Craft: Meet the women working wonders with thread
Lisa Millard meets the women behind three brands championing the artistry and heritage of their crafts
Mays Wonderfully Woven, Stilton, Cambridgeshire
Artisan weaver Rosie-May Greenbank makes and sells her woven products under her label Mays Wonderfully Woven and can be found at Ely’s Craft and Artisan Market on the last three Saturdays of the month.
What’s with the weave?
Like any other traditional heritage craft, weaving is a vocation, a passion. I use my social media to walk people through the actual process of weaving. I believe purposeful making is important; to consider where your work will exist within the world, to make textiles that you can share and appreciate. I love the freedom to experiment and create colourful and playful fabrics, which I now sew into individual pieces. I also love keeping weaving not just alive but relevant to today’s textile and design industry.
Describe what you make?
Using my traditional floor loom I hand-weave beautiful bespoke throws, blankets, luxurious woollen wraps, scarves and table runners. I also design and hand-craft various other pieces such as scatter cushions, boxed pouches, coin purses, very jazzy pin cushions and lovely covered buttons. I also accept bespoke commissions.
What fires your interest in the loom?
Weave is especially powerful; there is a real language within it. The language comes through in the colours and yarns we weavers choose, how we plan and place them throughout the warp, each pick and the impossible variations of one such sequence. The cloth grows pick by pick unveiling something completely unique. I have always been a creative person and studied art and textiles throughout my education. I discovered the wonders of table and floor loom weaving during my BA at the Norwich University of the Arts. The name Mays Wonderfully Woven was chosen in honour of my grandfather Albert May. My grandmother taught me how to sew and use a machine, my mother is a wonderful artist, and my father is the solver of problems, the maker of furniture, bespoke units and the builder of looms.
What can we look forward to for Christmas?
I am in the process of weaving the final few scarves and wraps ready for the lead up to Christmas at Ely, working with some lovely rich plum and berry tones. They will sit alongside bespoke scatter cushions, pom-pom garland kits, planters and hand-woven Christmas decorations, each and every piece perfect for a thoughtful hand-crafted gift.
See more at @mays_wonderfully_woven
Hook & Light, Cambridge
Sisters Iris, a scientist at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University, and Melissa Hardege, a primary school teacher, make and sell naturally dyed yarns under the label Hook & Light
What’s with the yarn?
We have always been super crafty. Like many kids we spent all our time making something or other, and we just never grew out of it. We also both have a love for nature (our parents are marine biologists), so when I, Iris, first got into knitting and crochet I was immediately interested to find out more about different yarns, how they are made and what kind of impact they have on the environment. It wasn’t long before I discovered natural dyeing and so Hook & Light was born – and Melissa was roped in too.
Why ‘Hook and Light’ and why natural dyes?
Hook because my first love was crochet, light because light is the source of energy for everything and therefore for all our dyes. I’m a nature lover, but also a scientist by day and as soon as I found out about natural dyes, I was keen to give them a go and start experimenting.
What do you use to make the dyes?
Everything from kitchen waste like avocado stones and onion skins to cochineal. As much as possible we grow or locally forage our dye plants. We have an allotment where we grow lots of dye flowers as well as the traditional blue producing woad plants. We also locally forage native plants such as goldenrod and weld, and it’s surprising how many of these you can find in Cambridge city centre. We use the plants to make a dye bath then carefully heat the wool in this bath which causes the colours to stick and then there’s a lot of washing.
Is heritage and sustainability important to you?
Being a natural dyer really makes you feel connected to your past, the rediscovery of colours that were once such common place in society is magical. Sustainability is key to our business. In fact, we believe in this so much that last year we launched a new online yarn festival, Botanica, specifically celebrating natural and sustainable yarns not just in the UK but globally.
Tell us about the yarn.
We use only non superwash, plastic free, real woolly wool, which is exclusively from Britain and the Falkland Islands. We believe very strongly in the use of non superwash due to the detrimental effect of the superwash process on the environment (basically pouring bleach on your yarn and coating it in a plastic resin – no thanks).
What can we expect to see in the run-up to Christmas?
The run up to Christmas is always busy for us as everyone is getting into the knitting mood during the long evenings. This year we will be creating a few special Christmas boxes which will hopefully contain some lovely handmade items from our fellow Cambridge artists and makers.
See more at hookandlight.com and @hookandlight and Mill Road Winter Fair
The Speculating Rook, Ely, Cambridgeshire
Embroiderer and maker Anna Osborne uses her sewing machine to create breathtakingly beautiful free machine embroidery.
What’s with the love of embroidery?
My interest in embroidery, aside from the enthusiasm of two grannies, was sparked by Harriet Riddell (institchyou.com) at the Knitting and Stitching show, Alexandra Palace. I was looking for sock knitting yarn and Harriet was stitching the portraits of visitors using free motion embroidery. After seeing Riddell’s work performed in such a lively and inspiring way, I wanted to try applying some of my own drawings to fabric using free machine embroidery.
What are the tools of your trade?
I work with a Bernina 850 sewing machine, a true workhorse happy to stitch back and forth through many layers. Plus, a denim pinafore, Blackwing pencil and Sennelier concertina sketchbook.
Is sustainability a part of what you do?
Many fabrics I use are inherited from family and friends. Textiles are like woven archaeology incorporating events and memories which when reused keep family histories in mind. Re-using also reduces landfill and keeps material costs down making work accessible to more people.
Where do you work from?
I recently moved to a studio at Haddenham Arts Centre, near Ely, where I am enjoying additional space for screen printing the fabric used on footstools and lampshades, as well as cushion making. I run free machine embroidery workshops at Haddenham Art Centre for groups of two to six people ¬ alternatively I can come to your venue of choice.
Do you work alone?
I have recently collaborated with green woodworkers David Owen (based at Burwash Manor, Barton) and Cambridge Open Studio member Andrew Goyder, producing upholstered footstools with greenwood frames. I am also looking forward to more work with my daughter Grace, an illustrator, who is printing fabric from her linocuts with which I produce light shades.
What can we look forward to for Christmas?
Between now and the end of November I am working on several footstools which will be screen printed and stitched with birds, otters and hounds. Light shades in different colour ways are also in production. New drawing tool wraps made from denim and screen print off cuts are in high demand and will be available at fairs in November.
See more at thespeculatingrook.co.uk, @thespeculatingrook, Haddenham Arts Centre, and Ely Cathedral Christmas Fair (November 17-20).
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