In my professional practice outside of Z-Twist, I work with thread everyday; a material which is soft, light, flexible and open to endless development. I am fascinated by lines and contours, by their rhythmical movements but also by the empty space they confine. These movements and lines can also be found within a loom but instead of following a random pattern like my thread drawings; a warp and weft work in sync to follow a set design. And that was definitely could be seen when I visited John Boyd Textiles, however they transform the unusual raw material, horse hair; they dye it and weave it into luxurious fabric. This is an extremely unique craft and John Boyd is one of the last surviving horsehair weavers in the world. The company became limited as early as 1883 and I was fascinated to see how they have moved with the times; you can see John Boyd fabrics adorning many contemporary, high end interiors, hotels and restaurants around the world.
I was greeted on the day by Anna, who gave me a thorough tour of the mill. I first saw where the hair is dyed, a very distinct smelling area. Several tails are loaded at time in to huge dying vats. Black tails are dyed black
The natural white tales can be dyed to any colour
Between every process the hair is passed through the hackle, which is a process I found very captivating. It’s beautiful to watch the course hair glide through the spiky prongs….
We then moved on the warp winding room. A hugh grided wall of cones spinning in sync to feed the warp turning on a massive barrel. the warps are made of natural fibres
I loved how the floating lines of thread converge into the shaft
From there we moved on to the loom rooms where the tails are transformed into beautiful material. The sound of the mechanical rooms was intense but rhythmical, all chugging along in unison like a little army. The horse hair is the weft, thus the width of the fabric is determined by the length of the tail
I found the whole visit inspiring. John Boyd’s mill is a traditional textile setting where a manufacturing formula is in place. Each and every process has been fine-tuned over the years; every worker has a role in the process and understands their machinery/tools to fundamentally make a unique end product. This is a unique craft and I am very exciting to working with such an unusual company.
On leaving, Anna gave me a a few rolls of offcuts in various different weaves and colours. What I am going to do with the fabric? Watch this space……..
Some photos courtesy of johnboyd.com and stills taken from film, Horse tales by Nick Wilcox-Brown