Develop New Skills with QEST Funding: Stories from Scottish Makers

Scottish QEST scholars kiltmaker Emma Wilkinson and silversmith Rod Kelly discuss with AAS the difference funding made to developing their skills and practices.

Constantly learning something new is one of the pleasures of making and the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) supports talented and aspiring craftspeople to develop new skills.

QEST Scholarship funding takes many forms, from traditional college courses to vocational one-to-one training with a master craftsperson, or a series of self-directed short courses. Education and training grants of up to £18,000 are available to support advanced skill development.

QEST Apprenticeships offer salary support of up to £6,000 per year towards an apprentice’s salary for craftspeople who have secured an apprenticeship to train with a master craftsperson for up to three years.

In 2020 QEST celebrates its 30th anniversary and the next round of applications is open now until 24 August 2020. They encourage applications from a broad range of crafts and are excited by contemporary craftsmanship and innovative applications of traditional craft techniques.

AAS contacted two Scottish makers and asked them to tell us more about their QEST experience.

Silversmith Rod Kelly graduated from Royal College of Art in 1983 and has had a workshop studio in Shetland for 15 years. He was a QEST Scholar in 2000 and the scholarship enabled him to work with master engraver Alan Mudd, who taught him how to recess for gold inlay, and silversmith Ian Calvert with whom he developed hammering and soldering techniques.

Rosewater Dish and Ewer by Rod Kelly commissioned by The Ashmolean Museum
Newton Oxford Cambridge Boat Race Trophy by Rod Kelly

Since the scholarship Rod has trained eight QEST silversmiths and was presented with the QEST Award for Excellence last year.

His advice is to give it serious consideration and said “It gives a maker the wonderful opportunity to work with a master craftsman and learn the nuances and techniques of a craft from someone who has been working for many years. They can act as a mentor and may have experience in business marketing and an understanding of promotion of work and design. As the man who taught me most of what I know about silversmithing John Bartholomew used to say, ‘There is no substitute for experience’.”

Rod receiving his QEST Award for Excellence

Emma Wilkinson describes graduating from university with a first class degree in textiles, multiple awards and no job, which led her to begin thinking out of the box. “I deeply love Scottish heritage and my home land, I love handmade craftsmanship and I love tailoring…the signs pointed to kiltmaking, an art form entirely at home in Scotland, handmade, traditional, my heritage and also an art form with virtually no young people picking it up. I sought out Gordon Nicolson kiltmakers who ran a course in traditional hand sewn kiltmaking but I had no money. I applied to many Scottish funding bodies for funding in the hopes I could pay the course fees, but not one Scottish organisation was interested.

“It was a friend of mine who pointed me in the direction of QEST. I’d heard of it but never felt I’d be good enough to ever be accepted into something so prestigious and full of seriously talented makers, but I decided this time to take a chance but not get my hopes up too much. I was beyond over the moon when they wanted to get behind my vision and fund my kiltmaking course, it changed everything for me. It made me feel like my passion and vision to not only pursue kiltmaking myself but also be an advocate of it as a career for other young people so we can keep proper hand sewn kiltmaking alive for centuries to come, was worthwhile again.”

The QEST Scholarship in 2018 allowed Emma to undertake an intensive kiltmaking course at the Edinburgh Kiltmakers Academy, allowing her to gain an extensive knowledge of tartan, weaving and tailoring.

Kilt with embroidery by Emma Wilkinson

“I don’t think they’ve had a more excited scholar at the royal warrant luncheon where we got to showcase our work! I couldn’t believe I was there, just a normal person from Edinburgh still living at home working in a shop part time but with big skills and a big vision, with all these amazing scholars and people with amazing businesses, it was very moving for me and I’m so grateful to QEST for believing in me when no one else did and giving me a real start, a platform And a sense of belonging among other craftspeople (the ones I’ve met being amazing and so friendly and supportive of each other).

“I’ve been a kiltmaker ever since, even now when times are exceptionally tough and uncertain I have a desirable skill. I’ve made nearly 100 kilts since the beginning of 2019, I design and traditionally hand weave tartan, and I’m still an international award winning embroiderer and colourist and I plan to keep working hard.”

Asked what advice she would give to anyone applying now Emma (pictured above) said “I think my application really brought over my passion for being part of the history of this iconic Scottish garment. I’m quite an animated person when I talk about it and I think this came over on paper. I spent ages on it even though I didn’t feel confident I’d get it at the time; I suppose there was always a wee glimmer of hope there. I took my time and really tried to articulate why I wanted to be a kiltmaker and a part of QEST and what difference it would make to my entire life (I think that part is very important). I love QEST and everything they stand for and I hope more Scottish craftspeople go for it.”

Their directory of alumni shows the types of craft and varieties of training they have funded – here are a selection of the makers in Scotland who have received funding and what they did:

Toben Lewis
2019 QEST Howdens Scholar – Bookbinding
Kathryn Sanders
2019 QEST Scholar – Embroidery
Lara Townsend
2018 QEST Kirby Laing Foundation Scholar – Stone Carving
Gillian Stewart
2018 QEST Jenifer Emery Scholar – Bookbinding

For further details and to apply visit the QEST website.

In July Applied Arts Scotland welcomed QEST’s CEO Deborah Pocock LVO to an online event to discuss their programmes and she was joined by 2019 QEST Scholar in Paperfolding, Glasgow-based designer/maker of hand folded lighting and homewares Kate Colin.

Image: Kilt with embroidery by Emma Wilkinson

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