“The chair-room is a small sitting room, for one or two. Two can take a seat into this room.”
Dorian Wiszniewski & Honor Thomson
If you’ve read a few of my previous posts, then you know that I love to sew, and that a few years ago I discovered that I also love to weave. So imagine how wonderful (and daunting!) it was to be given a chance to combine both in one project. This is the finished result, on display at the RSA (Royal Scottish Academy) Annual Exhibition in the centre of Edinburgh.
The project came about through a series of connections. I was asked in January by Edinburgh-based Wiszniewski Thomson Architects (WTa) if I would like to provide a bespoke length of woven fabric to cover a sculptural piece they were working on. The connection: Dorian Wiszniewski is a lecturer in Architectural Design at the University of Edinburgh, and he taught me during my brief time on the Architecture masters programme there back in 2008. His daughter now studies at Heriot-Watt University, so when he and his wife (and partner at WTa) Honor Thomson went to see her work in June of last year, they happened also to see my graduate collection on display and liked it enough to keep it in mind.
Fast forward to January and a strangely atmospheric meeting on the top floor of Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery, where we rummaged through my fabrics and sketched and chatted about WTa’s ideas and what I could contribute. It became clear that the fabric would have to be woven specially for this project, and that meant that with only just over two months to the exhibition, it would be very tight timing. (Normal lead times for a woven fabric tend to be around 8-10 weeks – and that is in the well-oiled machinery of industry where people know what they’re doing!)
And so began the process of making – not without its scary moments. My main worry was getting the fabric woven on time, and correctly, since the design we finally chose is quite complex to produce industrially due to the long and irregular colour repeat. However another happy connection presented itself: I had met Robbie Trussler from Drove Weaving the previous year, and now seemed like the right time to approach him again and ask if this was something he and his team could do. Time-wise it was a very tall order, but Robbie and his weavers managed to fit us in just at the last moment once we had the yarn (via Heriot-Watt), and they expertly produced the cloth exactly as we needed it. In my mind, so much could have gone wrong – the calculations for yarn amounts; the design adjustments for weaving on an industrial loom as opposed to a handloom; errors in my written instructions; faults during weaving such as threads breaking etc… so when I eventually saw the finished fabric I almost couldn’t believe it! It is a particularly good feeling when others have given their expertise, time and care to produce something that is important to you.
Then of course the fabric had to be fashioned into a cover for the ‘Chair-room’, which is inspired by the woven, basket-like hood of an Orkney chair – a small personal enclosure to take a seat in. This was pretty much couture for furniture and one of the most challenging things I’ve sewn (if not the most), and the pictures illustrate some of the processes below.
The frame for the chair-room was made by Oliver Debenham at Bodan Workshops Ltd. Oli and his colleagues Alasdair Campbell and Tom Straker also made the amazing kinked table-room that is paired with the chair-room (the detailed work on this piece is unreal). I would also like to add at this point that Mr Man (aka Richard Collins) got involved in this installation too, with his 3D printing prowess, ably assisted by his colleague Alan Ramsay who is an expert woodworker. A key part of the installation is a 1:20 doll’s house, which is a scale model of the whole installation. It in turn contains its own scale model of the installation and so on, in a mise en abyme. Richard also produced models for Sutherland Hussey Harris Architects, on show elsewhere in the exhibition.
So below is the ‘making of’. I wish I could have been in Scotland during the weaving process to get some shots of the fabric in loom, but I am hopeful that there will be an opportunity to weave more in future and fill in that gap. Click on any of the images to bring up a larger version. Thank you for reading – and if you are local and happen to see the exhibition, do please let me know what you thought of it via the comments! Thank you 🙂