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Craft in the Ribeira Sacra – Preparing for Open Workshops 1 – 31 August 2010 in Cristosende, A Teixeira, Ourense – Guided studio visits – Sale of unusual hand-woven textiles and rare Spanish baskets.

The only weaver in the Ribeira Sacra (Ourense).  Anna Champeney Estudio Textil.  Buy textiles online direct from the studio.  Courses.  Guided Visits.  www.textilesnaturales.comIt´s July in the Ribeira Sacra and hand-weaver and designer, Anna Champeney, and basketmaker, Lluis Grau, are working hard in order to make their textile and basketry studios ready to open to the public during August, when they have their their summer selling exhibition and open studios.  Their places of work are situated in beautifully-restored traditional stone buildings in the picturesque village of Cristosende which overlooks the famous River Sil Canyon itself.  Here´s a sneak preview of what is to come when they finally open for the month of August.

July – As well as running a weaving course from the studio from the 4th – 8th July Anna, the hand-weaver at AC Textile Studio, is busy weaving up 55m of linen yarn on the loom– making large-size linen farm sacks with colourful stripes and a personalised cushion commission. Do the sacks actually have a modern-day use or are they just decorative reminders of the past?

“The sacks are nice to look at and hang up but they are actually very practrical – they are machine-washable for example – and have many modern-day uses as well as constituting part of the region´s local craft heritage.  At home I use one of the large sacks as a bread bag but I also love using it for picnics and some clients of mine have even converted them into cushions!  I also make smaller versions which can be used as bathroom bags, as handbags, for garden seeds, just about anything really – it´s not so different today as in the past – the sacks have always been multi-purpose”.

What is the history behind the traditional rustic linen farm sacks in Galicia?

I have researched traditional folk textiles in Galicia since the early 2000s and the rustic linen sacks were certainly a core part of the traditional weaver´s repertoire in my area of mountainous northwest Spain – Ourense province.  Similar, rougher sacks, were made in neighbouring Asturias, but I find the Galician sacks finer.  Some local people still use the old sacks in my area but unfortunately  I was never able to meet any of the old weavers as they died years ago.  The fact that the old weavers´ sacks are still in use is a real tribute to the weavers and proof, if any was needed, of their robustness.  The traditional sacks were originally larger than the modern versions woven at the Textile Studio, as they were used to take grain to the water mills and for large quantities of sweet chestnuts which formed the staple diet of many local people not that long ago.  But people don´t need such large sacks today for home use so, unless I receive a commission for a full-size sack, I weaver them in smaller sizes.  The stripey versions of the sacks were locally called “sacos róxos” (red sacks), something of a mystery, given the fact that they could be black, brown, red or blue.  But they were always stripey and we weave the sacks using the same kinds of stripes as before”.

These traditional Galician sacks some of Anna´s favourite stock items and she finds them very satisfying to weave.  The colours are from natural dyes extracted from plants in the workshop itself – some of which are from plants grown in the dye workshop garden – you can´t get much more local than that!  The end of June is when camomila tinctoria or dyer´s chamomile can be harvested and Anna has a large flat basket full of drying flower-heads in the studio which she will later use to dye woollen sack yarn. 

 Can visitors see the natural dyeing process in the workshop during a visit?

“Well we do offer guided tours for the public both during our opening hours in August and during the rest of the year (when telephone booking is required) which means visitors can learn more about the way that hand-made textiles and baskets are made here and see whatever we are working on at the time.  I usually do large-scale batch dyeing about twice a year, a process which can take several weeks so yes, there is a chance of seeing either the yarns being dyed or some of the plants I use and colours that I obtain”.

“Craft” is a bit of a confusing word today as it covers a huge range of things from cheap, imported objects which have been mass-produced to exclusive hand-made objects which are unique and command a high value.  What kind of craft is on offer at the Cristosende craft workshops? 

At AC Estudio Textil and Lluis´ basketry workshop we offer craft work which has been authentically hand-made, locally, but us, and made from natural materials.  Local, traditional craft is amongst the most authentic as it is often tied to the history of a particular area.  Despite being more expensive than some objects sold as craft in shops we feel that our work offers real value-for-money as it is not only genuine but well-crafted – it´s the “real thing” not an imitation or a fake version.  Some of the techniques we use are over 1000 years old and the methods we use are all completely manual.  Ironically, although some of the objects we make today might have been commonplace about 50 or 100 years ago today they are rare – and in some cases we are the only makers in Spain making particular types of basket or woven textile for sale.  Our clients come not only from Galicia but also from Madrid, Barcelona and abroad.  Some clients are collectors, many are visitors to the area – but in general they are all searching for something unusual, authentic and different to what is normally on sale.  We select traditional designs and techniques which we find beautiful ourselves and which can also find a use in modern life.  Our textiles and baskets are often used, not just looked at on a shelf.  At the textile studio we also produce our own label textiles – with designs which go beyond traditional designs and techniques and sometimes use more complex techniques and more creative designs.  The own-label designs include limited editions of scarves and cushions and one-off pieces as well as textile art pieces.  Our prices range from just 9.50€ for a mini-textile to 26.50€ for a strong mushroom basket, to over 500€ for a decorative framed piece; there is something for everyone.

