The Weaving Alchemist

Anna Champeney reconciles contradictory elements to create original design.

“Brutalist architecture, for example, has austere lines and is often seen as harsh; yet it also has a very clean aesthetic. This architectural style inspired my latest collection, Soft Urban. I’ve sought to soften the graphic nature by weaving in soft merino wool and using a warm, gentle colour palette.  The resulting large-scale, non-repeating designs – unusual in woven textiles – can be read both as an abstract geometric pattern and as a cityscape.”  

Anna was initially encouraged by her primary school art teacher to explore colour and try weave. “My father made my first small frame loom from offcuts and nails.” It was years later when working as a contemporary craft exhibitions curator in Britain during the 1990s Anna came into contact with many inspiring textile artists and makers.

“Curating gave me a pretty clear idea of where I wanted to go and what I needed to learn. Although I never went down the standard route of a textiles degree, I have been fortunate to study with some inspiring teachers inside and outside the world of contemporary textiles. I’ve been working hard to find my way; progressing little-by-little, bit by bit. Many business skills I just had to pick up along the way. Where I realised I had marked gaps in my learning I sought out particular mentors and tutors and arranged one-to-one tuition.”

Anna’s interest in weaving was re-awoken while undertaking craft research among the last generation of working weavers in Northern Spain. “I was seeing, in effect, the death of a centuries-old tradition which had received no acclaim or recognition in its country of origin. I really was compelled to do something to breathe new life into it.”

Her original idea was to combine their traditional techniques with contemporary design. Although she still loves the qualities of traditional weave, she no longer limits herself to the few techniques used by North Spanish weavers.

A number of years ago, she decided to let go of her teaching commitments and hand-production to devote a whole year towards bringing out her first collection made in collaboration with a textile mill and focus more on the business aspect.  “It was hugely exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time and it took me a long way outside my comfort zone.  But it was very rewarding and clarified many things for me.”

“Creating has taught me to cherish mistakes because, at least in weave, they always contain the seed of something very interesting.  I love finding beauty in the mundane, seeing both sides of an argument or point of view, and the intellectual challenge of working with a particular theme. Contradictions and limitations can be tremendous catalysts and sources of inspiration.”

Living in remote mountainous Northwest Spain has enhanced Anna’s self-reliance and a commitment to depend on her own resources. This includes extracting natural dyes using artisan methods from ecologically harvested plants growing near her studio. “I am very much influenced by the natural world surrounding me. When you extract your own natural dye colours you become sensitised to a far greater range of hues.  You begin to see many different colours in the range of greys, such as rosy greys, pearly greys, warm brown greys.  

“Colour is such an important part of textile design. With weave there are so many different and complex colour interactions on the loom. I prefer to create the proportions of my designs very intuitively and see a parallel with musical rhythms both in the graphics and the way I use colour.

“Unlike industry, we always sample our designs extensively on handlooms before they go forward to production.”

Anna would love to use natural dyes in all her work. “Currently it’s very difficult for small independent labels like ours to source national dye companies able to use natural dyes so we limit them to handwoven limited editions. Our natural-dyed textiles are the most environmentally-friendly of all, with all stages of production taking place in the same studio building, often using plants collected sustainably in the locality.  Even the looms are hand-powered with the energy supplied by the weaver’s feet and hands.” 

Throws are made at a family-run mill in North Spain who specially dye the yarns in-house, reducing waste and carbon footprint. “Although we are committed to undertaking as much of what we create locally, the yarn is not, sadly, local. However, we simply didn’t want to compromise on quality in this case.  Mongolian cashmere and Australian merino wool continue to be the best quality and we didn’t want to use anything less than the best for our designs. Our textiles are made to last – both in terms of design and manufacture.  We want to make textiles that will be around in people’s homes for a long time.”

Further information

Anna Champeney

Additional information

Anna Champeney is offering to custom-weave a 100 per cent merino scarf in your selected size, colour, and finish for collection at Made London Marylebone or the Studio will ship worldwide. Visit the Anna Champeney website for further information.

Images – Feature image: Double-sided Optic Stripe cushion in Ebon. Clockwise, from left: Blok throw in Mulberry Spice;  Bump throw in Mousse; Bump cushion in Mousse; Blok throw No.06.

All images supplied © Image Copyright, Anna Champeney.

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