In March 2019, Amanda Stockley came to my studio to film the process of dressing a loom and weaving cloth. It was a hugely enjoyable experience that made me think in depth about what I do, why I do it, and what weaving means to me. I have two tiers of product, handwoven and mill woven. They both start in the same way, however, as I develop all my collections on a table loom in my North London home.
I see the world in weave structures. When I look at buildings or pebbles on the beach, I see double cloth or ribs and twills. I usually have a seed of an idea milling around my brain for a while before I commit to it. In this time, I often collect images, either found or my own, textures, patterns and colours. When I feel like I have enough source material, I use these as a starting point and distil down the information that I am drawn to by drawing textures, shapes and repeats in pen and ink. These usually lend themselves to a particular weave structure and material that I will then take to design the first warp.
Once I have a weave structure in mind, I create yarn wraps to work out colour combinations and stripe repeats in the warp. The warp is the set of threads that are placed lengthwise on a loom and is the skeleton of the fabric. The choices I make when designing the warp describes whether the end fabric is light and gauzy or heavy set and firm. The threading defines the end pattern of the cloth.
I find a sense of peace and purpose with the slow meditation of dressing a loom. The multitude of steps you have to take in setting up a warp is slow and methodical. You have to go through the same steps every time, and yet I learn something new every time.
To make the warp, I take the threads and use a winding mill to create a warp of several metres in length which is then spread out across the loom and wound around the back beam. After this process, I can thread each strand through the heddles to set the design, and then the reed. The reed is the precision tool of weaving and describes the sett of the fabric, i.e. how many threads are in each centimetre of material. After this, I tie on the warp and start weaving. All these stages are completed by hand and, so the whole process can take anywhere from two days to a week determined by the width of the warp and how fine the yarn is.
After the above stages are complete, I am ready to start weaving. A hand weaver on a table loom can weave between one and two metres in a day depending on the complexity of design and fineness of the material. The fabric is described as loom state when it comes off the loom and does not fully become cloth until after it is washed. The yarns relax and nestle into each other. Wool fulls and thickens to fill the gaps to create a beautifully soft, cosy material.
There is an alchemy to weaving. I find it infinitely fascinating that an animal fleece or plant fibre is manipulated into yarn which can then be woven in a multitude of ways to create a wealth of different types of cloth. The options are endless. The contrast between endless possibilities and constriction of the loom is an exciting place to spend time.
I love to weave, and so I will always have handwoven products in my offering. I find the physical act of weaving sparks my imagination, and so it is integral to me and my business to have this element. However, I can currently only produce 5-6 metres of fabric at a time at a width of 55cms. Due to this, the merino wool scarves and blankets are woven in Bristol by a micro mill as part of a limited edition run. As a reflection of my desire to create future heirloom pieces, I have produced only nine to eighteen of each of the scarf designs and four of each of the blankets.
Set up in 2015, the Bristol Weaving Mill works on a small scale concentrating on accountability, traceability and sustainability. Directors of their Bristol-based internationally acclaimed woven textile design studio Dash and Miller Ltd., Juliet and Franki had a vision that there would one day be a facility in the UK where a no-boundaries approach could be taken to fabric sampling and production weaving. The micro-mill is an artisanal weaving-mill in the unique position to be able to supply an unparalleled level of creativity and innovation for both small and large-scale production runs.