weaving together and expressing their stories as migrants to Scotland in the form of a quilt which is now on display at the National Galleries of Scotland.

A large tapestry showing a woman made of patchwork squares A close up of a large tapestry A woman sits next to a large tapestry

Edinburgh is a very special city. I love living near the water, and the city’s natural surroundings and its built environment are both gorgeous. There is also a real respect for tradition and heritage which is important to me, as I come from a background where this is also the case.

I’ve had lots of support from the Scottish arts community, whether that be through funding my initial projects or through meeting other creatives and being inspired by them. I feel like there’s more financial support for individuals who want to embark on creative projects in Scotland than in England.

My lifestyle picks

To eat I love Bonnie and Wild in the St James Quarter. It’s got all kinds of food, from Sri Lankan cuisine to Scottish seafood.

Places to get inspired I’m very fortunate to be within walking distance from Crammond Island. It’s a beautiful walk and also manages to both relax and inspire me. Just remember to check the tides before heading out, or you could get into some trouble! When it comes to culture, I love exploring Edinburgh’s galleries and theatres.

Scottish destinations Wyndham Duchally Country Estate in Perthshire is a fantastic place for a trip away.

Scottish brands I really do love everything tartan. The colours, the stories, the lines and how they intertwine to convey history and communicate Scotland’s rich culture and traditions will always fascinate me. Any products which incorporate tartan are going to pique my interest!

Check out our New Scots interview with another Edinburgh-based artist, the glass artist Juli Bolaños-Durman

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