What´s new in the Cristosende craft workshops for 2010?  We always try to introduce new ranges or designs in our August open workshops.  New for 2010 are some lovely linen babycapes  – ideal for the heat of summer (linen is cooler and more absorbent than cotton).  They are quite different to industrial babycapes and can be used for formal and informal occasions, and as both towels and summer blankets.  In the basket range we hope to have some of the very special traditional baskets which are traditional in the Los Ancares area of Galicia, which are not only rare but very beautiful.  We will have some old favorites on display too – including mushroom baskets and potato-peeling baskets.

Anna Champeney Estudio Textil en la Ribeira Sacra, foto del exterior del taller, ubicado en una bodega antigua de piedraPublic Opening Hours

  • August 2010 – 10.30am – 1.30pm / 6 – 8.30pm (every day except Mondays).  Guided Visits on requestduring opening hours – 2,50€ per adult
  • Rest of the year – the craft workshops are closed to the public but you can book a guided tour or visit by appointment – T.669 600 620.


Lotte Dalgaard, Danish specialist textile weaver of “collapse fabrics” to come to teach at Anna Champeney Textile Studio (September 2010)

Lotte Dalgaard is one of Denmark’s most exciting hand-weavers, creating one-off fabrics with special pleated, crinkled, puckered effects in the weave, which are then transformed into unique and unusual high-end garments by Danish fashion designer Ann Schmidt.  I was able to visit and interview Lotte in her studio in early January 2010 and in September Lotte will be running a special one-week collapse fabric weaving course at Anna Champeney Textile Studio in Galicia, Spain. 

lotte dalgaard in her Danish weaving textile studio

Lotte Dalgaard in her textile studio near Roskilde in Denmark

Lotte Dalgaard and her architect husband, Flemming, live in a cosy Danish farmhouse to the west of Copenhagen, not far from Roskilde, famous for its Jazz Festival and Viking Museum.  When I visited her Denmark was in the grip of one of the coldest spells of weather for many years, with daytime sub-zero temperatures into double figures.  The farmhouse was a magical sight in the snow, and it was there, in a converted farm building, that Lotte has her spacious and light weave studio, overlooking the Danish countryside with its open fields and wide skies.

Lotte’s textiles are the result of over 10 years experimentation with the new generation of yarns being developed by the textile industry, ranging from light-reflective and paper yarns to very fine overtwisted wools and metallic yarns, monofilament yarns and special shrinking yarns.  The very fact that Lotte has access to these kinds of yarns in Denmark is due to the fact that she, along with other hand-weavers and the Design School in Copenhagen, set up a Yarn Purchasing Association.  Collaborative ventures, co-operatives and exhibiting groups are very normal in Denmark – in many different crafts – and the Purchasing Association is a clear example of how everybody benefits from this approach.  Committee members of the Association who work at the Design School attend some of the international yarn fairs in Europe and buy new yarns which are beyond the reach of individual makers because of the huge minimum quantities specified by the yarn companies.  The Association makes the yarns available to individual makers, usually professionals, who can buy in smaller quantities.  Anyone can become a member of the Association upon paying a membership fee, and in the UK, a number of the yarns are now sold by the Handweavers’  Studio in London.

Lotte was amongst the first people to have access to these exciting new yarns in Denmark and quickly began to realise their potential for creating unusually-textured fabrics.  In fact, it is true to say that access to these yarns transformed her way of working, and she now focuses almost exclusively on these textiles.  When Lotte met Ann Schmidt, the original and very individual Copenhagen fashion designer (you could say fashion artist), it was the perfect recipe for a collaboration.  Ann’s approach to fashion design – with a clear emphasis on creating architectural clothing designs on the mannekin, by folding cloth and forming it, rather than by simply pattern cutting was perfect for Lotte’s handwoven textiles.  The results are one-off pieces which are textile garments at their most poetic.  They are extremely beautiful, eye-catching, extremely individual, and at the same time beautifully wearable;  Lotte gave me a midnight blue-black pleated dress to try on and you really feel quite different when you put it on as the fabric and its unusual form invites you to move in a different way.

