25 Jun 2015
One of the elements that make Cock & Bull Menswear so unique is its use of hand-woven cloths. Since the beginning we have included both hand-woven tweeds and hand-woven cottons in our menswear collection. Having designed womenswear in the past which also had a high proportion of fabrics woven on hand looms it just wasn’t something I was ready to leave behind.
Some may question the validity and marketability of handwoven textiles in menswear, thinking perhaps that it is purely the preserve of women to indulge in cloth that has this very special quality but there are 3 reasons why I feel strongly that it will remain a cornerstone of what we do: 1. the preservation of a craft that perfectly connects art with science / mathematics and which deserves to be preserved not only in developing and ‘indigenous’ cultures but which should be embraced more locally. 2. Our contribution to the diversification of the workforce, by giving people who wish to weave the chance to do so and to have the opportunity to make their beautiful clothes into more than scarves and throws. 3. The increasing interest in slow artisanal crafts.
I have been interested in the making of textiles since the age of 5 when I taught my self to knit from a Ladybird book. I believe I bought the needles, wool and book from a jumble sale and by faithfully following the images produced took my first baby steps into he word of textiles. I had previously sat by my grandmother and aunties as they produced various dresses, skirts and blouses but this was something different. As I followed a sequence of wrapping, looping and drawing through a fabric was produced before my eyes. I got hooked and to this day the sight of wool, threads and fabrics simply makes my heart miss a beat.
We have been working with a particular mill in the Outer Hebrides for nearly 3 years and we have a great relationship with the family that weaves our tweed. In 2014 Phil visited the looms of Chrissie, Donald Christina and Iain who weave the beautiful tweeds that we use to make our caps and waistcoats. However, it was with shock and horror that earlier this year we were faced with the prospect that we could potentially no longer receive the tweed as Donald was going into retirement. This was a great shock to us having made British produced hand made tweed a cornerstone of what we do. We could not envision going forward without this very special fabric as part of our collection so it was with great relief and joy that we later found out that they had found a solution and would continue to produce for us exclusively in small quantities. The enormity of this has only just hit us as we fully take on board the prospect of being part of a very small band of people helping to preserve this beautiful craft and continuing to providing employment for those who want to hand weave within the UK. Here is a link to Phils blog: New Directions in Tweed
I recently heard that there are only 200 full time weavers in the UK making a full time living from this craft. This is mind boggling considering these isles were part of the vanguard that created textiles during and beyond the industrial revolution and the legacy of the Huguenots in 19th Century Spitalfields. One of these people is Daniel of The London Cloth Company who has taught himself to weave after stumbling across a loom in Wales and who now produces fantastic bespoke fabrics from his ‘mill’ in East London. We will be introducing some of Daniels fabrics to the collection later this year.
Everyone needs clothing to fully embrace their life yet it is staggering that we have become so far removed from the production of our textiles. It has been the same story in the production of food with the urbanisation of our lives as we moved away from the source of production. But the tide has turned and we are now much more aware of the providence of our food and what goes into our mouths. We now care much more about the food supply chain and from where we derive our bread, cheese, wines and chocolate etc. This can only be a good thing, maintaining our ties to the earth as we are driven along a technological route that seems to both connect us to each other and poses the danger of disconnecting us from the earth. Consciousness in consuming can only be a good thing. When Mr Cock & Bull (Phil) and I set up the label it was with a view to providing great looking clothes that didn’t cost the earth to guys who could see the big picture. While there has always been a core of those guys we are really happy to also see that group of conscious consumer increasing month on month. And so my passion for fabrics has truly become my vocation! When I signed up for a weekend Introduction to Weaving course at the Handweaver’s Studio in Holloway earlier this year, I took another step closer to becoming part of and ethical and sustainable supply chain.
Walking into the Handweaver’s shopfront gave me goose pimples. When I see the array of colours and textures on display alongside some truly gorgeous textiles I feel that I have arrived in Heaven. Admittedly, the selection of sustainable texties is small in comparisson with the selection of non organic cotton, silks, rayon but the inspiration is almost overwhelming which is why I am pleased to work within the strict confines (my own words) of menswear where the shades and hues stay within a limited colour palate.
When registered for the beginners weaving workshop early in the year, I was somewhat disappointed that I would have to wait for over 3 months to begin the course. Of course like with most things I wanted to start straight away, suffice to say, when the date finally came around I was ready for a couple of weekends where I could totally indulge myself in yarns and textiles. I must admit I was somewhat naive to think that the days would be spent with me serenely batting the shuttle back and forth in a dream-like state. I was hardly prepared for the total mental engagement in the technicalities of learning the weaving lexicon, the various parts of the loom and the mathematical equations necessary to accomplish even the simplest weaves. It’s obvious I hadn’t previously fully appreciated the ‘work’ element of the word work-shop. By the end of the first Saturday I was totally exhausted and spent my Saturday evening unable to do more than watch the Monty Don Mastercrafts Series on Weaving and going to bed very very early in preparation for day 2. Interestingly enough I also found myself dreaming about weaving!
Day 2 at the Hand Weavers workshop was equally enthralling. We were encouraged to explore working with all the different looms in order to fully appreciate not only the slightly different mechanics of working the shafts but also to experiment with different warp threading. Glancing at the library of books I was particularly struck by who amazing a resource Hand Weavers Gallery is; not only was our tutor Dawn an amazing wealth of knowledge and know-how but she was also wonderfully energetic, enthusiastic and able to answer every question we threw at her. This was even more amazing considering she had only been weaving for 9 years! I am very very encouraged by this fact! I was curious to know if any men attended the class as our [cohort] of 9 was 100% female. I was assured that weaving is also a man’s game and that classes are regularly attended by males. I found this encouraging as I am of the opinion that greater appreciation of the craft will only gain critical mass when the other 50% of the general population (men) appreciate the craft as a non gender specific craft.
I was not surprised that I missed weaving following my month of weekend workshops. What I was surprised about, however, was the extent to which I missed it. I very definitely suffered the blues during the week. I missed the clack of the shafts as I lifted them into positions. I missed the repetitive rhythm of passing the shuttle back and forth. I missed the beating of the threads and the gratification of seeing patterns form before my eyes as I adhered to the intricate patterns of the weave. My greatest surprise was acknowledging the relationship between maths and art in this process and how very satisfying it was. I very definitely felt the blues last week as I acknowledged my separation from the loom. The question was what to do now as I waited for a place to become available on the oversubscribed weekly course at the Handweavers Studio? Patience is not really a strong point of mine so I’ve decided to take the advice of Dawn and get weaving ASAP. And so my search on eBay for a table top loom will begin.
A handwoven scarf anyone?