How did it all start?

Welcome to my new Journal/blog.  I have never been a fan of the word blog so this is going to be a Journal. 

I thought I would start this off with a bit of background history.  I am sometimes asked how I came to be a weaver. It is not often thought of in careers advice and certainly wasn’t when I was at School. An easy answer was that it was in my family. But was that really the reason? 

My paternal grandfather was a designer and rug weaver. When I was a child we had his rugs on the floor and several of the lino prints on the walls were either by him or my grandmother.  My grandfather designed many rugs for S. J. Stockwell, Liberty and Heals, some being woven in India. Others he woven himself with the help of my grandmother.

Or course as a child I knew none of this. When visiting my grandparents their living room had an upright rug loom in it which looked so much as though it belonged there that I didn’t question this particular piece of furniture. Many years later I discovered it had been made by my uncle at the age of about 16. He was to go on to become a renowned furniture designer and maker. It seems the maker instinct was in the family.

My grandfather taught weaving at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in the late 1940’s and wrote a small book titled ‘Woven Rugs’ for Dryad Press which was in its third edition by 1967. This book was was something of a family affair. It had a photograph of Grandpa’s loom and the diagrams were drawn by my father who was an architect. When I was at Camberwell doing my foundation course, Grandpa gave me his loom and presented me with a signed copy of his book. He was then in his 80’s.

My sort of weaving however is very different. As a child I loved museums where there was working machinery to watch; such as at Style mill in Cheshire. Later, on a holiday to the Outer Hebrides we saw weaving on Harris and Lewis. It was after that trip that I attempted my first piece of weaving for a Guide craft badge with some very sticky wool we had bought on Harris and using my sister’s toy loom. The result was a couple of very curly mats. My method was somewhat unconventional and the loom very rickety but I enjoyed the challenge of working out how weave.

Now I have a Dobby loom which I use for weaving scarves and artwork pieces and also for sampling and experimenting with ideas, and a table loom which I can also use at times for sampling and trying out techniques. 

No. stamped onto part of my loom

My Dobby loom has a history of it’s own. It was made by George Wood who was a ships engineer based in Shepshed, Leicestershire and turned his hand to making looms; something he did till the mid 1980’s. He made getting on for 300 looms, mine being No. 298. These were to be found in textile departments in colleges up and down the country. There were rooms full of them together with Jacquard looms at Camberwell when I was there in 1987.

But it wasn’t until I went to Manchester to start my degree that I got to weave on one myself. Then I was hooked. This became my dream loom. I bought my table loom when I left college from a tutor as I had neither the money nor the space to put a loom as big as a Dobby loom. 

It was some years later that I went to Art in Action at Waterperry in Oxfordshire where I saw in the textile tent Valerie Allwood weaving on just such a loom. I turned to my friend who is also a fellow weaver and said “That’s what I want one day.” It took a few more years but when I heard that Valerie was selling it I scraped the money together with a loan from my father and bought it.  That must have been around 1998-99. 

I love the process of weaving. You can’t rush it. It takes time to prepare a warp and put it on the loom, thread it in the appropriate sequence draw it through the reed and tie it on the front of the loom. The time taken to do all this feels for me a breathing space.  

Then there is the weaving. It’s the feeling of constructing a fabric for whatever purpose; a scarf, an artwork or the development of a new idea. Learning and understanding the qualities of the different yarns and how they behave. Designing to allow the qualities of the yarns to shine. At times I have found myself using opposites or contrasts in weaving to  create an effect. This was the case with my Helix scarf. The pattern was created using two very basic structures and plain weave and a twill, and by using two different materials; silk and linen as well as colour I created a texture that was a bit more interesting and a scarf that had a lovely feel.

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