In conversation - The Weavehouse
Clare Lewis is an artist and weaver who lives in the New Forest with her husband and three children. She has made a collection of beautiful woven belts for Studio Wylder and we will also be carrying some of her interior pieces this Autumn/Winter.
Where and/or who is home for you?
I live on the Northern edge of The New Forest National Park in Hampshire. Its pretty much where I grew up and has been a great place to bring up three children. I do feel privileged to have such a beautiful and unique landscape right on the doorstep and the best thing about it is that most of the land is common land and so with that comes a lot of freedom to roam.
How did your journey to becoming a weaver unfold?
I studied textile design at, what was then, The Central School of Art. Though most passionate about colour and I enjoy painting I decided to specialise in weave as opposed to print because I wanted to learn a new skill whilst I had the chance. The weave department with its rows of looms was new to me. I was intrigued. Three years on a BA however isn't really very long to learn a craft but it’s where my journey began to become a weaver.
How would you describe your approach to your work?
I start with the material, its intrinsic qualities, the design and concept stem from there, the feel of them in my hand. Colour is upmost and that is quite intuitive; I work with colours that somehow resonate for me at the time. Looking back at my work over the years I can see past colour and mood ‘phases’. My latest work has an earthy tone to it, reflecting the surrounding landscape or perhaps my feelings of being grounded or rooted since lockdown and being restricted to my local area.
What inspires and influences your weaving style?
I am inspired by so many things and they are always changing. The seasons are upmost, the sky, the sea….the light, yes that sums it up it’s the light. And painting and painters have always been an inspiration. I have made ‘pilgrimages’ to the Matisse chapel near Nice and to the Nolde museum in Seebull, Germany. Amongst my favourites are Agnes Martin, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O’keefe, especially her watercolours, and Winifred Nicholson. There are too many to mention.
I don't think they influence my style directly but just fill me with awe.
Do you have any favourite weavers and what do you most admire about their work?
Mostly, I admire all those weavers from days gone by when weaving was just a thing you did as a way of creating useful things for the home; ‘the everyday’. I look to traditional weaving, particularly weaves form the Scandinavian countries. A Swedish friend gave me a handwoven linen dishcloth as a gift. To me it's a thing of absolute beauty.
Tell us about your new studio and what a typical day might look like?
My husband, Stefan, built the new studio in the back garden using reclaimed materials. The design evolved over time, dictated by whatever he could source. The building materials, which were piled up in the garden for several years ( I used to complain about them ), have gone in to creating a fabulous wooden structure, perfect to house my large loom and there is an area outside with tap and butlers sink for the natural dyeing.
My ideal day would be first taking our little terrier for a run across the fields and then an entire day spent in the studio on the loom with the radio, a bit of music and, of course, silence.
But life often gets in the way and so it’s not always like that.
Can you tell us a bit about the raw materials you use and how you source them?
I use natural fibres such as wool, linen, and some cotton. Handspun wool is my favourite for rugs but I am not really a spinner (yet) and so dependent on others to spin for me which does make the process longer and ultimately more costly. However, the result is worth it, creating a very special rug that feels sublimely warm and cushioned underfoot.
My favourite material would have to be Gotland wool. Gotland are a Swedish breed of sheep that have beautiful, curly, grey fleece and they are friendly little creatures. Amazingly, there is a farmer in the village of Minstead, right here in the New Forest who has quite a large flock. It’s a delight to visit and collect the fleece direct from the farm.
You also teach weaving, can you tell us a bit about this?
I teach weaving and natural dyeing in school and also run workshops. I enjoy sharing the process ‘from fleece to cloth’, especially with young people. I think we are beginning to see a reconnection with natural raw materials and believe it is hugely important to teach our children where the fibres we wear come from and how our clothes are made. I love seeing the surprise and wonder on the faces of a class of 15 year olds when I roll out a freshly sheared fleece in front of them. They can experience the lustre, the texture, the crimp, the coolness within its depth and of course…its smell.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to learn to weave or become a weaver?
Probably the best way to learn is to do a short beginners class. Buy or borrow a small table top loom. A four-shaft is ideal. There are endless patterns that one can create with just four shafts. Learning by doing is the best way to learn any craft so I’d say ‘plunge in ‘. The Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Guild is a nationwide organisation that could be a good starting point.
What do you love most about what you do and what is most challenging?
I love most to immerse myself in the rhythm of weaving. It's a whole body experience from the feet on the treadles to passing the shuttle from hand to hand. I like the physicality of weaving a rug for example. If it's a large rug I need to extend my arms fully either side using a long shuttle called a ‘ski shuttle’. It can be quite hard work.
More challenging is the patience it takes to complete each part of the lengthy setting up process. If you make a mistake along the way you can't just brush over it, you have to rectify it ….which can be tedious….but, if you don’t then there will be a flaw running through the cloth. You can't see it until you stand back and survey the finished piece.
Do you have any projects or plans for the next twelve months that you could share with us?
I want to sink myself in to the new studio space and also take time to do more dyeing. There is something very pleasing about naturally dyed yarns. They seem to be alive and breathing and I feel they harmonise with each other, unlike chemically dyed ones. They also age beautifully, though they may fade I believe they become more interesting. I’ve always wanted to create a series of rugs that can be used as wall hangings using naturally dyed yarns. So I’ll probably do that.
Thank you so much for sharing with us Clare.
You can see more of Clare's work here or via her instagram @theweavehouse