Laura sillitoe

Laura Sillitoe

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

There were 3 main attractions for me:

  • the amazing range of state-of-the-art equipment available to textile students
  • the option of spending my 3rd year on placement in industry, and 
  • the reputation of Leeds University, both generally and for textiles degrees

I was keen to study somewhere that balanced the creative making, with the theory behind it. At Leeds, you benefit from experiencing a range of textile specialities which can really shape your future: I went to Leeds thinking that I would be a printed textile designer, but actually discovered my passion for constructed textiles and I’m now working in knitwear!

I have also really enjoyed a campus university, where you can enjoy space specifically for students but as soon as you step off campus, you are in the city centre. Attending an ‘offer holder day’ was invaluable as I was able to tour the facilities and hear from the lectures and students on the course and I have also valued being able to tailor my course with a Discovery module each year.

What aspects of the course do you enjoy the most? 

The course is really ‘hands on’. There are brilliant technicians and lectures always available to advise but it’s the students who actually operate the equipment. I am fascinated by the digital advancements and equipment on offer within the textiles department, and I’ve really benefitted from the strong links the university has with industry. So for example, I’ve been awarded training at Shima Seiki (Europe) HQ which has enabled me to use and programme the industrial Shima Seiki knitting machines here at Leeds.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I am surrounded by like minded people who are passionate about textiles, sustainability and about improving the impact of the textiles industry on the environment. I have developed my knowledge about the whole process from fibre, fabric to finished product, so I can now apply it and use my creative textile and technology skills to engineer solutions to industry problems.   

My department has also offered me loads of opportunities outside of the course itself, which have helped me develop and grow. I’ve attended textiles conferences, entered industry-wide competitions, visited events in Paris and Milan and attended University award dinners.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself? 

The University has a huge range of Societies for students. One that I have enjoyed is the ‘Stitch & Bitch Society’ where students can bring along any creative project they are working on and chat with others while they work. There is also a society, specifically for students from the School of Design, which is a great way to meet people from other courses, similar to your own. 

Outside of my studies, I’m a Student Ambassador, so I talk with students who are considering coming to the University of Leeds and show them around the facilities. I am also a Course and School Rep, which means I meet with staff and students from across the School of Design, representing students’ opinions to help make positive change. Getting involved and hopefully making a difference has been really rewarding.

I’ve also been lucky enough to join LEAP (Leeds Excellence in the Arts Programme) and this has encouraged me to discuss and consider subjects and challenges significantly outside my day to day degree studies.

Did you take a work placement or study abroad year? 

Yes. I completed two internships whilst on placement in my 3rd year: 

  • one as a freelance Knitwear Designer with a small consultancy in Nottingham, selling my designs via an agent in New York, to high-end companies like DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Karl Lagerfeld, and 
  • one working as a Studio Intern for Christopher Farr Cloth Ltd in London. 

It is very much down to you to find and secure a placement, which can be hard work, but I’m so glad I did it. It has strengthened my CV, I have developed a great network of contacts in the textiles industry and I now have experience of working in London, for a luxury textiles company and working freelance, in the knitwear industry. My placements have also given me experience of hybrid working, which is a key skill, post the Covid pandemic.

How do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with your career plans?

My technical knowledge has soared (particularly of textiles and knit); the presentation of my digital portfolio and professional Instagram account has improved and I now really understand the benefits of networking.   

The University of Leeds has a very strong reputation across the textiles industry and all my lecturers and technicians have impressive networks of industry contacts, so they’ve really helped me to start to build my own links externally. They also regularly advise students of events, internships or job opportunities and my tutors have been really supportive when I’ve needed a job or character reference.

What advice would you give to incoming students who are about to start their own university journey?

You will get out of university what you put in!  

So, volunteer, contribute and speak up in discussions.  The university staff are really supportive, especially to those who ‘have a go’ or tackle something challenging.  

So, try everything and you’ll find you learn a lot, very quickly.  

And finally, don’t attempt to be the same as others – just be you!