Interweaving sustainability with creativity

Catarina Riccabona’s minimal impact philosophy has led her to make timeless, one-off textiles in an honest, personal way. 

Finding sustainable and eco-friendly materials presents quite a challenge to a designer with a minimal impact philosophy, especially when a fabric’s journey from seed to product to market is considered – water usage during farming and processing, fertilisers, manufacturing effluents, to carbon footprint etc.

“A yarn such as deep black alpaca might be completely natural and come from far away, or it may be local and was industrially dyed. In our globalised world linen yarn which might originate from Europe as flax could be sent all the way to China to be spun into yarn and return to be finished in Europe.”

Catarina is keenly aware sourcing sustainable and eco-friendly materials is not straight forward having spent a good deal of time during her studies at Central Saint Martins researching the heavy impact the textile industry places on the environment.

Gaining a deeper understanding in this area led Catarina to develop a set of guiding rules for her creative practice which she began in 2012. Catarina likens selecting her materials to shopping for organic food – the stricter the criteria the more limited the choice. Even though her own rules limit the yarn choice, Catarina has discovered she likes the aesthetic qualities of natural yarns.

When I visited her during the last Cockpit Arts Studios open day I was incredibly taken with the tactility of her woven textiles, especially their softness and suppleness, in addition to the wonderful colour combinations and patterning she achieves in her exquisite weaves.

“It is important to me to follow a minimal impact philosophy when creating my pieces. I want my work to be lasting and beautiful and be made with consideration for the environment. This is why I choose to mostly use unbleached and undyed linen in my warps and limit my weft yarns to linen, hemp, wool, alpaca and second-hand or recycled yarns. I am constantly on the lookout for yarn. For colour I use plant-dyed wool by a natural dyer from Finland or recycled linen from a UK company who process industrial surplus yarns into new yarn.”

Another way Catarina introduces colour is by recycling ‘waste warps’ from fellow weavers. “The final metre of warp on the loom consists of hundreds of individual threads which cannot be woven. This is usually thrown away. I recycle these by knotting them together and weaving them into the weft. The knots become randomly visible across the cloth and form a distinct design feature that is reminiscent of the handmade look and feel of tribal textiles.”

Catarina works with a neutral, undyed natural linen warp in a block set up and says weaving is such a structured process with many factors needing to be determined in advance. “One of the great things about weaving is that you can influence each colour with the weave structure you apply. I lay out spools of yarn in front of me, and keep adding or taking away yarns and colours until I feel the combinations and their proportions towards each other are right. Setting up the loom can take several days, so I am always really happy when it’s finally ready for weaving. At that stage I work quite spontaneously. I work out the design as I go along. It’s a bit like working on a collage.”

Her inspiration can come from everywhere and depends on how alert she is. “Handmade textiles from around the world have always been a strong influence. Everyday observations like colour combinations from my environment, a detail or pattern on the pavement, paintings, photos, books, art, fashion, ceramics, inspiring encounters and conversations. I love to work with my hands and hand-weaving is relatively flexible in that it allows for last minute changes, so I am often inspired by the yarns I work with; the material itself. I enjoy developing my practice in a considered, sustainable (and admittedly often very slow) way. It’s important to me that I spend my time in a creative and meaningful way.”

“Creating has taught me there is no switch to turn on my creative process as and when I like. All I can do is try and create the right circumstances for it to happen. For me this means most often trying to have an uninterrupted stretch of time in my studio. Also really important is stimulation for the mind and the eyes like going to exhibitions, watching films, spending time in nature.”

Catarina says being accepted into Cockpit Arts after winning the Cockpit Arts/Clothworkers’ Foundation Award 2012 was a life-changing experience and enabled her to start a creative practice. This, in turn, led to interior designers and other professionals expressing interest in her work and her first commissions helped her find direction to further nurture her practice.

Further information

Catarina Riccabona

Image credits – Feature image: Photography by Yuki Sugiura. (Clockwise from top): Photography by Yuki Sugiura; Photography by Alun Callender; Photography by Yuki Sugiura; Photography by Catarina Riccabona Textile Design. All images supplied.

Additional links

Meet Catarina (at her Deptford studio) and other designer-makers and alumni at the Cockpit Arts Summer Open Studios 2017.

Holborn studios: 9 to 11 June, Friday 5 pm to 9 pm, Saturday & Sunday 11 am to 6 pm

Deptford studios: 16 to 18 June, Friday 5 pm to 9 pm, Saturday & Sunday 11 am to 6 pm

Free entry, donations welcome


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