British weaver Anna Champeney set up her weave studio as a in 2005 in a mountain village of north Spain. Here´s how learned to weave as a second career.
My background – I originally studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Bristol university in the UK and became a museum curator specialising in contemporary craft exhibitions. So I came to woven texiles when in my late twenties, as part of a lifestyle and career change.
So. My pathway into weave has not been through the conventional route of doing a 3 year BA course at art school.
There are pros and cons with both methods. I learned more slowly but achieved a comparable level of technical and creative skills to a BA student in the end. But I had to find suitably qualified teachers for different aspects of learning and sometimes had to go quite far afield and pay for one-to-one tuition.
It was, also, the only option open to me in my life at the time. I am now quite happy with that option as I think it´s given me the chance to develop a more individual style. Studying at a high-prestige Art School would have given me more instant credibility and inspired confidence that I have had to work far harder to develop, however, which is a disadvantage initially.
It must be said that before starting to re-train as a weaver I already had a fairly good understanding of how the world of professional craft worked in the UK at the time through my previous career as contemporary craft exhibitions curator in museums and galleries and specialist organisations in the UK.
How I started
I had my first taste of loom weaving when about 10 years old at school. I was very lucky to have excellent art teachers. My first loom was very simple, made at home by my dad. I loved the experience but never imagined I´d end up being a professional weaver!
When in my late twenties I embarked on the journey of changing my life and career, determined to learn to weave and reach professional level. I was too impatient to wait for a weave course of course, so I cobbled together a very basic frame loom using bits of wood and nails, household string and other bits and bobs of yarns. The actual result you can see in the photo.
Had I been aged 9 I might have been really pleased, but at 30 I could only think “that’s really horrible, I’m not going to make my living with this”. But I just had the urge to do something with my hands. Having said that, I was really pleased to have been able to weave anything at all – and at least I had made a start!
2000 – Introductory weave course. A couple of months on, in late summer 2000, I did a short introductory weave course with rug weaver Luke Atkinson in Cumbria. I will always be grateful to Luke for teaching me the basics. I couldn’t believe it when she presented me with a basket of natural-dyed yarns to use in my sample piece, they seemed just too precious. I’m sure that, in part, it was the chance to use some of her gorgeous natural-dyed yarns which influenced me in my choice to dye my own yarns naturally in my own work.
I was so pleased with the sample I wove under Luke’s guidance – which you can see here / although it was full of classic beginner’s “errors” such as uneven edges or “selvedges”. It´s the kind of textile any beginner will make on a first course.
I remember being disappointed that, however much I tried to design the fantastic textiles I had in my head- the results were not quite as I intended. No, that’s wrong, they were nothing like what I intended! I didn’t realise – and how could I – that woven textile design is complex and depends on many different factors which I, as a complete beginner, just wasn’t even aware of. The interaction of different kinds of fibres, the spacing of the yarns on the loom, the way you beat the fabric, the interaction of the colours, the individual intersections of warp and weft to create pattern … and even how you wash the textile after cutting it from the loom – all these were working together in ways I was quite oblivious of – creating fabrics with quite different characteristics to those I was intending. As such, stripey tea towels turned out to be as stiff as sacking, and scarves were so rigid that they were more like neck carpets. On the other hand, other unexpected results were interesting and intreaguing. But I didn’t have the educational tools to really be able to understand or interpret these either. 2001 – Introduction to textile analysis and drafting It was only when I did a week’s textile drafting course with Barcelona-based weaver and textile artist Francisca Pellisca, that I began to find out about how woven textiles really work. In her course, which was something like a revelation to me, I learned how to analyse woven cloth by looking at it up close and representing its structure on squared paper and to start to relate cloth to the mechanics of the loom. Francisca was adamant that every weaving project should involve sampling, draw-downs, and a meticulous recording of how you weave each different sample. Her course gave me the tools I had been lacking to then go away and really start to progress – and begin to find out how to learn and improve on my own. Francisca’s approach to cloth design works for me and it is one I now teach in weave courses at my studio in Spain.
I knew I wasn’t interested in beginners’ “how-to” books, with recipes for projects. I was interested in developing my own weave style and preferences and coming up with my own original designs. A tall order for a beginner, but even at the start, when I was using pattern books and magazines with recipes for weaving projects, I resolved that I would, out of principle, always adapt a design in some way, in order to avoid simply copying designs or formulas – learn something new. By then I was beginning to make work like these twill scarves. And I was beginning to sell my work which was very exciting. Every year I add a few new designs and push the boundaries of what I know a little further back. Every now and again I come across a really good weaving book which opens my eyes to new possibilities and teaches me more. The challenges of weaving in rural Spain – Living in rural north Spain, where I am the only weaver for miles around, and where there is a complete absence of any weaving guild, association or club, learning on my own – with the occasional course – has really the only option. I felt this was a distinct disadvantage for me, although I now realise that this isolation is also true for professional weavers in the UK, where only 1.9% of all professional craftspeople are weavers. Being a native English speaker I had one huge advantage over my Spanish counterparts, though, and this was the access I had to a whole range of excellent weaving books in published in English. Ann Sutton’s The Structure of Weaving and Ideas in Weaving were – and are – my bibles. It’s a slow process but incredibly rewarding. I know there is so much more to explore out there and I am just scratching the surface. Having to struggle – to learn from books – also taught me to persevere and resolve problems on my own. This was a tough – but very valuable experience. Being a member of the UK Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in my first years of learning was also comforting when I was starting out as a weaver although it wasn´t the useful networking tool I neeed once I became a professional. In the absence of experienced weavers locally in Spain there was always someone in the guild who could answer a query or help me out with a problem, or just give words of encouragement. It was a very friendly environment. 2004/5 – Going professional – By this time I was setting up my own professional weave studio, Anna Champeney Estudio Textil, in Galicia, north Spain, with a setting-up grant from the Dept. of Industry. From then on I started organising courses and selling work direct from the studio. 9 years on – These are some of my designs from 2009… all made with linen, wool, silk and natural dyes.
13 years on – 2013
I now weave on 2 8-12 shaft looms and create my original designs using specialist computer software. I specialise in double weave and collapse weave textile design but still use natural fibres and dyes for the quality of fibre and colour.
Over the past few years I have worked hard to acquire new skills, particularly design and business skills. As such I have learned design skills at the Massana Art School in Barcelona, and from international tutors in Denmark and the UK.
It has been fundamental to learn more business skills and learn about online commerce and promotion using the social networks – none of which really existed when I started in 2000.
I continue to teach intensive courses from my studio and attract more international students. I sometimes take on textile students on work placements. I also teach textile techniques to first year fashion students at the ESEDEMA School of Fashion and Textiles in Vigo University.
As for selling my work, I still produce small-scale limited edition textiles but now commercialise my designs at international design fairs and selected shops as well as online, instead of selling direct from the studio to the tourist market.
Another initiative has been to set up an online shop and resource web-site (currently aimed more at the Spanish-speaking market than the English market), where I sell Louet loom products as well as my textiles and my partner´s baskets. This is a useful complement to the teaching work.
I´m still as committed and enthusiastic as when I first started in 2000 but my perspectives have changed as my knowledge and sense of context have deepened and widened through experience.
I have the satisfaction of looking back and seeing how I have been able to create my own pathway into weave, become proficient and more professional. I feel enormous sense of satisfaction that I have been able to do this – and earn my living – especially from from the tiny mountain hamlet in northwest Spain where I live and work!