One-of-a-kind garment with hand-woven fabric by Lotte Dalgaard

one-of-a-kind dress by Lotte Dalgaard and Ann Schmidt

The garments display some of the simplicity and elegant understatement of Japanese textiles – which have always been a strong influence in Ann Schmidt’s work.  Nevertheless, this simplicity is deceptive because it is the result of a long meditative process, exploring the different possibilities of forming the fabric on the mannekin.   I was able to visit Ann’s Studio the day that Lotte took in a new piece of fabric which I had watched her finish the night before.   Ann’s mannekin was draped with a new piece of cloth, with double-weave and huge floats.  This is destined to be the next one-of-a-kind garment.

I really enjoyed talking with Lotte about textiles, because I recognise and know the passion and excitement she has in exploring the different materials and really getting to know their properties and how to handle them.  She is a weaver´s weaver, very expert in her knowledge of her subject, and very close to her materials.  And yet she has been able to “take-off” and, thanks to her collaboration with Ann Schmidt, is able to make quite remarkable woven objects.

A few years ago Lotte was encouraged by British weaver Ann Richards to write down all the knowledge she had acquired.  The result was Magical Materials, a book about collapse weave published by Fiber Feber.  An English translation by Ann Richards brings the Danish publication within the reach of an English-speaking audience and you can read the review I wrote in the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (winter 2009).   Books like this are so important for hand-weaving generally in Europe as they help to raise standards, encourage innovation, and, in this case, try out new yarns.

The textile industry has undergone massive changes in the last 50 years, and unless hand-weavers can access the same new innovative yarns to experiment with, they will fall behind.  As a hand-weaver today I have to ask myself Why Make Hand-made Textiles?  In the work of Lotte Dalgaard and her collaboration with Ann Schmidt I find an answer.

Further Information:

innovative textured textiles - handwoven by lotte dalgaard

Loom weaving at home for creative relaxation: Elisa, course pupil at Anna Champeney Textile Studio, Spain, explains

elisa, pupil at Anna Champeney Estudio Textil in Galicia, Spain, June 2010What does weaving mean for you in your life? Loom weaving for me is an activity which gives me great satisfaction, even if I don´t do it all the time.  It helps me to develop my creativity and what´s really important, it helps me to disconnect from the emotional pressure which my work involves.

 What was the special attraction about loom weaving and what does hand-weaving offer that other textile crafts such as crochet or knitting don´t?The difference is that woven textiles can be far more complex than crocheted or knitted fabrics.  My opinion is also that woven fabrics are more stable – they don´t distort as much – and they use less material.  Also, once the warp (threads set up under tension on the loom) is put on I think weaving is a quicker process.

 How did you learn to weave in the first place – by yourself, with books, or on courses? I initially learned on a weaving course I did in Madrid – over twenty years ago.

Do you think that loom weaving is a more unusual craft these days compared with other fibre crafts such as crochet or knitting? Yes I think it is less common than crochet or knitting.  Gone are the days when many Spanish homes had a loom on which the women of the house wove all sorts of different textiles for home use.

There are people who say that hand-weaving is very difficult.  What is your opinión? Weaving is not actually a difficult thing to do, but you do need to learn how to do it properly.  I learned during a course which lasted several days. 

What kind of fabrics do you weave on your loom? Lots of different things, like towels, various shawls and scarves, bangs for hanging up, and some linen fabric to make clothing out of etc..

 What kind of yarns do you use?  Is it difficult to find high quality yarn these days [in Spain]?  I use cotton, wool and linen.  It is difficult to find natural yarns these days which I consider really vital to enhance the hand-made nature of whatever you are making.

 Would you recommend hand-weaving as a hobby to other people? Absolutely, yes.  Once you start then you start asking yourself all these other questions – about the nature of the raw materials, how the yarn is made… and how to dye your own colours (dyeing yarns is something I´ve yet to learn how to do) …

 Tell us about your next weave project At the moment I´m weaving some fabric samples.  I think that afterwards I´ll probably hand-weave a linen shawl for myself with linen yarn that I bought recently.

hand-crocheted border on the linen babycape by Anna Champeneyhandwoven sample by elisa, woven during a course at Anna Champeney Estudio Textil, Spain linen babycape made to commission by AC Textile Studio (Spanish craft)Special Note from Anna, weaver and weave teacher at AC Estudio Textil in Galicia, Spain – I´d like to mention here that Elisa, apart from being a great fun, made a very generous contribution to a commissioned I was working on, during the time Elisa was here at the weave studio doing a course.  She offered to hand-crochet the edges of a linen babycape I was weaving for a client to give it a special finish.  As you can see Elisa made a wonderful job of it, so many thanks Elisa, you´re a star!